ARPA-E awards $38 million to 12 projects leading the spent nuclear fuel recycling initiative


The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) will do this forgive $38 million for 12 projects aimed at reducing the impact of the disposal of spent nuclear fuel (UNF) from light water reactors. (previous post.) The projects, led by universities, private companies and national laboratories, were selected to develop technologies that advance UNF recycling, reduce the amount of high-level radioactive waste requiring permanent disposal, and provide secure stocks of advanced reactor fuels for the home.

Nuclear power generates nearly one-fifth of US electricity and accounts for half of all domestic clean energy generation. While spent nuclear fuel, sometimes referred to as spent nuclear fuel, is created during the process of generating nuclear power, clean energy from this fuel would be enough to power more than 70 million homes.

Upon exiting a nuclear reactor, the UNF is first stored in steel-lined concrete pools surrounded by water. Later it is removed from the tanks and placed in dry storage casks with protective screens. Most of the country’s spent fuel is stored at more than 70 reactor sites across the country.

Projects created by Converting UNF Radioisotopes Into Energy (CURIE) program will enable safe, economical recycling of the nation’s UNF and significantly reduce the volume, heat load and radiotoxicity of waste requiring permanent disposal. These efforts will also provide a valuable and sustainable fuel feedstock for advanced reactors.

The following teams were selected to develop separation technologies with improved proliferation resistance and safety technologies for fuel recycling plants and to conduct system design studies to support fuel recycling:

  • Argonne National Laboratory will develop a high-efficiency process that converts 97% of UNF oxide fuel to metal using stable, next-generation anode materials. (Prize total: $4,900,000)
  • Argonne National Laboratory designs, manufactures and tests a range of compact rotating fixed bed contactors for the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. (Prize total: $1,520,000)
  • curiosity will develop and demonstrate steps of the team’s UNF recycling process – known as NuCycle – at laboratory scale. (Prize total: $5,000,000)
  • EPRI will develop a recycling tool to address the coupled challenges of nuclear fuel life cycle management and advanced reactor fuel supply. (Award Amount: $2,796,545)
  • GE research will develop a revolutionary safety solution for aqueous reprocessing plants. (Bounty Amount: $6,449,997)
  • Idaho National Laboratory will design, manufacture and test anode materials for the electrochemical reduction of actinides and fission product oxides in UNF. (Award Amount: $2,659,677)
  • mainstream engineering will develop vacuum swing separation technology to separate and capture volatile radionuclides, which should reduce life cycle capital and operating costs and minimize waste to be stored. (Bounty Amount: $1,580,774)
  • NuVision engineering will design, build and commission an integrated material accounting test platform that predicts the accounting of nuclear material after processing in an aqueous reprocessing plant with an uncertainty of 1%. (Bounty Amount: $4,715,163)
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham will develop a one-step process that will recycle UNF by recovering most of the uranium and other transuranic elements from UNF after dissolution in nitric acid. (Bounty Amount: $1,844,998)
  • University of Colorado, Boulder will advance technology capable of highly accurate and significantly faster measurements of complex UNF mixtures. (Award Amount: $1,994,663)
  • University of North Texas will develop a self-powered wireless sensor for long-term, real-time monitoring of molten salt density and level at high temperatures to enable accurate backup and monitoring of electrochemical processing of UNF. (Bounty Amount: $2,711,342)
  • University of Utah will develop a pyrochemical process for the efficient conversion of UNF into a fuel feedstock suitable for sodium-cooled fast reactors or molten-salt reactors. (Award Amount: $1,454,074)

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