According to an analysis carried out by Estonia’s Ministry of Climate, the annual amount of fuel used per reactor at the potential nuclear power plant in Estonia would be 12 metric tons. Although the decision has not been made yet, if the power plant is built and considering a lifetime of 60 years, a total of 720 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel per reactor would be generated during this period, comparable to about three sea containers.
The radioactive waste has been calculated on the base of the GE Hitachi BWRX-300 small modular reactor and the nuclear power plants built so far.
The author of the analysis, the expert Peter Breitenstein recommended Estonia to keep its spent fuel management options open.
“In today’s situation, reprocessing a relatively small amount of spent fuel could be one of the options of interest for Estonia, but may not be immediately doable,” he said. “Nevertheless, the option of fuel reprocessing should not be legally restricted, as it may prove feasible in the future.”
The country must make a choice between an open and a closed fuel cycle, for example, decide whether to treat used fuel as waste that needs long-term storage and then final storage, or to require its reprocessing.
If Estonia were to decide in favour of a closed cycle, France would be the only possible fuel recycler in Europe at the moment. However, in the case of reprocessing, the complex and expensive transportation of nuclear material must be taken into account and a buyer must be found for the mixed oxide fuel made from spent fuel. Besides, after reprocessing, a small amount of waste that cannot be recycled and for which a final storage option must still be found will be returned to the state. Regarding the open fuel cycle, the analysis suggests three options for the final storage of used fuel: the establishment of a deep geological final storage site similar to Finland and Sweden, the construction of a final storage site using the borehole method, where the waste is transported in special capsules to a depth of 1-3 kilometres underground, or participation in the construction of a regional final storage site.
According to Antti Tooming, Vice Chancellor of the Ministry of Climate and the head of the nuclear energy working group, the future plant operator should also consider the possibility of using nuclear fuel made from the spent fuel in its technical solutions.
“The use of such fuel does not require very large technical changes in the design of the reactor,” he said. “Besides, the possibilities of reprocessing used fuel are constantly being developed in the world.”
The analysis pointed out that the country must also create a legal framework for the creation and management of a fund for the final storage of radioactive waste generated by the plant and for post-closure costs on a “polluter pays” basis.