Fast, thermal, dry, wet - notes of the eyewitness

At the end of November the second international scientific-technical conference on the theme "Development of nuclear power on the basis of closed nuclear fuel cycle (NFC) with fast neutron reactors" was held under the aegis "Rosenergoatom". The simultaneous participation of both reactor physicists and NFC specialists became the spirit of this conference.

Although the speakers were invited in advance, the conference agenda envisaged open round-table discussion of presentations. International status of the conference first of all was due to participation of Frenchmen Bruno Sicard. The American delegation included people from the program for weapons-grade plutonium. It should be noted that the majority of foreign participants didn't demonstrate any activity at the meetings.

France begins from MOX-fuel

It was interesting for many of participants to hear the position of the French. Now the main criterion of Paris is the following - don't accumulate spent nuclear fuel (SNF). It is possible to achieve it only by reprocessing of spent fuel. So far in this process pure plutonium is extracted, but the French specialists have already prepared the technique COEX, allowing to receive the mixture of plutonium and uranium.

The guests from France told about minor actinides extraction very unwillingly - that was possibly due to absence of the main oversea enthusiasts of GNEP initiative. So far in this country neptunium, americium and curium are considered as radioactive waste and vitrified with fission products.

The descendents of Gauls are planning a practical realization of multi-level combination of PUREX/DIAMEX/SANEX processes in the distant future. Moreover, today there is no uniform understanding in France what to do with minor actinides. One can make certain conclusions only after fulfillment of all necessary studies.

The French suggest to realize non-proliferation of NFC by the simplest of possible ways - to locate plants for reprocessing of SNF and fabrication of fresh fuel at the same site. Actually, any technical researches will give less additional assurance in reliable keeping of nuclear materials than elementary decrease of transport volumes.

Concerning the question where to use MOX-fuel, the French don't hesitate: "Of course, in fast reactors if they exist". As it is known, there are difficulties with fast reactors in France, so the French nuclear specialists have to burn MOX-fuel in light water installations REP.

MOX-fuel for French fast reactors will be, of course, pellet-type fuel. Moreover, there are already all necessary technologies for it in France. Reprocessing of SNF of fast reactors is planned by water methods. The French met with patronizing smile the comments of some Russian participants about hopelessness of water methods in this case- the fact is that water methods of reprocessing of spent fuel of fast reactors have already checked by experiment in France.

There will be a new fast reactor in France. When will it be exactly? The answers are evasive. One can understand that sodium will be a coolant in it, and power of this reactor will be similar to Russian BN-600 reactor. The French project is aimed at increasing safety, increasing reliability of equipment and decreasing investments.

Multispectral nuclear power and disintegration

Unlike monolith French, Russian nuclear specialists remain feudal disintegration. The old Soviet antagonism between different schools doesn't want to pass into non-existence. To do justice, hopeful sprouts of the future cooperations were planned at the conference. So, the delegations of IPPE and Kurchatov's Institute presented the joint paper of conceptual character, the main theses of which differed a little from the program statements of IPPE and OKBM at October meeting of Strategic Small Club for fast reactors in Obninsk.

The main idea promoted by new "fast alliance" is that a symbiosis of fast and thermal reactors should remain in future. Beyond Russia this concept gives a hostile reception. The French obviously follow the idea of soft replacing thermal installations by fast ones and they admit only short-term co-existence of two spectral classes of reactors during transition period. China and Japan support the same line.

India is the only country agreed to have "multispectral" nuclear power in future, it isn't ready to refuse own heavy-water reactors PHWR. The Americans stand on the specific position and it can be explained by political circumstances. The USA is going to lay special emphasis on thermal reactors, assigning the unenviable role of servant to their fast co-brothers - burners of transuranium elements. It's quite feasible that these statements are no more than a tactical step aimed at calming internal non-proliferation lobby, and we'll hear the final version of USA nuclear strategy only after appearance of the first reactor-burner. Furthermore it will be possible to convert fast sodium cooled reactor ABR into full breeder one only by one movement of the hand - simple installation of breeding zones in it.

But inside Russia the new concept is faced with antagonism. First of all, NIKIET lays special emphasis exclusively on future with fast reactors. It is due in many respects to outstanding, without any doubts, fellow Victor Vladimirovich Orlov, who earned long ago the right to have his own opinion on development of nuclear power. At Moscow conference NIKIET's representatives actively argued the importance of lead-bismuth BREST type reactors.

