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

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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