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US DOE Awards $7.3 million for “Deep-Burn” Nuclear Technology Research & Development

One of the unique features of the high temperature gas-cooled reactor is the TRISO fuel used for the fission reaction. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has selected teams led by Idaho National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory to advance the technology of nuclear fuel “Deep-Burn” in which plutonium and higher transuranics recycled from spent nuclear fuel are destroyed while generating energy. This technology advances nuclear power production and reduces the amount of radioactive waste produced in the end.

These R&D activities are aimed at establishing the technological foundations that will support the role of the Very-High-Temperature, gas-cooled Reactor (VHTR) in the nuclear fuel cycle, one of the prototype reactors being researched under the DOE’s Generation IV Nuclear power program. (Earlier post.) The work will be carried out in two parts: Advanced Modeling and Simulation Capability for VHTR Development and Design at a cost of $1 million led by Argonne National Laboratory; and Transuranic Management Capabilities of the Deep-Burn VHTR at a cost of $6.3 million led by Idaho National Laboratory.

Through a competitive process, two national laboratories teams from Idaho National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory were selected for work totaling $7.3 million. The laboratories are partnering with other national laboratories, universities, and industry on the project.

The concept of destruction of spent fuel transuranics in a TRISO-fueled (TRIstructural ISOtropic) gascooled reactor is known as Deep-Burn. The term “Deep-Burn” reflects the large fractional burnup of up to 60-70% fissions per initial metal atoms (FIMA) that can be achieved with a single pass, multi-cycle irradiation in these reactors. The concept is particularly attractive because it employs the same reactor design that is used for the NGNP program, with the same potential for highly efficient electricity and hydrogen production. Spent TRISO fuel from Deep-Burn can be either placed directly into geologic storage to provide long-term containment to the residual radioactivity or recycled for fast reactor fuel.

In parallel to the physics analysis, preliminary work has indicated that, due to the large amount of useful energy that can be extracted from the Deep-Burn TRISO fuel (up to 20 times larger than from mixedoxide (MOX) fuel in LWRs), it may be possible to recover all or part of the costs of reprocessing LWR spent fuel. The Deep-Burn concept creates a completely different paradigm for the near-term economics of closed fuel cycles if the cost of spent LWR fuel reprocessing can be offset by the value of the recovered transuranics (TRU) in a Deep-Burn reactor producing power at competitive cost.

As indicated in the course of previous analysis, the Deep-Burn gas-cooled reactor will be nearly identical to the Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) version currently under development for commercial applications. All of the engineering elements of the Deep-Burn concept that relate to the reactor core and the power production are common to the NGNP and are being addressed in the NGNP program and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Gas Turbine Modular Helium Reactor (GT-MHR) program for weapons-plutonium disposition. Although the deep-burn TRISO fuel shares common elements with the TRISO fuel proposed for the NGNP TRISO fuel and the NNSA’s Plutonium (Pu)-TRISO fuel, many aspects of the Deep-Burn concept still need to be investigated. In order to further develop the technology basis and establish the practical feasibility of the Deep-Burn concept, DOE is initiating work to resolve many of the remaining issues associated with fabrication and performance of the special TRU-loaded TRISO fuel to be used in the Deep-Burn VHTRs.

—Funding Opportunity Number DE-PS07-08ID14907

The primary mission of the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) remains the production of high-temperature heat for use as a source of process heat for generation of electricity. A further goal of this work is to enable a quantitative assessment of the scope, cost and schedule implications of extending the NGNP mission in the future to destruction of plutonium and other transuranics.

The Deep-Burn R&D effort will be coordinated with the ongoing Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) programs to ensure synergism and to avoid duplication of efforts. The R&D that will be carried out is a part of DOE’s Generation IV program.


  • Funding Opportunity Number DE-PS07-08ID14907: Deep Burn: Development of Transuranic Fuel for High-Temperature Helium-Cooled Reactors


Kit P

When the world runs out of natural gas to make fertilizer, it would be good to have a few practical alternatives for producing hydrogen.

