GE Hitachi Propose Nuclear Fuel Recycling with Prism Fast Reactor and Electroseparation

GE (General Electric) Hitachi is proposing the Advanced Recycling Center (ARC) which would be the fourth generation PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactors and an electrometallurgical separation process that would make a new form of fuel from spent fuel rods without separating plutonium. The first of kind system they are proposing would cost about $3.2 billion and would be completed by 2020 if funded and the project is executed as planned.

In the third sectio of this article, the GE prism reactor was discussed.

Here is a three page pdf on the Advanced Recycling Center (ARC) (H/T Coal2 nuclear)

The ARC would cut radioactive waste. It can extract/burn by up to 90 percent of the energy in uranium, instead of the 2-3 percent that widely-used light water reactors do.

A European study in the 1990s showed fast reactors would cost about 20 percent more than conventional reactors. However, GE says it would be also economic, particularly if the disposal costs of nuclear waste from other existing technologies are taken into account. “If you factor in long term storage, then the economics support recycling, and even reprocessing,” GE Hitachi’s Price said. “The long term disposal is going to be very expensive.” The cost conventional reactors the plus cost of building and operating fuel storage like Yucca Mountain(s) is argued to be higher than a fast reactor appraoch. Plus having a really deep burning fuel system would allow the industry to show real progress to a closed fuel cycle and to address environmental concerns.

Fuel reprocessing, like GE Hitachi’s electrometallurgical process, was the area of the technology that was least well proven, Hore-Lacy said.

Abram agreed, saying: “On a relatively small scale, the electrometallurgical reprocessing technology has been shown to work.”

“It’s conceptually relatively easy to describe. But because the fuel is very radioactive, all of the fuel manufacturing operations would have to be done in very heavily shielded facilities, and remotely, using robotic manipulation. Nobody has demonstrated it at industrial scales yet.”

GE Hitachi says it could develop the technology in 10-15 years as it has been working on it since the 1980s, partly funded by the U.S. government.

GE Hitachi Description

The ARC combines electrometallurgical processing and one or more sodium cooled fast burner reactors on a single site. This process produces power while alleviating the spent nuclear fuel burden from nuclear power generation.

The ARC starts with the separation of spent nuclear fuel into three components: 1) uranium that can be used in CANDU reactors or re-enriched for use in light water reactors; 2) fission products (with a shorter half life) that are stabilized in glass or metallic form for geologic disposal; and 3) actinides (the long lived radioactive material in SNF) which are used as fuel in the Advanced Recycling Reactor (ARR).

GEH has selected the electrometallurgical process to perform separations. The electrometallurgical process uses electric current passing through a salt bath to separate the components of Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF).

A major advantage of this process is that it is a dry process (the processing materials are solids at room temperature). This significantly reduces the risk of inadvertent environmental releases. Additionally, unlike traditional aqueous MOX separations technology, electrometallurgical separations does not generate separated pure plutonium making electrometallurgical separations more proliferation resistant. Electrometallurgical separations technology is currently widely used in the aluminum industry and has been studied and demonstrated in US National Laboratories as well as other research institutes around the world.

The actinide fuel (including elements such as plutonium, americium, neptunium, and curium) manufactured from the separations step is then used in GEH’s PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Modular) advanced recycling reactor to produce electricity. PRISM is a reactor that uses liquid sodium as a coolant. This coolant allows the neutrons in the reactor to have a higher energy (sometimes called fast-reactors) that drive fission of the actinides, converting them into shorter lived “fission products.” This reaction produces heat energy, which is converted into electrical energy in a conventional steam turbine. Sodium cooled reactors are well developed and have safely operated at many sites around the world.

The ARC produces carbon-free base load electrical power. An ARC consists of an electrometallurgical separations plant and three power blocks of 622 MWe each for a total of 1,866 MWe. The sale of electricity will provide the revenues (private sector) to operate the ARC while supplemental income will be obtained from the sale of uranium (private sector) and the payment for SNF treatment (currently Government controlled).

Today, in the US there are approximately 100 nuclear power reactors in operation. Assuming that they each produce 20 tons of SNF a year for 60 years of operation, then the current fleet will produce 120,000 tons of SNF. 26 ARCs are capable of consuming the entire 120,000 tons of SNF. Additionally, they are capable of producing 50,000 MWe and avoiding the emission of 400,000,000 tons of CO2 every year.

In order to gain the confidence of utilities and financial markets that the regulatory and resource issues (personnel and materials) can be solved, a first of a kind ARC must be built at “full-scale.” A full-scale facility is a single reactor and 50 tons per year separations facility. This facility could be available as early as 2020. A well-managed US government sponsored program using US technology, US national laboratories and universities, and US companies can lead this process. The project will take approximately 10 years to complete. We estimate the total first of a kind cost for the Nuclear Fuel Recycling Center and a PRISM reactor (design, technology development, licensing, constructions, safety testing, etc.) is $3.2B thus requiring an average spend of $320M/yr with peak construction period requiring $700M. The first PRISM reactor could be fueled by excess Pu from the weapons stockpile, thus further reducing proliferation risk. This program will enable the US to lead the world nuclear community in demonstrating a sound approach to solving the problem of SNF, a solution that our national laboratories pioneered decades ago. The US taking action to build the GEH Advanced Recycling Center allows the US to capitalize on existing US funded technology and demonstrate US leadership in providing a safe, proliferation resistant method to close the nuclear fuel cycle.

11 page presentation on the PRISM reactor

China has agreed to buy and build two 880 MWe russian BN-800 fast neutron reactors. The russian reactors are less advanced than the proposed GE Hitachi PRISM, but the first BN-800 is being built in Russia and should be done by 2012-2013. The russian’s have been operating a 600 MWe BN800 reactor since 1980.

India is completing a 500 MWe breeder reactor and plans to complete three more by 2020.