|Fig. 1: This Diagram shows the process of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle. Uranium is mined, enriched and manufactured to nuclear fuel which is delivered to a nuclear power plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
The Nuclear Fuel Cycle is the progression of nuclear fuel through a series of differing stages as shown in Fig. 1. The stages consist of front end, service period, and back end. During the front end they prepare what fuel they will use by exploring the world to find certain material to use, mining that given material, milling the material to be used, and fabricating the given fuel to allow the next stage of service period. During the service period they will need to transport the material to the given site, and then form the mined materials into usable fuel. Then, lastly, they will be in the back end where they will dispose of the given fuel and decide whether to use the material again. After these given stages they will determine if the fuel cycle is open or closed. The cycle will be closed if the fuel is reprocessed and open if it is not reprocessed. The great thing about the closed fuel cycle is that it utilizes reprocessing of the spent nuclear fuel and retrieves approximately 99% fissile nuclides (uranium and plutonium in this case).  In the end the fuel is never recycled completely and many argue that it should be called Fuel chain. Overall, the economics, politics, and long-term sustainability of nuclear energy depend critically on fuel cycles.
The Russian fuel cycle emphasis is to increase the mining of uranium, increase in the international involvement in parts of the fuel cycle, and make sure to have more exports. In the front end of Russia's fuel cycle they mine in four districts. After this they will move into the enrichment phase of the front end where they have four plants as well to reprocess the uranium.  Their main state owned company that runs all of the power plants in Russia is called Rosatom. One of the numerous power plants that they own is seen in Fig. 2. Then moving to the fabrication of their uranium and this fabrication is extremely important for Russia because it supplies 76 nuclear reactors in Russia and 13 in other countries as well as 30 research reactors and fuel for naval and icebreaker reactors. Then as they move to the back end of their cycle they are a closed cycle as much as they can and try to utilize recycled as much uranium as possible. The fear with being a closed Fuel cycle is that plutonium can be extracted during this process and can ultimately be made into nuclear weapons with out being detected by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  Even though Russia has this fear they still press forward to become a completely closed system, where the head of used fuel management has said, "that the target for 2020 is 100% (closed)." For this 100% to be possible Russia will need to start to develope their fast reactors and if they do they will have a completely closed fuel cycle with no nuclear waste. If Russia can achieve this they will be the country that operates in the fast neutron reactor industry.
|Fig. 2: Image of one of the plants operated by Rosatom in Russia. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
The use of Russia's nuclear power has been very effective for them, over 17% of their electricity power generation comes from their nuclear work. With this being said it is reported that the electricity generation from nuclear power will grow the largest in Russia by an average of 3.5% per year.  Also they have future projects that will increase the amount of uranium mined in the front end stage.They have multiple power plants in operation and they have 9 under construction at the moment and this will just increase the production of nuclear energy to a phenomenal amount. Thus, giving Russia the ability build more power plants, where others don't have the resources to do a complete a project like this. In addition to this, Russia is starting to work together with the U.S to expand cooperation of their nuclear research laboratories, institutes, and facilities in a broad range of areas, including nuclear technology, nonproliferation, fundamental and applied science, energy, and environment. Their top priority for the future is to export nuclear technology. As well as the export they want to be top in the enrichment process and want to hold one-third of the global enrichment services by 2030. As well as getting more into the enrichment process, they aim to host numerous international nuclear fuel cycle service centers and these would be able to enhance uranium enrichment, reprocessing and storage of used nuclear fuel, training and certification of nuclear energy personnel, and research and development.Russia with all of these goals and improvements in their process has secured their spot as a global nuclear energy leader and the crazy part is that they are expected to grow in the years to come.
© Blake Martinez. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
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