Plutonium management in a nuclear renaissance
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Plutonium management in a nuclear renaissance



Objective Capital's Industrial Metals, Minerals & Mineable Energy Investment Summit 2011 ...

Objective Capital's Industrial Metals, Minerals & Mineable Energy Investment Summit 2011

Ironmongers' Hall, City of London
3 November 2011
Speaker: Ben Koppelman, Royal Society



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Plutonium management in a nuclear renaissance Plutonium management in a nuclear renaissance Presentation Transcript

  • Plutonium management in a nuclear renaissance Ben Koppelman – Royal Society
  • Plutonium management in a nuclear renaissance Ben Koppelman Senior Policy Adviser Science Policy Centre  
  • Project background
    • ‘ exam question’:
    • what is the relationship between civil nuclear power and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as other security risks?
    • how make fuel cycle more proliferation resistant and secure?
      • Technical options?
      • Non-technical options
    • Technical focus on management of spent fuel
      • Recommendations to UK government
      • Identify best practices for nuclear programmes
  • Spent fuel
  • Managing spent fuel
  • Rationales for fuel cycle choice
    • 1) Technical needs 
    • 2) Waste management considerations
    • 3) Relative fuel cycle costs
      • price of uranium
      • costs of enriching and preparing uranium fuel
      • costs of reprocessing and preparing Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel
      • costs of storing spent fuel
      • costs of geological disposal
    • 4) Sustainability concerns
      • Near term: open fuel cycle, using thermal reactors
      • Longer term: closed fuel cycle using fast reactors (2040/2050 at the earliest)
  • Nuclear proliferation
    • Civil nuclear power today much less of a direct proliferation risk today
    • Nuclear weapons programmes separated civil nuclear power programmes
    • Nuclear power programmes under international safeguards
    • Civil nuclear fuel using high burn up: ‘weapons grade’ vs ‘reactor grade’ plutonium
  • Nuclear security
    • Difficult for non-state actors to develop improvised, plutonium-based nuclear weapon
    • Recent attention to the security risks of separated plutonium, e.g. dispersal device
  • Best practice for reuse
    • Spent fuel should be reprocessed only when there is a clear plan for its reuse. This plan should seek to:
    • 1) Minimise the amount of separated plutonium produced and the time for which it needs to be stored .
    • 2) Convert separated plutonium into Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel as soon as it is feasible to do so
    • 3) Identify nuclear power reactors in advance to use MOX fuel and ensure conversion into MOX fuel matches reactors’ loading schedules and fuel specifications
    • 4) Transport plutonium as MOX fuel rather than in a separated form
  • Management of the UK’s plutonium
    • UK has world’s largest stockpile of separated plutonium
    • 84 tonnes: UK owned (~100 tonnes once contracts completed)
    • 28 tonnes foreign owned
    • Royal Society advice to Government
    • 2007: MOX as best management route (reuse or immobilisation)
    • 2011: Reuse stockpile in new reactors to be built in UK
      • No major engineering challenges; just suitable licensing
      • Need a new MOX fabrication facility
        • UK Government: no public subsidy for nuclear power
  • Future of reprocessing in the UK
    • Lessons from US debates over Yucca Mountain
    • Cradle to grave planning
    • Keep options open: contingency in case of unforeseen changes
    • Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) responsible for the Thermal oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP)
    • Current assumption is to close THORP after existing contracts
    • Unclear if NDA has mandate to enter into new commercial contracts
  • Prospects for a nuclear renaissance
  • A future plutonium economy?
    • MOX use: France, Japan (?), Switzerland (?)
    • Commercial reprocessing facilities: UK, France, Japan (?) Russia
    • India?
    • China?
    • Technological constraints: fast reactor development
    • Generation IV Forum: Argentina*,Brazil*, Canada, China, EURATOM, France, Japan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, UK*, USA
    • Political constraints
    • US policy on reprocessing
  • Thorium fuel cycle
    • Natural thorium, Th-232, is not fissile but on capturing a neutron it leads to fissile U-233.
    • Similar to non-fissile U-238, which is transmuted to fissile Pu-239 upon capturing neutrons produced by fissile U-235
    • Thorium does not have a naturally occurring fissile isotope; there is no analogue of U-235.
    • Another fissile material, either U-235 or Pu-239, is needed to generate the neutrons to start the thorium fuel cycle.
  • Prospects for thorium?
    • Similar risk as U/Pu fuel cycles:
    • U-235 or Pu-239 to initiate fuel cycle presupposes enrichment and reprocessing
    • Spent thorium fuel contains U-233 that is weapons usable
    • Fast reactors and accelerator driven reactor systems could be used to generate neutrons but these remain viable only in the longer term.
    • Technologically immature in all areas
    • Regulatory experience out of date
    • Waste management still problematic
    • Incentives for industry to use it