1
Introduction

Russia and the United States face many common challenges in managing spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Some of these challenges are rooted in the two countries’ linked histories as adversaries during the Cold War, while other challenges are burdens attendant to nuclear power, which supplies a significant portion of the electricity generated in each country.1 Russia and the United States at different times have used the same approach to addressing many of these challenges, based upon reprocessing. In recent years, however, for different reasons, they have chosen different approaches. Each approach is, in principle, technically feasible and appropriate for meeting the respective country’s stated goals. Modifications to earlier approaches have been made in the United States for policy reasons and in Russia for financial reasons. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, as well as many shared operational elements. Neither country has fully implemented its approach or realized its goals. No longer adversaries, it is in the United States’ and Russia’s common interests to learn more about their common problems, to learn from each other’s efforts, and to ensure that high-quality science and engineering are brought to bear on these problems.

This study, requested by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), furthers these goals by describing the management of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW), and describes inventories, compares the approaches taken in the two countries, and assesses the end-point options for interim storage of materials and wastes and for permanent disposal of wastes. (See Appendix A for the statement of task.)

The report is presented in four chapters. Chapter 1 provides definitions of terms and a general overview of the problems. Chapter 2 is a technical and scientific examination of the sources,

1  

Fifteen percent in Russia (Nigmatulin 2001) and 20 percent in the United States (EIA 2002).



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1 Introduction Russia and the United States face many common challenges in managing spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Some of these challenges are rooted in the two countries’ linked histories as adversaries during the Cold War, while other challenges are burdens attendant to nuclear power, which supplies a significant portion of the electricity generated in each country.1 Russia and the United States at different times have used the same approach to addressing many of these challenges, based upon reprocessing. In recent years, however, for different reasons, they have chosen different approaches. Each approach is, in principle, technically feasible and appropriate for meeting the respective country’s stated goals. Modifications to earlier approaches have been made in the United States for policy reasons and in Russia for financial reasons. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, as well as many shared operational elements. Neither country has fully implemented its approach or realized its goals. No longer adversaries, it is in the United States’ and Russia’s common interests to learn more about their common problems, to learn from each other’s efforts, and to ensure that high-quality science and engineering are brought to bear on these problems. This study, requested by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), furthers these goals by describing the management of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW), and describes inventories, compares the approaches taken in the two countries, and assesses the end-point options for interim storage of materials and wastes and for permanent disposal of wastes. (See Appendix A for the statement of task.) The report is presented in four chapters. Chapter 1 provides definitions of terms and a general overview of the problems. Chapter 2 is a technical and scientific examination of the sources, 1   Fifteen percent in Russia (Nigmatulin 2001) and 20 percent in the United States (EIA 2002).

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inventories, and planned end points for each type of SNF in Russia and the United States. Chapter 3 covers the same topics, but for HLW. In Chapter 4, the committee makes recommendations on actions that should be taken in the near term to address or prevent imminent problems, on research, development, and implementation over longer time frames, and also identifies areas for collaboration. In some cases, the recommendations simply reinforce existing plans or call for expediting planned actions, whereas in others the recommendations draw attention to apparent gaps in planning. Constraints on the time and resources for the project limited the committee’s coverage of sites and sources (specifically, the Siberian Chemical Combine at Tomsk, and the Pacific Fleet) and demanded that the committee bound its enquiry. Given the multiplicity and variation in details of interim and final end points, the committee concluded that the only feasible approach was to do an overview assessment of end points and not analyze specific options at specific sites. Appendix A presents the statement of task for the study. Appendix B is a list of acronyms and abbreviations used in the report. Appendix C contains a brief biography of each member of the committee. Appendix D lists the meetings of the committee. Appendix E lists major laws, regulations, and other directives pertaining to radioactive waste and related issues. 1.1 DEFINITION OF TERMS For the purposes of this committee, an end point for spent nuclear fuel or high-level radioactive waste is a stable, safe, and secure disposition of the material that can be sustained. (See Sidebar 1.1 for definitions of high-level radioactive waste and other materials discussed in this report.) The committee divides end points into two categories: interim end points, which are temporary; and final end points, which are essentially permanent. Long-term storage is an interim end point that should be sustainably stable, safe, and secure for at least several decades, and even

