6
Comparing the Options

In this chapter we compare the reactor-related options for disposition of weapons plutonium (WPu) using the criteria developed in Chapter 3. The array of options treated comprises: currently operating light-water reactors; currently operating heavy-water reactors; currently operating liquid-metal reactors; evolutionary light-water reactors; advanced light-water reactors; advanced liquid-metal reactors; modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactors; molten-salt reactors; particle-bed reactors; accelerator-based conversion systems; and immobilization with fission-product wastes. The emphasis in these comparisons is on the options that we and the parent committee have concluded offer the greatest promise of reducing the security hazards associated with surplus WPu over the next 30 years or so—the use of currently operating reactor types or evolutionary adaptations of them to incorporate WPu into spent fuel on a once-though basis, and vitrification of WPu with defense high-level wastes (HLW).

We begin by comparing the options on criteria related to security, turning then to economics and environment, safety, and health (ES&H). Many of the reactor-option characteristics that influence these evaluations depend to some degree on details of core design, fuel composition, and refueling modes and schedules that may vary considerably within a given reactor type. For example, given a pressurized-water reactor (PWR) with a core loaded two-thirds with low-enriched uranium (LEU) and one-third with mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, the quantity and quality of plutonium in the spent fuel will depend in detail on the initial percentages of uranium-235 (U-235) and the various plutonium isotopes in the fresh fuel, on the burnup, and on the neutron-energy spectrum, which can



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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options 6 Comparing the Options In this chapter we compare the reactor-related options for disposition of weapons plutonium (WPu) using the criteria developed in Chapter 3. The array of options treated comprises: currently operating light-water reactors; currently operating heavy-water reactors; currently operating liquid-metal reactors; evolutionary light-water reactors; advanced light-water reactors; advanced liquid-metal reactors; modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactors; molten-salt reactors; particle-bed reactors; accelerator-based conversion systems; and immobilization with fission-product wastes. The emphasis in these comparisons is on the options that we and the parent committee have concluded offer the greatest promise of reducing the security hazards associated with surplus WPu over the next 30 years or so—the use of currently operating reactor types or evolutionary adaptations of them to incorporate WPu into spent fuel on a once-though basis, and vitrification of WPu with defense high-level wastes (HLW). We begin by comparing the options on criteria related to security, turning then to economics and environment, safety, and health (ES&H). Many of the reactor-option characteristics that influence these evaluations depend to some degree on details of core design, fuel composition, and refueling modes and schedules that may vary considerably within a given reactor type. For example, given a pressurized-water reactor (PWR) with a core loaded two-thirds with low-enriched uranium (LEU) and one-third with mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, the quantity and quality of plutonium in the spent fuel will depend in detail on the initial percentages of uranium-235 (U-235) and the various plutonium isotopes in the fresh fuel, on the burnup, and on the neutron-energy spectrum, which can

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options vary with core and fuel design, presence of burnable poisons, and so on (see Chapter 2). The calculations used to determine spent fuel characteristics subject to these variations are fairly complicated and are performed with large, standardized computer codes and neutronics databases. We have not performed such calculations ourselves for this study, but have relied instead on the calculations performed for similar purposes over the past few years by reactor manufacturers and national laboratories. The quantitative comparisons in this chapter are based largely on the set of such calculations summarized in Table 6-1, which includes a range of reactor types-and, within types, ranges of fuel characteristics and operating modes-sufficient to illustrate the key dependencies and variations.1 The bulk of the comparison of options in this chapter focuses on options for disposition of U.S. WPu. This was inevitable, given the amount of relevant information available in the United States. Given the importance of disposition of plutonium in Russia as well, however, several paragraphs at the end of each section in this chapter are devoted to a preliminary discussion of how the options in Russia compare by the same criteria. The panel believes that additional study rigorously comparing plutonium disposition options in Russia against the criteria outlined in this chapter is urgently needed. SECURITY COMPARISONS As noted in Chapter 3, the primary motivation of the U.S. government in preparing to carry out disposition of excess WPu is to minimize the risks to national and international security posed by the existence of this material. Thus, options must meet this objective to be worthy of further consideration. The panel was not charged with examining many of the issues related to security that are described in the report of our parent committee (NAS 1994), such as the interaction of WPu disposition with the future efforts to reduce nuclear arms and stem their spread. The panel takes note, however, of a number of important considerations outlined in the committee's 1994 report: 1   The presentation of numbers in this table to three- or four-digit precision should not be taken either as indicative of the actual accuracy of the calculations, which is generally less, or as suggesting that small differences in these values are important, which generally they are not: the largely illusory precision in Table 6-1 is maintained simply to facilitate consistency checks and to permit associating the values in the table with particular calculations in the literature. Nor should it be assumed that the presence in the table of reactors designed by particular manufacturers constitutes a preference by the panel for these manufacturers' designs in comparison to other manufacturers' designs of the same general type; unless otherwise noted, the purpose of this specificity is simply to associate the tabulated parameters with the particular design, fuel type, and operating mode for which they were calculated.

