AECL SEMINAR
ON PLUTONIUM RECYCLE
AND THE THORIUM CYCLE IN CANADA


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Opening Remarks

Ross Campbell, AECL Chairman

Fuel Cycles and Fuel Resources

A. J. Mooradian, AECL Vice-President,
Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories

AECL'S Proposed Recycle Fuel Program

 

S. R. Hatcher, Director,
Applied Science Division, AECL,
Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment

Concluding Remarks

J. S. Foster, AECL President

ATOMIC ENERGY OF CANADA LIMITED
ENERGIE ATOMIQUE DU CANADA LTEE

ROSS CAMPBELL

Chairman of the Board           President du Conseil

April 29, 1977


To:       Participants in February 28 Seminar
            on Fuel Management Program

From:   Ross Campbell

Enclosed is a collection of the presentations made
by AECL at the seminar on the "Proposed Canadian
Fuel Cycle Program", given for Federal Government
Agencies in Ottawa on February 28. I hope you will
find it an accurate record of the seminar and a useful
compendium for reference purposes.

In view of the incomplete state of the Government's
consideration of the program, I would aks you to
retain the enclosure for your personal use until such
time as there is an announcement by the Federal and
Ontario governments concerning the scope of the
program they are prepared to support.

(signed)
Ross Campbell.

SEMINAR: PROPOSED CANADIAN FUEL CYCLE PROGRAM

1. Opening Remarks
        R. Campbell, Chairman, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

2. Nuclear Generating Stations
        J. A. L. Robertson, Assistant to Vice-President,
                Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories

3. Radiation and Effects on Man
        H. B. Newcombe, Biology and Health Physics Division,
                Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories

4. Fuel Cycles and Fuel Resources
        A. J. Mooradian, Vice-President,
                Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories

5. AECL's Proposed Recycle Fuel Program
        S. R. Hatcher, Director, Applied Science Division,
                Whitshell Nuclear Research Establishment

6. Disposal of Radioactive Wastes from CANDUs
        M.Tomlinson, Director, Chemistry and Materials Science,
                Whitshell Nuclear Research Establishment

7. Fuel Cycle Centre
        S. A. Mayman, Head, Chemical Technology Branch,
                Whitshell Nuclear Research Establishment

8. Concluding Remarks
        J. S. Foster, President, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.


OPENING REMARKS


BY MR. ROSS CAMPBELL, CHAIRMAN OF AECL,

TO


SEMINAR
FOR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES
ON THE PROPOSED CANADIAN FUEL CYCLE PROGRAM

28 FEBRUARY 1977
OTTAWA


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[ PREAMBLE ]

We would not have asked you to set aside a whole day if we had not considered the subject matter -- the proposed Canadian fuel cycle program and the associated question of waste management -- to be both important for Canada's energy future, and urgent.

First, a few introductory words to put the theme of this briefing into some sort of international and national framework.

Early in 1975, after two years of study, the OECD published "Energy Prospects to 1985". Oil prices had risen abruptly less than eighteen months earlier and the Western World was at that time struggling to come out of a serious depression.

The report was hopeful. Member countries were thought to have passed the state of analysis; they were said to be at the point of action. "Energy Prospects to 1985" was hailed as a useful tool for picking our way past the worst of the problem.

Conservation, oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear power and other energy sources were all dealt with in the report and potentials were identified for each of them. Given firm commitment by governments and hard work, it was expected that reducing energy consumption and expanding indigenous production could make the OECD area almost self- sufficient in energy by 1985.

As I said, this was a hopeful report. But there were caveats. One was investment. The authors of the report considered that, even at the then oil price of $ 9 a barrel, cumulative capital requirements in 1972 dollars for replacement facilities and investment in new equipment and infrastructure would be about $ l,100 billion, between 1974 and 1985. This sum was to be divided as follows:

The $ 1,100 billion represents about 13.5 percent of gross fixed capital formation by 1985 as opposed to 7.7 percent in the early 1970's.