Kit P


Nuclear power is still presenting the same old problems;
radiation leaks, very, very expensive fuel and disposal problems. France, who has built many Nuke plants, has been plagued with leaking plants mostly of late because they or getting old and the containment vessels have changed properties because of the radiation. Some are over thirty years old...so they have their own half-lifes because of the radiation.

Solar is a much better way to go...no radiation problems.


amen Lad,
france is also struggling with the disposal problem. I could almost consider building one of these plants just to reduce the current plutonium which is dangerously lying around. but that would require transporting it to this plant, which is another danger.
nuclear has too many complications, which are always completely skimmed over when it is discussed. the true costs of nuclear are never compiled.

stas peterson

This is more research on "Actinide Burning". I agree that burning (ie transmuting) transuranics is the key to a successful high level waste disposal strategy.

But I doubt that GENIV designs will see the light of day. Or, if built, they will be built in large numbers.

The designs won't be ready until the mid 2020s at the earliest. By then it will be a direct competition between the designs of the first commercial Fusion Plants, and the GENIV.

In every aspect safety, clean, fuel availability, footprint, intrinsic life cycle cost, the Fusion designs will win out. The only theoretical basis for building GEN IV will be the "Actinide Burning" issue.

Mankind simply must find a way to permanently remove those long-lived transuranics, particularly the fissile isotopes.

But the solution is twofold. Burning some portion of the TRUs in special fuel rods in the fleet of LWRs, in conjunction with burning MOX to get rid of the PU 239. Pu 239 is the largest component of TRUs, and will be and already is, usefully burnt.

The second is merely to incorporate the remaining TRUs into the shield of the Fusion Plants. The thermal profile of the neutrons provided by DT Fusion will transmute the TRUs to much shorter lived and more easily handled waste.

Charging an ancillary fee for doing "Actinide Burning", might tip the cost balance in Fusion's direction in the early days, which is all to be desired, IMO.

Since the transmutation within the Fusion Plants is but a secondary issue having nothing to do with the basic Fusion process, it is conceivable that even highly radioactive waste that is not transuranic might be transmuted as well. But that is very speculative.

I just don't see the need for a fleet of GEN IVs. OTOH, Mankind always hedges its bets, and the transition from one technology to another is accompanied by a mix of technologies. For example, we didn't make a clean break from IC engine propeller planes, to pure jets; for a while the turbo-prop carried on some features of the earlier technology while early jet engine technology improved enough to eventually do away with geared propeller drives.

The same thing happened with marine engines. In transition from sail, to steam, and within steam from reciprocating to steam turbine, and then from steam turbine to diesel and even to gas turbine. So for a while their may be a mixture of power facilties.

Eventualy, the Fusion plants will finish the job of "Actinide Burning" because evey GENIV is still a transuranic creator to some degree.


------"Solar is a much better way to go...no radiation problems."--------

Grid tie solar energy is an almost perfect solution, it provides energy, has no fuel costs, lasts almost indefinitely, and produces no pollutants or waste. It has economic benefits to the homeowner, and the utility both.
There is just one major problem with it. It cann't be monopolized. There is no way to lock out the economic benefits and manipulate market energy supplies for greedy private gains, Enron style.
So, politicians and coporate lobbyists, and utility owners will keep awarding taxpayer dollars to find the nuclear goose that will keep laying golden eggs so they can keep you under their thumbs.


BTW---we already have a nuclear fusion reactor online and running. It hss a very reliable production record, it has run for billions of years with no known down time for maintainance.
It is called The Sun.


Lad: Nuclear power is still presenting the same old problems

Did you simply stop reading the article at the first occurrence of the word "nuclear"?

Solar is a much better way to go...no radiation problems.

