|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