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Fuel Cycle System Analysis Implications of Sodium-Cooled Metal-Fueled Fast Reactor Transuranic Conversion Ratio

Steven J. Piet, Edward A. Hoffman, Samuel E. Bays, Gretchen E. Matthern, Jacob J. Jacobson, Ryan Clement, David W. Gerts

Nuclear Technology

Volume 181 / Number 3 / March 2013 / Pages 427-458


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If advanced fuel cycles are to include a large number of fast reactors (FRs), what should be the transuranic (TRU) conversion ratio (CR)? The nuclear energy era started with the assumption that they should be breeder reactors (CR > 1), but the full range of possible CRs eventually received attention. For example, during the recent U.S. Global Nuclear Energy Partnership program, the proposal was burner reactors (CR < 1). Yet, more recently, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle" proposed CR [approximately] 1. Meanwhile, the French company EDF remains focused on breeders. At least one of the reasons for the differences of approach is different fuel cycle objectives. To clarify matters, this paper analyzes the impact of TRU CR on many parameters relevant to fuel cycle systems and therefore spans a broad range of topic areas.

The analyses are based on a FR physics parameter scan of TRU CR from 0 to [approximately]1.8 in a sodium-cooled metal-fueled FR (SMFR), in which the fuel from uranium-oxide-fueled light water reactors (LWRs) is recycled directly to FRs and FRs displace LWRs in the fleet. In this instance, the FRs are sodium cooled and metal fueled. Generally, it is assumed that all TRU elements are recycled, which maximizes uranium ore utilization for a given TRU CR and waste radiotoxicity reduction and is consistent with the assumption of used metal fuel separated by electrochemical means. In these analyses, the fuel burnup was constrained by imposing a neutron fluence limit to fuel cladding to the same constant value. This paper first presents static, time-independent measures of performance for the LWR [right arrow] FR fuel cycle, including mass, heat, gamma emission, radiotoxicity, and the two figures of merit for materials for weapon attractiveness developed by C. Bathke et al.

No new fuel cycle will achieve a static equilibrium in the foreseeable future. Therefore, additional analyses are shown with dynamic, time-dependent measures of performance including uranium usage, TRU inventory, and radiotoxicity to evaluate the complex impacts of transition from the current uranium-fueled LWR system, and other more realistic impacts that may not be intuited from the time-independent steady-state conditions of the end-state fuel cycle. These analyses were performed using the Verifiable Fuel Cycle Simulation Model VISION.

Compared with static calculations, dynamic results paint a different picture of option space and the urgency of starting a FR fleet. For example, in a static analysis, there is a sharp increase in uranium utilization as CR exceeds 1.0 (burner versus breeder). However, in dynamic analyses that examine uranium use over the next 1 to 2 centuries, behavior as CR crosses the 1.0 threshold is smooth, and other parameters such as the time required outside of reactors to recycle fuel become important.

Overall, we find that there is no unambiguously superior value of TRU CR; preferences depend on the relative importance of different fuel cycle system objectives.

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