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[ LOSING GROUND ON ENERGY SUPPLY ]

The second caveat was getting on with the job. Recent surveys show that we have not done so. Government action in North America to slow the rise in oil prices has tended to hinder conservation efforts. Figures from the International Energy Agency indicate that Canada and the U.S. are lagging behind the OECD average. Our transportation sector, for various reasons, compares unfavourably with that of other OECD members and is improving only marginally.

The North American nuclear capacity in early 1975 was 35 GW. OECD predicted that this would rise to 275 GW by 1985. However, delays in nuclear plant construction have meant that this will not likely be reached. Nuclear power was expected to provide the energy equivalent of 756 million tons of oil (mtoe) by 1985 for all OECD countries. Coal, oil and natural gas were expected to add 1052, 1381 and 1100 mtoe respectively.

These predictions have now had to be cut back:

In short, we have lost two years of lead time that could have been used in putting the Western World's energy economy on a more secure footing.

It is in this context that we are presenting today's seminar. The world energy situation is serious and getting worse. In general, Canada is in the same boat with the rest of the Western World.

However, we do have several important things in our favour;

Beyond that we will need to be able to implement other   [ plutonium and thorium based ]   fuel cycles and this is the job that has to begin soon.

An early start is needed even if we accelerate the development of our other remaining energy resources, since, unlike nuclear power, all other energy sources are severely constrained by geography.

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[ NUCLEAR WASTES AND PLUTONIUM ]

Turning now to the immediate theme of this seminar, there are two separate but related issues:

  1. the management of irradiated fuel and radioactive wastes;

  2. the development of advanced fuel cycles.

The Pickering Generating Station operated at 87 per cent of its capacity during 1976, a higher output than any other large nuclear power plant and substantially higher than the estimates used in Ontario Hydro's planning.

One of the results of this high production rate is a faster throughput of fuel.

CANDU fuel bundles are fed to and removed from the reactor at the rate of about 10 per day and the used bundles are stored in a water-filled pool inside the station. This will be common practice at all CANDU stations.

At Pickering, the storage bay measures (to the nearest foot) 53 ft. x 110 ft. x 27 ft. When full, the bay will hold approximately 100,000 bundles; this point will be reached by about September 1979 -- approximately 8 years after the station began to operate.

Another storage bay is now being built at Pickering but is only a stop-gap measure. All this storage space is expected to be filled by the mid-1980's at Pickering and by about 1990 at Bruce.

Irradiated fuel coming from the reactor must be stored at the station for several years as it is too radioactive and releases too much heat to be transported conveniently. So there have to be facilities at the station to receive the irradiated fuel as it comes out of the reactor. This in turn means that we must do something to provide alternative storage for at least some of the fuel already stored in the stations.

Two options for interim storage of this fuel that has cooled sufficiently to be transported are:

  1. additional pools of the type used in the generating stations; and

  2. dry storage in above-ground canisters.

The former has been proven as a safe and reliable storage method both here in Canada and elsewhere; the latter is undergoing tests at our Laboratories at Whiteshell in Manitoba. For both these methods, using materials available now, a lifetime of at least 50 years for the storage facility can be expected.

Some of the materials in this irradiated fuel remain radioactive for very long times. Interim storage, then, is just that -- for the time being. Some other method has to be decided on to segregate the waste products from the environment permanently. The public is demanding demonstrated proof of our ability to handle safely the residues from the once-through cycle.

One answer would be to dispose of the entire fuel bundle. However, one of the most convincing arguments against doing this is that us would be throwing away a large amount of energy in the plutonium contained in the irradiated fuel.

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[ PLUTONIUM RECYCLE -- AND BEYOND ]

At a rough approximation, the plutonium from one bundle, if extracted and returned to the reactor in fresh fuel, would provide as much energy as did that original bundle. The trade-off is that reprocessing and recycle of plutonium entail certain problems, but they make available large amounts of energy.

