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Energy in Transition, 1985-2010: Final Report of the Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems
than they consume. Converters such as light water reactors and CANDU produce a good deal less. Advanced converters produce almost as much as they consume. If their spent fuel is reprocessed and reloaded into the reactors, they can be run with much less fresh fissile material than is needed to run light water reactors or CANDU’s. There are many possible advanced converters.
The principal advanced-reactor alternatives are listed in Table 1–5, along with indications of their relative developmental maturity.
Thus, as between breeders and advanced converters, the following conditions (not all of equal weight) would favor the use of fast breeder reactors over advanced converters in the United States for nuclear-generated electricity.
The demand for electricity in the United States grows steadily after the year 2000.
Total domestic uranium resources are found to be at the low end of recent estimates.
Very little intermediate-grade uranium ore that can be produced at costs in the range of $100–$200/lb is found.
The world growth of nuclear capacity in conventional light water reactors exerts pressure on the United States to export some of its uranium or enriched fuel (or both) to offset the balance-of-payments deficit from oil imports, to discourage recycling of fissile isotopes or installation of breeder reactors elsewhere, or for other reasons.
The following conditions would generally favor the use of advanced converters for nuclear-generated electricity.
The demand for electricity in the United States grows slowly, especially after 2000.
Sufficient uranium resources are found to fuel advanced converters at their projected rate of introduction and installation, particularly intermediate-grade ores producible at costs around $100–$200/lb.
Capital costs of advanced converters turn out to be significantly less than those of breeders.
The operation of advanced converters and their fuel cycles offers advantages in safeguarding against proliferation or diversion.
New enrichment technologies that permit economic operation at low tails assays become available early.
As has been noted, economics and the type of measures adopted by the world to slow proliferation of nuclear weapons could dominate the choice. Both are highly uncertain factors; we can only estimate future costs