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options TABLE 6-1 Plutonium Disposition Characteristics of Some Representative Reactor Types Description Burnup (MWd/ kgHM) Metal Inventory (MT) Metal Input (MT/yr) Pu Input (kg/yr) Pu Output (kg/yr) Δ Pu (kg/ GWe-yr) Pu/HM in Spent Fuel(%) CLWR: 3,800-MWt/1,200-MWe PWR @ CF=0.75 100% LEU (3.8%) 42.0 99.2 24.8 0 253 +281 1.0 33% MOX (4.0%) 42.0 99.2 24.8 330 387 +63 1.6 100% MOX (4.0%) 42.0 99.2 24.8 996 636 -400 2.6 ELWR: 3,817-MWt/1,256-MWe PWR @ CF=0.75 100% MOX (6.8%) 42.2 99.2 24.8 1,672 1,215 -485 4.9 ELWR: 3,926-MWt/1,300-MWe ABWR @ CF=0.75 100% LEU (2.6%) 27 5 155.2 39.2 0 338 +347 0.9 100% MOX (3.0%) 37.1 155.2 29.0 867 562 -313 1.9 ALWR: 3,880-MWt/1,220 MWe APWRs (2 × 1,940-MWt/610-MWe) @ CF=0.75 100% MOX (5.5%) 40.0 133.8 26.6 1,462 1,038 -463 3.9 100% MOX (4.0%) 50.0 98.0 21.2 850 421 -469 2.0 CHWR: 5,664-MWt/1,538-MWe CANDUs (2 × 2,832-MWt/769-MWe) @ CF=0.80 100% natural U 8.3 234.7 199.4 0 768 +624 0.4 100% MOX (1.2%) 9.7 232.5 170.6 2,124 1,405 -584 0.8 100% MOX(2.1%) 17.1 226.0 96.8 2,000 1,333 -542 1.4 MHTGR: 3,600-MWt/1,717-MWe MHTGRs (6 × 600-MWt/286-MWe) @ CF=0.75 100% PuO/PuO2 595.5 4.7 1.7 1,656 589 -829 36 CLMR: 1,470-MWt/560-MWe BN-600 LMFBR @ CF=0.75 100% MOX (15.6%) 60.9   6.6 1,032 1,070 +90 16.2 ALMR: 4,200-MWt/1,440-MWe ALMR @ CF=0.75 100% U/Pu (10.6%) 75.2 113.0 15.3 1,626 1,781 +144 11.6 ABBREVIATIONS: ABWR = advanced boiling-water reactor. ALMR = advanced liquid-metal reactor. ALWR = advanced light-water reactor. APWR = advanced pressurized-water reactor. CANDU = Canadian deuterium-uranium (reactor). CF = capacity factor. CHWR = current heavy-water reactor. CLMR = current liquid-metal reactor. CLWR = current light-water reactor. ELWR = evolutionary light-water reactor. GWe = gigawatt-electric. HM = heavy metal. kg = kilogram. LEU = low-enriched uranium (figure in parentheses is U-235 enrichment). LMFBR - liquid-metal fast-breeder reactor. MHTGR = modular high-temperature gas reactor. MOX = mixed-oxide fuel (figure in parentheses is Pu percentage of heavy metal). MT = metric ton. MWd = megawatt-day. MWe = megawatt-electric. MWt = megawatt-thermal. PWR = pressurized-water reactor.