It is estimated that the irradiated fuel from the planned Canadian program would contain by 2000 plutonium having an energy content equivalent to 7 billion barrels of oil -- that is, equivalent to present proven Canadian oil reserves.

If we assume, as most other countries are doing, that we will want and need to use this plutonium, certain consequences flow.

The separation and use of plutonium would be a long-range job requiring careful planning and research. Like all other energy supply options, it will not become available easily or quickly. The technical problems, however, are certainly no larger than those involved in bringing the CANDU nuclear program to its present stage of development.

The CANDU reactor is a success in large part because of the orderly demonstration program that passed through the 20 MW NPD station, the 200 MW Douglas Point station and finally to commercial demonstration at Pickering.

This is the kind of thorough demonstration program that will be needed to prove out future fuel cycles and safe ultimate disposal of wastes. We estimate we need a minimum of 20 years to do the job. We are already late in starting to be able to bring this new energy source on stream in the critical last decade of this century, when real shortages of energy will appear.

In 1975, nuclear power supplied about one percent of Canada's total energy. It may not sound like much, but to do this required only about 550 tons of fuel.

In Ontario, which is deficient in indigenous energy resources, this amount of energy has more significance since it represented about 16 percent of that province's electricity in the same year and close to 20 percent in 1976. The Pickering station has already relieved Ontario Hydro of the need to import about $ 500 million of U.S. coal. The balance of payments implications of substituting indigenous nuclear fuel for imported hydro-carbons are clear.

Canada has about 20 percent of the Western World's supply of uranium -- about 450,000 tons of minable reserve. With the nuclear power program that is now envisaged, and without exports, this would last us until about the middle of the next century using the once-through natural uranium cycle.

Let me refer back to the figure of 550 tons of fuel -- that's about the amount used by Pickering in one year. To produce the same amount of electricity using recycled plutonium would require only about half the amount of mined uranium.

With other fuel cycles, this amount of mined uranium could be reduced to between one-quarter and one-third of the amount used in the natural uranium cycle.

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[ PLUTONIUM, THORIUM, MOX, AND WASTE DISPOSAL ]

Finally, looking into the future, we can see the possibility of the thorium cycle   [ . . . but only after recycling of plutonium has been well established ] . This uses no uranium and less than two percent of the weight of fuel that Pickering now uses for the same power output. Thorium is three to four times as abundant as uranium. Uranium could become a resource totally for export. Obviously there are problems involved, but this is the prize we are working towards.

This is all very much in the future and we have really only just started. In concluding this necessarily brief overview, I must go back to the start, the point at which we now find ourselves: How do we manage our spent fuel?

In approaching this problem and in beginning the work associated with future fuel cycles, it is desirable for a variety of reasons to incorporate as much of the interim storage, the reprocessing of fuel for demonstrating fuel cycles and the ultimate disposal of the nuclear wastes at one site.

The ideal fuel cycle centre receives spent fuel at one end and produces fresh mixed oxide fuel  MOX ]   at the other. Wastes are permanently stored at the same site.

Such an operation can restrict the amount of free separated plutonium to a very small area and can avoid the shipment of wastes from the reprocessing operation. This will minimize the environmental hazards associated with transporting wastes and reduce the opportunity for theft of plutonium.

You will recognize in our preference for the single-site option our concern to meet both safety and international safeguards requirements.

The AECL experts who will address you will deal with every aspect of the waste management and fuel cycle questions.

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FUEL CYCLES AND FUEL RESOURCES

by A. J. Mooradian, Vice-President,
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited,
Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories

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[ WASTING URANIUM AND THORIUM ]

It is my task to examine the fission fuel resources and the significance of the various fuel cycle options which can be developed for future application. To do this properly it is necessary to examine the Canadian scene in context with the global picture.

The only reactors which can be committed today at a commercial level of confidence use less then one percent of nature's uranium and none of her thorium.

Although there are several reactor types that make up the world commitment, there are but two which I would like to discuss here

These ]   reactors. whether designed to burn natural uranium or enriched uranium, operate on the so-called "once-through" fuel cycle. (Slide 1) They burn natural uranium with varying efficiencies.

