New US programme to investigate recycling of used fuel

16 March 2022

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has announced funding of up to USD48 million for a new programme to recycle used nuclear fuel to produce feedstocks for advanced reactor fuel. Converting UNF Radioisotopes Into Energy (CURIE) will be run under the auspices of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

(Image: ARPA-E)

"CURIE will fuel advanced reactors and provide important clean energy elements, all while drastically reducing waste," Acting Director of ARPA-E Jennifer Gerbi said. "With this new programme, we're emphasising safeguards and lowered costs as we provide clean energy technology options for the future."

According to ARPA-E's funding opportunity announcement, CURIE's goal is to enable commercially viable reprocessing of used nuclear fuel - or UNF - from the current light water reactor fleet by resolving key gaps/barriers in reprocessing technologies, process monitoring, and facility design.

The actinides in the used fuel would ideally be reprocessed into feedstock that would be used to fuel advanced nuclear reactors, while other commercially valuable materials would be harvested for industrial and medical uses.

Projects funded under the programme will develop innovative separations technologies, process monitoring techniques for special nuclear material, and/or equipment designs that will significantly improve the economics and process monitoring of reprocessing technologies while dramatically reducing the volume of high-level waste from used fuel requiring disposal.

Recyling used nuclear fuel for use in advanced reactors would improve resource utilisation as well as reducing the volume of nuclear waste that requires permanent disposal, the agency said. The technologies could also substantially reduce the heat load and radiotoxicity of waste requiring permanent disposal while providing a valuable and sustainable fuel feedstock for advanced fast reactors.

Individual awards will be for amounts ranging from USD250,000 to USD10 million.

In addition to CURIE, ARPA-E's MEITNER, GEMINA and ONWARDS programmes also support advanced reactor development.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News