The Windscale Inquiry: Technical Background

  • David Pearce
  • Lynne Edwards
  • Geoff Beuret


One of the main reasons for the reprocessing of spent uranium oxide fuel is that of resource conservation. The fuel is termed ‘spent’ when it has been irradiated in a reactor for up to three years and is reaching the stage of diminishing efficiency in the production of heat through the fission of atoms. If retained in the reactor after this period heat is produced less efficiently and so the fuel is removed. 97 per cent of this irradiated fuel is uranium, up to 1 per cent is plutonium and 2–3 per cent is radioactive waste (Allday, 1977). As the fuel has been enriched — i.e. it has had uranium 235 added — it contains far more U235 after irradiation in a thermal reactor than is found in natural uranium. Reprocessing frees this uranium and plutonium from other actinides and fission products so that they may be reconverted into fuel for re-use in fast reactors and, conceivably, in thermal reactors. The effect of re-using the reprocessed fuel in a thermal reactor is to enable 30–40 per cent more power to be generated from the original material. However, such fuel can only used once. On the other hand recycling this material in a fast reactor would give an energy saving 50 times greater than that elicited from a thermal reactor (Allday, 1977). Hence the uranium and plutonium in spent oxide fuel is self-evidently a valuable source of energy if it can be recovered at a cost which permits the recycled U and Pu to have a value such that their use in thermal or fast reactors would provide power at a competitive price.1


Fission Product Oxide Fuel Thermal Reactor Spend Fuel Uranium Oxide 
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Copyright information

© Social Science Research Council 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Pearce
  • Lynne Edwards
  • Geoff Beuret

There are no affiliations available

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