A new OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)
report, the Management of Separated Plutonium-- The
Technical Options, concludes that the management of separated
plutonium presents no major technical difficulties, and is largely a matter
of carefully applying existing technology in conjunction with efforts
to minimise existing plutonium stocks.
Plutonium is generated by the burning
of uranium fuel in nuclear reactors and is, as a result, a constituent
of the spent fuel they produce. The policies of both governments and utilities
concerning plutonium vary. Some pursue separation of the plutonium from
spent fuel, while others do not. Although the use of plutonium as reactor
fuel is increasing, stocks of separated plutonium in the civil fuel cycle
are also currently growing. In addition, there are quantities of ex-military
plutonium becoming available. Therefore, the technologies employed to
handle, use and dispose of plutonium are of considerable interest.
There are concerns being expressed about
the existence and use of the growing stocks of plutonium. There is strong
public and government interest in ensuring that plutonium from any source
is managed safely with minimal risk to mankind and the environment.
The new NEA report is the result of
a study conducted between 1994 and 1996 by an international expert group,
with membership from fifteen countries, including the Russian Federation,
and three international organisations. The task of the expert group was
to identify, review and evaluate the broad technical questions associated
with plutonium management based on over two decades of related industrial
The report indicates that in the next
15 to 20 years plutonium can be effectively recycled in thermal reactors
in the form of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide fuel (MOX) and that such
recycling could eventually reduce stocks of plutonium. However, there
will continue to be surplus quantities that will need to be safely stored.
The technologies are commercially available, and can be implemented safely
and so as to permit effective safeguarding of the material.
Such technologies may also be employed
in the longer term. In addition, plutonium may be used more efficiently
in fast reactors or in other types of reactors, or it may be transformed
into a form appropriate for final disposal. However, these approaches,
on which research and development are under way, would need to be fully
demonstrated and accepted prior to implementation.
News Media Contact:
"MANAGEMENT OF SEPARATED PLUTONIUM: The Technical
OECD, Paris 1997
FF 240 - £ 31 - US$ 47 - DM 70 - ¥ 5050
ISBN 92-64-15410-8 Available from the OECD Publications Distributors - see attached list.