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Recycling Used Nuclear Fuel

The federal government plans to develop advanced recycling technologies to take full advantage of the unused energy in the used fuel and reduce the amount and toxicity of byproducts requiring disposal.

The industry supports research, development and demonstration of improved or advanced fuel cycle technologies to close the nuclear fuel cycle, thereby potentially reducing the volume, heat and toxicity of byproducts placed in a repository.

Government to Study Recycling

For economic and national security reasons, the United States does not recycle used nuclear fuel. After its use once in the reactor, it is removed for ultimate disposal in a repository. This "once-through" fuel use is called an "open" fuel cycle. The recycling and reuse of uranium fuel is called a "closed" fuel cycle. This approach would capture the vast amount of energy still remaining in used nuclear fuel. 

Commercial deployment of advanced full recycling technologies is several decades in the future. Moving beyond the open fuel cycle will require a combination of recycling, advanced reactors, new federal policies, and a sustained financial investment. The nuclear industry endorses this plan, which could result in long-term environmental and energy security benefits for America.

Converting Used Fuel into New Fuel

Through recycling, the separated uranium can be reused in new fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. Certain long-lived radioactive elements, including plutonium, also can be fabricated into fuel for advanced reactors to be developed commercially in a directed research and development program.