Unused Nuclear Fuel – An Ideal Solution:

TO: Nov 3rd 2020 Election Winners and others:

When it comes to the discussion of what to do with the alleged nuclear waste from commercial power plants, the solution has always been to bury it in a deep repository underground. This solution was based on the limited knowledge and understanding of nuclear science and technology from the 1940s when the nuclear power industry was in its infancy. In the last ~60 years, there have been many technological advances that now make the deep repository solution obsolete. There is another solution: recycle and reuse in advanced fast neutron reactors.

The alleged nuclear waste consists of two types of radioactive material; the 96% unused portion of the original uranium and the 4% transmuted new fission products. This material is considered a waste by-product from the atom-splitting fission process that occurs inside the reactor core. All of the radioactive material from the reactor core can be recycled and reused in newer fast reactor designs, developed to consume all of the spent fuel to create more heat for power.

The Trump Administrations cancellation of the failed Yucca Mountain deep storage repository in Nevada and the cancellation of MOX (mixed oxide) solid fuel reprocessing has left the radioactive material in limbo until a better-innovated solution comes along. That solution has been designed and prototyped by changing the solid-fueled water-cooled reactor to a molten salt fueled fast neutron reactor.

For this fast reactor solution to solve the dilemma of the alleged nuclear waste, several processes have to be in place.

RETRIEVABLE STORAGE OF SOLID FUEL RODS: The fuel rods are partially cooled in water ponds before they transfer to above-ground concrete cask (silos) for temporary dry storage. Or the fuel rods transfer to a subsurface silo pad located at the nuclear power plant site. HI-STORE CISF, by Holtec International, would be one of those sites to store retrievable solid fuel rods in subsurface concrete silos for many decades in the isolated high plains of New Mexico.

CONVERSION OF SOLID FUEL TO LIQUID SALT FUEL: The solid fuel rods consist of ceramic pellets encased in a zirconium cladding group together as an assembly with radioactive uranium and fission products. The conversion of the solid fuel rods to liquid requires removing the zirconium cladding (valuable by-product), chopping up the pellets, and throwing them into a vat of molten chloride salt where the non-fuel materials separate from the uranium, plutonium, and fission products. The molten salt fuel mixture is cooled and packaged for storage and shipment to a molten salt fast reactor commercial power plant. These semi-harden ingots are still considered high-level radioactive material handled the same way the original solid spent fuel, in a protective cask.

DEVELOPMENT OF A MOLTEN SALT FAST REACTOR: There are many development efforts around the world to implement advanced molten salt nuclear reactor technology. The ideal reactor to solve the alleged nuclear waste from the light water reactors would be a fast neutron reactor capable of using molten salt fuel consisting of all the fuel sources; spent uranium, natural uranium, depleted uranium, reactor-grade plutonium, weapons-grade plutonium, thorium, and even the fission products. These fast reactors would be continuously fed molten salt fuel during non-stop operation for up to 60 years without ever having to shut down the reactor core. A new reactor core replacement would allow continuation for another 60 or more years using the same fuel.

There are several variations of this ideal molten salt reactor in development in the US, Canada, England, France, Russia, China, and a few other smaller efforts. The future of nuclear power is transitioning from solid fuel water-cooled reactors to molten salt fueled reactors, scalable from the smaller low megawatts production to the largest gigawatts industrial power stations and industrial heat.

DEPLOYMENT OF A MOLTEN SALT FAST REACTOR FLEET: It will take many decades to build out a fleet of molten salt fast reactors capable of consuming all the unused spent nuclear fuel in storage. As well as the spent fuel still being produced in the older fleet of light water reactors, that will be productive for decades before decommissioning. Therefore, it is reasonable to consolidate the existing unused solid fuel to a storage site where a fuel conversion facility could also exist to provide the liquid fuel needed by the advanced fleet of molten salt reactors.

OVERCOME THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – SOCIOPOLITICAL FEAR: The storage technology of unused spent nuclear fuel is very safe and sound at each of the nuclear power plant sites on above-ground storage pads. The subsurface design proposed for HI-STORE CISF is already in use at three locations. The decommissioned SONGS subsurface storage silos were completed in 2020 and will sit there along with the other oceanfront property. Two other sites have also implemented the subsurface storage silos; the decommissioned Humboldt Bay Power Plant (PG&E) in 2013 and the still-active Callaway Plant in Missouri in 2015.

Even though the dry storage technology has flawlessly proven itself for the last ~40 years without a single death from radiation exposure (the measurement of safe), there is still this shackle of legacy fear towards radiation from the original usage for nuclear power as a weapon of war. This sociopolitical fear is unwarranted because it has never evolved with the current knowledge and understanding of nuclear science and technology. Nuclear energy is safe.

LICENSING THE HI-STORE CIS FACILITY IN NEW MEXICO: After many years of agonizing over the unused fuel from the commercial light water reactor fleet, what do we do? Do we deep store it or not, reprocess it or not, or recycle and burn it up as a final solution. Just as nuclear fuel storage and transport technology has evolved, so has the nuclear reactor technology. The Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor (MCSFR) design will consume all existing unused radioactive fuel sources in a single mixture of molten chloride salt fuel.

New Mexico already stores and transports radioactive materials. 1) depleted uranium at URENCO, 2) weapons-grade plutonium at Los Alamos, and 3) the recent transfer of down blended weapons-grade plutonium as a transuranic to the expanded WIPP facility. Adding a spent nuclear fuel storage management facility to our existing Nuclear industry is not going to change the risk we have already accepted and financially benefited. It’s time to license and construct the HI-STORE CISF in New Mexico.

3 thoughts on “Unused Nuclear Fuel – An Ideal Solution:

  1. davidtremain3276

    Excellent read Martin ! Good idea, & to send it to senators & representatives too! Do I have your permission to spread it around? David  T

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone



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