If nuclear waste were recycled and repurposed as fuel for advanced nuclear reactors it could generate up to a millennia of zero carbon electricity for Europe, says a new report released today by the international environmental campaign group RePlanet.
Report author Mark Lynas and RePlanet's Campaigns Coordinator Joel Scott-Halkes hug a canister of nuclear spent fuel in Sizewell. Credit: RePlanet
Nuclear spent fuel (the most radioactive part of so-called nuclear waste) could, according to the report, be used in advanced nuclear plants known as ‘fast reactors’ to create between 600 and 1,000 years of carbon-free electricity for the entire European Union.
The ‘What a Waste’ campaign argues that spent nuclear fuel should not be buried in deep geological repositories, but should instead be maintained in accessible form and used to power a clean energy future.
One of the report authors, climate writer Mark Lynas, argues that calling irradiated nuclear fuel ‘waste’ is the wrong approach given that more than 90% of the fissionable energy remains unused, and that the potential of recycling spent nuclear fuel for advanced nuclear reactors means that nuclear waste is a ‘solved problem’.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe report in 2022 found that nuclear energy has the lowest life cycle environmental footprint of any energy source, and the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) found in its 2021 report that ‘analyses did not reveal any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other [sustainable] electricity production technologies’.
‘Nuclear “waste” isn’t waste at all. It’s a huge opportunity to create centuries of carbon-free electricity’
Launching today’s report, RePlanet campaigners call on green parties of Europe to end their ‘dangerous and unscientific’ opposition to nuclear energy. This is particularly important given the recent release of the IPCC Synthesis Report, which shows the world is rapidly running out of time to cut carbon emissions sufficiently to meet the Paris goal of 1.5C. RePlanet campaigners state that opposition to nuclear is tantamount to climate delayerism from fossil fuel corporations because it will increase carbon emissions.
Mark Lynas, climate author and RePlanet co-founder says: ‘Current political narratives treat spent nuclear fuel like it is a waste product that needs to be buried underground, leaving a toxic legacy for future generations. Anti-nuclear campaigners never tire of repeating this mantra in their campaign to shut down nuclear plants irrespective of our climate emergency. However, we show in this RePlanet report that nuclear waste simply needs to be recycled efficiently in order to generate centuries of clean power for Europe and the UK. This material is not waste, it is fuel for the future.’
Joel Scott-Halkes, Campaigns Coordinator of RePlanet says: ‘Nuclear “waste” isn’t waste at all. It’s a huge opportunity to create centuries of carbon-free electricity just when we need it most.’
Karolina Lisslö Gylfe, Secretary General of RePlanet says: ‘The IPCC has again made it extremely clear that we just have to get off fossil fuels, and that opposing clean energy technologies like nuclear puts the world on the path to irreversible climate breakdown.’