Partitioning and Transmutation of Minor Actinides and Fission Products

History of P&T studies in NEA Member countries and International Organisations


First generation systems studies on P&T as a new waste management issue were initiated in the 1970's in different OECD/NEA Member countries:

Three major "final assessment" reports were published in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to following conclusions:

The period of active investigation on P&T starting in early 1970s was terminated around 1982-1983 as no international consensus was obtained on the benefits of P&T as an alternative or complementary waste management option.


During the 1980s, a growing awareness of the inherent difficulties in creating and licensing large nuclear waste repositories, and growing delays in the R&D projects, particularly in the development of underground pilot repository facilities, led the international community to reconsider the potential benefits of P&T as a complementary waste management option and these resulted in second generation system studies. This renewed interest was also based on technological developments in several fields making the P&T option seemingly more feasible.

In October 1988, the Japanese government by way of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) launched the ambitious "OMEGA" R&D programme [13]. The R&D programmes were stimulated by the collaborative efforts of JAERI and the former PNC (now JNC). In the public sector, CRIEPI has also been carrying out R&D on this subject.

The "OMEGA" programme is proceeded in two steps: the phase-I was intended to cover a period up to about 1996, and the phase-II to about 2000. The basic studies and tests were to be conducted in the phase-I, and engineering tests of technologies or demonstration of concepts are planned in the phase II. After 2000, pilot facilities would be built to demonstrate the P&T technology. Following items are being studied:

Start of NEA involvement

It was during this second era of P&T activities that the NEA became involved in studying this subject. In 1988, next to launching the "OMEGA" programme, the Japanese government also invited the international community, through the OECD/NEA, to participate in the assessment of a broad range of P&T developments.

This initiative was the starting point of a world-wide renewal of interest and work in the P&T field. Large scale R&D programmes are still being conducted in Japan (JAERI, JNC, CRIEPI) and in France (CEA) in co-operation with several European countries under sponsorship of the European Commission. Important experimental programmes were conducted in the United States at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL).

As a result of this increasing interest, the need was felt to re-examine the validity of the P&T option in the light of the more recent results. In France, a National Evaluation Commission was appointed in 1993 in order to supervise the R&D activities in the field of radioactive waste management. Reports were issued [14-15-16] in 1995, 1996 and 1997. In the field of P&T, the following recommendations were made:

In Japan, the ongoing "OMEGA" project covered the activities on P&T where comparable national evaluation and assessment reports have not been openly published. However, the Japanese evaluations and assessments have been included in the OECD/NEA activities and publications as part of the NEA assessment studies.

A series of American reports was published in the meantime. On the basis of the ORNL retrospective assessment of P&T [17], the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) started a detailed evaluation programme [18] on the concept of transuranic burning using liquid metal reactors (LMR) and included, in their overview, the waste management consequences resulting from "alternative spent fuel separation processes". A study of the impact of P&T on the disposal of high-level waste was prepared by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories [19] and the main conclusions of these US reports were:


The most recent published and most comprehensive national assessment report on P&T was issued in 1996 by the National Academy of Science of the US under the chairmanship of N.C. Rasmussen [20]. The report covers all aspects of the problem from an American point of view. The principal recommendations listed in the report are: · None of the P&T system concepts reviewed eliminates the need for geological disposal. · The current policy of the "once-through-cycle" should be continued. · Fuel retrievability should be extended to ~100 years. · R&D should be conducted on selected topics of P&T.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, an emerging interest has been oriented towards renewed P&T technologies, e.g. accelerator-driven systems (ADS) and pyrochemical partitioning, which induced new R&D activities in several OECD/NEA Member countries. Especially ADS has been the attraction pole for many new researchers in the field and new international collaborations are being set-up in this domain. Those OECD/NEA Member countries conducted in addition studies on the P&T potential and giving overviews of national and international R&D activities in this field. This growing community of researchers in different OECD/NEA Member countries (in Europe about 250 researchers) published multiple reports on P&T during the past five years, where an overview of all these is out of the scope of this note.

