Executive Summary

Background

In September 1994, in response to a request from the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Research Council (NRC) established the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment. The committee was charged with evaluating the technical advantages and disadvantages of a proposed Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) R&D program on the use of electrometallurgical technology to treat DOE spent fuel, including the specific application of the technology to Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) spent fuel. A preliminary report of the committee was issued in February 1995 (NRC, 1995a), followed by a more extensive report in July 1995 that recommended that the technology of electrometallurgical processing appears sufficiently promising for treating a variety of DOE spent fuels that continued R&D would be warranted (NRC, 1995b, p. S-1).

DOE subsequently requested that the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment continue its activity by carrying out two tasks. The first task involved monitoring the scientific and technical progress of ANL's R&D program on electrometallurgical techniques for the treatment of DOE spent nuclear fuel, including both the redirected research program at ANL-East (ANL-E) and the fuel treatment program at ANL-West (ANL-W) associated with the ongoing shutdown of the EBR-II. The second task was to evaluate the scientific and technological issues associated with extending this R&D program to handle plutonium, should DOE decide that an electrometallurgical treatment option for the disposition of excess weapons plutonium is worth pursuing. The second task was addressed by the committee in the 1996 report, An Evaluation of the Electrometallurgical Approach for Treatment of Excess Weapons Plutonium (NRC, 1996a). The success of the planned demonstration of the process as applied to the treatment of EBR-II spent fuel was deemed essential in determining the future of the program. Two additional reports (NRC, 1996b and 1997a) have been submitted to DOE in response to the first task of continued monitoring and evaluation of the electrometallurgical program.

Ongoing Evaluation Activity

As ANL's R&D program has developed over the past several years, changes in its details and scope have been necessitated by, for example, DOE's 1996 Environmental Assessment (EA) (DOE, 1996). In response to these changes, DOE requested that the committee, as part of its ongoing evaluation, revisit the question in its original charge: “Do pyrometallurgical techniques represent a potentially viable technology for DOE spent fuel treatment that warrants further research and development?” In the following sections, the committee provides its evaluation of the program and the associated activities at ANL-E and ANL-W through the spring of 1997.



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ELECTROMETALLURGICAL TECHNIQUES FOR DOE SPENT FUEL TREATMENT: STATUS REPORT ON ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY'S R&D ACTIVITY THROUGH SPRING 1997 Executive Summary Background In September 1994, in response to a request from the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Research Council (NRC) established the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment. The committee was charged with evaluating the technical advantages and disadvantages of a proposed Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) R&D program on the use of electrometallurgical technology to treat DOE spent fuel, including the specific application of the technology to Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) spent fuel. A preliminary report of the committee was issued in February 1995 (NRC, 1995a), followed by a more extensive report in July 1995 that recommended that the technology of electrometallurgical processing appears sufficiently promising for treating a variety of DOE spent fuels that continued R&D would be warranted (NRC, 1995b, p. S-1). DOE subsequently requested that the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment continue its activity by carrying out two tasks. The first task involved monitoring the scientific and technical progress of ANL's R&D program on electrometallurgical techniques for the treatment of DOE spent nuclear fuel, including both the redirected research program at ANL-East (ANL-E) and the fuel treatment program at ANL-West (ANL-W) associated with the ongoing shutdown of the EBR-II. The second task was to evaluate the scientific and technological issues associated with extending this R&D program to handle plutonium, should DOE decide that an electrometallurgical treatment option for the disposition of excess weapons plutonium is worth pursuing. The second task was addressed by the committee in the 1996 report, An Evaluation of the Electrometallurgical Approach for Treatment of Excess Weapons Plutonium (NRC, 1996a). The success of the planned demonstration of the process as applied to the treatment of EBR-II spent fuel was deemed essential in determining the future of the program. Two additional reports (NRC, 1996b and 1997a) have been submitted to DOE in response to the first task of continued monitoring and evaluation of the electrometallurgical program. Ongoing Evaluation Activity As ANL's R&D program has developed over the past several years, changes in its details and scope have been necessitated by, for example, DOE's 1996 Environmental Assessment (EA) (DOE, 1996). In response to these changes, DOE requested that the committee, as part of its ongoing evaluation, revisit the question in its original charge: “Do pyrometallurgical techniques represent a potentially viable technology for DOE spent fuel treatment that warrants further research and development?” In the following sections, the committee provides its evaluation of the program and the associated activities at ANL-E and ANL-W through the spring of 1997.