For Light Water Reactors the concentration of the fissile isotope U-235 must be increased (or enriched) from the natural concentration of 0.71 percent to a value between 2 percent and 3 percent. In the course of this enrichment process some U-235 is lost to the enrichment plant residues -- i.e. the "tails". It is simply not economic to extract all of the U-235 out of natural uranium in an enrichment plant.

The optimum extraction is determined by two dominant factors: the price of natural uranium and the cost of the enrichment service. The practical range of tails assay for the foreseeable future lies between 0,2 percent and 0.3 percent U-235.

This means that anywhere from 28 percent to 42 percent of the U-235 in natural uranium is lost before enriched fuel first enters the Light Water Reactor. The combined effect of the tails' losses and less efficient neutron utilization is shown on the next slide in which the 30-year uranium requirements -- including inventories -- are compared for 1000 MWe of CANDU Reactors with 1000 MWe of Light Water Reactors. (Slide 2)

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[ SPENT FUEL AS A RESOURCE ]

The spent fuel from a once-through fuel cycle conveniently contains all of the radioactive by-products generated in the course of fission in a highly convenient and concentrated form.

It would be tempting under current public pressure to simply dispose of this fuel in some stable geological formation to demonstrate the feasibility of removing the hazard from the biosphere. However, the spent fuel contains extremely valuable fuel materials   [ plutonium ]   which can be used to markedly improve the efficiency with which nature's uranium can be put to use.

It is the extraction of these residual values from spent fuel   [ reprocessing ]   and their utilization which constitutes fuel recycle.

First, however, let us examine the current practice of "once-through" fueling and its implications.

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[ "ONCE-THROUGH" FUELING ]

The latest OECD/IAEA forecast of nuclear power was compiled and issued in December 1975 and covers all countries of the world save those of the Eastern Bloc. The result is shown in the next slide. (Slide 3)

Nuclear installations are projected to grow to between 2 million and 2 1/2 million MWe by the year 2000.

There appears to be little evidence of growth saturation at least to the turn of the century. Like all forecasts, it is subject to uncertainty. A more recent study by Hanrahan (of ERDA) indicates more agreement with the lower projection than the higher.

Nevertheless, for the purpose of this paper and in the interests of consistency, I will be using as a reference these data and ask you to remember that there is a high level of confidence in the data to about 1985 and a significant band of uncertainty -- possibly higher or lower by 25 percent -- by the year 2000. Because the growth rate is expected to be high, even this large an uncertainty is likely to result in a time shift of no more than about 5 to 7 years.

The next slide gives the world uranium resources recoverable at costs of up to $ 30/lb U3O8. (Slide 4)

Two classifications are used by the OECD/IAEA: "reasonably assured" and "estimated additional". The reasonably assured resources (RAR) cover the two Canadian classifications of "measured" and "indicated", while the estimated additional resources (EAR) cover our more speculative classifications of "inferred" and "prognosticated".

These data are now two years old and I am informed by the Canadian member of the study group that this coming March, an up-to-date reassessment will be compiled and these numbers are likely to increase by something less than 10 percent.

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[ PROJECTED URANIUM SHORTFALL ]

The next slide puts in context the world uranium resources against world commitments assuming that all reactors operate on a once-through fuel cycle to meet the projected nuclear power demand. (Slide 5) If indeed these forecasts hold, the indications are that the world will have committed its "reasonably assured resources" by 1985 and its more speculative resources by 1990.

Let's turn now to the domestic picture. Last November, AECL's Marketing Group conducted a survey of electrical utilities across the country to arrive at a forecast for Canada to the year 2000. (Slide 6) The 1990 forecast produced by EMR for its "An Energy Strategy for Canada" is in reasonable agreement with this AECL study.

The expected range of nuclear commitments   [ in Canada ]   falls between 67,000 and 90,000 MWe by the year 2000. As in the case of the world forecasts, there is no indication of saturation in nuclear capacity by the end of the century.

