Recycling spent nuclear fuel rather than storing it for millions of years in a facility such as Yucca Mountain is the subject of a University of Nevada, Reno research project funded recently by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Mano Misra, Director of the Center for Materials Research and a professor in the Department of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, said that the project will take the nuclear spent fuels from commercial reactors, which is almost 95 percent uranium, subject it to a high temperature Molten Salt Process that removes the toxic products and then return the uranium back to the reactor to be used again. This will reduce the demand of mining and processing of uranium from the ore.
“This will be so cost effective and safe, and solve the dilemma of disposal and storage of nuclear wastes,” Misra said. “One of the critical problems in the expansion of nuclear power is the limitation of waste management.”
“The nuclear waste created in the recycling process would be minimal compared to the quantities of nuclear waste needing storage now in a repository such as Yucca Mountain and would require much less time for storage,” he said. A part of that study is to assist in the development of thermodynamic parameters in the research in the electrochemical reprocessing of spent fuels which can be used by the National Laboratories to design efficient systems.
The DOE granted $2.7 million for this and another project in the College of Engineering’s Center for Materials Research.