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SIDEBAR 1.1: The definitions of HLW in the United States and Russia differ from each other. Russia’s waste classes are based on the concentration of radioactivity in the waste (Rybal’chenko et al. 1998) or on the dose rate at the surface of the waste package (NAS 1990). High-level waste (HLW) Any liquid waste containing greater than or equal to one curie per liter (1 Ci/liter) is HLW. Any solid waste with a dose rate greater than or equal to 1 rad per hour (1 r/hr) due to gamma radiation on the surface of the waste package is HLW. Intermediate-level waste (ILW) 1 Ci /liter>ILW>10-5 Ci/liter for liquids; 1 rad/hr>ILW>300 mrad/hr at the package surface for solids Medium-level waste (MLW) 300 mrad/hr>MLW>30 mrad/hr at the package surface for solids Low-level waste (LLW) 10-5 Ci/liter>LLW for liquids 30 mrad/hr>LLW at the package surface for solids The United States’ definition is based on the process that produced the waste, although it allows for other wastes to be grouped with HLW on a case-by-case basis. High-level radioactive waste is “(A) the highly radioactive material resulting from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, including liquid waste produced directly in reprocessing and any solid material derived from such liquid waste that contains fission products in sufficient concentrations; and (B) other highly radioactive material that the (Nuclear Regulatory) Commission, consistent with existing law, determines by rule requires permanent isolation.” [42 U.S.C. § 10101] The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has defined spent nuclear fuel as high-level waste [10 CFR 63]. Spent nuclear fuel is fuel that has been withdrawn from a nuclear reactor following irradiation.

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Transuranic Waste (TRUW). This class is specific to waste streams from DOE. It is “radioactive waste containing more than 100 nanocuries (3,700 becquerels) of alpha-emitting transuranic isotopes per gram of waste, with half-lives greater than 20 years, except for (1) high-level radioactive waste; (2) waste that the Secretary of Energy has determined, with the concurrence of the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, does not need the degree of isolation required by the 40 CFR Part 191 disposal regulations; or (3) waste that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved for disposal on a case-by-case basis in accordance with 10 CFR Part 61” (DOE 2001a). Low-Level Waste (LLW) “[R]adioactive material that—(A) is not high-level radioactive waste, spent nuclear fuel, or byproduct material (as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 2014); and (B) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, consistent with existing law and in accordance with paragraph (A), classifies as low-level radioactive waste” (42 U.S.C. § 2021). In the government sector, TRUW is also excluded from LLW. LLW is divided into two broad categories: waste that qualifies for near-surface burial and waste that requires deeper disposal “Greater than Class C LLW,” or “greater confinement waste”) (10 C.F.R. 61). Among wastes that qualify for near-surface disposal, Class C LLW has the highest concentrations of long-lived radionuclides. While these definitions are different, most of the material that would be considered HLW in one country would also be considered HLW, or treated like HLW, in the other country. This report covers any SNF or HLW that fits the definition of either country. longer, so long as the necessary resources are supplied.2 Geologic disposal is a final end point that should be sustainably sta- 2   The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in 1990, issued a finding called the Waste Confidence Decision, which concerns storage of spent nuclear fuel and the future availability of a high-level waste repository in the United States. The decision is, in part, a “generic determination that, if necessary, spent fuel generated in any reactor can be stored safely and without significant environmental impacts for at least 30 years beyond the licensed life for operation of that reactor