The next slide presents the Canadian resource picture as of early 1974 and late 1975. (Slide 7) The early 1971 data are those included in the OECD study and the late 1975 date, which is approximately two years later, will be the submission to the updated data to be compiled in March of this year. The major gain in Canada has occurred in the "prognosticated" category resulting from the Key Lake   [ uranium ]   discoveries.

In the next slide the current Canadian resources are superimposed on the uranium requirements. (Slide 8)

The current uranium policy preserves for Canadian utilities a 30-year forward supply for all reactors in operation and those to be commissioned 10 years into the future. No allowance has been assumed for export commitments. Further, it has been assumed that installations will continue from 2000 to 2010 at the same pace as from 1990 to 2000 (the broken line of the top curve).

It indicates that we will have committed for domestic purposes our "measured resources" by 1978, our "indicated resources" by 1985, our "inferred resources" in the early 1990's and our "prognosticated resources" before 2006.

Although we feel particularly well endowed with uranium, we will have committed our equivalent of "reasonably assured resources" by about the same date as that of the world. Where we appear to have some leeway is in our more speculative resources. which are projected to be committed some 10 years later than the world average.

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[ EXTENDING THE URANIUM SUPPLY ]

What does all this mean with regard to security of future fuel supply?

Certainly the forward reserves of uranium by any other resource standards are in reasonable shape. With a high degree of confidence we can see a supply adequate to the task for at least the next 10 years.

Similarly, an optimist could claim that if we are able to recover from nature the same percentage of uranium as is thought to be recoverable in the case of fossil fuels, the once-through fuel cycle would be able to supply sufficient energy for a world population of 10 billion for the next 10,000 years.

However, having uranium in some unidentified deposit at an unidentified concentration and having sufficient uranium delivered at reasonable cost in timely fashion are two entirely different propositions.

The most concise expression of the uranium supply problem is given in the next slide, which I have taken from an excellent paper by R. M. Williams of EMR (EMR-168). (Slide 9) Here the anticipated growth in uranium demand is put in context with that of more mature mineral resource industries -- i.e. copper, zinc, nickel and iron.

The uranium supply industry is clearly not yet mature and is being asked to sustain growth at a pace four times faster than that of other mineral supply industries of comparable importance.

Anything that can be done to temper the rate at which the uranium supply industry must develop would certainly increase the credibility that fission power will have a major role to play in future energy supply over the next critical 50 years.

Clearly, more efficiently utilizing uranium would be in conformity with this objective.

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[ REPROCESSING AND PLUTONIUM RECYCLE ]

The first and most obvious response would be to exploit the fissile values   [ plutonium ]   in the spent fuel from the once-through fuel cycle. By recycling these back to their respective reactors, net uranium utilization can be improved.

The next slide compares what can be achieved by simple recycle   [ reprocessing ]   in CANDU's and Light Water Reactors. (Slide 10) Because of the better neutron-conserving characteristics in CANDU's, uranium utilization can be cut to 46 percent of that required for the once-through cycle, and in the case of Light Water Reactors, net uranium requirements can be cut to 66 percent of the once-through cycle.

While such improvements cannot be ignored, much more dramatic gains can be achieved by two approaches:

  1. the Fast Breeder Reactor, and

  2. the Thorium-cycle CANDU.

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The Fast Breeder Reactor

Much of the world's nuclear development effort is focused on the fast breeder approach. The US, the USSR, the UK, France, Germany and Japan all have major fast reactor programs and all are concentrating their resources on the so-called LMFBR (Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor).

The LMFBR requires the development of two major components to complete the system.

  1. First, a new type of reactor must be developed and demonstrated. Its technology is unrelated to the present commercial reactors. It is a challenging but worthwhile task and significant progress has been made. About 2400 MWe of prototype plants of various sizes up to 600 MWe have been committed and some have operated for intervals of years.

