TOKYO — Japanese engineering and electronics giant Hitachi announced Aug. 28 that it has launched a joint research project with three U.S. universities to develop a boiling water reactor fueled by transuranium elements (TRUs).
The group will evaluate the performance and safety of the reactor until March 2016 and hope to put the reactor into practical use in the 2030s.
Hitachi will team up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan and the University of California, Berkeley, for the project.
TRUs account for a few percent of spent nuclear fuel and are very harmful. The planned reactor uses as fuel TRUs extracted from spent nuclear fuel. TRUs used for the reactor are said to be reduced by about 9% a year.
It takes roughly 100,000 years for the radioactivity level of conventional spent nuclear fuel to decline to that of natural uranium ore. But spent nuclear fuel that has TRUs extracted from it requires only about 300 years to do so and also requires only about a quarter the area to store the nuclear waste.
The Japanese government has a plan to modify the Monju fast breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture, which has been shut down for years, to reduce the toxicity of TRUs by turning them into fuel.
But the reactor core of a fast breeder reactor has to be cooled with liquid sodium, and the technology has not been established, so there is little prospect for the restart of Monju.
On the other hand, Hitachi’s new reactor uses water as coolant as in conventional nuclear power plants, making it more likely to become a reality.
It is unclear whether the new light-water reactor will go into operation in Japan because nuclear fuel reprocessing plants have yet to start operations and TRUs have not been produced. But demand for the new reactor may expand overseas because emerging countries are promoting nuclear fuel cycles, including nuclear fuel reprocessing plants.
Filed under: 8.Eathquake & Nuclear accident