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ble, safe, and secure beyond the duration of the hazards posed by the waste or for at least thousands of years. While disposition that is stable, safe, and secure for shorter periods, such as a few years, logically fits the definition provided above, it is not considered an end point for the purposes of this study. Other steps in the nuclear fuel cycle, such as conversion of separated plutonium for fabrication into MOX fuel or irradiation (“burning”) of spent fuel in a reactor, might be steps toward an end point but they are not end points. This is because each of these steps produces radioactive waste that requires storage and, eventually, disposal. 1.1.1 Safety Safety must be a major consideration whenever working with radioactive materials. Special care must be taken when this involves materials capable of a nuclear explosion. To prevent the latter, criticality analyses must be done to provide guidelines to prevent criticality events. When such guidelines are not followed, accidents such as that at the Tokaimura plant in 1999 (IAEA 1999a) can occur, causing loss of life and severe radiation exposure. HLW, by its very nature, poses extreme radiation hazards and must be handled and stored with great attention to prevent worker exposure and accidents that could lead to both worker and public exposure. Safe end points, from a radiological perspective, are those end points that prevent harmful releases of radionuclides to the environment and direct exposures of people (workers and the public). These goals are generally well known, and are treated only in the simplest of terms here. Preventing releases and exposures mostly means containing radionuclides, shielding radiation sources, cooling highly radioactive materials, and preventing criticality events. Large inventories of radionuclides have entered the environment as results of leaks, accidents, and intentional releases (see Sections 3.1 and 3.2 of this report). Once in the environment, radionuclides can enter food chains and water supplies and cause detrimental health effects. Many radioactive wastes contain chemically hazardous materials (toxic, caustic,     at its spent fuel storage basin or at either onsite or offsite independent spent fuel storage installations” (U.S. NRC 2003).

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flammable, etc.), so the wastes, and any contamination from them, can impose hazards that are not just radiological in character. 1.1.2 Security Radioactive materials—like many other toxic substances— can be used intentionally either to help (medical applications, non-destructive testing) or to harm people. Preventing proliferation of nuclear materials has been a security concern for a half-century, and in the last few years there have been concerns in Russia and in many other countries possessing such materials about terrorist use of radiation sources. There now is, however, heightened awareness of a multitude of security concerns, including those related to SNF and HLW, since the terrorist bombings of residential apartment buildings in Russia in September of 1999 and August of 2000, the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, and most recently the attack on a Moscow theater in October of 2002. A thorough treatment of the topics of nuclear proliferation and terrorism is well beyond the scope of this study, and many of the details on these topics are considered classified information. But nuclear proliferation and terrorism are important considerations in assessment of interim and final end points for SNF and HLW. Several recent and ongoing studies examine these threats. The following overview of the threats and of measures that can be taken to reduce the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism is drawn from the National Research Council report Making the Nation Safer (NRC 2002a). There are two main types of weapons that use radioactive material: radiological weapons and nuclear weapons. Radiological weapons cause radiation exposures by dispersing radioactive material or by locating a large radiation source where it will expose people directly. Dispersal can be achieved by attacking a nuclear facility, such as a nuclear reactor, a SNF-storage facility, a HLW tank, or radioactive waste in transit, or by constructing a radiological dispersion device, sometimes called a “dirty bomb,” in which the radioactive material is incorporated into the device prior to the attack.3 Casks for storage and transport of SNF are generally very robust and it would be extremely difficult 3   HLW and SNF are not the only radioactive materials that can be used for radiological weapons. Radiation sources used in the manufacturing industry, medical treatment, and food irradiation could be used by terrorists, but these materials are outside of the scope of this study.

