The NFRC was established in 2002 to promote the construction and operation of nuclear reprocessing facilities. NFRC promotes reprocessing commercial spent nuclear fuel that is generated by commercial nuclear power plants.

Reprocessing dramatically reduces the amount of high-level radioactive waste that would have to be stored in a geologic repository. We also support reprocessing plutonium and highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads into fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

United Arab Emirates To Build 4 Nuclear Power Plants

The United Arab Emirates has awarded contracts worth $3 billion to six international companies, including Rio Tinto PLC and France's Areva SA, to supply nuclear fuel for its four planned nuclear reactors, the first civilian power plantsin the Persian Gulf region. Rio Tinto and Canada's Uranium One Inc.  will supply natural uranium, while Areva and Russia's Tenex will provide uranium concentrates, conversion services and enrichment services. The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation is the firm building the nuclear plants in the Gulf state. U.S.-based ConverDyn will provide conversion services and U.K.-based Urenco Ltd. will carry out enrichment services.

The contracts, which cover the first 15 years of the reactors' operations, will provide ENEC with long-term security of supply, high-quality fuel and favorable pricing and commercial terms. ENEC has already started the construction of its first reactor.

The U.A.E., the world's third-largest oil exporter, is facing soaring demand for electricity as its economy expands and plans that nuclear energy will eventually meet 25% of its power requirements.
The OPEC member awarded in 2009 a multibillion contract to a consortium led by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO), to build the four nuclear reactors at Barakah, 300 kilometers west of the capital Abu Dhabi, that will produce 5,600 megawatts of energy.

The first nuclear reactor is due to open in 2017, while the remaining three units are scheduled to come on line in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The U.A.E. is investing billions of dollars in developing alternate sources of energy as part of plans to diversify away from hydrocarbons. Other regional nations, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have also declared in recent years their intent to pursue nuclear energy.

Unlike neighboring Iran, the U.A.E. has committed to not enriching uranium itself or to reprocess spent fuel. U.A.E hasn't yet finished a strategy for managing spent fuel from the reactors, but a national waste strategy document is in the advanced stage of discussions. (WSJ, 8/15/2012)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thorium Reactors

  • Thorium is more abundant in nature than uranium.

  • It is fertile rather than fissile, and can be used in conjunction with fissile material as nuclear fuel.

  • Thorium fuels can breed fissile uranium-233.

  • Thorium can be used as a nuclear fuel through breeding to fissile uranium-233.  Although not fissile itself, Th-232 will absorb slow neutrons to produce uranium-233 (U-233)a, which is fissile (and long-lived). The irradiated fuel can then be unloaded from the reactor, the U-233 separated from the thorium, and fed back into another reactor as part of a closed fuel cycle. Alternatively, U-233 can be bred from thorium in a blanket, the U-233 separated, and then fed into the core.

    In one significant respect U-233 is better than uranium-235 and plutonium-239, because of its higher neutron yield per neutron absorbed. Given a start with some other fissile material (U-233, U-235 or Pu-239) as a driver, a breeding cycle similar to but more efficient than that with U-238 and plutonium (in normal, slow neutron reactors) can be set up. (The driver fuels provide all the neutrons initially, but are progressively supplemented by U-233 as it forms from the thorium.)

    However, there are also features of the neutron economy which counter this advantage. In particular the intermediate product protactinium-233 (Pa-233) is a neutron absorber which diminishes U-233 yield.

    The use of thorium as a new primary energy source has been a tantalizing prospect for many years. Extracting its latent energy value in a cost-effective manner remains a challenge, and will require considerable R&D investment.

    Thorium is a naturally-occurring, slightly radioactive metal discovered in 1828 by the Swedish chemist Jons Jakob Berzelius, who named it after Thor, the Norse god of thunder. It is found in small amounts in most rocks and soils, where it is about three times more abundant than uranium. Soil commonly contains an average of around 6 parts per million (ppm) of thorium.

    Thorium exists in nature in a single isotopic form - Th-232 - which decays very slowly (its half-life is about three times the age of the Earth).

    When pure, thorium is a silvery white metal that retains its lustre for several months. However, when it is contaminated with the oxide, thorium slowly tarnishes in air, becoming grey and eventually black. Thorium oxide (ThO2), also called thoria, has one of the highest melting points of all oxides (3300°C).

    The most common source of thorium is the rare earth phosphate mineral, monazite, which contains up to about 12% thorium phosphate, but 6-7% on average. Monazite is found in igneous and other rocks but the richest concentrations are in placer deposits, concentrated by wave and current action with other heavy minerals. World monazite resources are estimated to be about 12 million tonnes, two-thirds of which are in heavy mineral sands deposits on the south and east coasts of India. Thorium recovery from monazite usually involves leaching with sodium hydroxide at 140°C followed by a complex process to precipitate pure ThO2.

    Thorite (ThSiO4) is another common mineral. A large vein deposit of thorium and rare earth metals is in Idaho. (World Nuclear Association, Forbes, 9/11/2011)