One of the saddest things I had read recently was the decision by the DOE and ORNL to “downblend” and effectively destroy their small stockpile of uranium-233. This is so tragic because this U-233 represents the perfect “start charge” for a thorium-fueled liquid-fluoride reactor. If it was used as the initial fuel, the reactor would produce almost no transuranic isotopes during its operation, leading to a simple approach to waste disposal.
Now it turns out that the plan to “dispose” of this material has been modified.
From a January 6, 2006 status report:
B. Uranium-233 Disposition at ORNL. As reported on June 24th, a DOE-ORO design review team had presented the results of the 90% Design Review for the Uranium-233 Disposition and Medical Isotope Production Program in Building 3019. Since the summer, the program has been under review by DOE and Congress. Recent direction from Congress has called for DOE to stop the portion of the program dealing with medical isotope production and provide a report on how DOE will manage the U-233 materials. This report is to be submitted to Congress by mid-January. This direction also included a change in DOE Headquarters responsibility from the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy to the DOE Office of Environmental Management. DOE-ORO management has since assigned personnel to develop the report. Transfer of responsibility for the U-233 materials and Building 3019 operations to the DOE-ORO Assistant Manager for Environmental Management is expected by the end of March.
From a March 3, 2006 status report:
C. Uranium-233 Disposition at ORNL . Over the last few years, DOE-ORO had been pursuing a project to extract thorium for medical use from the uranium-233 (U-233) stored at Building 3019. The project also included down-blending of the U-233 inventory. This project was nearing completion of detailed design last summer. As noted on January 6th, Congress had directed DOE to discontinue the thorium extraction portion of the project and provide a report on future U-233 management. This report was completed in February and states that the project design will be modified to eliminate thorium extraction (if possible) and that the resulting down-blended material will be packaged for disposal as transuranic waste (i .e., disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant). The site reps and staff recently discussed the path forward for this project with DOE-ORO and contractor (Isotek) personnel. Isotek believes that the design changes will be straightforward; however, without the extraction of thorium, operational radiation dose rates will increase and may require additional project design changes or other measures.
This stuff isn’t waste–this is the future! Don’t throw it away!