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Transmutation of Radioactive Waste

Transmutation methods Nuclear data Online documents


Since 1989, there has been renewed interest in some OECD Member countries in the concept of separation and transmutation of actinides. Several of them, in general countries with heavy investment in nuclear power, have launched significant programmes in order to evaluate more accurately the validity of this approach from the point of view of waste management and radiation protection, the overall impact on the fuel cycle, and the new scientific and technological problems it would raise. Forecasts are also needed for the economic effects in the longer term.

Some of the NEA committees have already taken a position on this question, or have arranged to study certain aspects of it. Thus, the Radioactive Waste Management Committee has considered the concept as a possibility for the long-term future, and wishes to be kept informed on developments. The Nuclear Science Committee has already made plans to examine some new scientific questions raised by transmutation, while the Nuclear Development Committee is carrying out a general programme of information exchange between the Member countries.

The separation and transmutation of actinides is generally considered as a new option which should be explored. However, the interest, urgency or priority to be assigned to such work will look different according to whether it is seen from a scientific or a strategic point of view and whether the question is considered in a more or less long-term perspective. In fact the committees likely to work on this topic have, by their very nature, points of view and sometimes objectives which may differ significantly and which should be respected. In order to avoid any misunderstanding between the committees the Secretariat may find it useful to demonstrate the overall coherence of NEA's activity, taking the following position:

  1. The concept of separation and transmutation of actinides has the potential to contribute to solving the problems posed by the management of radioactive waste, by reducing the proportion of long-lived isotopes it contains. However, it should not be considered as an alternative to deep geological disposal, and should not be presented as such.
  2. >The value of this concept remains to be verified by studies on the level of strategy, science, technology and economics as well as that of safety. The size of this task is such that it must be considered part of a long-term programme whose results remain uncertain.
  3. This question is evidently a suitable topic for international cooperation, and it would be appropriate for NEA to act at different levels such as waste management, scientific studies, or studies on strategy, technology and safety.
  4. Satisfactory coordination of this work depends in the first instance on the efficient exchange of information between the different committees. Without limiting the autonomy of each committee, such an exchange of information is useful and may be indispensable. In fact, good coordination depends also strongly on the cooperation of all parties concerned, both the committees themselves and the staff members concerned in the different divisions.

Recommended introductory texts on the subject of waste transmutation are:

Transmutation methods

Transmutation with nuclear reactors, Accelerator-based transmutation and related topics, and the chemical aspects of transmutation are all covered in this section. More...

Nuclear data

Both More...

Documents available online

A selection of documents (mostly in pdf format) are available online. More...

Last reviewed: 3 February 2012