The first step in any transmutation strategy is the separation of radionuclides in used nuclear fuel. The current separation strategy supporting the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI) program is based on the use of a solvent extraction separation process to separate the actinides, fission products, and uranium from used commercial nuclear fuel, and on the use of pyrochemical separation technologies to process used transmuter fuels. To separate the fission products and transuranic elements from the uranium in used fuel, the national program is developing a new solvent extraction process, the Uranium Extraction Plus, or UREX+, process based on the traditional solvent extraction reprocessing technologies.
Preparing fuel for possible burn up in light water reactors, fast reactors, or accelerator-driven systems involves various chemical processes to partition the transuranics (neptunium, americium, plutonium, and curium) from the fission products. This results in waste streams that are highly radioactive and require radiation shielding for safety. These transuranic elements pose varied criticality, thermal, and radiation risks during storage and handling. Additionally, the radioactive decay of strontium and cesium waste products of the UREX+ technique produce roughly half of the thermal products and gamma radiation emissions in spent fuel. These radioisotopes require storage for approximately 300 years before heat and radiation hazards decrease to a safe level.
As the volume of waste requiring treatment increases, a higher probability exists that fissionable isotopes of plutonium, neptunium, and curium can accumulate and form a critical mass. Criticality concerns warrant an assessment of the effective neutron multiplication factor, or keff, to prevent a possible sustained fission reaction. Maintaining keff below a safe level (<0.95) prevents criticality events. This parameter can be computed for any combination of fuel and geometry using Monte Carlo neutron transport codes. Monte Carlo simulations establish the best means of examining the criticality safety of the proposed separation processes, and allow engineers to develop proper safety measures for the reprocessing and fabrication of actinide fuels.
Candidate storage containers also require analysis to assess the need for radiation shielding. Since minor actinides generate significant amounts of heat through radioactive decay, proposed containment measures must be designed to avoid excessive temperatures. Radioactive decay also generates heat that can lead to melting of the fuel during storage and handling.
Actinide elements; Criticality (Nuclear engineering); Neutrons — Multiplicity; Radioactive waste canisters; Reactor fuel reprocessing; Separation (Technology); Shielding (Radiation); Spent reactor fuels; Transmutation (Chemistry); Transuranium elements; Uranium Recovery by Extraction (UREX)
Chemistry | Nuclear | Nuclear Engineering | Oil, Gas, and Energy
Nuclear Criticality, Shielding, and Thermal Analyses of Separations Processes for the Transmutation Fuel Cycle.
Available at: https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/hrc_trp_separations/26