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Title: Performance of Thorium-Based Mixed Oxide Fuels for the Consumption of Plutonium in Current and Advanced Reactors

Abstract

A renewed interest in thorium-based fuels has arisen lately based on the need for proliferation resistance, longer fuel cycles, higher burnup, and improved waste form characteristics. Recent studies have been directed toward homogeneously mixed, heterogeneously mixed, and seed-and-blanket thorium-uranium oxide fuel cycles that rely on "in situ" use of the bred-in 233U. However, due to the higher initial enrichment required to achieve acceptable burnups, these fuels are encountering economic constraints. Thorium can nevertheless play a large role in the nuclear fuel cycle, particularly in the reduction of plutonium inventories. While uranium-based mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel will decrease the amount of plutonium in discharged fuel, the reduction is limited due to the breeding of more plutonium (and higher actinides) from the 238U. Here, we present calculational results and a comparison of the potential burnup of a thorium-based and uranium-based mixed-oxide fuel in a light water reactor. Although the uranium-based fuels outperformed the thorium-based fuels in achievable burnup, a depletion comparison of the initially charged plutonium (both reactor and weapons grade) showed that the thorium-based fuels outperformed the uranium-based fuels by more that a factor of 2, where >70% of the total plutonium in the thorium-based fuel is consumed during the cycle. Thismore » is significant considering that the achievable burnups of the thorium-based fuels were 1.4 to 4.6 times less than the uranium-based fuels for similar plutonium enrichments. For equal specific burnups of ~60 MWd/kg (i.e., using variable plutonium weight percentages to give the desired burnup), the thorium-based fuels still outperform the uranium-based fuels by more than a factor of 2, where the total plutonium consumption in a three-batch, 18-month cycle was 60 to 70%. This is fairly significant considering that 10 to 15% (by weight) more plutonium is needed in the thorium-based fuels as compared to the uranium-based fuels to achieve these burnups. Furthermore, thorium-based fuels could also be used as a strategy for reducing the amount of long-lived nuclides (including the minor actinides) and thus the radiotoxicity in spent nuclear fuel. Although the breeding of 233U is a concern, the presence of 232U and its daughter products (namely 208Tl) can aid in making this fuel self-protecting, and/or enough 238U can be added to denature the fissile uranium. From these calculations, it appears that thorium-based fuel for plutonium incineration is superior when compared to uranium-based fuel and should be considered as an alternative to traditional MOX in both current and future/advanced reactor designs.« less

Authors:
;
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE
OSTI Identifier:
911983
Report Number(s):
INEEL/JOU-02-01311
Journal ID: ISSN 0029-5450; NUTYBB; TRN: US0800254
DOE Contract Number:  
DE-AC07-99ID-13727
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Nuclear Technology
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 143; Journal Issue: 1; Journal ID: ISSN 0029-5450
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
99 - GENERAL AND MISCELLANEOUS//MATHEMATICS, COMPUTING, AND INFORMATION SCIENCE; ACTINIDES; BREEDING; BURNUP; COMBUSTION; DAUGHTER PRODUCTS; ECONOMICS; FUEL CYCLE; INVENTORIES; ISOTOPES; MIXED OXIDE FUELS; NUCLEAR FUELS; OXIDES; PLUTONIUM; PROLIFERATION; THORIUM; URANIUM; WASTE FORMS; SPENT FUELS; advanced; fuels; mixed-oxide; pluto; reactors; thorium-based

Citation Formats

Weaver, Kevan Dean, and Herring, James Stephen. Performance of Thorium-Based Mixed Oxide Fuels for the Consumption of Plutonium in Current and Advanced Reactors. United States: N. p., 2003. Web.
Weaver, Kevan Dean, & Herring, James Stephen. Performance of Thorium-Based Mixed Oxide Fuels for the Consumption of Plutonium in Current and Advanced Reactors. United States.
Weaver, Kevan Dean, and Herring, James Stephen. Tue . "Performance of Thorium-Based Mixed Oxide Fuels for the Consumption of Plutonium in Current and Advanced Reactors". United States.
@article{osti_911983,
title = {Performance of Thorium-Based Mixed Oxide Fuels for the Consumption of Plutonium in Current and Advanced Reactors},
author = {Weaver, Kevan Dean and Herring, James Stephen},
abstractNote = {A renewed interest in thorium-based fuels has arisen lately based on the need for proliferation resistance, longer fuel cycles, higher burnup, and improved waste form characteristics. Recent studies have been directed toward homogeneously mixed, heterogeneously mixed, and seed-and-blanket thorium-uranium oxide fuel cycles that rely on "in situ" use of the bred-in 233U. However, due to the higher initial enrichment required to achieve acceptable burnups, these fuels are encountering economic constraints. Thorium can nevertheless play a large role in the nuclear fuel cycle, particularly in the reduction of plutonium inventories. While uranium-based mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel will decrease the amount of plutonium in discharged fuel, the reduction is limited due to the breeding of more plutonium (and higher actinides) from the 238U. Here, we present calculational results and a comparison of the potential burnup of a thorium-based and uranium-based mixed-oxide fuel in a light water reactor. Although the uranium-based fuels outperformed the thorium-based fuels in achievable burnup, a depletion comparison of the initially charged plutonium (both reactor and weapons grade) showed that the thorium-based fuels outperformed the uranium-based fuels by more that a factor of 2, where >70% of the total plutonium in the thorium-based fuel is consumed during the cycle. This is significant considering that the achievable burnups of the thorium-based fuels were 1.4 to 4.6 times less than the uranium-based fuels for similar plutonium enrichments. For equal specific burnups of ~60 MWd/kg (i.e., using variable plutonium weight percentages to give the desired burnup), the thorium-based fuels still outperform the uranium-based fuels by more than a factor of 2, where the total plutonium consumption in a three-batch, 18-month cycle was 60 to 70%. This is fairly significant considering that 10 to 15% (by weight) more plutonium is needed in the thorium-based fuels as compared to the uranium-based fuels to achieve these burnups. Furthermore, thorium-based fuels could also be used as a strategy for reducing the amount of long-lived nuclides (including the minor actinides) and thus the radiotoxicity in spent nuclear fuel. Although the breeding of 233U is a concern, the presence of 232U and its daughter products (namely 208Tl) can aid in making this fuel self-protecting, and/or enough 238U can be added to denature the fissile uranium. From these calculations, it appears that thorium-based fuel for plutonium incineration is superior when compared to uranium-based fuel and should be considered as an alternative to traditional MOX in both current and future/advanced reactor designs.},
doi = {},
journal = {Nuclear Technology},
issn = {0029-5450},
number = 1,
volume = 143,
place = {United States},
year = {2003},
month = {7}
}