Perhaps the study's most surprising finding is that the global uranium supply is sufficient to fuel a growing number of nuclear plants for decades to come – which would allow the US to avoid embarking on the controversial and costly reprocessing of spent fuel. This finding counters long-held assumptions about the supply.
The researchers say they arrived at that conclusion by looking at all the pieces of the fuel-cycle together — from mining to how reactors operate to waste disposal.
“When you look at the whole thing together, you start seeing things that were not obvious before,” Mujid Kazimi, a professor of nuclear engineering, said in a statement.
At a press conference Thursday, Ernest Moniz, an MIT professor who oversaw the report, acknowledged that uncertainties remain. The advantage of interim above-ground waste storage for a century is that "we really don't know today if spent nuclear fuel from light water reactors is waste, or a resource." Still, he said, a major hurdle has been overcome. "With the misconception that reprocessing is critical to nuclear power growth gone, the US should focus ... on waste management issues," he said.
The finding that reprocessing spent fuel is not needed and should be avoided was immediately hailed by nuclear nonproliferation experts.
"It largely confirms a lot of the points that our organization has been making and – hopefully – should put to rest once and for all the idea of reprocessing fuel or using plutonium fuel in light water reactors," says Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.