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to breach them and cause substantial dispersal of the contents. Although freshly discharged SNF is highly radioactive and cooling is needed to prevent the SNF from reaching temperatures that breach the fuel cladding, SNF stored in cooling pools at U.S. power plants is not generally seen as vulnerable. It should be noted, however, that each plant is different and analyses are on going (NRC 2002a). Most storage tanks for HLW are underground and are located on guarded facilities in relatively remote areas. Exposures from radiological weapons are unlikely to cause large numbers of fatalities, and are unlikely to cause any fatalities unless the material dispersed is highly radioactive. Dispersal of even small amounts of radioactivity in populated civilian areas, however, could cause panic and major disruption, and could be very expensive to clean up. Nuclear weapons use fission and sometimes fusion reactions to achieve large explosive yields and, in so doing, release a large burst of radiation and disperse the radioactive products of fission and neutron-activation reactions. Achieving a nuclear yield requires fissile material,4 knowledge of how to design a weapon, and some additional equipment. Access to fissile material is regarded as the greatest barrier to building a nuclear weapon. Fissile material is found in low concentrations in power-reactor SNF, and in higher concentrations in SNF from other reactors, such as propulsion reactors and research reactors, which commonly have highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel.5 The other major source of fissile material that is attractive for those trying to build weapons is material for and from nuclear weapons stockpiles. According to data from American reports (NAS 1994, Albright and O’Neill 1999; DOE 2000a; NRC 2002a; Bunn et al. 2002), the United States and the Soviet Union each accumulated on the order of 1,000 tons of HEU (together, enough for over 150,000 bombs). These same reports indicate that the Soviet Union produced approximately 150 tons of weapons-grade plutonium, and the United States produced approximately 100 tons (enough for at least another 60,000 4   Fissile materials are those that fission when exposed to low-energy neutrons. Most important among the fissile isotopes are uranium-235, plutonium-239, and uranium-233, in that order. Nuclear yields are technically achievable with non-fissile fissionable isotopes, such as plutonium-240, but the practical difficulties of making a weapon from these isotopes makes them a lesser concern. 5   Highly enriched uranium is uranium containing at least 20 percent uranium-235 by mass.

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bombs, combined).6 Efforts to reduce the stockpile of excess weapons plutonium are described in Section 2.2.3 of this report. Of special concern, however, is HEU, because while one needs a larger mass of HEU to make a nuclear weapon, HEU is harder to detect, and design of an HEU weapon is simpler. Nuclear weapons, even low-yield nuclear weapons, are capable of large-scale devastation and could in one blast result in casualties that exceed those resulting from protracted military conflicts. Nuclear weapons, then, are the gravest concern and preventing theft of fissile materials is among the highest priorities. To that end, sites that have fissile material need to have a strong materials protection, control, and accounting (MPC&A) program for those materials. It is easier to carry out such programs at a small number of sites than at a large number of sites, so consolidation of fissile materials to protected sites with effective MPC&A programs reduces risks. Reducing the inventories of these materials or making them less attractive with a radiation barrier or isotopic dilution also reduces risks. For example, mixing plutonium with HLW or irradiating it in a reactor provides a strong field of radiation around the plutonium, and irradiation reduces the percentage of plutonium-239, the most attractive plutonium isotope for making nuclear weapons. While the consequences of radiological attacks are less dire, such attacks are easier to carry out, due to easier access to radiation sources. Similar measures to those recommended for fissile materials—consolidation of strong radiation sources, reductions in inventories, conversion to unattractive forms—also reduce risks of radiological attacks. 1.2 BACKGROUND AND OVERVIEW OF THE CHALLENGES During the last three years of World War II the United States initiated, pursued, and succeeded in an effort to develop nuclear bombs. The first nuclear bomb was detonated on July 16, 6   According to NRC (2002a), there are estimated to be about 1,200 metric tons of HEU and about 150 metric tons of separated plutonium in addition to the inventory in weapons in Russia. The amount of plutonium per weapon is taken to be 4 kg, after NAS (1994). The U.S. inventory of separated plutonium is 99.5 metric tons according to DOE (2000a) and the U.S. inventory of HEU is 635 metric tons (plus or minus 10 percent) according to Albright and O’Neill (1999). The amount of HEU per bomb is taken to be 12 kilograms, after Bunn et al. (2002).

