Monday, June 18, 2007 - 8:05 AM
The Peregrins (Boise Centre on the Grove)

Challenges for Actinide Separations in Advanced Nuclear Fuel Cycles

Ken Nash, Washington State University, Pullman, WA

The basic framework for uranium and plutonium separation and recycle as we know it today (the PUREX process) was established 50 years ago. During these five decades of deployment, a great deal of both scientific and engineering insight has been gained. PUREX in fact marked a vast improvement over the processes it displaced in terms of both the volume of wastes generated and in overall separation efficiency. Nevertheless, PUREX processing (and by association solvent extraction in general) has gained a reputation as a “dirty” option for processing spent nuclear fuels. This judgment is certainly debatable, as TBP and the PUREX process were designed under political pressure to accomplish a particular goal and operated to achieve that goal, all other considerations (like waste management) being of secondary importance. Continuous operations, tunability of process efficiency and more than 50 years of industrial-scale experience are all arguments favoring solvent extraction processing of nuclear fuels in the 21st Century. Further, the emphasis during the past two decades on remediation of the waste management problems left behind by weapons Pu production has improved our collective understanding of separation systems for spent fuel management. We should have learned further that it is essential to integrate sound waste management practices into spent fuel processing. We must also recognize the essential fact that scientific innovation must continue for such an industry to remain viable. In this presentation, selected features of the current state of the actinide separations art and prospects for the future will be discussed.