Instead you have other ones. You might wish to google up "night" and "cloud".

stas peterson: Mankind simply must find a way to permanently remove those long-lived transuranics, particularly the fissile isotopes.

The solution to this problem has been known for a long time:


and similar.


The prospect for fusion power is not good: the immensely larger neutron flux from a fusion plant will brutalize it's own containment hardware in short order.


"The neutron flux expected in a commercial D-T fusion reactor is about 100 times that of current fission power reactors, posing problems for material design. Design of suitable materials is under way but their actual use in a reactor is not proposed until the generation after ITER. After a single series of D-T tests at JET, the largest fusion reactor yet to use this fuel, the vacuum vessel was sufficiently radioactive that remote handling needed to be used for the year following the tests."

Wetdog: There is just one major problem with it. It cann't be monopolized.

Just who is going to maintain this "grid" you wish to "tie" into come the glorious age of solar? For example, if you live in North America, exactly who will build the 20,000km power line to the Australian outback to serve the late evening power demands from 200 million people watching television on the east cost? (Assuming there are no clouds.)

My prediction: the evil production 'monopoly' will be converted into a dastardly distribution and grid stabilization 'monopoly'. Out of the frying pan, into the fire: be careful what you wish for.


-----"Just who is going to maintain this "grid" you wish to "tie" into come the glorious age of solar?"----

The "grid" is already here---it is the means by which electrical utilities exchange power back and forth. That is what permitted the rolling blackouts and brownouts Enron used to manipulate the market price of electricty in California.

The electrical grid does not depend on any one source of power production now, why should it if people install PV panels on their rooftops? The source of about 50% of our power is currently burning coal, extremely dirty, high pollution, inefficient and stripmines are the most damaging thing we can possibly do to the land and watershed. Each grid tie solar panel that goes up simply reduces the need for coal by the amount of electricity it produces. The more grid tie aolar panels online, the less coal that is needed. Peak demand typically takes place on the hottest days when solar radition is highest---why not use the solar power that all those air conditioners are fighting against to feed the same power into the system it is currently fighting to overcome? For periods when when it is cloudy or at night, use back up generation capacity to supply power. Coal or nuclear takes many hours or even days to ramp up to running capacity. Use diesel generators or natural gas instead. Many places already have diesel generators, especially in smaller markets. Use diesel with B-100. Extremely low pollution, no greenhouse gas, no equipment modification or replacement needed. Just keep doing what we have always been doing.
Use natural gas. NG is a fossil fuel but the main component is methane. NG is fast to start up, clean, low extraction impact on the environment compared to coal, easy to transport by pipeline, and efficient. The big advantage to NG is that we can mix biomethane with it in any proportion as it becomes more available with no changes in equipment or performance needed. We replace fossil fuel with renewable fuel as capacity increases. We have to treat sewage anyway--why not generate electricity with the natural byproduct of treating sewage? We don't even need to do too much to convert power generation away from coal. You simply take out the coal grates in the boiler furnaces and put in NG burners, just like a kitchen stove only bigger. The buildings, boiler, turbines and generators all stay exactly the same. All we need is heat to generate electricity. The boilers, steam turbines, generators, hair dryers and video games don't care where the heat comes from.
Wind can also be made grid tie. The last time I checked, the wind blows at night as well as day time. Wave energy is also wind energy---it is simply wind energy that has been transfered to the water in large bodies of water such as the ocean or the Great Lakes. The waves come into the sea shore day and night.
Not all energy storage requires batteries. Excess energy produced by solar or wind capacity can be used to pump water back upstream for reuse in hydroelectric facilities. This has been done for a long time to make up for the fact it takes coal so long to start up. Some places pump air into underground chambers created by salt, oil or water extraction to store energy in the form of compressed air that can be released through turbines when needed---the same as steam is used on the surface---in fact, using the same turbines. Either of these options provide energy when needed, smoothly and almost instantaneously. If we built a grid of pipelines to pump water to the top of the continental divides(east and west) we'd not only have a way to distribute power, but after the power is taken off, you would have the water left over. Would be very handy to have in areas that are suffering from prolonged drought right now.

