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Prism Reactor Can Solve UK’s Plutonium Problem, Says GE-Hitachi

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GE-Hitachi’s Power Reactor Inherently Safe Module (Prism) Generation IV reactor design could be an efficient and cost-effective way to manage the UK’s plutonium stockpile, a conference in Brussels has heard.

David Powell, vice-president of European sales at GE-Hitachi, told the Nuclear Spent Fuel Strategy Forum Europe that if the UK government decides to dispose of its stockpile of plutonium by re-using it as fuel for a nuclear reactor, the Prism design will move from concept to a specific design and then to the market stage of development.

The UK’s current stockpile of plutonium is about 112 tonnes and costs the government approximately 80 million pounds (94 million euros) a year to be stored and protected.

GE-Hitachi’s Generation IV Prism reactor is a modular fast reactor design with a maximum electrical output of 311 megawatts (MW). It uses plutonium and uranium recycled from used nuclear fuel to sustain a nuclear reaction. In this way, it will turn “nuclear waste into fuel,” Mr Powell said.

Mr Powell said the nuclear plant design GE-Hitachi is working on will incorporate two Prism reactors of 311 MW each connected to one turbine to produce a total of 622 MW of electricity. Three such installations would bring the nuclear station’s total output to 1,866 MW.

It could be located at Sellafield, where most of the UK’s plutonium is stored, Mr Powell said. “It could become the centre of excellence for Generation IV reactors.”

The station would also incorporate an advanced recycling centre using a novel electro-metallurgical separation process. It would extract uranium, plutonium and all other transuranic elements from used fuel elements produced by other UK nuclear plants and prepare the residuals for deep geological disposal. One benefit of this is that extracting and recycling transuranics (elements heavier than uranium) from the used fuel cuts the radiotoxic lifetime of the waste from 300,000 years to 300 years.

In August 2013, the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority discussed options for dealing with its stockpile. It concluded that “the reuse of plutonium as MOX (mixed oxide) fuel is the best available option to manage the UK’s plutonium”.

The US authorised the building of Prism in 1992 and has approved its export to the UK for plutonium disposal. The Export Import Bank of the US has expressed interest in financing Prism.