A New Laser Based Sensor for Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Safeguards
Department of Energy
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Small Business Information
Energy Research Company
1250 South Ave., Plainfield, NJ, 07062-1920
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged:
AbstractEnergy Research Company (ERCo), Savannah River National Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory propose the development of a new sensor for tracking radioactive material during nuclear fuel reprocessing. Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has significant safety and environmental advantages over the current predominant practice of storing the spent fuel in temporary facilities indefinitely. However reprocessing cannot take place unless safeguards are in place to prevent the theft of radioactive materials by terrorist entities for their use in weapons of mass destruction. Currently these safeguard practices render reprocessing too slow and expensive for widespread adoption. The sensor proposed here enables near-real time accounting of radioactive material, greatly decreasing the cost of reprocessing and thereby removing a major impediment from more widespread nuclear fuel reprocessing. ERCos sensor measures concentrations of chemical elements in- situ and in near real-time, which provides on-the-spot accountancy of plutonium, uranium, and other radioactive materials. This capability greatly restricts the potential for theft of these materials. The speed of the measurements and their coverage of all the elements at once also obviates the need for many time consuming and expensive laboratory analyses of the spent fuel, greatly improving the economics of reprocessing. The laboratory testing apparatus built during Phase I proved the concept of this project by demonstrating highly accurate concentration measurements of relevant chemical elements, including uranium, in acid solutions representative of those in reprocessing plants. The experiments included both single element solutions and multi-element mixtures. ERCo, with guidance from Los Alamos National Laboratory, will build a prototype sensor based on the Phase I laboratory apparatus. The prototype sensor will be demonstrated in a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility located in Savannah River National Laboratory during long term tests, and the sensors readings verified by laboratory analyses. Commercial Applications and Other Benefits: The benefits of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel are significant, and include reducing the volume of spent fuel that needs to be stored and safeguarded and reducing the impact of uranium mining on the environment. Reprocessing is currently done in only a handful of plants around the world. ERCos proposed technology will make it economical and safe to expand nuclear fuel reprocessing both domestically and internationally.
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