The efficient and safe management of spent fuel produced during the operation of commercial nuclear power plants is an important issue. Worldwide, more than 250 000 tons of spent fuel from reactors currently operating will require disposal. These numbers account for only high-level radioactive waste generated by present-day power reactors.
Nearly all issues related to risks to future generations arising from the long-term disposal of such spent nuclear fuel is attributable to only about 1% of its content. This 1% is made up primarily of plutonium, neptunium, americium and curium (called transuranic elements) and the long-lived isotopes of iodine and technetium. When transuranics are removed from discharged fuel destined for disposal, the toxic nature of the spent fuel drops below that of natural uranium ore (that which was originally mined for the nuclear fuel) within a period of several hundred years. This significantly reduces the burden on geological repositories and the problem of addressing the remaining long-term residues can thus be done in controlled environments having timescales of centuries rather than millennia.
To address the disposal of transuranics, accelerator-driven systems (ADS), i.e. a sub-critical system driven by an accelerator to sustain the chain reaction, seem to have great potential for transuranic transmutation, though much R&D work is still required in order to demonstrate their desired capability as a whole system.
This report describes the current status of accelerator and spallation target technologies and suggests technical issues that need to be resolved for ADS applications. It will be of particular interest to nuclear scientists involved in ADS development and in advanced fuel cycles in general.