SHINE looks to license used fuel recycling facility

November 1, 2023, 12:12PMRadwaste Solutions
A spent nuclear fuel transportation container. (Photo: DOE)

Fusion systems company SHINE Technologies has notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it intends to submit a license application to build and operate a pilot used nuclear fuel recycling facility.

On October 13, the company submitted a regulatory engagement plan to the NRC describing its planned interactions with agency staff ahead of submitting a license application for the facility. The engagement plan also includes a description of the technology the pilot plant will use to reprocess and recycle used fuel.

While SHINE has not made public a date for submitting a construction application for the pilot plant, the company anticipates beginning preapplication technical discussions with NRC staff before the end of the year.

The next phase: In a statement to Nuclear Newswire, SHINE said, “This represents the next step in our plan to scale our technology to provide useful products and solutions. This plan involves Phase 3: expanding our separation technology to reuse spent nuclear fuel. This is our first preapplication meeting, intended to introduce our technology and discuss our regulatory strategy for licensing the facility. We expect there to be multiple preapplication meetings for this project. We plan to have a pilot plant online in the next five to 10 years.”

Originally called SHINE Medical Technologies, SHINE’s primary business was the production of medical isotopes, including molybdenum-99. In 2021, the company changed its name to SHINE Technologies to reflect its goal of using its fusion-based systems for more than isotope production, including the recycling of used fuel. Ultimately, under the company’s four-phase plan, SHINE hopes to develop commercial fusion power based on its technologies.

The technology: According to SHINE’s engagement plan, the company intends to build a 50,000-square-foot facility capable of recycling up to 200 metric tons of used nuclear fuel a year. The intended fuel will have a burnup of less than 35 gigawatt-days per metric ton of heavy metal that has been allowed to decay for 40 years after being discharged from the reactor.

Using conventional methods, used fuel rods will be sheared to expose the fuel pellets. The pellets and hulls then go through a voloxidation process that converts the uranium dioxide into triuranium octoxide or uranium trioxide before being dissolved in nitric acid.

According to SHINE, a benefit of the voloxidation process is that it converts the fuel pellets into a coarse powder form that dissolves more readily in nitric acid. It also releases many of the volatile fission products prior to dissolution, minimizing their contamination of downstream processes.

For reprocessing, SHINE will use a modified plutonium uranium reduction extraction (PUREX) separation process called codecontamination (CoDCon). A liquid-liquid process, CoDCon is to provide proliferation resistance by keeping a portion of separated uranium in combination with the plutonium.

An actinide-lanthanide separation (ALSEP) process will be used to isolate the minor actinides for future transmutation, and additional separations will harvest valuable stable and radioactive elements for commercial sale. The remaining material can then be solidified and packaged as waste, either through vitrification or cementation depending on its level of radioactivity.

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