An apparatus and method is described for transmuting higher actinides, plutonium and selected fission products in a liquid-fuel subcritical assembly. Uranium may also be enriched, thereby providing new fuel for use in conventional nuclear power plants. An accelerator provides the additional neutrons required to perform the processes. The size of the accelerator needed to complete fuel cycle closure depends on the neutron efficiency of the supported reactors and on the neutron spectrum of the actinide transmutation apparatus. Treatment of spent fuel from light water reactors (LWRs) using uranium-based fuel will require the largest accelerator power, whereas neutron-efficient high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs) or CANDU reactors will require the smallest accelerator power, especially if thorium is introduced into the newly generated fuel according to the teachings of the present invention. Fast spectrum actinide transmutation apparatus (based on liquid-metal fuel) will take full advantage of the accelerator-produced source neutrons and provide maximum utilization of the actinide-generated fission neutrons. However, near-thermal transmutation apparatus will require lower standing inventories of plutonium and higher actinides. Uranium, presently the largest volume constituent in nuclear waste, is fully utilized and not discharged as waste. Since no plutonium, higher actinides or fission products are present in the reconstituted fuel elements, the present processes can be used repeatedly. Since the performance of the existing reactors is not changed, full utilization of both thorium and uranium resources is achieved.
This invention was made with government support under Contract No. W-7405-ENG-36 awarded to The Regents of the University of California by the U.S. Department of Energy. The government has certain rights in the invention.