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International Organization and Industry Experts to Discuss Next Century Nuclear Energy Scenarios and Options


Nobody disputes that the world's population will continue to grow substantially in the 21st century, as will its appetite for energy. The question is: how will such energy be supplied? In that context, how might the nuclear component look? Will the necessary fuel be on hand? What shall be done with the plutonium that has either been declared excess to military requirements or comes from spent nuclear fuel?

These are among the issues to be debated by over 150 top experts from governments and industry worldwide at the Symposium on "Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Reactor Strategy: Adjusting to New Realities", to be held at the Headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, June 3-6, 1997.

The energy outlook to the year 2050 is the subject of a Key Issue Paper to be debated on the first day. It contains three different scenarios, since projections for such a timescale are obviously subject to a number of variables. What can be said today is that known reserves of four central energy sources - coal, natural gas, oil and uranium - will still be available but will surely be more expensive, barring the discovery of major new reserves that are economically exploitable.

As for the nuclear side, if uranium reserves shrink and uranium becomes more expensive, there are a number ways of ensuring fuel availability for existing and new thermal reactors. They include extracting more of the fissionable uranium 235 from natural uranium by reducing the "tail assay" in the enrichment process, higher burn-up in the reactor, and the use of fuel that is a blend of uranium and recycled plutonium, known as mixed oxide, or MOX.

There is also the question of the extent to which Fast Reactors, that can both burn and produce plutonium, may play a role in the commercial production of energy. This is seen by one of the Key Issue Papers to be presented as being conceivable but not before the year 2030. Three countries - France, Japan and Russia - are still exploring this technology.

The symposium will also consider the question of plutonium use. In this context both international cooperation concerning the disposition of former weapons material, and the question of the extent to which plutonium may be needed as an energy source in the foreseeable future will be discussed. Other problems to be dealt with are the necessary safeguards provisions and the health, safety and environmental consequences of the possible use of plutonium as an energy source. Additionally, how should one deal with spent fuel in the long term if only a small portion is reprocessed or plutonium is not used at all as fuel?

These and other related issues will be debated at the Symposium. The Key Issue Papers have been prepared with wide international participation and will be available when the Symposium begins. The Symposium is open to accredited media, and press briefings will be held at the end of each working day.

The provisional programme of the Symposium is attached for information. Media wishing to cover the Symposium are invited to return the attached request for accreditation to the IAEA, Division of Public Information by mail or fax (+43 1 2060 29616) by May 16.

Papers presented will be available after the Symposium, from the IAEA Division of Public Information.

Last update: 16 Feb 2018


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