These advantages and disadvantages lead to the conclusion that electrometallurgical processing is technically appealing mainly for treatment of metallic SNF, of which N-reactor fuel constitutes the lion's share. Regarding justification for a commitment to the long-term expenditures necessary to maintain a viable basis of process expertise for possibly treating N-reactor fuel, the committee is concerned about (1) general limitations on the applicability of the electrometallurgical process, (2) schedule uncertainties and the delays likely to occur before the process could be used for treatment of SNF other than intact EBR-II fuel and blanket assemblies, and (3) unanswered questions about the electrometallurgical process products and waste forms. Of particular concern are the following:
Plans are already being laid to stabilize and store the N-reactor fuel without the use of electrometallurgical processing,1 and that activity might well be under way before the electrometallurgical technology has been fully demonstrated.
The electrometallurgical technology is not immediately applicable to the breached N-reactor fuel, which would require specialized head-end processes, mechanical and chemical.
The electrometallurgical technology would generate new waste forms. The fate of the cladding-metal waste form is a major open question, and qualifying the zeolite waste form for burial could present major challenges.
Notwithstanding the above disadvantages and concerns, it is desirable that the process technology base at ANL be kept viable as a problem-solving resource until the EBR-II fuel has been processed. Much of the technology has not been demonstrated, and the capability for solving unanticipated problems as they arise during EBR-II fuel processing is essential.
Given the uncertainties, which will not be resolved for several years, the committee makes the following overall recommendation:
ANL should proceed with its development plan in support of the EBR-II demonstration. Further development of the lithium reduction process should be carried out only if the DOE decides that it is likely that the electrometallurgical approach will be pursued as a possible treatment for the oxidized N-reactor fuel at Hanford. If the EBR-II demonstration is not accomplished successfully, the ANL program on electrometallurgical processing should be terminated. On the other hand, if the EBR-II demonstration is successful, the DOE should revisit the ANL program at that time in the context of a larger, “global” waste management plan to make a determination for possible continuance.
Briefing to committee from Grant Culley, Westinghouse Hanford Co., March 24, 1995 (See Appendix B).