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options NOTES to Table 6-1: CLWR: These cases calculated for a nominal current PWR by Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories (Pritchard 1993); LEU case shows current practice for comparison. ELWR: First case is ABB-Combustion Engineering System-80+ evolutionary PWR at 3.817 MWt (ABB-CE 1993); this case shows a plutonium loading higher than practical in current PWRs, making it possible for a single large reactor to load 50 tons of WPu in a 30-year operating lifetime. Second case is General Electric's ABWR, actually an evolutionary reactor in our terminology (GE 1993). First row parameters for use of LEU without MOX in this reactor scaled from American Physical Society study values for a nominal boiling-water reactor (APS 1978). ALWR: Two Westinghouse PDR-600 APWRs (Westinghouse 1993). The second row illustrates a case using an advanced annular fuel design to achieve very high burnup and a 50-percent plutonium destruction fraction starting from 4-percent WPu MOX fuel; this destruction fraction is considerably higher than those attained with more typical LWR parameters. CHWR: Two CANDU reactors of the Bruce Station type, as analyzed for conventional natural uranium fuel and “reference" and "advanced" MOX fuels by Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. (AECL 1994). CANDUs are given an advantage in capacity factor—an assumed 0.80 in contrast to the 0.75 assumed for the other reactor types listed—because unlike the others they do not need to shut down to refuel. MHTGR: Six General Atomics 600-MWt gas-turbine MHTGR modules, as analyzed for 100%-percent PuO/PuO2 fuel by General Atomics (GA 1994). Plutonium weight fraction in spent fuel in this case refers to weight fraction of plutonium in plutonium plus higher actinides plus fission products. CLMR: The CLMR is the BN-600 LMFBR operating in Russia, the largest of the world's three commercially operating LMRs. Its parameters using 100 percent MOX were calculated at Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories (Pritchard 1993); whether 100 percent MOX loading in this reactor is actually feasible is in doubt, however (see Chapter 4). ALMR: Five GE 840-MWt ALMR modules, as analyzed for metallic plutonium-uranium-zirconium (Pu-U-Zr) fuel under the "spent fuel alternative" by General Electric (GE 1993). Figures given here for burnup (75.2 MWd/kgHM) and initial plutonium content in metallic fuel (10.6 percent) relate to heavy-metal content only (not including the zirconium in the ternary Pu-U-Zr fuel) and are averages for driver and blanket fuel assemblies. (Initial driver fuel plutonium content is 20.3 percent WPu in heavy metal.) Current arms reductions agreements do not require the dismantlement of the nuclear weapons involved; nor do these agreements place any controls on the fissile materials these weapons contain. Dismantlement of these weapons and disposition of the resulting fissile material would significantly contribute to building confidence in the "irreversibility" of nuclear arms reductions, a goal enunciated by President Clinton and Russian President Yeltsin at their summit in January 1994. For disposition of WPu to contribute to this goal in the near term would require a clearly enunciated plan for disposition, with an expeditious beginning of implementation. The foundation of international nuclear nonproliferation efforts is the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This treaty is based on a bargain between the nuclear-weapon states and the non-nuclear-weapon states, which included the nuclear-weapon states' commitment to negotiate in good faith toward nuclear disarmament. A clear commitment to disposition of excess WPu, with an early start on implementation, would contribute

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options to confidence that the United States and Russia were making good on this commitment. The current transformations in the former Soviet Union create nuclear risks of three general kinds: "breakup," meaning the emergence of multiple nuclear-armed states where previously there was only one;  "breakdown," meaning erosion of government control over nuclear weapons and materials within a particular state; and "breakout," meaning repudiation of arms-reduction agreements and pledges, and reconstruction of a larger nuclear arsenal. It would be desirable not to prolong these risks as they apply to excess WPu any longer than necessary. The panel notes that all of these considerations point to: timing as an absolutely critical part of minimizing security risks; and the importance of disposition of excess WPu not only in the United States, but in Russia as well. These points are emphasized throughout the remainder of this section, in comparing the security impacts of different reactor options. We begin our comparisons of these security impacts with some broad generalizations, related to the various issues mentioned above and the potential threats considered in Chapter 3, that have been important to our process of narrowing the range of options given serious consideration. We then focus on the timing of different options, followed by discussions of the accessibility of the excess WPu during the course of the various disposition options and the degree of difficulty of recovering the excess WPu when they are complete. General Considerations Some general conclusions about the security dimensions of alternative approaches to disposition of WPu follow directly from consideration of the character of the threats likely to be of greatest concern (see Table 3-1). In particular: Risks of Storage. Prolonged storage of excess WPu in readily weapons-usable forms would mean a continuing risk of breakout, as well as of theft from the storage site. In addition, extended storage of large quantities of excess fissile materials, particularly in the form of weapon components, could undermine the arms reduction and nonproliferation regimes (the severity of this problem depending in part on the specific arrangements for custody of the materials in question). Thus, in judging the attractiveness of disposition options, we give heavy weight to (1) minimizing the time before processing of WPu can begin and (2) minimizing the subsequent time lag before disposition has succeeded in

