New Mexico State University is collaborating with TerraPower, Idaho National Laboratory, and Savannah River National Laboratory on a three-year project to develop a plan to recycle spent nuclear fuel. The project is being funded by an $8.5 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E), under the Optimizing Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems (ONWARDS) program. ONWARDS is designed to increase the use of nuclear power as a reliable, clean energy source, as well to as limit the amount of waste generated by advanced nuclear reactors.
Chemical reactor: The recycling project builds on the work of two New Mexico State professors: Paul Andersen, associate professor of chemical and materials engineering, and Cory Windorff, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Andersen and Windorff are currently in the planning phase of designing a chemical reactor for purifying spent fuel from advanced reactor fuel cycles, thereby reducing the accumulation of nuclear waste while simultaneously making the waste reusable as nuclear fuel.
Commercialization: With the ARPA-E grant, Andersen and Windorff intend to hire two postdoctoral researchers to work on further technological development of their chemical reactor concept, in collaboration with researchers from TerraPower, INL, and SRNL. According to Andersen, “There may be several rounds of funding after this [three-year project]. This is the first step in what we hope will be many steps culminating in a commercialized product or process.”
Much of the work during the next three years will involve preparatory research to better understand the proposed recycling process. ”We need to learn about how the process works before we can scale it up,” Windorff said. “And once we understand it, then it should be easier to have this process commercialized.”