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The impact of partitioning and transmutation on the long-term management of radioactive waste

  • The need for geological disposal remains regardless of any position with respect to the closure of the nuclear fuel cycle and the application of partitioning and transmutation.
  • The transmutation option must be considered as a possible complement, but not a substitute for waste disposal.
  • Advanced nuclear technologies will also produce high-level and long-lived wastes, which will have to be managed in the long-term.
  • Partitioning and transmutation can only be applied to elements contained in future waste; it is not realistic to consider such a process for vitrified high-level waste produced to date.
  • Transuranic elements contribute largely to the radiotoxicity of waste, but they have only a minor impact in terms of long-term radiological risk.
  • Long-term radiological risk results from a limited number of fission and activation products. The benefit of transmutation on the radiological risk of geological repositories remains to be demonstrated.
  • Reduction in the radiotoxic inventory of waste may constitute a favorable element for the societal acceptance of the disposal facility.
  • The transmutation of transuranic elements requires a major investment by the entire nuclear industry of both economic resources and research and development into new technologies and their industrialization.
  • A transmutation system comprises not only fuel reprocessing and fuel production units, but also advanced (high flux) reactors or accelerator driven systems that have not yet been developed. The capacity of the separation technology to provide the high level of purity required for transmutation and the ability of such a system to stabilize and reduce the overall amount of transuranic elements are yet to be demonstrated.
  • Regardless of the technologies applied, transmutation is a slow process; the stabilization of an inventory of transuranic elements will take decades.
  • A partitioning and transmutation program can only be justified by ambitious goals in terms of reducing the radiotoxic inventory of radioactive waste. Only a very good global efficiency of the transmutation system could allow reaching these goals.
  • In the framework of the present-day technical transmutation approach, curium is no longer considered because of the associated difficulties. Maintaining curium in high-level waste will significantly reduce the benefit of transmutation in terms of radiotoxicity.
  • It is necessary to follow up national and international developments concerning the partitioning and transmutation technologies with a view to a possible optimization of a geological disposal facility, such as the reduction in its footprint by reducing the heat load of the waste.