Paris, 21 November 2003
The decision to re-use plutonium generated in thermal reactors is a strategic one for a utility, and is closely tied to its spent fuel management strategy. One option is to reprocess the spent fuel in existing reprocessing plants and immediately re-use the plutonium. Another option is to postpone re-use of the plutonium by placing the irradiated fuel in interim storage. The availability of different types of reactors determines the timescales for the present, medium-term or long-term future re-use of plutonium.
Current commercial reprocessing plants are all designed to separate the remaining plutonium at discharge for re-use. Historically, the rationale was to recover sufficient plutonium to enable a build-up of fast reactors, which were expected to be deployed as uranium reserves became scarce and prices rose. For a variety of reasons, but principally the low price of uranium ore, fast reactors have not yet been deployed commercially and projected timescales for doing so have been postponed everywhere.
Fast reactors are nevertheless still judged by many to be the most promising for long-term sustainability. Until such time as fast reactors are deployed commercially, however, the issue of how best to manage plutonium arisings from existing reprocessing plants remains.
Plutonium Management in the Medium Term, a new NEA report*, reviews the technical options available for plutonium management from the present up to the point at which a fully sustainable fuel cycle is eventually established. Describing the various proposals that have been made in recent years, this report presents a discussion of the rationale, technical attributes, capabilities and current status of each. Concepts that are no longer under active development are also included for completeness. The report serves a practical purpose by providing a summary description of each proposal, references for further details and a commentary on the relative merits of the various options based on expert consensus in the field.
Plutonium Management in the Medium Term
ISBN 92-64-02151-5, OECD/NEA 2003, 68 pages
Please quote the title and reference in any review.
* Plutonium Management in the Medium Term was prepared by the Working Party on the Physics of Plutonium Fuels and Innovative Fuel Cycles (WPPR) of the OECD/NEA Nuclear Science Committee.