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LWR Recycle: Necessity or Impediment?

By George S. Stanford

Abstract

Abstract – The nuclear fuel cycle can be truly closed by supplementing today’s thermal reactors with fast reactors, which can use as fuel the heavy, fissionable isotopes that accumulate in thermal-reactor fuel. In a fully closed cycle, the waste for disposal consists only of fission products with trace amounts of actinides. Eliminating the transuranics reduces the heat load in the repository, increasing its capacity by about a factor of five. This permits the expanded use of LWRs to produce pollution-free electricity and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Cycling back to LWRs amounts to an expensive storage option that puts off for maybe a decade or two the need to deal effectively with the transuranics. That delay is bought at the cost of implementing and operating the thermal-recycle infrastructure, with extra expense later on because the resulting spent fuel would significantly complicate fast-reactor processing. Before DOE undertakes development of technologies for thermal recycle, the viability of forgoing it altogether should be carefully assessed — it might turn out to be an impediment rather than a necessity. Since there is no need in the long term for such an infrastructure, the energy and dollars needed to implement it might be better spent on wrapping up the development fast reactors and their fuel cycle. It is not too early to embark seriously on a program to deploy pyroprocessing and fast reactors, for ultimate closure of the fuel cycle and optimal long-term utilization of the Yucca Mountain repository. I

Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:CiteSeerX.psu:10.1.1.194.1276
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