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options reducing the accessibility of the last excess WPu (e.g., when the last WPu has been loaded into a reactor or a vitrifier). The timing for each disposition option is dependent on three factors: its technical readiness or uncertainty, the speed with which public and institutional approval (including relevant funding) could be gained, and the time required to implement it once developed and approved. Risks of Handling. Nearly all disposition options other than indefinite storage as pits require processing and usually transportation of plutonium, in ways that could increase access to the material and complicate accounting for it, thus increasing the potential for diversion and theft. The biggest risks of these kinds involve the steps before the WPu has been either irradiated in a reactor or mixed with radioactive wastes. In order to ensure that the overall process reduces net security risks, an agreed and stringent standard of security and accounting must be maintained throughout the disposition process, approximating as closely as practicable the security and accounting applied to intact nuclear weapons. The parent committee called this the "stored weapons standard." Hence, choices among long-term disposition options comparable in terms of timing should be weighted in favor of those that minimize: any processing steps with high accessibility and low accountability; the number of transport steps and the risks involved in each; and the number of sites at which plutonium is handled and the risks at each site. Risks of Recovery. A third key security criterion for judging disposition options is the risk of recovery of the plutonium after disposition—by the state from whose weapons the WPu came (either covertly or overtly), or by potential proliferators (acquiring the material by covert theft, overt theft in the event of a loss of national authority, or overt forcible theft). Options that left the excess WPu substantially more accessible for weapons use than the global stock of plutonium in civilian spent fuel would mean that this material would continue to pose a unique safeguards problem indefinitely. Conversely, as long as the large stocks of plutonium in civilian spent fuel exist and continue to accumulate, options that made the excess WPu much less accessible than these larger stocks (for example, by eliminating it entirely or nearly so) would provide little additional security benefit, unless the same were done with the much larger stock of civilian plutonium. These considerations lead naturally to the "spent fuel standard" enunciated earlier. In any case, none of the disposition options that could plausibly be completed in less than 50 years would destroy more than

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options 70-80 percent of the excess WPu—and whether the amount of WPu that remains in spent fuel (or vitrified waste) is 10 or 50 tons makes little difference to the overall security picture when the total stock of plutonium in spent fuel by that time will amount to over 1,500 tons. Indirect Impacts. The goal of long-term disposition of WPu should be not only to ensure that the plutonium from dismantled weapons is not reused in weapons, but also to avoid substantially increasing security risks from other fissile materials. Thus, policy-makers must be attentive to possible indirect effects that the choice of disposition options might have on the proliferation risks posed by other fissile materials in the world, in addition to its direct effects on the surplus weapon material. Disposition options that entail use of MOX fuel in, and/or fuel reprocessing for, civilian power reactors could potentially encourage the expanded use of these approaches in ways that increase the vulnerability of reactor plutonium (RPu) to diversion for nuclear weaponry (including acquisition of weapons by countries that possess no WPu). Conversely, it is possible that development of MOX fuel or reprocessing approaches for WPu disposition would lead to improvements in the safeguardability of these technologies (or an increase in society's determination to safeguard them), with beneficial results in current or future civilian nuclear-energy programs of which these technologies are a part. Policy-makers examining disposition options will have to take into account these possible indirect impacts of the options on the management of civilian plutonium, and how they fit with broader national fuel-cycle policies. For either reactor or vitrification options, if the United States wishes to maintain a policy of generally discouraging fuel cycles involving the use of separated plutonium, or if it wishes to make support for such cycles contingent on stringent safeguards and security measures, it will need to make a clear statement of how its choice fits within that broader context. It is important to note, in this context, that since the WPu is already separated, choice of a reactor option would not necessarily reopen the contentious question of reprocessing in the United States. Timing The issue of timing, which as we have argued above is an important aspect of security, has a number of dimensions: (1) the length of time until a disposition scheme can begin receiving and processing plutonium, (2) the length of time thereafter until the total quantity of surplus plutonium has entered the process, (3) the length of time from the start of operations until all of the plutonium has reached its final dispositioned state, and (4) the lengths of time that the plu