The IAEA assessment report on P&T in 1995 [21] investigated the technical feasibility and the radiological impact. Conclusions indicated that partitioning is indeed feasible but considerable R&D would be required to implement a realistic flowsheet operable at industrial scale. The reduction in long-term risks achievable by P&T of actinides is less than expected and long-lived FPs which are not amenable to any form of P&T, also contribute to the very long-term risk. All in all, the implementation of P&T would be an immense undertaking, involving a large proportion of a country's nuclear power program, but providing at best a rather small reduction in potential long-term radiological hazard. The IAEA undertook several complementary activities with respect to OECD/NEA's work (see following section):

The European Commission was partly supporting research work on partitioning and transmutation of radioactive waste under the Fourth Framework Programme (1994-1998). This work included nine research projects.

Within the Fifth Framework Programme (1998-2002), strategy studies on P&T are foreseen to investigate its benefits and compare different methods such as critical and sub-critical systems taking into account the whole fuel cycle. New efficient and selective processes will be developed for the separation of the critical long-lived radionuclides form high level and medium level waste. Basic nuclear data essential for transmutation and the development of ADS will be measured and computed. The radiation damage induced by spallation reactions in materials will be investigated. It is foreseen to develop and test fuels and targets for actinide and long-lived fission product incineration. The preliminary study of an ADS is also considered in the programme with supporting research work on sub-critical mock-ups, safety, coolants, the confinement of the accelerator/reactor window and high power accelerators. Finally, new specific matrices could be also developed for the conditioning of long-lived radionuclides, which cannot be transmuted.

The European Commission (EC) published in 1997 a report on the perspectives and the deemed costs of P&T [25]. Main conclusions in this report were the potential reduction of waste radiotoxicity by a factor of 40 to 100 compared with the open fuel cycle scenario and depending on the moment considered in the cooling period. Recycling the FPs was reported not to entail any gain on their radiotoxicity where neptunium recycling results in a gain after roughly one million years of decay. Nevertheless, in terms of residual radiotoxicity, recycling these elements may be an advantage because of their mobility in a geological repository environment. For the first level of P&T, based on technologies derived from existing techniques, the cost supplement over recycling plutonium alone was estimated at about one-third of the fuel cycle cost. Partitioning and fuel fabrication accounting roughly equal fractions of this cost supplement. At the second level, where P&T is implemented based on completely new technologies and aiming at complete separation of the MAs and some FPs, the partitioning involves an additional cost estimated at half the cost of the conventional fuel cycle operations.


[1] JAIF, "A Closed System of Radioactivity", Atoms in Japan, August 1973 Supplement, (1973).

[2] M. Steinberg, G. Wotsak, and B. Manowitz, "Neutron Burning of Long-Lived Fission Products for Waste Disposal", BNL-8558 (September 1964).

[3] A.G. Croff, et al., "A Preliminary Assessment of Partitioning and Transmutation as a Radioactive Waste Management Concept", ORNL/TM-5808 (September 1977).

[4] A.G. Croff and J.O. Blomeke, "Actinide Partitioning-Transmutation Program Final Report. I. Overall Assessment", ORNL-5566 (1980).

[5] J.C. Claiborne, "Neutron Induced Transmutation of High-Level Radioactive Waste", ORNL-TM-3964 (1972).

[6] C.E. Stevenson, 'The EBR-II Fuel Cycle Story', American Nuclear Society (1987).

[7] L. Burris et al, 'The Melt Refining of Irriadiated Uranium: Application to EBR-II Fast Reactor Fuel: I. Introduction', Nuclear Science and Engineering, 6, 493 (1959).

[8] J.J. Laidler, J.E. Battles, W.E. Miller, J.P. Ackerman, E.L. Carls, 'Development of Pyroprocessing Technology', Progress in Nuclear Energy 31, p.131 (1997).

[9] J.J. Laidler, 'Use of Pyroprocessing in the Preparation of Spent Fuel for Transmutation', AIP Conference Proceedings 346 (Proceedings, International Conference on Accelerator-Driven Transmutation Technologies and Applications, Las Vegas), p. 627, (July 1994).

