Research Article: An innovative way of thinking nuclear waste management – Neutron physics of a reactor directly operating on SNF

Date Published: July 27, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Bruno Merk, Dzianis Litskevich, Mark Bankhead, Richard J. Taylor, Michael Ernst-Heinrich Fassbender.

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180703

Abstract

A solution for the nuclear waste problem is the key challenge for an extensive use of nuclear reactors as a major carbon free, sustainable, and applied highly reliable energy source. Partitioning and Transmutation (P&T) promises a solution for improved waste management. Current strategies rely on systems designed in the 60’s for the massive production of plutonium. We propose an innovative strategic development plan based on invention and innovation described with the concept of developments in s-curves identifying the current boundary conditions, and the evolvable objectives. This leads to the ultimate, universal vision for energy production characterized by minimal use of resources and production of waste, while being economically affordable and safe, secure and reliable in operation. This vision is transformed into a mission for a disruptive development of the future nuclear energy system operated by burning of existing spent nuclear fuel (SNF) without prior reprocessing. This highly innovative approach fulfils the sustainability goals and creates new options for P&T. A proof on the feasibility from neutronic point of view is given demonstrating sufficient breeding of fissile material from the inserted SNF. The system does neither require new resources nor produce additional waste, thus it provides a highly sustainable option for a future nuclear system fulfilling the requests of P&T as side effect. In addition, this nuclear system provides enhanced resistance against misuse of Pu and a significantly reduced fuel cycle. However, the new system requires a demand driven rethinking of the separation process to be efficient.

Partial Text

The nuclear waste problem is in the public recognition one of the key problems to be solved to provide the basis for an extensive use of nuclear reactors reactors as a major carbon free, sustainable, and applied highly reliable energy source. The technology of Partitioning and Transmutation (P&T) has the potential to provide a technological solution for improved nuclear waste management due the significantly reduced long term challenge on a possible repository site [1]. The key components for successful installation of a P&T cycle are the separation technology for the transuranic isotopes, the pellet/solid fuel production, and a fast reactor for burning the separated transuranic isotopes and these stages have to be operated in a multi cycle mode. Most of the currently envisaged components are based on existing technologies like aqueous reprocessing and sodium cooled fast reactor technology. This is the current state of the art of the proposed P&T technology. To develop a disruptive innovation to overcome the hurdles of the current status a more generic view will be put onto the technological development by analysing the strategic development options.

The general development of nuclear reactors started in 1942, with the “Chicago Pile 1” which was the world’s first nuclear reactor, built by Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi [4]. During the first years of the development of nuclear technologies, the purpose of a nuclear reactor was based around three major objectives [5]:

The raw data of the calculations (Aurora, HELIOS and ZENITH files), the used PYTHON script for the cycle calculations and the Excel file for the data acquisition are available under [18].

The results presented here demonstrate that a molten salt reactor with fast neutron spectrum, such as that proposed in the EVOL project, could be operated using pure spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from light water reactors after the transformation period has passed. In this chapter the wider consequences will be worked out.

The nuclear waste problem is recognized as the key problem for an extensive use of nuclear reactors as a major carbon free, sustainable, and applied highly reliable energy source. Partitioning and Transmutation (P&T) promises to provide a technological solution for improved nuclear waste management. However, the P&T technologies have only been demonstrated on laboratory scale up to now. Current strategies rely on traditional sodium cooled fast reactor systems and fuel cycle facilities which have been designed in the 60ies for the massive production of plutonium. We propose to support the technological development to the industrial application with a strategic development plan based on demand driven development. Invention and innovation in nuclear reactor development can be described with the concept of developments in s-curves. The identified key points which should drive invention and innovation are the changed boundary conditions, and the evolvable objectives. These new objectives ideally coincide with the ultimate, universal vision for energy production characterized by minimal use of resources and minimized production of waste, while being economically affordable and safe, secure, and reliable in operation. This vision can be transformed into a mission for the development of a future nuclear energy system based on liquid fuelled reactors which are operated on the basis of already existing spent nuclear fuel without prior re-processing. This approach is not only fulfilling the goals of sustainability in innovative electric energy production at the front end of the fuel cycle but has also the potential to create new solutions for the back end of the fuel cycle by fulfilling the requests of P&T.

 

Source:

http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180703

 

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