The ASOF project, acronym of Advanced Separation for Optimal management of spent Fuel, targets the development of new, innovative processes for the separation (WP1), conversion (WP2) and conditioning (WP3) of spent nuclear fuel. The aim of the project is to initiate research within the Belgian national framework in view of a clear optimisation of the final disposal concepts for nuclear waste (WP4). The project is conceived and executed by the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre SCK CEN within the framework of the Energy Transition Fund, founded by the Federal Public Service Economy in order to stimulate and support research and development (R&D) on energy (transition).
This report constitutes deliverable D4.X of WP4 and should be read as a companion to an earlier deliverable, D4.1, that examines the technoscientific “boundary conditions” for the potential realisation of partitioning and conditioning (P&C) and partitioning and transmutation (P&T) in Belgium, including factors such as the Belgian spent nuclear fuel inventory, Belgian waste classification systems, and the disposal concepts proposed by ONDRAF/NIRAS as a solution for long-term radioactive waste management (Weetjens et al., 2019). The present report expands this analysis by considering partitioning and conditioning and/or transmutation (P&C/T) as parts of a complex sociotechnical net of relationships that extends beyond the nuclear domain, most obviously to the fields of energy, climate and research policy, but that also encompasses existing (and potential) nuclear municipalities, national and regional, e.g. European, communities. The starting point of the report, then, is that P&C/T R&D, and their potential realisation, need to be understood as part of this web of actors and interactions, both influencing and being influenced by them.
This report explores the prospects of P&C/T in six nuclear countries: Finland, France, India, Japan, the UK, and the US. Each of these countries have, in different ways, been at the forefront of developing and/or implementing diverse nuclear technologies. The aim of the report is to illustrate some of the complexities and contingencies, in effect sociotechnical boundary conditions, which influence P&C/T, and that in turn are or might be influenced by P&C/T. Based on an analysis of the six cases, these conditions are situated in five interrelated dimensions: policy contexts, divisions of labour in the nuclear field, material practices and infrastructures, nuclear markets and economies, and ethical considerations. The influence of these different domains can be thought to either enable the further development of P&C/T, or to impede it. The presence and experience of reprocessing infrastructures, and policies committed to reprocessing or to closing the nuclear fuel cycle can be thought to belong to the enabling category, while past technical and infrastructural failures, low uranium prices, and policies favouring a once-through cycle and direct disposal can be seen as examples of the latter.
However, this division is not necessarily straightforward, as the close interrelations between the different domains create complexities. Countries with nuclear fuel reprocessing policies, might use existing reprocessing expertise and infrastructures related to the development of P&C/T. Conversely, vitrified wasteforms, that are unsuitable for partitioning, might be prohibitive to the development of P&C/T. Similarly, past technical incidents or unforeseen economic costs attached to reprocessing and other nuclear developments might make both politics and publics wary of future nuclear investments. As such, this report first and foremost serves as a tool to highlight the intricate connections between different societal domains and the development of P&C/T, thus illustrating how nuclear pasts and presents connect to different potential and speculative futures, rather than a linearly determined technological fate. In a next step, a forthcoming report will use the presented findings to analyse P&C/T in Belgium.