    Three prototypes have been commissioned: one in France, one in the Soviet Union and one in the U.K. Few in the industry expect a significant commercial entry until the 1940's. When and if such plants become viable they will be able to use uranium about 50 to 70 times more efficiently than the current commercial reactors.

  2. The second component which requires development is a fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   capability. To initiate a fast reactor, a supply of plutonium is required which must be chemically extracted from the spent fuel of either Light Water Reactors or CANDU Reactors.

    Subsequent fueling requires periodic reprocessing of the fuel from the Fast Reactor itself and a recycling of both plutonium and uranium.

The essential feature of such a reactor is that it generates as much or more plutonium as it consumes. The first commercial prototypes are expected to be able to double the plutonium initially fed over an interval of about 24 years.

However, there is some hope of reducing this doubling time through future developments to a value approximating 10 years. Over the next several decades, during the high growth period of nuclear installations, it is unlikely that Fast Reactors will be able to live alone without thermal reactors providing at least part of the required start-up inventories of plutonium.

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The Thorium-Cycle CANDU

Natural thorium contains no fissile material. It is important because it can be converted by neutron irradiation to U-233   [ . . . an isotope of uranium that is, like plutonium, a man-made fissile element ] . The unique attribute of U-233 is that in the course of fission it generates significantly more neutrons than either U-235 or plutonium.

Although other reactor types can also utilize thorium, the CANDU Reactor is especially suited to the development of the thorium cycle because of its intrinsic neutron conserving characteristics. The neutrons conserved can themselves be converted into the excellent fuel U-233. This make possible the conception of a number of fuel cycle options which offer high promise of greatly improving uranium utilization. (Slide 11)

Unlike the use of the fast reactor, the Thorium-cycle CANDU does not need the development of a new type of reactor. With little or no modification to the present CANDU Reactor system, it is possible to introduce the thorium fuel cycle.

However, the introduction of such a cycle does require the development of a fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   capability   [ first for plutonium, and then for thorium ] , much like that for the fast reactors, which Dr. Hatcher will be describing in some detail later.


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[ COMPARING FUEL RECYCLE OPTIONS ]

The next slide indicates the energy worth of our present "prognosticated" uranium resources provided we recover all of them and utilize them in the CANDU system with and without the application of the various fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   options open to us. (Slide 12)

I have presented these in terms of oil equivalents simply to give you a more familiar point of reference; I am not suggesting that electricity and oil are completely interchangeable.

I would like to draw your attention particularly to the fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   option number 3, which is important for strategic reasons:

Assuming that oil can generate electricity 30% more efficiently than nuclear energy, and that nuclear plants operate at an average capacity factor of 70%, this capacity could deliver energy equivalent to 10 million barrels of oil per day -- about 5 times our   [ Canada's ]   current oil consumption.

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[ CONCLUSION : REPROCESSING IS NEEDED ]

In conclusion I would like to review why we believe the development of a fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   capability is important both from our national point of view and in the world context. (Slide 13)

  1. As of 1976,   85,000 MWe of fission capacity was operating in 19 countries throughout the world. Including commissioned plants, those under construction and those firmly planned, the world commitments stands at 392,000 MWe in 32 countries. This is roughly six and a half times our total electrical generating capacity today.

    In a mere 23 years fission energy is expected to play a role in both world and Canadian energy supply approximating that of oil today. Provided

    • public confidence can be sustained outside the industry and

    • confidence in future fuel supply can be sustained within the industry,

    fission energy shows high promise of significantly alleviating the energy supply problem throughout the critical early decades of the next century.

    The development of a fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   capability addresses both of thess questions of confidence.

    Wlth regard to public confidence, one of the outstanding questions is not so much the technical capability of waste disposal but rather the need for a demonstration.

    • It is unlikely to be in the national interest to irretrievebly dispose of our spent fuel which at a minimum has an energy worth fully equivalent to virgin uranium.

    • To generate the waste needed to demonstrate safe disposal requires fuel processing to seperate waste from useful fuel.

