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International Conference on the Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors: Meeting the Moment

10–14 June 2024, Vienna, Austria

Conference on the Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors 2024

Background

Nuclear power can help address the twin challenges of ensuring reliable energy supplies and curbing greenhouse emissions. Today more than 400 nuclear power reactors in operation in 31 countries supply over 10% of the world’s total electricity and a quarter of all low-carbon power. Nuclear power will continue to play a key role in the world’s low-carbon energy mix for the decades to come.

The safe, secure, and sustainable management of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors is key to the future of nuclear energy. It is a complex undertaking, covering many technological aspects related to the storage, transportation and disposal of the spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and the high level waste (HLW) generated from reprocessing activities for recycling. Furthermore, research and development have established the feasibility of advanced energy systems (advanced reactors and associated fuel cycles) to extract additional energy from spent nuclear fuel, which has the potential to further reduce the impact of nuclear waste and better utilize natural resources.

The implementation of SNF management strategies can take decades, and national strategies must be flexible enough to accommodate potential future options and new technologies that will enhance the safety and sustainability of nuclear power. Allocating the necessary resources to implement a strategy is often difficult.

There is a lack of clarity regarding spent fuel storage durations, due in part to the long lead time to develop, and obtain societal support and license for, deep geological repositories. This subsequently impacts the handling and transportation of spent fuel, as well as downstream steps, in the long term. In this context, the availability of future technologies (including recycling options), underground disposal facilities and suitable financial, regulatory, and political frameworks need to be ensured for the coming generations. The needed knowledge management and knowledge transfer over multiple generations of experts is a particular challenge. This will be important to ensure that the service life of storage systems can continue to be extended to cover the necessary timeframes until SNF final disposition is implemented.

It is paramount to take an integrated view of the nuclear fuel cycle to ensure that all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle are clearly identified and understood, enabling effective decision making for the back end of the fuel cycle.

The last IAEA International Conference on the Management of Spent Fuel from Nuclear Power Reactors, held in June 2019 under the theme “Learning from the Past, Enabling the Future”, covered all management stages for spent fuel from past, present, and future nuclear power technologies, and how they can be affected by decisions taken throughout the nuclear fuel cycle.

The Conference in 2019 highlighted, among other aspects:

  • The need to make available sufficient spent fuel storage capacity to bridge the gap between the generation of spent fuel and the foreseen commissioning and operation of disposal facilities
  • The impacts of a selected fuel cycle on disposal and vice versa, especially with uncertainties on the requirements and acceptance criteria for disposal
  • The development of multirecycling technologies for thermal reactors, which can provide a sustainable solution for the transition period from once-through recycling to a fully closed fuel cycle with fast reactors
  • The importance of learning lessons from the past and developing robust, integrated strategies for managing spent fuel from its discharge from the reactor until all wastes are disposed of
  • The recognition of the value of enhancing and fostering international collaborations
  • The concern on the part of many countries over costs and a potential lack of sustainable funding
  • The need for knowledge management, records preservation, and for efforts in developing the young generation to continue safe, secure, and sustainable fuel cycle management
  • The importance of developing and maintaining appropriate stakeholder involvement from an early stage of SNF management programmes, as understanding is paramount for the public as well as for policy and decision makers

During recent years, increasing attention has been paid to the development and upcoming deployment of small modular (SMR) and micro reactors. SMRs represent a new generation of reactors designed to generate electric power typically up to 300 MW(e) and for non-electrical industrial applications (e.g., water desalination and heat generation for industrial processes). While much focus has been given to certain aspects of SMR deployment such as reactor concepts, engineering, economics, infrastructure, safety, etc., the fuel cycle, and in particular the management of spent fuel, appears to have had limited consideration.

In this context, the IAEA is organizing the International Conference on the Management of Spent Fuel from Power Reactors, in Vienna, from 10 June 2024 to 14 June 2024, under the theme “Meeting the Moment”.

The scope of the conference covers the management of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors and the steps being taken to enable the safe and effective deployment of new reactor technologies.

Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of the conference is to provide a forum for the exchange of information on national SNF management strategies and on how the management of spent fuel will support the role that nuclear energy could play in a changing energy mix. Whether countries are moving toward nuclear energy to mitigate climate change and meet their national energy goals or moving away from nuclear energy and are concerned about the legacy of its use, the world has reached a pivotal moment. Those who manage spent nuclear fuel must rise to the challenge of meeting the moment.

Following on the theme of the 2019 conference, this new edition aims to illustrate the benefits of an integrated approach to the nuclear fuel cycle on the management of spent fuel from power reactors, and the potential impact of the deployment of advanced reactors (e.g., SMRs) with new fuel types, considering technological developments, regulatory requirements, safety, security, safeguards, economics, etc.

The conference will also allow for the evaluation of advances in the management of spent fuel from power reactors to overcome current issues and will identify strategies and anticipated challenges to be addressed in preparation for the future.

Greening

To demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, the IAEA will organize this conference as a 'green meeting' according to the guidelines of the Austrian Ecolabel.

There will be a focus on the areas of paper smart documentation, waste reduction and recycling, and environmentally friendly catering.

Conference app

The IAEA Conferences and Meetings App provides a one-stop access to information on the Conference, exhibitions and scheduled side events. The app also allows users to put together their own personalized schedule of events. Via this app participants will be able to view contributed papers and the latest conference programme, message other participants, and view PowerPoint presentations released after the event. Participants will receive an email inviting them to register for the app approximately one week before the conference.

For iPhone or iPad users, get your free download through the App Store; those with Android devices can visit the Google Play Store.

Conference App

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