Plutonium management in a nuclear renaissance


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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

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