    Within the industry, confidence in long term fuel supply requires the development of fuel conserving options to relieve the pressure on the uranium supply industry and to allow it to grow at a sustained pace more closely approximating the proven performance of other more mature mineral supply industries.

  2. All the evidence indicates that a strong demand for uranium will be sustained well into the next century -- even with the introduction of fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   options as early as 1981 and even with the speculated introduction of Fast Breeders in the 1990's. This world demand constitutes an opportunity for the development of foreign exchange.

    The generation of a domestic fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   capability will reduce the domestic uranium long-term commitments required to achieve any given degree of security of fuel supply. The release of each 100,000 tonnes of uranium for export can generate about 10 billion dollars in foreign exchange at today's uranium price ($ 40/lb U3O8 ) .

      [Note: This estimated value is incorrect (too high) as it stands.
      The price of uranium has also plummetted since 1977.]

  3. Because of the unique neutron conserving properties of the CANDU Reactors, the long-term future of this concept can be secured by the development of a Canadian fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   capability. It has taken us a full 25 years to develop the technological and industrial infrastructure to support this reactor concept. It is clearly in the national interest to sustain its viability well into the next century.

  4. Security of future energy supply is of such compelling importance that it is clearly in the international interest to develop the CANDU Thorium-cycle or a highly credible alternative to the Fast Breeder Reactor.


AECL'S PROPOSED RECYCLE FUEL PROGRAM

S. R. Hatcher, Director,
Applied Science Division,
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited,
Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment

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[ FUEL RECYCLE : DEMONSTRATION ]

In the third presentation this morning Dr. Mooradian discussed fuel resources and the fuel cycle options for the CANDU reactor.

In this talk I want to describe the program that is being proposed by AECL to develop and demonstrate there options, so that Canada could confidently commit the large scale use of fuel recycle when strategic resource conservation, economics and social requirements make it desirable to do so.

The development and demonstration program is a long range one and one that we feel should be a major part of AECL's forward program. In our judgment, if we start now, early in 1977, and move as quickly as we feel is practicable, it will be the end of the century before any major industrial commitment could be made.

However, I must emphasize that it is a proposed program -- it is now being considered interdepartmentally prior to submission to the federal government -- it has not yet been approved or funded.

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[ FUEL RECYCLE AND WASTE DISPOSAL ]

The objective of the program is to develop and demonstrate in Canada the technology for the recycle of fissionable material in CANDU reactors and for the disposal of radioactive waste from the nuclear fuel cycle.

It goes without saying that we must also demonstrate that the technology is safe, and has acceptable environmental and social impact.

Before I go into details of the program, I'd like to re-emphasize one other very important point which Dr. Mooradian has made. This program will develop the fuel cycles for the existing PHW type of CANDU reactor which is now being built by Ontario Hydro, Hydro Quebec and New Brunswick Power. We do not have to develop a new type of reactor.

There may be minor differences in design detail for new reactors which are optimized for recycle fuel, but we anticipate that the first industrial use of recycle fuels in the next century may well be in the PHW reactors built in this century.

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[ PLUTONIUM AND THE THORIUM CYCLE ]

To see what is involved in the recycle fuel program let's look at a typical recycle situation, the thorium cycle which Dr. Mooradian has described. (SLIDE 1).

The left hand side of the diagram represents the current CANDU system in which natural uranium is fabricated into fuel, used in the reactor and then kept in the irradiated fuel storage bays.

In the thorium cycle this   [ "spent" or "irradiated" ]   fuel can be reprocessed to recover the valuable plutonium, and the true fission product wastes are solidified. The waste is then sent to disposal.

Depleted uranium would be solidified and could be stored for future use as fertile material   [ to breed more plutonium ] . The recovered plutonium is mixed with thorium in an active fuel fabrication plant and used in the CANDU reactor.

The irradiated fuel from this reactor goes back to the   [ second ! ]   reprocessing plant where the uranium-233, thorium and residual plutonium are extracted to be used again, and once more the fission product waste is solidified and sent to disposal.

