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Operationalising the use of Life Cycle Assessment to nuclear waste management

Paulillo, Andrea; (2018) Operationalising the use of Life Cycle Assessment to nuclear waste management. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

After decades of declining interest, nuclear energy is poised for a comeback in the UK, driven primarily by pledges and binding agreements on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, but also by increasing energy security concerns. However, the industry has yet to tackle some of its most crucial challenges regarding management of used nuclear fuels, and especially of highly radioactive wastes. Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) – indeed the most mature and also the only standardised life-cycle methodology – represents a widely accepted tool for quantifying the environmental impacts associated with goods or services and supporting decision-making processes. This Thesis aims at operationalising the use of LCA to nuclear waste management. After introducing the LCA standard methodology, the Thesis proceeds with a comprehensive review of methodologies for assessing radiological impacts – the lack of an appropriate approach for radiological impacts in LCA is in fact identified as the crucial barrier for its application to the industry, especially with respect to waste management. Building upon the main findings of the review, the Thesis presents an overarching framework and two practical methodologies – namely UCrad and the Critical Group Methodology (CGM) – for assessing radiological impacts of direct discharges, and crucially, of nuclear waste disposed of in a geological repository. The LCA and the methodologies for radiological impacts are then applied to two case studies. The first is a prospective attributional study that examines the current procedure for managing used nuclear fuels and the UK Government policy for disposal of nuclear waste in the UK. The objective is to identify hot-spots and suggest potential improvements. The study shows that the highest impacts are due to the production of chemicals required by the reprocessing process and the materials used for High Level Waste canisters rather than the construction and decommissioning of a final repository for nuclear waste. The second study focuses on future scenarios for managing used nuclear fuels in the UK, including direct disposal and four reprocessing options, and clearly demonstrates how LCA can be used to support decisions. Reprocessing of uranium, but especially of plutonium, is shown to be of crucial importance from an environmental perspective.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Operationalising the use of Life Cycle Assessment to nuclear waste management
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Engineering Science > Dept of Chemical Engineering
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10059990
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