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Thursday, 16 February 2012

European project investment in nuclear waste recycling

Feb 16, 2012

Christian Ekberg Credit:Chalmers University of Technology

With a 9,4 million euro budget, a group of European researchers are collaborating to investigate nuclear fuel manufacturing and recycling for the fourth generation nuclear power systems. The aim is to produce safe fuel that can be 80 per cent recycled, compared to the current 1 per cent. Chalmers University of Technology is in charge of the initiative.

Fourth generation nuclear power systems can lead to a reduction of the amount of high-level, long-lived nuclear waste to a tenth of what it is today, while energy output can increase hundredfold. Many researchers believe the new technology will have a commercial breakthrough within 20 years. Germany is at present the only European country that has decided to phase out nuclear power.

"The technology needed for the fourth generation already exists," says Christian Ekberg, professor and nuclear chemistry research team leader at Chalmers. "What is needed now is for the different parts to be connected. One important aspect involves integrating nuclear waste recycling into the cycle so that nuclear power plants can be built with facilities to recycle waste and produce new nuclear fuel on site."
Christian Ekberg is also the inaugural holder of Stena Metall’s professorship in Industrial Materials Recycling, and is the coordinator of the new research project called Asgard, which has received 5,5 million euro in EU grants. Around 50 European researchers will take part in the project over four years.

"Traditionally, three different groups have worked separately on the fourth generation nuclear power systems: reactor physicists, fuel chemists and separation chemists. The groups will cooperate within the Asgard project to tie their previous findings together. We will also perform research on entirely new reactor fuels that are safer, use resources more effectively and that enable a more comprehensive approach to the waste issue."

Oxides currently dominate among the nuclear fuels that are produced from recycled nuclear waste. One example is MOX fuel. During the course of the Asgard project, researchers will examine other types of chemical compounds with uranium or plutonium. Examples include nitrides and carbides. These chemical compounds are safer to use in reactors, amongst other things because their high melting point and thermal conductivity offer a higher safety margin in terms of a nuclear meltdown.

Researchers will now investigate whether the new fuels' qualities are as positive in terms of recycling and production. At Chalmers – the European university best equipped to perform research on the entire nuclear fuel cycle – researchers will primarily concentrate on nitrides.

"If it is possible to recycle as much as we think, at least 80 per cent of nuclear waste will be possible to recycle," says Christian Ekberg. "This would also mean that eight times as much of the remaining waste could be included in the final repository, since heat generation is reduced. In addition, the amount of long-lived nuclides in residual waste is reduced, which results in a significantly shorter storage period. However, it is important to remember that the final repository is still an important part of the fuel cycle."

Information about the Asgard project
Asgard is a four-year EU project that is addressing new and innovative fuels for nuclear reactors. Of the budgeted 9,4 million euro, 5,5 million euro is being provided by EU grants. The project got started in January and comprises 16 organisations in 10 countries across Europe. In addition to Chalmers, other Swedish participants include the Royal Institute of Technology and Westinghouse.

From an overall financial perspective, the Asgard project is the biggest project ever at Chalmers' largest department, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Christian Ekberg (professor and Asgard coordinator), Gunnar Skarnemark (professor), Teodora Retegan (PhD) and Emma Aneheim and Marcus Hedberg (doctoral students) are the Chalmers researchers taking part in the project.

Information about the Genius project
The nuclear chemistry research team at Chalmers is also involved in the Swedish Genius cooperation project with the Royal Institute of Technology and Uppsala University. They are working on developing advanced nuclear fuel, performing research on materials for lead cooled reactors and performing safety analyses. The project aims to develop fourth generation nuclear power systems.
Read more about Genius

Source: Chalmers University of Technology


Maria said...

I really liked your article, which I should admit made me think about nuclear power danger and importance of nuclear wastes recycling. It's good that Europeans can spare some extra money on such crucial and environmentally obligatory projects. So far, I knew only several technologies of nuclear wastes disposal and storage, but if such mix of technologies will have great commercial resul it will only benefit! Wish them luck!

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