Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. Status, Problems, and Prospects of Civilian Reprocessing Around the World
|Author||International Panel on Fissile Materials IPFM|
From the publication:
Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. Status, Problems, and Prospects of Civilian Reprocessing Around the World 2015 International Panel on Fissile Materials Summary Plutonium was first separated by the United States during the Second World War. Uranium was loaded into nuclear reactors, irradiated, cooled, and then chemically “reprocessed” in another facility to recover the plutonium. The reactors and the reprocessing plant were built as part of the secret atomic bomb project. Since then, eight other countries also have produced and separated plutonium for weapons. Starting in the 1960s, some of the nuclear-weapon states and a few non-weapon states started to separate plutonium for civilian use from spent fuel produced by power reactors. The United States ended its civilian reprocessing program in 1972 and the nuclearweapon states that are parties to the NPT ended their military reprocessing activities with the end of the Cold War. Today there are only a handful of countries with active civilian reprocessing programs: China, France, India, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom. This report looks at the history, current status and prospects of these programs. It also looks at the rise and fall of reprocessing in Germany and the agitation in South Korea for starting a program. There are also three technical chapters at the end assessing: the utility of reprocessing for managing spent nuclear fuel; the economics of reprocessing and plutonium use; and the radiological risk from reprocessing plants. The original objective of civilian reprocessing was to provide startup fuel for planned “breeder” reactors that would produce more plutonium than they consumed. These plutonium breeder reactors would be much more efficient at utilizing uranium and, throughout the 1960s, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission promoted them as the solution to concerns that nuclear power would be limited by the availability of low-cost uranium. Large-scale construction of breeder reactors was expected to begin in the 1990s. In 1974, India, which had acquired reprocessing technology — ostensibly for a breeder reactor program — conducted a “peaceful” nuclear explosion that utilized plutonium produced in a reactor supplied with U.S. heavy water. The U.S. government realized that civilian reprocessing was facilitating nuclear-weapon proliferation and reversed its position on breeder reactors, concluding within a few years that they were unnecessary and uneconomic.
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