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1945. The plutonium used to construct that bomb was produced at the Hanford facility, in Washington State, in the northwestern United States. The land for the Hanford facility was purchased only in 1943 and within two years fuel-fabrication facilities, reactors, processing facilities, and underground storage tanks had been built and put in operation (Gephart and Lundgren 1998). Immediately following World War II, the Soviet Union embarked on its own program to build nuclear weapons. In 1946, construction began at a site selected for a plutonium-production facility called “Mayak,”7 located on the eastern slope of the Ural mountain range, approximately 120 km south of the city of Sverdlovsk (now renamed Yekaterinburg) by a town now called Ozersk. The facility’s first plutonium-production reactor began full-power operations in June 1948 and the reprocessing plant received irradiated metal for separations in December of that year. Finished, separated plutonium was produced in February 1949, and on August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union detonated a nuclear bomb similar in design to the U.S. bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The people who worked for the nuclear weapons programs in each nation accomplished feats of scientific and engineering design, as well as construction and operation, that would be remarkable if they took place over a period of two decades. However, the rush to produce nuclear weapons led to profound and, in some cases, widespread environmental contamination. In the context of World War II and the Cold War that followed, the pressures and priorities were on production of weapons material, not on minimization of wastes, environmental impacts, or even—at least in the earliest years—worker and public exposures. Further, production was implemented and increased faster than understanding of the environmental impacts developed. Addressing all but the immediate problems associated with radioactive waste was postponed. As a result, some foreseeable problems arose but were not dealt with, and other problems arose as surprises. In the decade following the first development and use of nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors were also developed for other purposes: generation of electricity, propulsion of warships and other maritime vessels, and research and testing. In 1951, a nuclear reactor at a laboratory in Idaho in the United States produced approximately 400 watts of electricity. In 1954, at a labora- 7   The name “Mayak” means “beacon,” indicating those who show the way.

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tory in Obninsk, the Soviet Union operated the world’s first nuclear power plant for generating electricity. The 5 MWe (30 MWth)8 graphite-moderated, water-cooled power plant (AM-1) generated electricity until 1959 and was operated for research and isotope production until 2002 (Bellona 2002; IAEA 1999b). The Soviet Union’s nuclear power industry started a handful of power reactors in the 1960s, roughly tripled the number during the 1970s, and brought dozens of reactors into service during the 1980s. Russia now has 30 operating power reactors at 10 different sites within its borders.9 All but one of Russia’s nuclear power plants are run by the Russian State Concern for Generation of Electric and Thermal Power at Nuclear Power Plants (“Rosenergoatom”).10 The amounts of SNF currently stored in the Russian Federation and the United States are presented in Table 1.1, along with the rate at which the inventory is increasing. These data are presented by the type of reactor fuel, and are taken from various sources that are referenced elsewhere in this report. In 2001, the amount of SNF from Russian nuclear power plants was estimated to be about 14,000 MTHM11 (with radioactivity of over 5 billion curies), and to be growing at a rate of approximately 850 MTHM per year. The Soviet Union also constructed 38 power reactors in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Finland, and Lithuania. The Russian Federation has stated its intention to fulfill the original Soviet program to take back the SNF from those reactors, and is currently storing and reprocessing SNF from at least some of them for a fee. Civilian nuclear power (generally referred to as commercial nuclear power) in the United States began in 1957 and several more plants were added during the 1960s, but dramatic growth took place in the 1970s. The United States now has 103 pressurized-water and boiling-water nuclear power reactors operating at 65 different sites. This is the largest number of power reactors, and the largest nuclear generating capacity, of any nation. No new 8   MWe means megawatts electric and MWth means megawatts thermal. 9   Nuclear News (2002) reports 30 plants at 10 sites as of December 31, 2001, including the Rostov plant, which went into operation in December 2001. 10   Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, comprising 4 RBMK-type units rated at a combined total power of 4,000 MWe, is an independent operating utility and reports directly to the Ministry of Atomic Energy of the Russian Federation (Minatom). 11   MTHM stands for “metric tons of heavy metal,” where “heavy metal” refers to the actinide content of the fuel before irradiation in a reactor. This does not include the mass of other constituents of the fuel.

