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.

The July 1995 report, An Assessment of Continued R&D into an Electrometallurgical Approach for Treating DOE Spent Nuclear Fuel (NRC, 1995b), resulted from the committee's full investigation of the potential viability of the technology for treatment of DOE spent fuel. The committee concluded that “the technology of electrometallurgical processing appears sufficiently promising for treating a variety of DOE spent fuels that continued R&D would be warranted” (p. A-2). Further, the committee provided the following overall recommendation regarding the Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) demonstration, which is now expected to conclude in June 1999 (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.

DOE further requested that the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment continue its activity by carrying out two tasks. The first task was to provide an ongoing evaluation of ANL's R&D activity on electrometallurgical techniques for the treatment of DOE spent fuel, including their specific application in both the EBR-II spent fuel redirected research program at ANL-E and the fuel treatment program at 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 the DOE decide that an electrometallurgical treatment option for the disposition of excess weapons plutonium would be 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).

In response to the first task, continuing evaluation, the committee provided technical status reports on progress in July 1996 (NRC, 1996b) and March 1997 (NRC, 1997a). Both status reports identified



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ELECTROMETALLURGICAL TECHNIQUES FOR DOE SPENT FUEL TREATMENT: STATUS REPORT ON ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY'S R&D ACTIVITY THROUGH SPRING 1997 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. The July 1995 report, An Assessment of Continued R&D into an Electrometallurgical Approach for Treating DOE Spent Nuclear Fuel (NRC, 1995b), resulted from the committee's full investigation of the potential viability of the technology for treatment of DOE spent fuel. The committee concluded that “the technology of electrometallurgical processing appears sufficiently promising for treating a variety of DOE spent fuels that continued R&D would be warranted” (p. A-2). Further, the committee provided the following overall recommendation regarding the Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR-II) demonstration, which is now expected to conclude in June 1999 (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. DOE further requested that the Committee on Electrometallurgical Techniques for DOE Spent Fuel Treatment continue its activity by carrying out two tasks. The first task was to provide an ongoing evaluation of ANL's R&D activity on electrometallurgical techniques for the treatment of DOE spent fuel, including their specific application in both the EBR-II spent fuel redirected research program at ANL-E and the fuel treatment program at 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 the DOE decide that an electrometallurgical treatment option for the disposition of excess weapons plutonium would be 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). In response to the first task, continuing evaluation, the committee provided technical status reports on progress in July 1996 (NRC, 1996b) and March 1997 (NRC, 1997a). Both status reports identified