American Nuclear Society

Home / Nuclear Grand Challenges

Fuel Cycle

Challenge: Close the nuclear fuel cycle.

How: Firmly establish the pathway that leads to closing the nuclear fuel cycle to support the demonstration and deployment of advanced fission reactors, accelerators, and material recycling technologies to obtain maximum value while minimizing environmental impact from using nuclear fuel.

Background: Addressing nuclear waste disposal and closing the nuclear fuel cycle would have many significant public benefits. It must be commensurate with the design of any emerging commercial nuclear products. Reducing the stockpiles of used nuclear fuel and excess stocks of highly-enriched uranium would significantly reduce the worldwide potential for proliferation of nuclear materials. The costs and maintenance of large independent spent fuel storage facilities would be greatly minimized, saving billions of dollars in waste storage and associated security costs. Additionally, it would include streamlined government regulations and permit expedited regulatory reviews, certification, and licensing for advanced reactors. Furthermore, it would enable enhanced public support for nuclear technologies and increased governmental funding for the development of advanced high-level waste-burning reactors.

Adoption of an advanced reactor-based nuclear waste disposal solution through closing the nuclear fuel cycle would enable advanced reactors to burn remaining inventories of used nuclear fuel that are currently stored at commercial and government nuclear facilities to produce significant amounts of electricity. Nuclear waste would be minimized, eliminating the need for large waste disposal facilities. Concepts, in addition to reactor solutions, would also be possible and developed, such as innovative and safe approaches utilizing Accelerator Driven Systems. These systems remove the long-term radiotoxicity of spent fuel, generate energy to recover its cost, eliminate the need for a large geological repository, and avoid the use of fuel reprocessing steps.

The current approach to the U.S. nuclear fuel cycle was formulated for reasons that are less convincing to many than they may have seemed generations ago. This has left the nuclear industry highly vulnerable to a stalled nuclear waste disposal pathway. The "most promising" fuel cycles very well could be the fuel cycle families identified in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fuel Cycle Options Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation and Screening Study report series ( This evaluation and screening work evaluated the breadth of fuel cycle options available in the context of nine evaluation metrics (waste management, proliferation risk, material security risk, safety, environmental impact, resource utilization, development and deployment risk, institutional issues, and financial risk/economics).

Last modified May 12, 2017, 1:22am CDT

Questions or comments about the site? Contact the ANS Webmaster.