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Nuclear fusion – not as clean as they say: it produces considerable amounts of radioactive trash

NuClear News No 136 Dec 21, Fusion Waste The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) has published a preliminary position on the implications for decommissioning, radioactive waste management, and radioactive waste disposal associated with fusion energy. (1) CoRWM member Claire Corkhill says: “Although nuclear fusion does not produce long lived fission products and actinides, neutron capture by the fusion reactor structural materials and components forms short, moderate and some long-lived activation products. In addition to tritium emissions and contaminated materials, it is clear that there will be a need to manage radioactive materials and wastes produced by neutron activation, within regulatory controls, over the whole life cycle of a fusion reactor.” (2)  

The paper itself says: “The activation of components in a fusion reactor is low enough for the materials to be recycled or reused within 100 years.”

 It continues: 

“Minimising the generation of long lived activation products, and tritium inventory at source, is therefore of fundamental importance in achieving the primary objective in the waste hierarchy of waste prevention. However, it is to be recognised that future generations will be committed to managing wastes arising from decommissioning and waste management plans that are predicated on extended decay storage, such as those discussed herein.”  

  However, the paper goes on to says that “The primary components of the fusion reactor system are likely to require disposal, including the activated front wall, blanket, divertor and vacuum vessel materials … From a radiological perspective, it is reasonable to consider that, conceptually, wastes from a nuclear fusion power programme should be compatible with geological disposal, however, they may prove challenging for disposal in a near surface facility, given the long half-life and potential mobility of 14C and 94Nb.”
 “…some key activation products of concern, such as 14C and 94Nb, which are long lived, should be limited in near surface disposal facilities, given the reliance on engineered barriers to assure containment.14C poses a particular challenge given its potential mobility in the near subsurface.  

 “Nuclear fusion technology is advocated as not being compromised by the burden of generating long lived nuclear wastes. It is evident that this claim is challenged by the expected generation of some significant volumes of LLW and likely ILW arisings. It may be noted that the recent call for expressions of interest to accommodate siting the STEP facility makes no mention of management of the arising radioactive waste. Future dialogue with local communities needs to ensure it is as open and transparent as possible on such matters.” 

The Government is consulting on proposals for a regulatory framework for fusion. The consultation closes on 24th h December. See: ta/file/1032848/towards-fusion-energy-uk-government-proposals-regulatory-framework

December 11, 2021 - Posted by | technology, UK, wastes

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