fbpx The Economics of Reprocessing Versus Direct Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel | Harvard Kennedy School

HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

James R. Schlesinger Professor of the Practice of Energy, National Security, and Foreign Policy
Teresa and John Heinz Research Professor of Environmental Policy


We assess the economics of reprocessing versus direct disposal of spent fuel. The uranium price at which reprocessing spent fuel from light water reactors (LWRs) and recycling the resulting plutonium and uranium in LWRs would become economic is estimated for a range of reprocessing prices and other fuel cycle costs. The contribution of both fuel cycle options to the cost of electricity is also estimated. A similar analysis is performed to compare fast neutron reactors (FRs) with LWRs. We review available information about various fuel cycle costs, as well as the quantities of uranium likely to be recoverable at a range of future prices. We conclude that the once-through LWR fuel cycle is likely to remain significantly cheaper than recycling in either LWRs or FRs for at least the next 50 yr, even with substantial growth in nuclear power.


Bunn, Matthew, John P. Holdren, Steve Fetter, and Bob van der Zwaan. "The Economics of Reprocessing Versus Direct Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel." Nuclear Technology (June 2005).