Spent fuel management

Managing the spent fuel arising from nuclear power plants until its disposal is an important step of the nuclear fuel cycle. While one third of the spent fuel accumulating globally is reprocessed, most of it is stored until a decision is taken on the end-point strategy of either processing or disposal.

The nuclear fuel cycle ends with the safe, secure and sustainable management of the spent fuel, which includes storing it, followed by either processing or recycling or final disposal. Safe, secure, proliferation resistant and economically efficient nuclear fuel cycles that minimize waste generation and environmental impacts contribute to nuclear energy sustainability.

Spent fuel management includes storage, transport, processing and recycling or packaging for disposal. The challenges are to identify and address relevant issues as well as to maintain the flexibility to accommodate the range of potential future options for spent fuel management.

To make the nuclear fuel cycle more sustainable and to reduce the amount and radiotoxicity of the waste for ultimate disposal, advanced and innovative technologies for processing spent fuel and recycling its usable materials are under development in several countries. To date, the progress towards commissioning deep geological disposal facilities is slow, although a number of projects are in an advanced stage of development. Spent fuel storage systems, therefore, may have to be maintained for longer periods of time, possibly for more than 100 years.

A stable spent fuel management policy is needed for long time frames envisaged. This can only be achieved with the strong involvement of policymakers, governmental organizations, regulatory bodies, operators, spent fuel and radioactive waste management organizations and industry.

The IAEA fosters the application of good practices and sharing of experience in spent fuel management. It provides information and guidance to Member States and to signatory countries of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and Radioactive Waste Management, so that they can improve their capabilities to plan, develop, and implement safe, environmentally viable and efficient spent fuel management strategies.