In 2003, MIT published the interdisciplinary study The Future of Nuclear Power. The under-lying motivation was that nuclear energy, which then provided about 70% of the “zero”-carbon electricity in the U.S., was seen as an important option for the market place in a low-carbon world. Since that report, concerns about climate change have risen and countries have started adopting restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions. Projections for nuclear-power growth worldwide have increased dramatically and construction of new plants has accelerated, particularly in China and India.
This study on The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle was carried out in 2010 and 2011, anticipating that nuclear power would be deployed at Terawatt scale by mid-century to mitigate climate change. To expand, nuclear power must overcome critical challenges in cost, waste disposal, and proliferation concerns while maintaining its currently excellent safety and reliability record. Important decisions may be taken with far reaching long-term implications about the evolution of the nuclear fuel cycle—what type of fuel is used, what types of reactors, what happens to irradiated fuel, and what method of disposal for long term nuclear wastes. This study aimed to inform those decisions and was released within weeks after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power accident.