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Non-nuclear energy


Fission and radiation protection

European Research Programme for the Transmutation of High Level Nuclear Waste in an Accelerator Driven System

The future of nuclear energy and its acceptance by the public is heavily dependent on a viable solution for the safe disposal of nuclear waste. The strategy of partitioning and transmutation (P&T) of long-lived radionuclide could provide potential benefits by simplifying the management of present and future high level radioactive waste by reducing its radio-toxicity and its heat load. This could enable a reduction in the volume required for high-level wastes in repositories, increasing their effective capacity and reducing the number required.

European Transmutation Demonstration

Scheme of an Accelerator DrivenTransmutation System (ADTS) © Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe FZK
Scheme of an Accelerator DrivenTransmutation System (ADTS)
© Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe FZK
EUROTRANS focuses on the transmutation (the nuclear conversion of long-lived and/or toxic elements, such as plutonium and the minor actinides, into short-lived or stable elements) of radioactive waste and will initiate work on a European Transmutation Demonstration (ETD) based on the use of accelerator driven systems. It will carry out a first advanced design of a 50-100 MWth experimental facility to demonstrate the technical feasibility of transmutation in an Accelerator Driven System (XT-ADS). It will also produce a generic conceptual design (several 100 MWth) of a modular European Facility for Industrial Transmutation (EFIT). Both designs will bear the same fundamental system characteristics in order to allow scalability between XT-ADS and EFIT.

The design work for the EFIT will be limited to the definition of a strategy for optimisation of EFIT as a dedicated transuranium element transmuter. A substantial amount of targeted experimental and theoretical work in support of these design activities will be carried out, including the coupling of an accelerator, a spallation target and a subcritical blanket. Specific work is devoted to the development of key accelerator components, dedicated fuels, heavy liquid metal (HLM) technologies and basic nuclear data. This will provide, in conjunction with other projects, a consistent and complete feasibility assessment giving a cost estimate for a future transmutation system and an essential input element for decision-makers on the future implementation of an ADS-based transmutation process.

Design, fuel, technologies and accelerator

Work within the project will include developing a detailed design of a linear proton accelerator driven, 50-100 MW (thermal) sub-critical reactor system (XT-ADS) with a windowless spallation target and a conceptual design of several 100 MW industrial ADS for transmutation (EFIT). To assist the design of XT-ADS and EFIT, a range of validated experimental input from relevant experiments at sufficient power (20-100 kW) will be provided in an international collaboration that will assess subcriticality monitoring, dynamic behaviour and will validate the coupling of an accelerator, a spallation target and a subcritical blanket. In parallel, a variety of uranium-free reactor fuels will be developed with a view to testing them as single dedicated fuel pins in the XT-ADS as well as a possible candidate fuel for a full core loading in the EFIT. Safety issues on the systems and the innovative fuels will be properly taken into account. The further project domains will develop and assess structural materials and HLM (lead and lead-bismuth) technologies for transmutation systems, where the HLM is both the spallation material and the core coolant. Finally, improved nuclear data files will be evaluated and models developed that involve sensitivity and uncertainty analysis and validation of simulation tools.

EUROTRANS has also reserved at least 5% of its budget for provision of education and training activities in the nuclear field to young researchers, which is an important project activity.

The basis for a decision

The strategic outcome of the EUROTRANS project will provide a state-of-the-art, reliable basis for the assessment of the technical feasibility of transmutation by ADS and a first cost estimate of an ADS-based transmutation system. It is also expected to provide important input elements to the appropriate decision-making authorities to decide whether to embark on the detailed engineering design of an ADS for transmutation (being the XT-ADS) and its eventual construction after completion of this project.

Structure of Eurotrans

Acceptable waste disposal

The nuclear power plants in EU Member States produce about 35% of the total electrical power required today. The serious threat that global warming appears to pose to European society has further revived the interest in the role of nuclear energy in the energy portfolio, together with renewable sources. No matter what the future holds for nuclear energy production, the option cannot be pursued indefinitely unless the issue of spent fuel, nuclear waste and their safe and permanent disposal has been satisfactorily solved. For the long-term security of electricity supply and the sustainable development of nuclear energy, research and development activities for the management of radioactive wastes and their safe implementation has to be guaranteed at a European level. Successful P&T processes for long-lived radiotoxic elements can assist in the public and political acceptance of nuclear waste disposal strategies.

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