Nuclear Technology / Volume 176 / Number 3 / December 2011 / Pages 430-441
Technical Paper / Materials for Nuclear Systems
Beryllium plays important roles in nuclear facilities. Its neutron multiplication capability and low atomic weight make it very useful as a reflector in fission reactors. Its low atomic number and high chemical affinity for oxygen have led to its consideration as a plasma-facing material in fusion reactors. In both applications, the beryllium and the impurities in it become activated by neutrons, transmuting them to radionuclides, some of which are long-lived and difficult to dispose of. Also, gas production, notably helium and tritium, results in swelling, embrittlement, and cracking, which means that the beryllium must be replaced periodically, especially in fission reactors where dimensional tolerances must be maintained. It has long been known that neutron activation of inherent iron and cobalt in the beryllium results in significant 60Co activity. In 2001, it was discovered that activation of naturally occurring contaminants in the beryllium creates sufficient 14C and 94Nb to render the irradiated beryllium "Greater-Than-Class-C" for disposal in U.S. radioactive waste facilities. It was further found that there was sufficient uranium impurity in beryllium that had been used in fission reactors up to that time that the irradiated beryllium had become transuranic in character, making it even more difficult to dispose of. In this paper we review the extent of the disposal issue, processes that have been investigated or considered for improving the disposability of irradiated beryllium, and approaches for recycling.