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options tonium spends in its various intermediate forms and locations during the disposition campaign (especially, of course, the most vulnerable forms and locations). The first of these characteristic times—the length of time until disposition operations can commence—is important from the standpoint of sending an early "signal" that the commitment to remove the plutonium from the military inventory is really being carried out, as well as being a key element in the timing of the whole disposition process. The determinants of this critical length of time include: (1) the time needed to make a decision about how to proceed; (2) any time required for research, development, and design of elements of the scheme before they can be constructed at the needed scale; (3) the time needed to obtain the requisite permits and licenses, including time for any analyses required as input to the permitting and licensing processes; and (4) the time needed for construction and startup testing of any of the necessary facilities that do not already exist. Some of these time periods can and should overlap: research and development on a variety of options can proceed in parallel with a process of decision about which option to select for deployment; construction on some elements of a disposition scheme can be underway while other elements are still under development; and licensing does not necessarily need to be complete before construction begins. (Overlap of construction with licensing can be the cause of costly mid-construction design changes, however, as experience with commercial nuclear reactors has demonstrated from time to time.) Estimation of the time requirements for the various steps that must precede commencement of disposition operations-and of the degree of overlap that can or will occur in these steps-is difficult, and the results will necessarily be approximate. We present in Table 6-2 our estimates of the minimum plausible time requirements for the steps preceding commencement of disposition operations for a representative array of reactor-related options in the United States. The times specified in Table 6-2 for U.S. options are based on the assumption that (1) a U.S. government decision to proceed with a particular option is made early in 1996, and (2) the WPu disposition mission is given high national priority with corresponding resources-as the panel recommends be done.2 2   We do not think that a decision to proceed with any of the advanced-reactor options could or should be made so quickly, but we chose to assume the same decision date for all the options in making these estimates in order to be able to compare, on an equal footing, the time requirements once a decision is made. The estimates given in Table 6-2 are in reasonably close agreement with those developed by the Fission Working Group Review Committee in the 1992-1993 Department of Energy Plutonium Disposition Study (Omberg and Walter 1993, Figure 5.1-8). We and the Fission Working Group Review Committee are more pessimistic about this timing than were the contractor studies commissioned in Phase I of DOE's Plutonium Disposition Study, where the contracts required (unrealistically in most cases, we think) that proposals be presented for completing the plutonium disposition mission by 2018.

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options TABLE 6-2 Minimum Plausible Time to Commencement of Disposition Operations Option Steps and Time Requirements Vitrification with defense HLWa Research on remaining process and repository issues: 1996-1998.   Fabrication and installation at Savannah River of plutonium metal-to-oxide conversion facilities 1998-2001   Fabrication, installation, and testing at Savannah River of suitable melters and other process equipment for adding plutonium to vitrification operations: 1999-2004.   PLUTONIUM CONVERSION TO OXIDE AND VITRIFICATION OPERATIONS COMMENCE 2005 CLWR one-third MOX. FMEFb Contract for completion of MOX fabrication plant, do completion work, test and license plant: 1996-2000.   Choose LWRs to be used and negotiate arrangements, obtain needed permits and licenses: 1996-1999   PLUTONIUM CONVERSION TO OXIDE AT MOX PLANT COMMENCES 2001, MOX FUEL LOADING IN REACTORS COMMENCES 2002 CLWR full-MOX, FMEFc Contract for completion of MOX fabrication plant, do completion work, test and license plant: 1996-2000   Choose LWRs to be used and negotiate arrangements, make any needed modifications, obtain needed permits and licenses: 1996-2001.   PLUTONIUM CONVERSION TO OXIDE AT MOX PLANT COMMENCES 2001, MOX FUEL LOADING IN REACTORS COMMENCES 2003 CLWR one-third or full-MOX, new MOX plantd Contract for construction of MOX fabrication plant, site, construct, test, and license plant: 1996-2002.   Choose LWRs to be used and negotiate arrangements, obtain needed permits and licenses: 1996-1999/2001   PLUTONIUM CONVERSION TO OXIDE AT MOX PLANT COMMENCES 2003, MOX FUEL LOADING IN REACTORS COMMENCES 2004 ELWR full-MOX, FMEFe Contract for completion of MOX fabrication plant, do completion work, test and license plant 1996-2000   Select site and contractors for ELWR, construct, test, and license plant: 1996-2004.   PLUTONIUM CONVERSION TO OXIDE AT MOX PLANT COMMENCES 2001, MOX FUEL LOADING IN REACTORS COMMENCES 2005 ALWR full-MOX, new MOX plantf Contract for construction of MOX fabrication plant, site, construct, test and license plant: 1996-2002   Complete development and design work on ALWR, select site and contractors, construct, test, and license plant: 1996-2007.   PLUTONIUM CONVERSION TO OXIDE AT MOX PLANT COMMENCES 2003, MOX FUEL LOADING IN REACTORS COMMENCES 2008 MHTGR or ALMRg Complete development and design work on reactors and fuel cycles, select site and contractors for co-located fuel fabrication facility and reactors, construct, test, and license: 1996-2012.   PLUTONIUM CONVERSION TO OXIDE COMMENCES 2010, MOX FUEL LOADING IN REACTORS COMMENCES 2013 MSR, PBR, or ABCh Extensive development and design work needed for these concepts likely to add 5-10 years to time scales for MHTGR and ALMR.   FUEL LOADING IN REACTORS COMMENCES BETWEEN 2018 AND 2023

