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Environmental Impact Assessment of Nuclear Power Generation

Environmental Impact Assessment of Nuclear Power Generation

tech innovation 2022

Assessing the environmental impact of nuclear power generation. credit: Ritsumeikan University

In an ever-evolving world, rapidly increasing population along with urbanization and industrialization is leading to ever-increasing demand for energy. Today the challenge lies in meeting these energy needs while keeping global warming under control – a condition that fossil fuels do not meet. Nuclear power is being promoted as an alternative source of energy, in an effort to reduce the environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources associated with the use of fossil fuels.

Performing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of any energy source is important to understand how it affects the environment. Therefore, many studies have assessed life cycle cumulative energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to electricity generated through nuclear power. However, most of these studies looked at GHG emissions and the amount of energy consumed, which may lead to a less comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact and sustainability of electricity generated through nuclear power. For example, we are yet to understand the total resources used during this process.

In an effort to provide a more holistic perspective, a group of scientists from Japan’s Ritsumeikan University analyzed the environmental impact of nuclear power generation through an under-considered measure—the amount of resources extracted from the lithosphere during the process’s life cycle. did. Their study focused on mining methods, nuclear reactor types, and the type of uranium fuel cycle system used during nuclear power generation, and how these change the environmental impact of the process. They also assessed the different grades of mined uranium ore—a highly variable unit—and its impact on the total material requirement (TMR). This paper was made available online on 8 June 2022 and will be published in section 363 of Journal of Cleaner Production On 20 August 2022.

“Resource utilization for 1 kW of nuclear power generation based on uranium was assessed by analyzing LCA TMRs,” says Associate Professor Shoki Kosai, the corresponding author of the study. “We looked at open and closed fuel cycles, and three types of uranium mining methods: open pit mining, underground mining, and in situ leaching (ISL), among other variables in nuclear power generation, for the LCA as a whole.” GHG emissions and natural resource use were later assessed for these variables.

The researchers found that enriched uranium fuel had the highest TMR coefficient (indicating the intensity of mining), followed by nuclear fuel, reprocessed uranium fuel, mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, and finally, yellow-cake. The grade of the uranium ore also had a great effect on the TMR coefficient, which meant that the TMR varied greatly with different mining methods. In situ leaching had the lowest TMR. However, mining method had a more significant impact on resource use than its effect on GHG emissions.

Discussing the impact of the fuel cycle, Professor Eiji Yamasu says, “We found that a closed cycle that reprocesses uranium fuel uses 26% fewer resources than an open cycle that recycles its sub-fuel cycle. Does not reuse products.”

Additionally, it was found that the natural resource use of nuclear power generation was similar to that of renewable energy and significantly lower than that of thermal power generation. Furthermore, the TMR of global warming potential and nuclear power generation showed very different trends. With fewer GHG emissions, nuclear power generation also used fewer natural resources, making it an environmentally friendly source of electricity generation.

“Even for resource use, maintaining a circular economy is important. Our findings may aid policymakers in formulating long-term energy policies that consider electricity and electricity generation using nuclear power,” said Dr. Kosai concluded.


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more information:
Nanami Nakagawa et al, Life cycle resource utilization of nuclear power generation considering total material requirement, Journal of Cleaner Production (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2022.132530

Provided by Ritsumeikan University

Citation: Environmental Impact Assessment of Nuclear Power Generation (2022, 20 June) Retrieved 20 June 2022

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