The safe and efficient management of spent fuel from the operation of commercial nuclear power plants is an important issue. Worldwide, more than 250 000 tons of spent fuel from reactors currently operating will require disposal. These numbers account for only high-level radioactive waste generated by present-day power reactors.
Nearly all issues related to risks to future generations arising from the long-term disposal of such spent nuclear fuel is attributable to only about 1% of its content. This 1% is made up primarily of plutonium, neptunium, americium and curium (called transuranic elements) and the long-lived isotopes of iodine and technetium. When transuranics are removed from discharged fuel destined for disposal, the toxic nature of the spent fuel drops below that of natural uranium ore (that which was originally mined for the nuclear fuel) within a period of several hundred to a thousand years. This significantly reduces the burden on geological repositories and the problem of addressing the remaining long-term residues can thus be done in controlled environments having timescales of centuries rather than millennia stretching beyond 10 000 years.
Transmutation is one of the means being explored to address the disposal of transuranic elements. To achieve this, advanced reactor systems, appropriate fuels, separation techniques and associated fuel cycle strategies are required.
This report describes the current status of fuel and material technologies for transmutation and suggests technical R&D issues that need to be resolved. It will be of particular interest to nuclear fuel and material scientists involved in the field of partitioning and transmutation (P&T), and in advanced fuel cycles in general.