GE and Hitachi want to use nuclear waste as a fuel

Feb 18, 2010 by Lin Edwards report
nuclear power plant

(PhysOrg.com) -- One of the world's biggest providers of nuclear reactors, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (a joint venture of General Electric and Hitachi), wants to reprocess nuclear waste for use as a fuel in advanced nuclear power plants, instead of burying it in waste repositories such as that proposed at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

Conventional plants in the US only harness around five percent of the energy of nuclear fuels. The reprocessing technique would separate into different types of fuels, some of which can be used in conventional nuclear power plants, and some of which can only be used in advanced fast neutron reactors. Reprocessing of nuclear waste to extract more useable has been criticized in the US because it produces pure plutonium, which could be stolen and used to make nuclear weapons. To get around this difficulty, GE Hitachi’s proposed method produces a fuel that is much harder to steal.

The GE Hitachi process separates wastes from conventional nuclear power plants into three streams, by applying voltage to a . The first consists of the products of fission, which cannot be further used as fuel and will need to be stored, but the storage time required is reduced from tens of thousands of years to a few hundred years (although a small fraction of the material will still need to be stored for over 10,000 years). The second material is uranium that does not have enough fissile material to be used in the light water uranium reactors in the US, which need enriched uranium, but it can be used by (heavy water) uranium reactors, which are used in Canada.

The final group of waste products is a mixture of transuranic elements including plutonium and neptunium. The plutonium is not separated from the other elements, and the mixture releases 1,000 times more heat and 10,000 times more neutrons than pure plutonium. This makes it much harder to steal, and therefore less of a security risk, and it is also much easier to detect. The mixture of transuranic elements can be used in nuclear reactors that use molten sodium as the coolant rather than water, and this type is used in Japan and a few other countries. GE Hitachi has designed a reactor known as the PRISM reactor that would be able to use the mixed fuel, but sodium cooled reactors have not been approved for use in the US.

A GE Hitachi spokesman said previous US administrations had little interest in re-using spent nuclear fuel, but the Obama administration is increasing support for nuclear power and looking at possibilities such as reprocessing. If adopted, the proposal would significantly decrease the amount of dangerous nuclear waste that needs to be stored.

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NuclearHydrocarbons
2.8 / 5 (4) Feb 18, 2010
The decay heat of spent nuclear fuel offers the key to overcoming the adverse economics of nuclears' high upfront capital costs.

See: "New Invention Using Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods Could Unlock U.S. Oil Reserves Three Times Larger Than Saudi Arabia's” posted at http://www.busine...-2010-2.

Producing oil shale with this residual heat that posed a problem for Yucca Mountain does not preclude further recycling. BWR fuel can be recovered and burned again as is, without the cost and associated proliferation and safety problems of reprocessing, in a CANDU.
NuclearHydrocarbons
3.3 / 5 (3) Feb 18, 2010
The decay heat of spent nuclear fuel offers the key to overcoming the adverse economics of high upfront capital costs for nuclear.

This heat can produce America's oil shale reserves which are three times larger Than Saudi Arabia's.

Producing oil shale with this residual heat, that poses a problem for repositories like Yucca Mountain, does not preclude its further recycling. BWR fuel can be recovered and burned again as is, without the cost and associated proliferation and safety problems of reprocessing, in a CANDU.
david_42
3.3 / 5 (3) Feb 18, 2010
Although this process is interesting, none of the products can be used with existing US reactors. Until sodium and heavy water reactors are built in the US, we are left with the need to transport the materials to ports and ship them to other countries.
jselin
4 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2010
Traveling wave reactors like that proposed by TerraPower/Intellectual Ventures, if successful, would probably be the best use of spent fuel.
Javinator
not rated yet Feb 18, 2010
BWR fuel can be recovered and burned again as is, without the cost and associated proliferation and safety problems of reprocessing, in a CANDU.


Although the U-235 content of spent BWR fuel is higher than that in the natural uranium used in CANDUs it still can't exactly be used as is.

There are still fuel sheath/bundling issues, fission products to deal with, etc. I love CANDUs as a place to use the reprocessed fuel and I agree that the cost of reprocessing BWR fuel to be used in a CANDU reduces cost and proliferation issues, but there is still a significant amount of processing that needs to be done to fuel coming out of a BWR before heading into a CANDU.
Javinator
not rated yet Feb 18, 2010
Although this process is interesting, none of the products can be used with existing US reactors. Until sodium and heavy water reactors are built in the US, we are left with the need to transport the materials to ports and ship them to other countries.


Currently, nuclear waste is to be stored in a way that it can be retrieved should it need to be transported/studied/whatever (regardless of what may have been done in the past, this is how it is done now).

Because of this it is far more likely that fuel will be stored in the same manner it is now rather than be shipped across oceans and borders. When the technology and techniques described in the article are being used in the US, the spent fuel will be retrieved and reprocessed.
NuclearHydrocarbons
5 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2010
CANDU technology offers another unique option for the back end of the LWR fuel cycle, which completely avoids the need for wet reprocessing and fissile-material recovery. The "DUPIC" fuel cycle, or "direct use of spent PWR fuel in CANDU", utilizes the non-separated, non-enhanced waste product of LWRs directly as CANDU fuel (Keil, 1992).

The transfer from LWR to CANDU can be literally "direct", involving only the cutting of spent LWR fuel rods to CANDU length (~50 cm), resealing (or double-sheathing), and reengineering into cylindrical bundles suitable for CANDU geometry.

http://www.nuclea...fuel.htm
Adam
not rated yet Feb 19, 2010
About time someone did something more sensible with all that UNBURNT fuel rather than dumping it.
Javinator
not rated yet Feb 19, 2010
The transfer from LWR to CANDU can be literally "direct", involving only the cutting of spent LWR fuel rods to CANDU length (~50 cm), resealing (or double-sheathing), and reengineering into cylindrical bundles suitable for CANDU geometry.


I think we're agreeing with each other. When I said the fuel still needs to be processed before it went into a CANDU this is what I was referring to. No chemical reprocessing, but the handling of fresh(ish) fuel and cutting/sheathing/bundling of these fuel rods would still be considered processing of the fuel and are still fairly hazardous and time consuming activities.

I'm not saying I don't support it (because I definitely do think it's one of the easiest ways to reuse BWR fuel), but to say it goes "directly" from BWR to CANDU seems a little misleading.
NuclearHydrocarbons
not rated yet Feb 19, 2010
to say it goes "directly" from BWR to CANDU seems a little misleading.


Point taken.
yyz
not rated yet Feb 23, 2010
At the risk of being obvious, GE does process 'fuel' into nuclear waste. On the other hand, I do applaud any serious efforts by GE Hitachi to minimize the problem.

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