New interest in doing more with spent nuclear fuel
President Obama’s nuclear summit and DOE’s retreat from Yucca Mountain bring them out
The combination of an meeting of international leaders and a high profile ‘blue ribbon commission’ are bringing out ideas to be taken seriously about what to do with spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors. Similar ideas are getting parallel visibility in other countries.
The latest round of ideas being floated by various nuclear industry leaders are designed, in part, to influence the thinking of the high profile members of commission. (prior coverage)
Ideas on what to do with spent fuel were in the nuclear industry trade press this week from GE-Hitachi, former NRC Commissioner Dale Klein, and in related developments coming out of the nuclear security summit.
GE-Hitachi promotes PRISM reactor
The volume of spent nuclear fuel in the U.S. could be reduced by 90% if the country built reprocessing centers. Jack Fuller, CEO of GE-Hitachi, told Bloomberg wire service April 14 his company is developing the PRISM reactor as part of its Advanced Recycling Center concept. He said it burns up more of the original material. GE-Hitachi has been promoting its reactor design based on the Integral Fast Reactor, a sodium-cooled “fast reactor.”
Fuller said he plans to meet with Energy Department officials to seek funding for his firm’s technology.
“The process needs to be further developed before the first plant can be built. It also needs federal aid. The question is funding,” Fuller said. “It’s probably a large funding project, but nothing more than Yucca Mountain.”
According to Bloomberg, Fuller said he will tell Chu, “Don’t go to reprocessing, go right to recycling. Don’t take the interim step.”
Last June, as reported on this blog, GE-Hitachi briefed Congress on the PRISM reactor. PRISM is GE’s proprietary name for the Integral Fast Reactor, a design that was developed in Idaho by the nuclear scientists at Argonne West (ANL-W). (right)
Fuller told Bloomberg his firm’s recycling is superior to reprocessing because it burns up plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons. “You get rid of the proliferation risk,” he said. He also distinguished his proposal from Areva’s methods which make Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel by mixing plutonium and uranium.
Areva has been promoting its methods for reprocessing spent fuel in the U.S. In a Q&A page on its North American blog, the firm notes it has already reprocessed 22,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel in France from customers.
Dale Klein has left the NRC, but he’s still talking
Former NRC Chairman Dale Klein has returned to Texas, but he’s not going quietly. Reuters reports that in a speech to an energy conference in Houston, Klein said the U.S. should develop two strategies for dealing with spent nuclear fuel. He called for centralized interim storage and fuel recycling.
The U.S. is lagging behind international practices in the rest of the global nuclear industry. France, Japan, and the U.K. all follow the dual model. According to Reuters, Klein said a centralized interim storage location would be more efficient than keeping used fuel at existing nuclear plants.
"It is certainly more efficient for regulation and it's what the rest of the world does."
An interim storage site could “be the solution for spent fuel for 50 to 100 years.” Nevada might not want the site, but other states could be convinced it can be done safely with long-term economic benefits Klein said. He added that recycling will substantially reduce the amount of storage needed for remaining high level waste.
South Korea wants to reprocess spent nuclear fuel
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in a speech in Washington, DC, at President Obama’s nuclear security summit that his country wants to begin to reprocess spent fuel from its civilian reactors. An existing pact, which expires in 2014, requires South Korea to get consent from the United States to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. The intent of the pact to insure accountability for plutonium that might otherwise be used for military purposes.
Seoul has demanded a change to the agreement because the country's storage facilities for spent fuel are expected to reach capacity in 2016. Korea’s 20 commercial nuclear reactors supply 40% of the nation’s electricity.
The Korea Times reported that on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C., the two allies held working-level talks to discuss a revision of the nuclear pact. A South Korean diplomat told the newspaper:
"Both sides agreed in principle to renew the accord as early as possible. The negotiations may begin in a few weeks."
A South Korean official also told his country’s news media the agreement reflects Washington's confidence in Seoul's commitment to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to form closer bilateral ties on tackling nuclear terrorism. The big concern in southeast Asia is how to pull the plug on North Korean’s nuclear arms ambitions, which appears to be an intractable problem.
Separately, World Nuclear News reported that the Ukraine, may move towards reprocessing. Interfax reported that talks in Washington resulted in an agreement to build "an experimental facility to recycle spent nuclear fuel in Kharkiv." No details were given, but fuel and energy minister Yuriy Boiko said this would mean the import of advanced technology to Ukraine.
That country recently inked a deal to start using fuel for its reactors from Westinghouse, which was seen as a setback for Russia’s nuclear export ambitions especially in its own backyard.
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