Thursday, December 22, 2011

GE-Hitachi proposes to burn U.K. plutonium stockpile

An advanced reactor could be used to consume 112 tonnes of weapons grade material

prismGE Hitachi Nuclear Energy has proposed to the U.K. government to build an advanced nuclear reactor that would consume the country's stockpile  of surplus plutonium.  The technology is called PRISM which stands for Power Reactor Innovative Small Module. If accepted, it would be very different than other proposals to process plutonium including those that would turn it into mixed oxide fuel (MOX).

According to GE Hitachi, the PRISM reactor disposes of a great majority of the plutonium as opposed to simply reusing it over again. This process takes it out of circulation forever.

Fuel for the PRISM reactor is created by converting the plutonium from powder form mixing it with uranium and zirconium to make a metal fuel. The resulting spent fuel contains plutonium in a form that cannot be used to make nuclear weapons.

Eric Loewen, chief engineer on the project, (and also president of the American Nuclear Society) said the waste form is much the same as comes out of light water reactors. Once the plutonium has been in the PRISM reactor for five years, it becomes mixed with other nuclear materials that make it nearly impossible to retrieve the metal for the purpose of making a weapon.

The PRISM reactor is a so-called "fast reactor" because it uses liquid metal sodium rather than water to cool the system. The sodium allows the neutrons to maintain higher energies and to cause fission in elements such as plutonium more efficiently than light water reactors.  (large image)

Read the full details exclusively at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.

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