[10] H.A.C. McKay, et al., "The Separation and Recycling of Actinides. A Review of the State-of-the-Art", EUR-5801, European Commission (1977).

[11] Commission of the European Communities, "Assessment Studies on Nuclear Transmutation of By-product Actinide, Final Report", Joint Research Centre at Ispra, SA/1-05-03-83-13 (1983).

[12] Conseil Supérieur de la Sureté Nucléaire, Rapport de la Commission CASTAING, Rapport du Groupe de Travail sur la Gestion de Combustibles Irradiés, Paris, (December 1981-November 1982)

[13] T. Inoue, et al., "Development of Partitioning and Transmutation Technology for Long-Lived Nuclides", Nuclear Technology, 93 206 (1991).

[14] Commission Nationale d'Évaluation Relative aux Recherches sur la Gestion des Déchets Radioactifs, Rapport d'Évaluation n° 1, (Juin 1995), Edited by B. Tissot president, Quai A. Citroën, 39-41, 75015-Paris.

[15] Commission Nationale d'Évaluation Relative aux Recherches sur la Gestion des Déchets Radioactifs, Rapport d'Évaluation n°2, (Juin 1996), Edited by B. Tissot president, Quai A. Citroën, 39-41, 75015-Paris.

[16] Commission Nationale d'Évaluation Relative aux Recherches sur la Gestion des Déchets Radioactifs, Rapport d'Évaluation n° 3, (Septembre 1997), Edited by B. Tissot president, Quai A. Citroën, 39-41, 75015-Paris.

[17] C.W. Forsberg, A.G. Croffand, D.C. Kocher, "Historical Perspective - Economic Analysis and Regulatory Analysis of the Impacts of Waste Partitioning and Transmutation on the Disposal of Radioactive Wastes", ORNL-TM-11650 (1990).

[18] EPRI 1991. a) R.E. Wilems and J.G. Dana, "The Effects of Transuranic Separation on Waste Disposal", EPRI-NP-7263 (1991). b) C. Newman, "International Programs Related to the Transmutation of Transuranics", EPRI-NP-7265 (1991). c) J.E. Gingold, et al., "The Cost of Processing Irradiated Fuel from Light-Water Reactors: An Independent Assessment", EPRI-NP-7264 (1991). d) E. Rodwell, et al., "An Evaluation of the Concept of Transuranic Burning Using Liquid Metal Reactors", EPRI-NP-7261 (1991). e) M.L. Thompson, et al., "Projected Waste Packages Resulting from Alternative Spent Fuel Separation Processes", EPRI-NP-7262 (1991).

[19] Ramspott, et al., "Impacts of New Developments in Partitioning and Transmutation on the Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste in a Mined Geologic Repository", UCRL Report ID-109203 (March 1992).

[20] "Nuclear Wastes. Technologies for Separations and Transmutation", National Research Council: Committee on Separations and Transmutation Systems, National Academy Press Washington D.C. (USA), ISBN-0-309-05226-2, (1996).

[21] IAEA, "Safety and Environmental Aspects of Partitioning and Transmutation of Actinides and Fission Products", IAEA-TECDOC-783 (1995).

[22] IAEA, "Status Report on Actinide and Fission Product Transmutation Studies", IAEA-TECDOC-948, Vienna, (1997).

[23] IAEA, "Accelerator Driven Systems; Energy Generation and Transmutation of Nuclear Waste", IAEA-TECDOC-985, Vienna, (1997).

[24] IAEA, "Technical Committee Meeting on Feasibility and Motivation for Hybrid Concepts for Nuclear Energy Generation and Transmutation", CIEMAT, Madrid, Spain, 17-19 September (1997) (to be published).

[25] EC, "Perspectives and Cost of Partitioning and Transmutation of Long-Lived Radionuclides", EUR-17485 EN, (1997).

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Last updated: 24-Oct-2001