Nuclear Energy and the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI)
by Richard Kimura
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Nuclear energy policy continues to advance. There is an initiative to make the nuclear fuel cycle more efficient, cleaner, and generate less waste. The nuclear fuel cycle in the U.S. generally involves uranium mining, nuclear fuel fabrication, nuclear reactor operation, spent fuel removal and storage, and spent fuel and nuclear waste disposal. Other countries, such as France and Japan, reuse their spent fuel because it contains large quantities of enriched uranium and plutonium. These two elements are used in the nuclear reaction. The potential energy savings is huge, since each pellet of recovered enriched uranium, about the size of an eraser on a fat pencil, can generate as much energy as three cords of wood or three barrels of fuel oil in equivalent energy. Currently, spent nuclear fuel is targeted for deep geological repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. But, research has shown that over 99% of the fuel can be recycled and reused.
An Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (AFCI) has been under development for a several years. To support this initiative, most of the national laboratories and numerous countries are developing and demonstrating new advanced technologies. Countries such as the U.S., Russia, Japan, France, Korea, and others are spearheading the effort and providing research and development resources. These technologies involve advanced chemical separation and recovery processes, fabrication and lead assembly testing of new types of advanced nuclear fuel, and design and testing of a new generation nuclear reactor to use such fuel. Plutonium and uranium, and other transuranic elements, would be efficiently removed using the so-called UREX process and recovered.
An advanced nuclear fuel cycle would have a number of benefits. It will reduce the volume of existing spent fuel. Currently, spent fuel is being stored in pools at various reactors sites around the U.S. It would also increase the capacity of the storage facility by reducing the amount decay heat generated by the spent fuel. It is predicted that toxic long-lived radioactive components can be destroyed through burning in a nuclear reactor and transmutation, which is the process of converting the radioactive elements into stable, safer isotopes. Radiotoxicity can be reduced after aging of the spent (advanced) fuel by over 70% after 100 years, and over 99.9% after 1000 years. Reactors similar to the sodium-cooled Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) could be considered for more efficient transmutation.
The Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative (search under "AFCI")supports the more sustainable development of nuclear energy. Not only is it better stewardship of resources because it makes use of spent fuel, it may reduce the potential impact to the environment for thousands of years to come by burning up toxic long-lived elements. In addition, this new fuel cycle is considered to be more nuclear proliferation resistant. National energy policy acknowledges that nuclear energy is the only technology capable of providing steady base load quantities of electricity for the U.S. without emitting greenhouse gases thought to play a role in global climate change.
About Richard Kimura:
Rich Kimura is a project engineering manager, freelance writer, and entrepreneur. He has numerous technical papers, 1 patent and 2 pending, and 24 years experience in industry. He started many home businesses and has Crown Financial training. For more unique perspectives on personal finances, relationships, and spirituality, visit Cirrovista at http://www.cirrovista.com
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