Advanced reactors in UK spotlight

28 June 2012

Advanced Candu reactor technology and GE-Hitachi's Prism concept have been shortlisted for further investigation to test their credibility as possible alternatives for managing the UK's plutonium stocks.

EC6 (Candu)_200
Candu's EC6 (Image: Candu)

Reuse in mixed oxide (MOX) fuel is the preferred option for management of the UK's inventory of separated plutonium, but earlier this year the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) invited expressions of interest on potential alternative credible full lifecycle management options. Four responses were received by the 31 March deadline, and the NDA has now announced that two of them - from Candu Energy and GE-Hitachi - merit further consideration. The NDA has accordingly engaged the two companies to provide further information on their proposals.

Candu's proposal centres on the deployment in the UK of its Enhanced Candu 6 (EC6) reactor and associated facilities. Operating Candu units in China and Canada have already demonstrated the ability of the heavy-water moderated and cooled reactor to use alternate fuels and for the recycling of MOX. The EC6 reactor is an evolution of the Candu 6 reactor, and the technology is currently included in the NDA's list of credible options. The NDA has engaged SNC-Lavalin subsidiary Candu Energy to focus on assessing the commercial credibility of the approach as well as refreshing and refining previous technical studies.

Candu senior vice president for marketing and business development Ala Alizadeh described the engagement as a "great opportunity". AECL's ACR-1000 Candu design was one of the reactors initially included in the UK's ongoing Generic Design Assessment process, but the company withdrew its application in 2008. AECL's reactor division was sold to SNC-Lavalin in 2011. Alizadeh said that the study re-opened the door to the introduction of Candu technology to the UK. "A positive outcome of the study will allow us to re-engage with the UK regulator in licensing our evolutionary EC6," he said.

GE-Hitachi's proposal relates to the deployment of its Prism reactor concept as part of an integral fuel fabrication and reactor solution. The company has been active in promoting its proposals for a small power plant where two of the 311 MWe fast reactors would irradiate fuel made from the UK's plutonium stocks, bringing it to a form suitable for disposal after 45-90 days. The NDA's engagement with GE-Hitachi focuses on assessing both the technical and commercial credibility of this approach, which is not currently included in the NDA's list of credible options.

The UK has about 100 tonnes of plutonium that has been separated during the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel over several decades. The current work on both alternative proposals is expected to be finished later this year, after which NDA will assess the information and decide how best to proceed with the alternative proposals alongside the already identified MOX strategy. Speaking to World Nuclear News, NDA's Bill Hamilton stressed that the preferred option very much remains conversion to MOX fuel for use in the UK's new generation of nuclear reactors.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News