DOE funds for reducing advanced reactor wastes

11 March 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded USD36 million for 11 projects seeking to increase the use of nuclear power as a reliable source of clean energy and to limit the amount of radioactive waste produced from advanced reactors.

(Image: ARPA-E)

The awards have been made through the DOE Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy's (ARPA-E's) Optimising Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems (ONWARDS) programme. ONWARDS was launched in 2021 as ARPA-E's first programme created to identify and facilitate technologies for advanced reactor used fuel recycling, waste forms, used fuel disposal pathways and associated advanced safeguards technologies.

Nuclear waste disposal company Deep Isolation has been awarded funding for two projects. The first, in partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and NAC International, has been awarded a USD3.6 million grant to develop a universal nuclear waste disposal canister for advanced reactor waste streams.

The canister will be designed to be compatible with the industry's current dry storage and transportation infrastructure while meeting the thermal, volumetric and criticality waste acceptance constraints across a spectrum of geologic repository options, including Deep Isolation's deep borehole solution, to meet US and international market needs.

Deep Isolation is also among the recipients of another USD4 million grant. It will join Oklo Inc and the Argonne and Idaho national laboratories to commercialise a fuel recycling facility that will include, for the non-recyclable waste, the development of a final waste solution compatible with a deep borehole repository.

The Oklo-led project is the first focused programme to identify pathways to reduce waste material and minimise the need for disposal sites, and it is the first federally-funded programme to explore pairing a commercial borehole solution with a recycling facility for an advanced reactor developer.

In that project, Deep Isolation will analyse the waste streams that would be generated by the electrorefining facility to identify waste forms suitable for a deep borehole repository. It will also establish the technical and cost savings framework for using deep borehole repositories as a complement to electrorefining. Oklo and Argonne will focus on industrialising fuel recycling through advanced automation techniques and sensor technologies.

"The fact that Deep Isolation is the recipient of two awards from ARPA-E affirms the importance of disposal innovations for advanced nuclear technologies," said Deep Isolation COO Rod Baltzer, who recently led an earlier project with company partner NAC International to develop a preliminary canister design. "The canister developed with NAC is specific for existing reactors. This new project allows us to design a canister for advanced reactors."

Oklo was selected for three competitive DOE awards for recycling, including process improvements through advanced sensors, advances using machine learning and digital twin modeling.

"The ONWARDS project will build on our other DOE project work to allow Oklo to build a first-of-a-kind fuel recycling facility," said Jacob DeWitte, co-founder and CEO of Oklo. "A commercial-scale fuel recycling facility will change the economic paradigm for advanced fission."

Other awards include:

  • USD3.1 million to Citrine Informatics to use artificial intelligence and physics-based simulation methods to develop durable waste forms that significantly reduce repository burden from molten salt reactors
  • USD4.5 million to General Electric Global Research to develop a safeguards accountancy system capable of performing in a nuclear reprocessing facility
  • USD2 million to Idaho National Laboratory to develop an innovative and simple process for recycling metal fuels based on existing commercial thermal separation technologies that could greatly increase the commercial viability of metal fuel recycling
  • USD2.2 million to Orano Federal Services to develop a treatment system designed to treat the off-gases released from different types of advanced reactor used nuclear fuel processing facilities
  • USD8.5 million to TerraPower to develop a method for the recovery of uranium from used fuel with integrated safeguards that harness the volatility of chloride salts at high temperatures

"Developing novel approaches to safely manage nuclear waste will enable us to power even more homes and businesses in America with carbon-free nuclear energy," said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "ARPA-E is doing just that by supporting companies and universities that are working on next-generation technologies to modernise advanced reactors and strengthen the nation's clean energy enterprise."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News