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TABLE 1.1 Amounts of Spent Nuclear Fuel in Storage and Rate at Which the Amount is Increasing Type of Spent Nuclear Fuel Russian Federation Spent Nuclear Fuel (MTHM) United States of America Spent Nuclear Fuel (MTHM) Power Reactor 14,000+850 per year 45,000+2000 per year Naval 70+fuel from 15–18 NPSs per year 19.5+45.5 over 33 yearsa Production Reactor Not availableb 2100+0 per year Research Reactors 28,500 assemblies 23+0.7 per year aCiting an annual rate for discharges from naval reactors may not be accurate, so the expected total for a known period is given. bApproximately 1.5 MT of separated Pu are produced each year by the three dual-purpose reactors (see Section 2.1.2). The SNF from these reactors is stored only briefly before going through chemical separations. nuclear power plants have been ordered in the United States for over two decades, but recently there has been talk of expanding the nuclear power industry and building new plants. Nuclear power reactors generated most of the SNF in the United States (approximately 45,000 MTHM as of December 31, 2001 [Holt 2002]), and the SNF is stored at commercial facilities where the reactors are located. Most of the power reactors are not owned by the government,12 but the federal government has a legal obligation to take ownership of the SNF and ultimately to dispose of it. In the same year that the Soviet AM-1 reactor came online, the United States launched the first nuclear-powered submarine, the Nautilus. The U.S. Navy has launched a total of 210 nuclear ships, 128 of which have been removed from service. The Soviet Navy launched some 248 nuclear-powered ships, including 244 submarines (Moltz 2000), most powered by two reactors (Nilsen et al. 1996). As of January 2002, 190 Russian submarines had been retired from service. Maritime reactors have generated a larger amount of SNF in Russia than they have in the United States because the U.S.S.R.’s nuclear navy was somewhat larger than that of the United States and used more fuel in each reactor (more reactors in each ship, refueled more frequently). 12   Nuclear reactors in the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Bonneville Power systems are federally owned. In addition, a few reactors are partially or totally owned by state governments.

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In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first nuclear-powered surface ship, the icebreaker Lenin, which was decommissioned in 1989. The Murmansk Shipping Company now operates Russia’s 8 state-owned, nuclear-powered civilian vessels (seven icebreakers and one nuclear-powered container ship). The United States has no civilian nuclear ships, although it did have one cargo ship during the 1960s. All fission reactors irradiate nuclear fuel and generate fission products and activation products within the fuel. These radioisotopes, along with the fissile material initially contained in the fuel, are the sources of concern for accidents, handling and disposal, and proliferation. All reactors used for production of plutonium in the United States have been shut down. As of 2002, the federal government had accumulated various kinds of SNF totalling 2,411 MTHM that are ultimately destined for direct disposal (DOE 2002a), a number that is expected to grow to only 2,477 MTHM by 2035. In both Russia and the United States, the majority (by volume) of HLW was generated as part of the weapons programs, although in Russia that is likely to change as more fuel from power reactors is reprocessed. In Russia, HLW has accumulated primarily at the Production Association “Mayak” (PA “Mayak”), the Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) at Krasnoyarsk-26, and the Siberian Chemical Combine (SCC) at Tomsk-7. Low- and intermediate-level liquid waste has been injected into hydraulically isolated permeable horizons at the Krasnoyarsk MCC, SCC, and the Scientific Research Institute of Nuclear Reactors (NIIAR, near Dmitrovgrad) sites (see Rybal’chenko et al. 1994, 1998). In the initial stages of operation of PA “Mayak” (before 1951), liquid radioactive wastes were dumped into the Techa River. Later, intermediate-level liquid radioactive wastes were dumped into Karachai Lake, and low-level wastes were piped into the Techa Ponds Cascade. Liquid HLW accumulated from defense program and SNF reprocessing are stored in the special tanks at PA “Mayak,” SCC, and MCC. In the United States, HLW has accumulated at the Hanford Reservation and the Savannah River Site (SRS), which have the greatest volumes of HLW, and at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), and a much smaller amount of vitrified HLW is at the West Valley Demonstration Project. In total, in 1997 the United States had approximately 380,000 cubic meters of HLW (DOE 1997a). The tanks at Hanford and at

