reactor fuel from Hanford, Molten Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) residues, and Savannah River Site fuels. In its 1996 report, the committee recommended that “upon satisfactory completion of the demonstration with EBR-II fuel, the electrometallurgical technique should be evaluated in the broader context of alternative technologies for processing spent nuclear fuel” (NRC, 1996a, p. 2).
The major DOE spent fuel type is the N-reactor fuel at the Hanford site, which makes up nearly 80 percent of the DOE spent fuel inventory. The deteriorated condition of part of this fuel necessitates reduction of uranium oxide to the metal before its treatment using the basic electrometallurgical process. The ANL ancillary oxide reduction process using lithium metal must be demonstrated before the electrometallurgical process can be considered for use with this N-reactor fuel. When the requisite ancillary processes have been demonstrated, DOE should consider the electrometallurgical process in context with other competing processes for dealing with the DOE spent fuel problem. These competing processes include aqueous processes as well as long-term storage, which is planned and has been partially implemented for use with spent fuel at some DOE sites.
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 other DOE spent fuels. If this technology is to be considered by DOE for treatment of other reactor spent fuel, DOE should evaluate the upcoming results of the spent fuel treatment demonstration and initiate planning for the post-1999 period. DOE should begin to consider the criteria for success in the demonstration and the spent fuel to which the technology would be most applicable and to determine the R&D data and “hot” cell demonstration requirements for reaching a decision based on technological and economic considerations. This process should be initiated soon if DOE is to utilize the results of the 1999 demonstration effectively and if this technology is to be employed in the DOE-EM program. The committee wishes to restate its position that ANL, upon meeting the appropriate criteria for success in processing EBR-II driver fuel and blanket assemblies, should successfully demonstrate the processes ancillary to the central electrometallurgical process itself, for example, lithium reduction of oxide fuels, before the process can be considered seriously for use with other DOE spent fuel.
It appears highly unlikely that electrometallurgical techniques will be applied to the treatment of MSRE salts from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (NRC, 1997b). R&D dealing with extraction of zirconium and uranium may, however, have applications to spent fuels other than MSRE residues such as N-reactor fuel.
ANL's research efforts have involved the investigation of electrometallurgical technology for non-EBR-II fuels such as the N-reactor fuel. However, the DOE-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) and Environmental Management (EM) should maintain close contact to ensure proper coordination of their activities.