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ELECTROMETALLURGICAL TECHNIQUES FOR DOE SPENT FUEL TREATMENT: STATUS REPORT ON ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY'S R&D ACTIVITY THROUGH SPRING 1997 Status of the EBR-II Spent Fuel Treatment Demonstration for 1999 The ANL program must be considered in terms of an R&D project that is focused on the treatment of EBR-II spent fuel by the electrometallurgical technology. Within that context, the program is making acceptable progress in providing a sufficient database for DOE to make a technical decision on the application of this technology to treatment of other DOE spent fuels. Thus, the committee reaffirms its overall recommendation of the July 1995 report (NRC, 1995b, p. S-11): ANL should proceed with its development plan in support of the EBR-II demonstration. . . . 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. This reaffirmation of the 1995 recommendation is based on the quality and commitment of the involved ANL-E and ANL-W personnel, and on the progress in both the ANL-E R&D and the ANL-W demonstration. The present status of the demonstration project indicates that a strong and committed R&D staff continues to be an important factor. A focused R&D program must be maintained for the successful demonstration of the electrometallurgical technology. The committee encourages ANL to proceed aggressively to resolve the R&D issues and move rapidly into a demonstration phase that identifies process definitions and conditions. Demonstration Project Implementation Plan In the March 1997 report, the committee noted the benefits to be gained by formalizing the organizational arrangements of the demonstration project, both at ANL-E and ANL-W, and between the two ANL sites (NRC, 1997a). The committee is pleased to note that increased organizational structure is being brought to the project by the Work Breakdown Structure process (ANL, 1997). A less detailed project implementation plan can further clarify how programs are being conducted in an integrated and coordinated manner. The committee looks forward to receiving the demonstration project implementation plan after it is approved by DOE. It is recommended that the plan be written in a form that can be easily understood and that allows for an analysis of the efficacy of the new organizational structure. Adequacy of the Criteria for Evaluating the Demonstration The committee believes that DOE must determine and approve of the criteria by which the ANL's R&D program will be evaluated at the end of the demonstration in 1999. Before the demonstration is

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ELECTROMETALLURGICAL TECHNIQUES FOR DOE SPENT FUEL TREATMENT: STATUS REPORT ON ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY'S R&D ACTIVITY THROUGH SPRING 1997 completed, DOE should establish criteria for success in the demonstration phase to allow evaluation of the electrometullurgical technology for further use in treating DOE spent fuel. The current plan for application of electrometallurgical technology to the treatment of EBR-II fuel is limited by the terms of the current EA, which specifies the amount of fuel that can be processed (DOE, 1996). Processing of the remaining EBR-II spent fuel would require preparation of an EA plan within the next 2 years and its approval prior to further, and possibly expanded, utilization of the electrometallurgical technology. A new EA will be required before additional EBR-II spent fuel can be treated DOE should begin plans for such an EA now so that its preparation does not become the source of a major operational delay, if the current demonstration project is successful. Alternatively, if the demonstration does not satisfactorily meet the criteria for success, other technologies will be required for treatment of the remaining EBR-II spent fuel. Electrometallurgical Techniques for Treatment of Other DOE Spent Fuels The committee continues to believe that successful demonstration of the electrometallurgical process for treating EBR-II fuel is essential to support development of applications of this technique to treatment of other DOE spent fuels. ANL's research efforts have involved the investigation of the electrometallurgical technology for treatment of non-EBR-II fuels such as the N-reactor fuel. However, the DOE Office of Environmental Management (EM) may proceed with plans for the N-reactor fuel that do not include the use of electrometallurgical technology. Since the current approach of DOE-EM is to develop project plans for implementation within the next 10 years, the offices of Nuclear Energy (NE) (which funds the present program) and Environmental Management (EM) should maintain close contact to ensure proper coordination of their activities. Waste Forms ANL has achieved satisfactory progress in the preparation, characterization, and testing of development-scale ceramic and metal waste forms. DOE should establish acceptance criteria for waste forms scheduled for storage in a geologic repository. The electrometullurgical technology program currently is forced to assume that its own definition will be acceptable to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. DOE should provide its best guidance to ensure that the Argonne approach is useful. External Technical Experts At the current stage of the ANL R&D program, the committee suggests that ANL utilize external technical experts in specific scientific areas of the program. These technical experts should be recognized for their in-depth knowledge in particular technical areas. The committee suggests establishing more formal and intensive interactions with experts in particular fields for the benefit of the program.