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options NOTES to Table 6-2: All estimates assume a U.S. government decision at the beginning of calendar 1996 to proceed with the option. Elements affecting total time are entered in boldface. Estimates are highly uncertain, for reasons discussed in the text. a Assumes addition of WPu at 1-2 percent by weight to glass logs incorporating 20 percent by weight defense HLW, as now scheduled to begin production (without WPu) at Savannah River in the late 1990s. b Current Light-Water Reactor with 1/3 MOX cores; fuel produced in Fuel Materials Examination Facility (FMEF) at Hanford, Washington. c Same as previous case, except that it is assumed that CLWRs can be licensed to use full-MOX cores. This reduces the number of reactor sites that need to be chosen, agreed, and permitted, perhaps shortening the time required for these steps, but may increase the time needed for reactor licensing for MOX use and related analysis and testing. That time could increase from four to six years, as indicated, without changing the overall start dates from those applying in the previous case. Options involving completing existing reactors such as the WNP facilities are considered to be included in the CLWR options, as provision of the needed MOX capacity would in all probability still be the rate-limiting step. d Same as previous two cases except fuel produced in a new MOX plant, which adds at least two years to this pacing element. e Same as second case except uses newly constructed evolutionary LWRs instead of existing ones, with time estimated for final design, siting, construction, testing, and licensing at nine years. Reactor rather than MOX plant is now pacing element; use of new MOX plant rather than FMEF would delay commencement of conversion to oxide by two years but would not affect start of MOX loading in reactors. f Same as previous case except uses advanced rather than evolutionary LWRs, assumed to require an additional three years of design and development time. We assume that on the resulting longer overall time scale it will be decided to employ newer MOX fabrication technology in a new plant, rather than updating FMEF. Use of FMEF would permit starting conversion to oxide two years sooner but would not affect start of MOX loading in reactors. g Modular High-Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor or Advanced Liquid Metal Reactor. We rate these two reactor types as comparable in the amount of remaining development and design effort needed before they could be brought into operation using plutonium fuel. The indicated operation date of 2013 is based on assuming a serious national commitment to achieving this, and thus is optimistic. The associated fuel fabrication facility assumed to be completable and licensable at least three years sooner than reactor, to permit accumulation of fuel for first full core by the time reactor is otherwise ready for operation. h Molten-Salt Reactor, Pebble-Bed Reactor, or Accelerator-Based Convertor. We emphasize that the dates shown in Table 6-2 reflect what we think is possible, which is not necessarily the same thing as what is likely. In recent years the Department of Energy (DOE) has not had great success in carrying large projects of this kind through to completion; success in this case will require intense, high-level commitment and oversight. In the current institutional environment in the United States, moreover, delaying or halting large nuclear projects is substantially easier than carrying them out on schedule. There is little doubt that the large-scale processing of plutonium required for virtually any disposition option will engender controversy and that any option will face opponents. At each stage of the lengthy political and regulatory process that will be required to implement any of these options, there are likely to be efforts to block or delay the process, through lobbying the relevant legislatures and regulatory bodies and legal actions in the courts. If successful, such

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options actions could delay implementation of disposition options for years. (Licensing issues could be particularly important in governing how rapidly options can be implemented and are summarized in the appendix to this chapter.) In short, the time estimates in Table 6-2 are optimistic: while it is extremely unlikely that the disposition options considered here could be carried out more rapidly, it is very possible, even likely, that they will ultimately be carried out more slowly. Timing of plutonium disposition in Russia is even more uncertain than timing in the United States. The most critical limiting factor on timing in Russia is likely to be the availability of the financial resources needed to carry out the job (see discussion of economics below). As in the United States, making use of existing facilities to the extent possible would speed the process. In the Russian context, if appropriate support and resources were available, the timing of the vitrification option might be more favorable than in the U.S. context, as Russian vitrification of HLW is already ongoing, new melters are regularly replacing older ones (so that a critically safe plutonium disposition melter could be inserted into the process without undue delay), and regulatory obstacles may be less substantial. To incorporate substantial quantities of plutonium safely, however, would probably necessitate switching from phosphate to borosilicate glasses, which could impose significant delays. In the case of the light-water reactor (LWR) options, Russia, like the United States, does not have a production-scale operational MOX fabrication facility, but has a partially completed one; Russia's facility is farther from completion, but would have a larger capacity than the Fuel Materials Examination Facility (FMEF). Russia does have two pilot-scale MOX fabrication lines, and therefore might be in a position to carry out initial demonstrations of MOX use in LWRs more rapidly than could the United States. A new MOX facility could probably be built from scratch in Russia on a time scale comparable to that in the United States, assuming that the job had adequate resources and governmental priority—but even more than in the United States, that is a very large assumption, given the many other urgent problems the Russian government must address. (Foreign participation, as has been suggested by some European MOX manufacturers, could potentially help keep such an effort on track.) As indicated in Chapter 4, Russian VVER-1000 reactors are similar to U.S. LWRs in their adaptability to MOX burning. Regulatory issues in Russia are difficult to predict, but could potentially impose smaller delays, because a legal process allowing multiple opportunities for opponents of a project to intervene does not yet exist to the same degree as it does in the United States. In short, the timing arguments as between the two main options discussed in this report— vitrification and use as MOX in LWRs—do not appear to be radically different in the Russian case than they are in the U.S. case. Russia's one operating liquid-metal reactor (LMR), the 560-megawatt-electric (MWe) BN-600, would require 50 years' operation to process 50 tons of WPu on a once-though basis (see Table 6-1), even assuming that it could be

