University to advise on Prism technology

30 May 2012

The University of Manchester is to provide expert input to GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) in its promotion of the use of Prism fast reactors to dispose of the UK's plutonium stocks.

Prism (GE Hitachi)
A two-module Prism plant (Image: GEH)

GEH announced that it had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the University of Manchester under which the university would provide "expert technical knowledge and input" into the potential deployment of the Prism reactor. The MoU follows the announcement in early April that GEH and the UK's National Nuclear Laboratory had signed a similar agreement.

The UK has about 87 tonnes of plutonium extracted from nuclear fuel used in reactors that were built as part of a national program that ran from the 1950s to the 1990s. The plutonium continues to build up at the Sellafield site in the north west of England, with stocks set to hit 140 tonnes by 2018. The UK government's favoured option is to set up another fuel production line to sell the plutonium mixed with uranium as mixed oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel. In the meantime, it said it is open to other options. GE-Hitachi has forwarded its Prism design as one such options.

Various options are available for handling the plutonium, all of which are currently considered loss-making. However, GE-Hitachi claims the option of using two Prism reactors is attractive because they would generate 600 MWe of electricity while conditioning and disposing of the stocks.

The two 300 MWe units would irradiate fuel made from the UK's plutonium stocks and bring it to a form suitable for disposal after 45-90 days, working through the entire stockpile in five years. Income from this would go to the state, and effectively be returned to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to spend on cleaning up the legacy facilities. More commitment to the Prism concept could see it re-using the conditioned fuel solely for electricity generation, operating for up to 60 years in that mode of operation. GEH anticipates the cost of the two units would be comparable to that of a large conventional reactor.

Commenting on the signing of the MoU with the University of Manchester, Danny Roderick, GEH's senior vice president of new plant projects, commented: "Manchester is a growing centre of expertise for the civil nuclear energy sector, so we're delighted to work with them on Prism, which we believe is the best way to manage the UK's plutonium stockpile efficiently, securely and safely while generating low-carbon electricity at the same time."

Tim Abram, professor of nuclear fuel technology at the University of Manchester, added, "Prism has the potential to offer an attractive solution to the disposition of civil plutonium and we look forward to working with GEH as they progress with their proposals to deploy Prism in the UK."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News