U-232 and the proliferation-resistance of U-233 in spent fuel

Jungmin Kang, Frank N. von Hippel, "U-232 and the proliferation-resistance of U-233 in spent fuel," Science & Global Security, 9, no. 1, (2001): 1-32.
The factors influencing the level of U-232 contamination in U-233 are examined for heavy-water-moderated, light-water-moderated and liquid-metal cooled fast breeder reactors fueled with natural or low-enriched uranium and containing thorium mixed with the uranium or in separate target channels. U-232 decays with a 69-year half-life through 1.9-year half-life Th-228 to T1-208, which emits a 2.6 MeV gamma ray upon decay. We find that pressurized light-water-reactors fueled with LEU-thorium fuel at high burnup (70 MWd/kg) produce U-233 with U-232 contamination levels of about 0.4 percent. At this contamination level, a 5 kg sphere of U-233 would produce a gamma-ray dose rate of 13 and 38 rem/hr at 1 meter one and ten years after chemical purification respectively. The associated plutonium contains 7.5 percent of the undesirable heat-generating 88-year half-life isotope Pu-238. However, just as it is possible to produce weapon-grade plutonium in low-burnup fuel, it is also practical to use heavy-water reactors to produce U-233 containing only a few ppm of U-232 if the thorium is segregated in target channels and discharged a few times more frequently than the natural-uranium driver fuel. The dose rate from a 5-kg solid sphere of U-233 containing 5 ppm U-232 could be reduced by a further factor of 30, to about 2 mrem/hr, with a close-fitting lead sphere weighing about 100 kg. Thus the proliferation resistance of thorium fuel cycles depends very much upon how they are implemented.

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