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Cradle to grave: the importance of the fuel cycle to molten salt reactor sustainability

by Joanna Mcfarlane
Publication Type
Journal Name
Frontiers in Nuclear Engineering
Publication Date
Page Numbers
01 to 05

Advanced reactor technologies are being considered for the next-generation of nuclear power plants. These plants are designed to have a smaller footprint, run more efficiently at higher temperatures, have the flexibility to meet specific power or heating needs, and have lower construction costs. This paper offers a perspective on molten salt reactors, promoted as having a flexible fuel cycle and close-to-ambient pressure operation. A complexity introduced by reducing the reactor footprint is that it may require low-enriched fuel for efficient operation, available from enrichment of the feed salt or by reusing actinides from existing used nuclear fuel (UNF). Recycling UNF has the potential to reduce high-level waste, if done correctly. Release limits from UNF processing are stringent, and processes for waste reduction, fission gas trapping, and stable waste-form generation are not yet ready for commercial deployment. These complex processes are expensive to develop and troubleshoot because the feed is highly radioactive. Thus, fuel production and supply chain development must keep abreast of reactor technology development. Another aspect of reactor sustainability is the non-fuel waste streams that will be generated during operation and decommissioning. Some molten salt reactor designs are projected to have much shorter operational lifetimes than light-water reactors: less than a decade. A goal of the reactor sustainability effort is to divert these materials from a high-level waste repository. However, processing of reactor components should only be undertaken if it reduces waste. Economic and environmental aspects of sustainability are also important, but are not included in this perspective.