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options operation, would probably be shorter under the NRC than the DNFSB, if the review and hearings processes were similar. Certainly this would be the case if the DNFSB's actions were challenged in court. If an existing licensed commercial reactor were taken over by DOE for plutonium disposition, the issue of transferring its license would be raised. Although licenses have been transferred from one utility to another, a license or a construction permit has never been transferred from a commercial facility to the government.69 If a transfer to DOE were proposed, it is most likely that the NRC would require the utility to apply for a license termination. The NRC's role then would be to make a finding of the effect of such action on the safety of the public. If a new reactor were to be constructed with DOE ownership, under current procedures the DNFSB would provide oversight. Overseeing construction and operation of such a reactor or reactors would pose considerable challenges for the DNFSB. The time required to build such a reactor, however, would give the DNFSB the time to develop gradually the expertise to oversee operation. If the NRC were asked to provide advice concerning a DOE-owned reactor (as was done for the Fast Flux Test Facility, for example), there would be no formal NRC licensee, but there is the issue of who would pay for these NRC reviews. The NRC is required by law to recover all its costs from the applicants and licensees, but the NRC has no authority to charge DOE. DOE, however, could provide the funding for such reviews. Or, if DOE could characterize the reactor as a “demonstration" reactor, and it were operated on a commercial grid, the reactor would be licensed by the NRC, and as a licensee, would pay the costs of regulation. The licensing procedure for a reactor that was privately owned would be more clear-cut. Nonfederal reactors operate under license from the NRC. The operating license review includes consideration of the core. Major changes in the core, such as introduction of MOX fuel, would be reviewed by the NRC for potential effect on the safety of the reactor. Although a claim might be made that a license amendment would not be required,70 it would be prudent to assume that one would be necessary. The license amendment process would offer the opportunity for challenges, leading to public hearings. Under current law, the NRC could decide that no significant hazard would result from the amendment and allow the amendment to take effect, with the hearing held afterwards. This would be somewhat more likely for one-third MOX cores, which have been used overseas, than for full-MOX cores, but would still be a politically difficult decision for the Commissioners. 69   The only exception is that ownership of uranium-mill tailing piles, after stabilization, is transferred to the federal government. 70   Such a claim is made in GE (1994, p. 5.2-8).

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options To summarize, the two reactor options being considered can be assessed as follows: Privately owned reactors would be regulated by the NRC, would require some type of environmental impact document, and, if currently holding licenses, would require license amendments. Barring a major technical safety problem (unforeseen at present), the licensing process should be completed well before the time required to build a MOX fabrication facility and obtain approval for its operation. Congressional endorsement would be highly desirable and may be required by utility owners of current reactors. Government-owned reactors (either GO-CO or GO-GO) would be overseen by the DNFSB if current procedures were used, but the Secretary of Energy could ask the NRC to provide informal advice or the Secretary could ask Congress to amend the Atomic Energy Act to enable the NRC to regulate these reactors. Congress may act in 1995 or 1996 to provide external regulation of operations now managed by DOE. If the oversight process were handled by the DNFSB, its small size and unfamiliarity with regulation could make the process longer than if handled by the NRC. Nevertheless, the MOX fabrication facility still is likely to be the pacing item.71 Regulating Fuel Fabrication Facilities For the reactor options, fuel fabrication facilities would also be required, and these too would require regulation. Procedurally, if the fuel fabrication facility were owned by the Department of Energy, or operated under a DOE contract with DOE oversight, the same considerations described above for the case of government-owned reactors would apply (even if it supplied fuel to a nonfederal utility). If the facility were privately owned and the only contractual obligation to the government were to provide fuel, the facility would have to be licensed by the NRC—even if all the fuel it produced were to be used by the federal government (as a precedent, the NRC licensed and regulated the privately owned facilities that made nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy). Technically, NRC licensing of a plutonium fuel fabrication facility might be somewhat more difficult than licensing reactors to use MOX. Given the absence of civilian reprocessing and MOX use in the United States, it has been many years since the NRC licensed a large plutonium bulk-handling facility. It may take some time to develop the necessary regulatory expertise. The DNFSB does 71   However, if use is to be made of a commercial reactor which had been closed rather than being modified to meet new NRC requirements, then DOE would come under great pressure from Congress to make such modifications and get NRC (informal) approval before operation. This could add several years and hundreds of millions of dollars to the process.

