1

INTRODUCTION

In September 1994 the Department of Energy (DOE) requested the assistance of the National Research Council (NRC) in evaluating the technical advantages and disadvantages of an Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) R&D program that proposed the use of the electrometallurgical technique for the treatment of DOE spent nuclear fuel and weapons-derived plutonium. At that time the NRC declined to undertake another analysis of the plutonium question, because two other activities were ongoing in the Academy complex to report on related aspects of plutonium disposition. 1,2 The NRC did accept the request to consider the issue of treatment of DOE spent nuclear fuel and appointed the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment in January 1995, under the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology. This committee subsequently prepared a preliminary report in February 1995,3 and a more extensive report was published in July 1995.4

In July 1995, the DOE requested that the NRC extend the task of the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment to include monitoring of the scientific and technological progress of the electrometallurgical technique demonstration program and the supporting R&D at ANL. The DOE believed it likely that policy decisions affecting DOE's options for treatment of spent nuclear fuel might be made during the period of the study that could allow the committee to make more definitive statements than in the July 1995 report.

The DOE also requested in July 1995 that the committee consider “evaluation of the scientific and technological issues influencing the potential application of electrometallurgical treatment to the disposition of excess weapons plutonium.”5 The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) and its Panel on Reactor-Related Options have published two reports 6,7 on the disposition of excess weapons plutonium (WPu). In the second report, the Reactor Panel included an evaluation of the pyroprocessing (i.e., electrometallurgical) approach for plutonium disposition. However, DOE wished to have an ongoing evaluation of the electrometallurgical alternative for plutonium treatment. In accepting the charge, the NRC specified that the proposed study would not revisit the broad analysis of disposition alternatives, which was the focus of the recent reports by CISAC and its Reactor Panel. Thus the current study is focused on evaluation of the scientific and technical issues associated with extending the electrometallurgical R&D program to treat plutonium, should DOE decide that this option is worth pursuing. To respond to this charge, additional members were appointed to the committee to provide

1  

Nuclear Wastes: Technologies for Separation and Transmutations, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995.

2  

Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options, Panel on Reactor-Related Options for the Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995.

3  

A Preliminary Assessment of the Promise of Continued R&D into an Electrometallurgical Approach to Treating DOE Spent Fuel, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., February 1995.

4  

An Assessment of Continued R&D into an Electrometallurgical Approach for Treating DOE Spent Nuclear Fuel, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., July 1995.

5  

Letter from Terry Lash, Director of DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, to Bruce Alberts, Chairman of the National Research Council, July 26, 1995.

6  

Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1994.

7  

See the report cited in footnote 2.



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AN EVALUATION OF THE ELECTROMETALLURGICAL APPROACH FOR TREATMENT OF EXCESS WEAPONS PLUTONIUM 1 INTRODUCTION In September 1994 the Department of Energy (DOE) requested the assistance of the National Research Council (NRC) in evaluating the technical advantages and disadvantages of an Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) R&D program that proposed the use of the electrometallurgical technique for the treatment of DOE spent nuclear fuel and weapons-derived plutonium. At that time the NRC declined to undertake another analysis of the plutonium question, because two other activities were ongoing in the Academy complex to report on related aspects of plutonium disposition. 1,2 The NRC did accept the request to consider the issue of treatment of DOE spent nuclear fuel and appointed the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment in January 1995, under the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology. This committee subsequently prepared a preliminary report in February 1995,3 and a more extensive report was published in July 1995.4 In July 1995, the DOE requested that the NRC extend the task of the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment to include monitoring of the scientific and technological progress of the electrometallurgical technique demonstration program and the supporting R&D at ANL. The DOE believed it likely that policy decisions affecting DOE's options for treatment of spent nuclear fuel might be made during the period of the study that could allow the committee to make more definitive statements than in the July 1995 report. The DOE also requested in July 1995 that the committee consider “evaluation of the scientific and technological issues influencing the potential application of electrometallurgical treatment to the disposition of excess weapons plutonium.”5 The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC) and its Panel on Reactor-Related Options have published two reports 6,7 on the disposition of excess weapons plutonium (WPu). In the second report, the Reactor Panel included an evaluation of the pyroprocessing (i.e., electrometallurgical) approach for plutonium disposition. However, DOE wished to have an ongoing evaluation of the electrometallurgical alternative for plutonium treatment. In accepting the charge, the NRC specified that the proposed study would not revisit the broad analysis of disposition alternatives, which was the focus of the recent reports by CISAC and its Reactor Panel. Thus the current study is focused on evaluation of the scientific and technical issues associated with extending the electrometallurgical R&D program to treat plutonium, should DOE decide that this option is worth pursuing. To respond to this charge, additional members were appointed to the committee to provide 1   Nuclear Wastes: Technologies for Separation and Transmutations, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995. 2   Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options, Panel on Reactor-Related Options for the Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1995. 3   A Preliminary Assessment of the Promise of Continued R&D into an Electrometallurgical Approach to Treating DOE Spent Fuel, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., February 1995. 4   An Assessment of Continued R&D into an Electrometallurgical Approach for Treating DOE Spent Nuclear Fuel, National Research Council, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., July 1995. 5   Letter from Terry Lash, Director of DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, to Bruce Alberts, Chairman of the National Research Council, July 26, 1995. 6   Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium, National Academy of Sciences Committee on International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1994. 7   See the report cited in footnote 2.

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AN EVALUATION OF THE ELECTROMETALLURGICAL APPROACH FOR TREATMENT OF EXCESS WEAPONS PLUTONIUM linkage with the CISAC studies and to bring other technological expertise related to the potential application of the electrometallurgical techniques to plutonium disposition. This report is a preliminary assessment by the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques of the value of and the technological problems involved in the possible application of the electrometallurgical technique to treatment of DOE excess weapons plutonium.