Thorium fuel for light water reactors--reducing proliferation potential of nuclear power fuel cycle

Alex Galperin, Paul Reichert, Alvin Radkowsky, "Thorium fuel for light water reactors--reducing proliferation potential of nuclear power fuel cycle," Science & Global Security, 6, no. 3, (1997): 265-290.
The proliferation potential of the light water reactor fuel cycle may be significantly reduced by utilization of thorium as a fertile component of the nuclear fuel. The main challenge of thorium utilization is to design a core and a fuel cycle, which would be proliferation-resistant and economically feasible. This challenge is met by the Radkowsky Thorium Reactor (RTR) concept presented in this paper. So far the concept has been applied to a Russian design of a 1,000 MWe pressurized water reactor, known as a WER-1000, and designated as WERT. The following are the main results of the preliminary reference design: The amount of plutonium contained in the RTR spent fuel stockpile is reduced by 80 percent in comparison with a WER of a current design. The isotopic composition of the RTR-Pu greatly increases the probability of preinitiation and yield degradation of a nuclear explosion. An extremely large Pu-238 content causes correspondingly large heat emission, which would complicate the design of an explosive device based on RTR-Pu. The economic incentive to reprocess and reuse the fissile component of the RTR spent fuel is decreased. The once-through cycle is economically optimal for the RTR core and cycle. To summarize all the items above: the replacement of a standard (uranium-based) fuel for nuclear reactors of current generation by the RTR fuel will provide a strong barrier for nuclear weapon proliferation. This barrier, in combination with existing safeguard measures and procedures is adequate to unambiguously disassociate civilian nuclear power from military nuclear power. The RTR concept is applied to existing power plants to assure its economic feasibility. Reductions in waste disposal requirements, as well as in natural uranium and fabrication expenses, as compared to a standard WER fuel, provide approximately 20 percent reduction in fuel cycle cost.

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