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SRS were not designed for indefinite storage and 67 at Hanford and 1 at SRS have leaked into the environment. At INEEL, which converted its HLW into a “calcine powder” and stored it in stainless steel silos, some HLW leaked into the subsurface during operations due to faulty valves and a transfer line that was severed. 1.3 NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLES Although the plutonium-production process was quite similar in both the United States and the Soviet Union, the two countries (and later Russia) chose to pursue different long-term goals in what is called the nuclear fuel cycle—that is, the flow of fissile and other nuclear materials in production of nuclear energy. The most radioactive constituents of the plutonium-production process and the nuclear fuel cycle are spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW). SNF is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a reactor. In the plutonium-production process and in a “closed” nuclear fuel cycle13 (see Figure 1.1), SNF is an interim state for the nuclear material, after irradiation and before chemical processing. The chemical processing typically separates at least the uranium and plutonium in the SNF from the fission products and higher actinides (such as americium and curium). In an “open” or “once-through” nuclear fuel cycle (see Figure 1.2), the material in SNF is not considered for further use in a reactor. After it is discharged from a reactor, the SNF is stored, allowing it to cool, and then it is to be sent to a geologic repository for disposal. The Soviet Union reprocessed irradiated fuel and targets for its weapons program at its radiochemical plants at PA “Mayak,” the SCC at Tomsk-7, and the MCC at Krasnoyarsk-26 during the 1960s and early 1970s. The SCC and Krasnoyarsk MCC are still reprocessing, and storing the products. In 1976, a reconstructed radiochemical plant at PA “Mayak” called RT-1, with new process lines, began to accept and reprocess spent fuel from VVER-440, BN-600, research, and naval propulsion reactors. The processing capacity of RT-1 was increased in stages and now is 400 MTHM per year, although it now operates at about half its capacity. 13   “Closed nuclear fuel cycle” is a misnomer, since this fuel cycle still produces radioactive waste, which requires safe disposition.

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FIGURE 1.1 Material-flow diagram of a closed nuclear fuel cycle. A plutonium-production process diagram has nearly identical components except that the reactor irradiates uranium targets, which are processed to recover Pu (see the dotted line from chemical processing to nuclear weapons).

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FIGURE 1.2 Material-flow diagram of an open nuclear fuel cycle.

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Fuel from VVER-1000 reactors also was supposed to be sent for reprocessing, but it could not be processed using any of the RT-1 lines, so construction began on another reprocessing plant, RT-2, at the Krasnoyarsk MCC in 1984. Construction stopped in 1989 due to lack of funds. Spent fuel from VVER-1000 reactors is currently shipped to the Krasnoyarsk MCC, where it is stored in a large cooling pool. Current plans (Minatom 2000) call for use of some of RT-2’s partially completed buildings to store spent fuel and for construction of RT-2 to be completed in the period 2020–2025 and begin operation in the period 2025–2030. In the United States, essentially all SNF was reprocessed initially or stored with the intent to reprocess it later to recover uranium and plutonium. This was true of production fuel at the plutonium production facilities, fuel from the nuclear-powered naval ships, and SNF from experimental reactors. Most of the reprocessing capacity at the U.S. nuclear weapons sites has been shut down. The remaining facilities are the two “canyons” (F and H) at SRS and experimental scale equipment at the Argonne National Laboratory West, which are to be used to process spent nuclear fuel that is either unstable or unsuitable for disposal in its current form. As civilian nuclear power plants began to operate and nuclear energy began to grow, new facilities were required to carry out reprocessing of SNF. The federal government in the United States encouraged development of reprocessing by private industry to serve the commercial nuclear power industry. Two commercial reprocessing facilities were built in the United States, although one never operated. In 1977, before construction on the third plant was completed, U.S. President Carter formalized a policy begun under President Ford to defer indefinitely “the commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium in the U.S.” (Carter 1977a). President Carter indicated that no federal government funding would be provided for reprocessing of commercial SNF.14 Although President Reagan endorsed commercial reproc- 14   The President does not have authority to prevent licensing of a reprocessing facility proposed by a private entity under the Atomic Energy Act, but the company seeking to build a reprocessing plant in Barnwell, South Carolina, Allied General Nuclear Services, needed federal government funds to complete the plant. “The U.S. will indefinitely defer the commercial reprocessing and recycling of the plutonium produced in the U.S. nuclear power programs…The plant at Barnwell, South Carolina, will receive neither Federal encouragement nor funding for its completion as a reprocessing facility” (Carter 1977b). President Carter also asked the U.S. NRC to suspend licensing proceedings until two studies on nu-

