Assessing the environmental impact of nuclear

image: Environmental Impact Assessment of Nuclear Power Generation
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Credit: Ritsumeikan University

In an ever-changing world, rapid population growth combined with urbanization and industrialization are driving ever-increasing energy demand. The challenge today is to meet these energy needs while controlling global warming, a condition that fossil fuels do not meet. In order to mitigate the environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources associated with the use of fossil fuels, nuclear energy is being promoted as an alternative energy source.

Performing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of any energy source is important to understand how it affects the environment. Numerous studies have thus evaluated the cumulative energy consumption over the life cycle and the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions linked to the electricity produced via nuclear power. However, most of these studies have focused on GHG emissions and the amount of energy consumed, which could lead to a less comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact and sustainability of electricity generated via nuclear energy. . For example, we have not yet understood the total resources used during this process.

In an attempt to provide a more holistic perspective, a group of scientists from Ritsumeikan University, Japan, analyzed the environmental impact of nuclear power generation through a less thoughtful measure – the volume of resources extracted from the lithosphere during the life cycle of this process. Their study focused on the extraction methods, types of nuclear reactors, and type of uranium fuel cycle system used during nuclear power generation, and how these alter the environmental impact. of the process. They also assessed the different grades of mined uranium ore – a highly variable entity – and its effect on the total material requirement (TMR). This article was posted on June 8, 2022 and published in Volume 363 of the Cleaner Production Journal August 20, 2022.

A LCA of resource utilization for uranium-based 1 kWh nuclear power generation was performed by analyzing TMR,” says Associate Professor Shoki Kosai, the corresponding author of the study. “We examined both open and closed fuel cycles and three types of uranium mining methods: surface mining, underground mining and on the spot leaching (ISL), apart from other nuclear power generation variables, for an in-depth LCA.GHG emissions and natural resource use were then assessed for these variables.

Researchers found that the TMR coefficient (indicating extraction intensity) of enriched uranium fuel was the highest, followed by nuclear fuel, reprocessed uranium fuel, mixed oxide (MOX) fuel and finally yellow cake. The grade of uranium ore also had a huge impact on the TMR coefficient, which meant that the TMR varied greatly between different mining methods. On the spot leaching had the lowest TMR. However, the extraction method had a greater impact on resource use compared to its impact on GHG emissions.

Discussing the impact of fuel cycles, Professor Eiji Yamasue says:We found that a closed cycle that reprocesses uranium fuel uses 26% fewer resources than an open cycle that does not reuse its by-products.”

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

Maintaining a circular economy, even for the use of resources, is important. Our findings can help policy makers formulate long-term energy policies that take into account electricity and power generation using nuclear energy,” concludes Dr. Kosai.

Is the future nuclear? It is definitely a possibility!




About Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Ritsumeikan University is one of the most prestigious private universities in Japan. Its main campus is in Kyoto, where inspiring settings await scholars. With an unwavering goal of generating symbiotic social values ​​and emerging talent, it aims to emerge as a next-generation research university. It will strengthen the potential of researchers by offering support best suited to the needs of young researchers and top researchers, depending on their career stage. Ritsumeikan University also strives to build a global research network as a “knowledge node” and disseminate the achievements internationally, thereby contributing to solving social/humanistic problems through interdisciplinary research and to social implementation.


About Associate Professor Shoki Kosai from Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Shoki Kosai is an associate professor at the Global Innovation Research Organization at Ritsumeikan University, Japan. He holds a Masters in Renewable Energy from the University of Malaya, Malaysia. He completed his PhD program at Kyoto University, Japan in 2020. He has 30 publications to his credit. Dr. Kosai’s research focuses on the conservation of natural resources, renewable energy, and creating a cleaner, greener environment. He has presented several papers at the IET Clean Energy and Technology conference.

About Professor Eiji Yamasue from Ritsumeikan University, Japan

Eiji Yamasue is a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, College of Science and Engineering, Ritsumeikan University, Japan. He completed his PhD from Tokyo Institute of Technology in 2000. His research interests include industrial ecology, energy and resources, etc. He is the author of several books and has published 322 articles with over 1600 citations to his credit. He was the recipient of two science awards in 2017, including Energy and Materials Efficiency and CO2 Reduction in the Steel Industry Best Poster Award. He has received several grants for scientific research as well as competitive grants.

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