The decision to re-use plutonium generated in thermal reactors is a strategic one for a utility, and is closely tied to the 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 that of 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. This report reviews the technical options available for plutonium management during this interim period. Presenting the consensus views of experts in this field, it is intended to serve as a reference source for researchers as well as utilities.