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essing in 1981, he did not offer federal government funding and no one has pursued a license to reprocess commercial SNF in the United States since the policy began. Instead, SNF is being stored until a repository is available for permanent disposal of the SNF as waste, an approach that is called the “once-through” fuel cycle, referring to the number of times the material fuels a reactor core, or as “direct disposal.” Under current conditions in the United States, reprocessing is deemed uneconomic and, by some, politically undesirable. However, the current Administration has asked for this to be reconsidered.15 As mentioned earlier, Russia and the United States currently have some differences in philosophy on the desired fuel cycle, but in practice there are many similarities. In both nations, the majority of SNF will be stored for at least two decades. The United States has planned for more than 20 years to complete the “back end” of the fuel cycle by sending the SNF and HLW to an underground repository. This year 2002 is an important year with respect to political progress toward a repository in the United States. The President of the United States and the U.S. Congress decided that the federal government should pursue a license to construct a geologic repository at the only U.S. candidate site, Yucca Mountain. But even with approval from Congress, SNF would not go underground at that site until at least 2010. The repository program must seek a license to construct the repository, it must build the repository, it must seek a license to operate the repository, and it must then ship the SNF to the repository for disposal. DOE projects that shipments of SNF will be spread out over 24 years. In the mean-time, SNF is to be stored and HLW is to be immobilized and stored. (However, the current Administration is examining other paths in the new Nuclear Fuel Cycle Initiative, linked to the National Energy Policy statement in Footnote 15.)     clear fuel cycles could be completed. Allied General did not request that the li-censing proceedings be reopened after the studies were published in 1980. At issue was whether issuing a license “would be inimical to the common defense and security or to the health and safety of the public” (42 U.S.C. 2133(d), 2134(d)). 15   “The United States should also consider technologies (in collaboration with international partners with highly developed fuel cycles and a record of collaboration) to develop reprocessing and fuel treatment technologies that are cleaner, more efficient, less waste-intensive, and more proliferation resistant” (National Energy Policy Development Group 2001).

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Constructing and operating new facilities for reprocessing Russia’s spent fuel and using the separated uranium, plutonium, and even the minor actinides in fuel for fast reactors would realize the goal of a closed fuel cycle. With today’s facilities, SNF from only some of Russia’s power reactors can be reprocessed and only the uranium is recycled. Russia currently separates the low-enrichment uranium from its VVER-400 reactors and mixes that uranium with more highly enriched uranium from its naval reactor SNF, BN-600 SNF, and research reactor SNF. The resulting uranium is used in fresh fuel for RBMK reactors. Plutonium also is separated and stored, and is planned to be used in the future in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, and some test assemblies of MOX fuel have been tested successfully in the BOR-60 and BN-600 reactors. The United States and Russia plan to make MOX fuel from plutonium declared “excess to national defense needs,” mostly through reductions in their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. There are no current plans to reprocess RBMK fuel, although earlier plans were to reprocess RBMK fuel at the RT-2 facility. Russia has taken only preliminary steps toward creating HLW repositories, which are required even as part of a “closed” nuclear fuel cycle.