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options provide oversight of existing federal facilities handling plutonium in bulk forms, but large-scale plutonium processing in the DOE complex has been virtually shut down since before the DNFSB was established. Regulating Vitrification Facilities Vitrification would presumably be done in DOE-owned facilities (possibly operated by private contractors), as is currently planned for vitrification of U.S. HLW. Currently, the NRC does not have regulatory oversight of these facilities, which are reviewed by the DNFSB. (The NRC, however, does plan on monitoring vitrification facilities, to assure that the product will meet the NRC deep geological disposal regulations.) DNFSB oversight of plutonium vitrification in these facilities could raise issues similar to those described above in the case of possible DNFSB oversight of DOE reactors. Since the current waste already includes some plutonium, no fundamental regulatory changes would need to be made to review the inclusion of WPu. The principal technical issues would relate to criticality safety, the potential for plutonium releases, and worker exposures, all of which are issues DNFSB has addressed extensively in other areas. Presuming a vitrification facility was designed to provide adequate assurance of safety in these areas, gaining DNFSB approval for its operation should not pose special obstacles. Repository Regulatory Impacts Either spent MOX fuel or vitrified HLW glass would ultimately have to be disposed of in a geologic repository licensed by the NRC under regulations written to conform with other regulations written by the EPA. In both cases, the products are sufficiently different from the analogous products now scheduled for disposal—LEU spent fuel and vitrified HLW without significant quantities of plutonium—that it is likely they will have to be independently certified as acceptable waste forms for disposal. Although EPA has issued final regulations for disposal of wastes in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), there are as yet no final regulations which a Yucca Mountain repository must meet. A National Research Council committee will recommend a regulatory approach for a Yucca Mountain repository, which EPA must consider. EPA and NRC regulations will follow. Neither the addition of WPu into the vitrification process, nor the use of MOX fuel with its generally higher plutonium content, has been examined for its impact on the repository license. The criticality issues addressed elsewhere in this report appear to be the most important technical questions that would be of concern.

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Management and Disposition of Excess Weapons Plutonium: Reactor-Related Options Licensing and Russian Plutonium Disposition If the future regulatory process in the United States is somewhat uncertain, that in Russia is even more so. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the recently established Russian nuclear regulatory agency, GOSATOMNADZOR (GAN) is still finding its role. At this writing (early 1995), a new Atomic Law is still being debated in the Russian parliament. It is inevitable that the regulatory environment in Russia will evolve substantially between now and when plutonium disposition is actually underway on a large scale, in ways that are difficult to predict. At the moment, GAN is much weaker politically than the Ministry of Atomic Energy, which it is intended to regulate. As a result it appears unlikely that GAN objections to particular plutonium disposition facilities, even were they to arise, would have a major impact on the timing or cost of plutonium disposition in Russia. Licensing and Plutonium Disposition in Other Countries If Canadian CANDU reactors were used for plutonium disposition, these would be regulated by Canada's Atomic Energy Control Board. As noted in Chapter 4, the regulatory environment in Canada tends to be less adversarial and involve more co-operation between regulators and utilities than is the case in the United States.72 As in the U.S. LWR case, reactor licensing would probably not be a major source of delay in the case of the CANDU option. Just as in the United States, however, the broader issue of overcoming all the potential political and regulatory barriers would be a difficult one in Canada if there were significant public opposition to MOX use in Canadian reactors. If U.S. or Russian WPu were used in Europe or Japan, the relevant regulatory agencies and publics would be substantially more familiar with civilian use of plutonium. While the use of weapons-grade plutonium does involve somewhat different issues, there would not appear to be any major problems in the licensing process itself. The more difficult problems would arise from the political issues involved in shipping large quantities of WPu from the United States or Russia to these countries. 72   Ahearne (1988).

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