MOX: solving the challenge of nuclear waste, closing the fuel cycle

Lead-cooled Fast Reactors allow fissioning of what today is considered waste: our aim at newcleo is to establish Mixed Oxides manufacturing to fuel our reactors.

newcleo’s mission is to design, deliver and operate Small Modular Reactors of new generation. We are working on Lead-cooled Fast Reactors, belonging to the Advanced Nuclear Reactors or Generation IV category.

WHY FAST REACTORS?

Fast reactors allow efficient “burning” (fissioning) of uranium but also plutonium and minor actinides. This is the reason why our company is betting on LFRs and aims at establishing MOX (Mixed Oxides) manufacturing to fuel them.

WHAT IS MOX?

MOX is composed of depleted uranium, a by-product of the enrichment process, and Plutonium, extracted from spent fuel for years – awaiting a future generation of Fast Nuclear Reactors. Both have become a liability as they piled-up and find little to no use.

ENHANCING NUCLEAR SUSTAINABILITY

With our strategy we are minimising high-level waste volume requiring geological disposal and at the same time allowing materials to be fully utilised as the energy resources they are, unlocking a large energy potential, representing centuries of energy resource.

Furthermore, countries with a nuclear past can rely on burning what they piled-up instead of importing new uranium fuels – clearly boosting their energy independence.

WHERE TO START?

newcleo is a global company, today working across three countries: UK and France are where we’ll commission our plants and Italy serves as a research and development centre. Each country has its own peculiarities when it comes to available materials, facilities or technologies.

We commissioned Orano to design a high capacity facility in the UK, with a total envisioned investment of €1bn. At the same time, our Lyon subsidiary is focused on developing a facility at the Melox plant (France).

A FOCUS ON THE FRENCH NUCLEAR CYCLE

We are currently working closely with the French industry to ensure the best actuation of our strategy within context. In fact, the current French semi-closed fuel cycle is undermining public acceptance. Inventories of spent MOX fuel, separated plutonium, depleted and reprocessed uranium are a serious liability as they are expensive to store and to dispose in a final geological repository. These come from the 40 years operational life of the French reactor fleet and will further grow as reactor operational life is extended (>50 years) and a new fleet of reactors (EPRs) is built.

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newcleo is solving 5 critical issues in the delicate balance of the French nuclear fuel cycle:

  1. Energy Independence
  2. Cutting depleted Uranium build-up
  3. Cutting used MOX fuels build-up
  4. Cutting reprocessed Uranium build-up
  5. Avoiding costly Deep Geological Repository extension and favouring public acceptance on nuclear waste

1. Energy Independence. newcleo Lead-cooled Fast Reactors (LFR) will cut mining activities which are often conducted in unstable countries and have significant environmental impacts (8500 t Unat./y)
Existing nuclear inventories including U (depleted, reprocessed) and Pu (used MOX fuels) currently considered as waste, represent centuries of energy resource

2. Cutting depleted Uranium build-up. newcleo LFR will use off-the-shelves inventories of depleted uranium arising from the 40 years operational life of the French reactor fleet (> 300000 t Udepl.)
Except minor utilization (110 t/year) for MOX fuel manufacturing, the 40 years build-up of depleted uranium will further grow as reactor operational life is extended (>50 years) and new fleet of reactors (EPRs) are built.

3. Cutting used MOX fuels build-up. newcleo LFR will use the Plutonium extracted from current unrecycled used MOX fuels currently stored at La Hague plant. La Hague plant has proven records of recycling capabilities under the existing reprocessing process.
Current inventories of used MOX fuels produced by MELOX (since 1995) are being concentrated at La Hague (under wet and dry storage). This build-up (~2800 t used MOX) coming from the semi-closed fuel cycle is seriously undermining public acceptance.

4. Cutting reprocessed Uranium build-up. newcleo LFR will use the untapped reprocessed Uranium reserve and later on authorised the reprocessing of used reprocessed Uranium fuels.
Current inventories of reprocessed uranium come from La Hague reprocessing operations dating back 1990. This build-up (~34000 t Urep) coming from the semi-closed fuel cycle is seriously undermining public acceptance.

5. Avoiding costly Deep Geological Repository extension and favouring public acceptance on nuclear waste. With the new nuclear program as announced by the French Government, large inventories (reference and reserve) of waste from existing and future reactors will grow.

 

The most mature industrial Generation IV reactors like newcleo’s LFR are able to cope with waste volume reduction (Burner) and promote multi-recycling solution therefore avoiding Deep Geological Repository extension and favouring public acceptance on nuclear activities.

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In conclusion, newcleo’s vision improves nuclear sustainability in multiple ways: recycling what is currently considered waste, avoiding mining activities which are often conducted in politically unstable countries and have significant environmental impact, boosting the energy independence of a nation and reducing volumes to be disposed in geological repositories.

We are designing and aim to build and operate our Lead-cooled Fast Small Modular Reactors, fuelled by the MOX we just presented in this article. Join our journey on our website and linkedin page.

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