We don't need more nuclear energy. There are a LOT of other options that are less dangerous, less polluting, more economical and efficient.

You cann't make a solar panel or a wind turbine into a bomb no matter HOW much terrorist training you've had.


I have been looking into this area very closely in recent days, and I am now an expert so pay attention.(-:

There is absolutely no doubt; the Bush nuclear plan will use TRISO fuel. Whether it is Pebbles or Prismatic is not yet determined. In other words, this nuclear approach will happen in the near term.

A current nuke burns nuclear fuel at 4% fuel efficiency, the feds have recently tested the TRISO fuel to 9%, they will continue this burn test until next June to get 18% .

The TRISO fuel are ceramic marbles with a small amount of atomic material at the center of each one. This ceramic is a little containment building around each small piece of nuclear fuel. These tests are to ensure that this ceramic can hold up under the heat and radiation of the atomic pile in a reactor.

The TRISO reactor can run at various temperatures, the hotter it runs the more efficient that it is.

The way to increase the temperature is to adjust the ceramic coating to let more and stronger neutrons into the middle of each marble in the atomic fuel without the containment of the ceramic failing.

They want to increase the efficiency of fuel burning to 70%. That is 16 times more than current reactor designs.

The TRISO reactor is very simple and is very cheap; the real cost is in the production of the TRISO fuel. If the feds can make the fuel last 16 times longer then current reactors, the TRISO reactor gets very cheap.

At 70%, there is little plutonium left in the marbles, and since the price of electric power from the TRISO reactor is so cheap, they can afford to reprocess old nuclear waste and put it into the TRISO marbles to burnup.

The electric customer will pay to eliminate the old nuclear waste with the money that he is now paying to store nuclear waste. No tax payer money involved.

You can get rid of nuclear weapons material also. The waste from TRISO fuel at 70% burnup is about as radioactive as natural uranium, and well protected by ceramic.

Yucca Mountain will have no trouble storing this waste, and it won’t be dangerous to move it there either.

I have tried to keep things simple, but if you want more detail, I am here for you.

Pluto Boy

GNEP is a program being pushed by DOE and the plutonium industry to rip the rest of us off. Having failed at reprocessing of foreign spent fuel in France, now Areva wants to suck money off the US taxpayers. With GNEP and the hugely expensive plutonium fuel (MOX) plant at the Savanna River Site, those socialists are laughing all the way to the bank, hand in hand with their big-government DOE backers. Soon, the plutonium reprocessing scam will be over.

----"The electric customer will pay to eliminate the old nuclear waste with the money that he is now paying to store nuclear waste. No tax payer money involved."----

NOW PAYING. Taxpayer money is still involved. If we keep paying and we don't get rebate checks for what we have already paid---it is still using taxpayer $$$$ to pay for something that they keep telling you is "cheaper" than anything else because they are lying about how expensive it actually is.



Generating Cost
PBMR vs. AP600, AP1000, CCGT and Coal
(Comparison at 11% IRR for Nuclear Options, 9% for Coal and CCGT )

AP600 nuke…………..$.0490

AP100 nuke…………..$.0350

TRICO nuke………….$.0267

Clean Coal……………$.0700

Normal coal…………..$.0630


TRISO at 70% efficiency

Current spot market price

Coal price…..$140 a ton
Gas price…..$15 /million Btu

----"There is absolutely no doubt; the Bush nuclear plan will use TRISO fuel."----

How much will TRISO or any other nuclear fuel cost next month?

Nobody knows until next month.

How much will nuclear fuel cost in twenty years?

Nobody knows until 20 years from now.

I have seen windmills in Europe still grinding grain and pumping water 400 years after they were built.

The cost of fuel(wind) is exactly the same now as when they were built = 0.

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