NIKIET's specialists consider that appearance of such reactors in Russia will allow to solve all problems with nuclear fuel and waste, and actually it will make unnecessary light water reactors, in this case there is no a necessity to care about high breeding ratio (BR). The program of NIKIET agrees with the French and Chinese programs in many respects up to choosing coolant. But if the Russian suggest to rely on lead, our foreign colleagues favour the well-studied sodium.

Although as in the case with the USA, it only remains to guess how sincere the public statements of France are. Behind the scenes of unexceptionally all seminars and conferences for fast reactors held in Russia, participants pay attention to one amazing fact - in recent years the West nuclear specialists pump out accumulated experience of heavy metal coolants from our country, with dosing carefully information about own developments in this area. There is no logical explanation to this fact - at least if don't go into secrecy.

In dispute with NIKIET, Obninsk scientists and their allies use "export" trump. Co-existence of two classes of reactors will allow to set export of thermal reactors with simultaneous full serving of their fuel cycle. In future Russia could accumulate 233U in blanket and export improved thermal reactors able to operate with this isotope.

The weak place of export option is in obligated return of SNF from abroad to Russia. If a consensus is observed in nuclear branch, as a whole, import of SNF in Russian society is firmly associated with conversation of Russia into radioactive dump. In principle, it is possible to change public conscience, but it will take more than a decade.

Reactors and fuel cycle

Double system suggested by delegations of IPPE and Kurchatov's Institute at the conference will make us have reprocessing of SNF of fast and thermal reactors in future, since the preservation of open nuclear fuel cycle for some components of total system could look irrational. The fate of plutonium accumulated looks settled, it can be used only in fast reactors. But the authors of "multispectral" concept suggest don't to hurry with minor actinides and to consider all possible options including to understand - is it expedient to return all isotopes into the cores?

And the interests of reactor specialists begins interacting - and even conflicting - with interests of NFC's enterprises at this point. It is difficult to use dry methods of reprocessing for thermal reactors, at the same time water reprocessing methods work well for installations of both classes. If traditional approach will be accepted in Russia with gradual replacing thermal reactors, dry methods will become absolute favorite. But for double system, it will be preferable to use wet methods.

NIKIET says the especial opinion. Any chemical reprocessing - dry or wet - will allow an extraction of plutonium; it means that it is necessary to develop physical methods of reprocessing. From the viewpoint of providing nuclear materials nonproliferation, it could be a revolution breakthrough.

More complicated combinations are formed for manufacturers of fresh fuel. They will have to choose technologies available for oxide, nitride and metal fuel, as well for both thermal and fast reactors. Besides, both pellet-kind and vibropac fuel has prospects for future.

But Melekess has its own viewpoint not allowing multioptions. The papers presented by RIAR said plainly - it is possible to solve all tasks facing us by dry methods and vibropack fuel. The fact that vibrotechnologies is not well-mastered now, doesn't confuse RIAR's specialists. They are ready to promote their ideas into life.

Lost combative spirit

One can recognize that Moscow conference was successful. Open exchange of opinions and participation of all interested parties in it remained a nice impression and infused hope that the words about new technological platform won't be only the lines in official documents and Russia will be able to fix the status of leader in the area of fast reactors passed from Soviet Union.

Inactivity of the major participants at the conference is a fly in the ointment. The impression forms - and please God that it will be false - that many people are waiting for - how will the fight of giants (IPPE and NIKIET) finish, in order to adjoin later to the winner. But without combative spirit the discussion losses a courage and a danger of cloakroom decisions relying not on scientific-technical basis, but other underplot increases.

Of course, conference for fast reactors and closed SNF couldn't hold without question of influence of agreement with the USA for utilization of excess weapons-grade plutonium in BN-800 reactor on Russian program. The answer given by IPPE's delegation was within all standards of political correctness - no, it won't influence on plans of Russia.Only invited reporters and group of the American nonproliferators believed it - or they pretended that to believe it - whose sighs of relief after answer of IPPE have been heard by many participants. At least, we could escape open international scandal and it is not bad result.

SOURCE: AtomInfo.Ru

DATE: December 17, 2007

Topics: Russia, NFC, Fast breeders, MOX-fuel, France

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