Development of Uranium-Free TRU Metallic Fuel Fast Reactor Core

Kyoko Ishii, Mitsuaki Yamaoka, Yasuyuki Moriki, Takashi Oomori, Yasushi Tsuboi, Kazuo Arie, and Masatoshi Kawashima

Abstract A TRU-burning fast reactor cycle associated with a uranium-free transuranium (TRU) metallic fuel core is one of the solutions for radioactive waste management issue. Use of TRU metallic fuel without uranium makes it possible to maximize the TRU transmutation rate in comparison with uranium and plutonium mixed-oxide fuel because it prevents the fuel itself from producing new plutonium and minor actinides, and furthermore because metallic fuel has much smaller capture-to-fission ratios of TRU than those of mixed-oxide fuel. Also, adoption of metallic fuel enables recycling system to be less challenging, even for uranium-free fuel, because a conventional scheme of fuel recycling by electrorefining and injection casting is applicable.

There are some issues, however, associated with a uranium-free TRU metallic fuel core: decrease in negative Doppler reactivity coefficient from the absence of uranium-238, which has the ability to absorb neutrons at elevated temperatures, increase in burn-up swing, because fissile decreases monotonically in uranium-free core, and so on. The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the feasibility of the uranium-free TRU metallic fuel core by investigating the effect of measures taken to enhance Doppler reactivity feedback and to reduce burn-up swing. The results show a TRU-burning fast reactor cycle using uranium-free TRU metallic fuel is viable from the aforementioned points of view because the introduction of diluent Zr alloy, spectrum moderator BeO, and lower core height enables Doppler reactivity coefficient and burn-up reactivity swing of uranium-free TRU metallic fuel to be as practicable as those of conventional fuel containing uranium.

Keywords Burn-up swing • Doppler reactivity feedback • Fast reactor • Metallic fuel • Trans-uranium • Uranium-free


For sustainable nuclear power deployment, not only ensuring its enhanced safety but also reduction of the environmental burden associated with radioactive waste management is a challenging issue for the international community. History has shown that obtaining public support is difficult for waste management plans that involve mass disposal of radioactive waste with a half-life of tens of thousands of years. Therefore, as one of the solutions, Toshiba has been developing a system that takes into account that, for the time being, light water reactors (LWRs) have a leading role in commercial nuclear power plants, which enables toxicity and radioactivity of high-level waste to be reduced to those of natural uranium within a few hundred years. This system is mainly characterized by a fast reactor core that does not contain uranium in its fuel, that is, uranium-free TRU fuel. The use of uranium-free TRU fuel makes it possible to maximize the TRU transmutation rate in comparison with fuel containing uranium because it prevents the fuel itself from producing new plutonium and minor actinides.

Although there was much research focused on TRU transmutation with uraniumfree fuels, each of these seems to have drawbacks from some aspect. First, for instance, candidates such as Tc-based and W-based oxide fuel, inert matrix fuel such as the rock-like oxide fuel containing mineral-like compounds, and MgO-based oxide fuel provide solutions against issues associated with uraniumfree operation, that is, decrease in Doppler reactivity feedback and increase in sodium void reactivity [1–3], but such types of inert matrix fuel may require new technologies for reprocessing. Additionally, many processing phases necessary for fabrication are costly. Second, an accelerator-driven transmutation system coupled with a fast reactor using uranium-free metallic fuel is another candidate that also can relax the issue of the reduced Doppler effect owing to its subcritical system [4– 7], but installation of the accelerator facility at a fast reactor site is less cost competitive, especially when the system is not only a TRU burner but also a commercial power plant. Thus, it is worthwhile to develop the TRU transmutation system with uranium-free TRU fuel from the aspect of technological maturity and simplicity, which results in lower cost. Subsequently, the concepts for the TRU burner system with uranium-free TRU are derived from this background: fewer R&D needs and a simple system.

First, by contrast with inert matrix fuels, metallic fuel can be fabricated by the well-known injection casting method [8]. Moreover, metallic fuel is compatible with pyro-process reprocessing that has been developed since the 1960s [9]. Application of an accelerator-driven system for transmutation needs further R&D than that of a fast reactor system. Thus, the metallic fuel fast reactor is preferred for the system.

Second, we aim to develop the TRU-burning system in commercial power reactors while avoiding cost impact. For this reason, a system that can employ the pyro-process for fuel reprocessing would be preferable because it does not need

Fig. 15.1 Configuration diagram of the system to reduce nuclear waste burden

complex processes. Therefore, we introduce a metal fuel alloy that can be simply fabricated by injection casting and reprocessed by pyro-processing.

Additionally, in terms of reduction of nuclear waste burden, a metallic fuel fast reactor cycle has the great potential to transmute long-lived fission products (LLFPs) because of its excellent neutron economy [10, 11]. Moreover, it has an advantage for long-term energy security because the basic technology of the metallic fuel fast reactor cycle is also applicable to the future sustainable nuclear energy supply system.

For these reasons, Toshiba is developing a system to reduce nuclear waste burden using a TRU burner as shown in Fig. 15.1. The system is characterized by a closed fuel cycle that encompasses the following main facilities: fuel manufacturing plant to fabricate uranium-free TRU metallic fuel and LLFPs target from TRU and LLFPs extracted from LWR spent fuel, a fast reactor to burn those fuels, and recycling facilities to reprocess and refabricate the spent fuel from the fast reactor by pyroprocessing. Although substances remain after reprocessing that must finally be disposed outside the cycle, their toxicity and radioactivity are diminished to the same level as those of natural uranium by enhancing burning and processing rates and storing them for a few hundred years within the system. Among the aforementioned facilities in the system, this study focuses on the TRU-burning fast reactor and investigates the practicability of the uranium-free TRU metallic fuel core.

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