The IFR Vision

Huge improvements in nuclear waste management will be possible. By processing spent fuel with IFR technology, the waste volume will be reduced at least by a factor of two and possibly by as much as a factor of ten. Because the long-lived 'actinide' elements (plutonium and other man-made heavy elements) will be essentially eliminated, the radiological toxicity hazard from IFR waste will persist for only a few hundred years rather hundreds of thousands of years. These dramatic reductions in volume and lifetime will greatly simplify management of waste repositories such as Yucca Mountain.

The IFR will produce 200 times more electricity from uranium ore than current reactors. With an assured long-term fuel supply, pollution-free nuclear energy can fulfill its role of helping to control greenhouse gas emissions.

The U.S. will reaffirm its leadership in discouraging the spread of nuclear weapons by commercializing the proliferation-resistant IFR fuel cycle. Pyroprocessing can only produce a conglomerate of plutonium, uranium, and heavier actinides, highly contaminated with intensely radioactive waste. This product can be readily fabricated into superior metal fuel for a fast reactor, but is no improvement over spent fuel for any other use. Any attempt to extract material that could be used to produce a nuclear weapon would require a huge, easily detectable, investment in the same type of facilities and equipment that would be required to produce the material directly from spent fuel of any type.

The high degree of public safety found in today's U.S. plant designs will be enhanced by self-regulating features made possible by the choice of fuel, coolant and plant arrangement in an IFR. While protective barriers and primary safety systems will be retained, reliance on expensive systems for emergency protection can be replaced by reliance on immutable laws of nature. This simplicity of design, together with a compact fuel cycle and reduced maintenance and operating costs, promises an IFR that is commercially competitive.

New Applications to Pressing Problems

Argonne has initiated an actinide recycle program to demonstrate application of IFR processing technology for reducing spent commercial reactor fuel to a form that facilitates the safe and economical permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste.

IFR technology is the only practical near-term option for completely annihilating the 100 metric tons of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons. Metallic plutonium from weapons, completely compatible with IFR process technology, could be quickly rendered unsuitable for future military use simply co-processing it with spent fuel from Argonne's IFR prototype reactor. Over 10 pounds of plutonium from weapons waste are already being tested for burnup in the reactor.

The Department of Energy has over 100 types of spent reactor fuel stored around the country, most of which are not candidates for direct disposal because of their nuclear or chemical reactivity. But they could be processed with IFR technology, producing only two common waste forms for final disposal. This near- term application alone could save tens of billions of dollars.

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