Currently, less than one percent of the latent nuclear energy in uranium mined from the earth is eventually utilized. Nearly 90% of the uranium is discarded as “tails” from the enrichment process, and less than 7% of the nuclear energy in the fuel assemblies is actually “burned” before the assemblies are discarded for disposal in a permanent repository (i.e. Yucca Mountain). Unfortunately, there is no economic incentive in the commercial nuclear industry to remedy this wasteful utilization because the cost of the fuel assemblies consumed by the current reactor LWR fleet is only about 25% of the overall operating cost. Nuclear fuel cost represents less than 10% of the nominal average wholesale price of electricity. But, current uranium utilization and nuclear fuel economics ignore government expenditures on spent nuclear fuel disposal practices, the costs of storing both the weapons grade plutonium and the depleted uranium from the uranium enrichment operations, and time that would be required to deploy the types of reactors and facilities to effectively close the fuel cycle. This paper analyzes these issues and concludes that there must be no delay in completing needed R&D and beginning deployment of the essential new fast breeder and actinide burning reactors.

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