The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program is still evolving. Since our report of March 22, 2006 the DOE has sought to gauge industry interest in participation in the program from its very beginning. At the time the ANTT committee met, August 30- 31, 2006, responses had not yet been received from industry to the DOE’s request for Expressions of Interest. This report is based on the assumption that the program outlined recently, which does not include an Advanced Burner Test Reactor, is what will go forward.
As of the date of our meeting the integrated timeline for the program that we called for in our report of March 22, 2006 had not yet been generated. The advanced burner reactor (ABR), the first reactor facility called for in the new DOE program, is to be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). It, therefore, has to be filled with uranium- plutonium fuel which is the only fast reactor fuel with which we have the necessary experience. The transuranic-based fuel (plutonium (Pu); neptunium (Np); americium (Am); curium (Cm); collectively called TRU) is not now qualified for reactor use and we see little likelihood that it can be qualified before the start of the ABR. There is a world shortage of fast neutron spectrum reactor test facilities to carry out this work.
In this case the TRU fuel will have to be tested and qualified in the ABR itself. The test will first be for a single fuel assembly and later for multiple assemblies filling a large fraction of the ABR core. In addition, the TRU fuel also needs to be qualified, perhaps separately, for each of the first few recycles. This process can easily take 10-20 years before a full demonstration of multiple recycling can be done.
A key question in the GNEP program is the “conversion ratio” of the fast reactor (FR). This is the ratio of the rate that TRU is produced to the rate that it is consumed in the reactor. Current technology will support a CR of about 0.5. The CR determines the number of FRs required to handle the LWR spent fuel. At a CR of 0.5, roughly 0.6 GW of FR are required for every 1 GW of LWR. If the nuclear power program remains dominated by LWRs for the long term a lower conversion ratio would clearly be desirable. This is an R&D issue.