The heart of the recycle fuel program then is this centre column, which includes active   [ plutonium ]   fuel fabrication, reprocessing, waste solidification and waste disposal. We must also demonstrate that the recycle fuel performs well in the reactor.

The same requirements hold for both the thorium cycle and the plutonium/uranium cycle.

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[ FUEL RECYCLE REQUIREMENTS ]

In the next slide I've summarized the major technological programs and the supporting programs (SLIDE 2).

  1. First is reactor physics and assessment in which we must develop reactor codes to describe the performance of reactors using recycle fuels and assess how efficient various fuel designs and fueling schemes are.

  2. Next is fuel development in which we must learn how to manufacture recycle fuels containing toxic materials such as plutonium and uranium-233. We must also demonstrate that the fuels will perform adequately.

  3. We must lean how to reprocess fuels to recover the valuable materials, plutonium, uranium-233 and thorium.

A lot of technology exists in the world for handling   [ that is, reprocessing ]   uranium fuels, and large plants are in operation. We plan to use as much of that technology as we can. Very little work has been done on   [ reprocessing ]   thorium fuels so we have to develop most of that ourselves.

The wastes from the plant must be collected and must be solidified in a form suitable for disposal and again there is much that we can draw on outside Canada. In fact many countries have gone a long way in developing a process which we pioneered at Chalk River twenty years ago.

Finally there is the actual waste disposal method which Mr. Tomlinson will describe in the next presentation. I won't go into any further detail on that except to show how it fits into our overall schedule.

In parallel with the technology we must have supporting programs in the safety of all the facilities for both the operators and the public. We must understand the environmental and health impact of the operations so that the plants can be designed to minimize these. We must develop adequate security and safeguards systems so that the materials are well protected and that we can operate within our international safeguards obligations.

And finally, as with any new major technology, we must combine all these with other social parameters to put the benefits and risks to Canadian society in their true context so that governments and utilities have all the technical, economic and social information on which to base a future decision on the industrial-scale commitment to fuel recycle.

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[ ACTIVITIES PRIOR TO COMMERCIALIZATION ]

The recycle fuel development and demonstration program falls naturally into two phases followed by third industrial phase. From our detailed program schedules, I have summarized these on the next slide (SLIDE 3).

  1. That first phase is research and development with pilot plant testing. This phase would be done at AECL's existing research sites, Chalk River and Whiteshell, and using existing facilities in some cases. Phase I would last up until 1990.

  2. The demonstration phase would use existing power reactors to demonstrate fuel and reactor performance but would require major new facilities for fuel recycle and waste disposal plant. It would be operable from 1990 through at least the year 2000.

There would be some overlap between phases 1 and 2 for the design and construction of the new demonstration facilities - what I have shown are the operational dates.

Finally, as you can see, the industrial implementation of the program could not take place before the year 2000.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the activities involved and how they interact with one another is to go over the schedule for some of the major activities (SLIDE 4).

First the R&D and pilot phase.

We already have a small pilot line at Chalk River for the fabrication of plutonium fuels. This will be used initially to learn more about the process and to produce Pu/U   [#&160;plutonium/uranium#&160;]   fuel for experimental irradiation in loops and in power reactors.

Then it will produce the Pu / Th   [ plutonium / thorium ]   fuel for the research reactor experiment which I just described. It will continue to be used to provide fuels for irradiation until at least 1986. By then the development of a more automated process will have resulted in the design and construction of a pilot line for uranium-233 fuel and this should be operational by 1986. It will be used to provide U-233/Th for the research reactor physics experiments.

At present we have no facilities for piloting the fuel reprocessing work. We have some hot cells available at Whiteshell and these can be used for preliminary experiments.

However, in order to be confident in the design of the demonstration plant we need a pilot   [ fuel recycle ]   facility, particularly for testing out the thorium fuels and for piloting the solidification of wastes. We have shown the design of this starting this year and operational by 1981. It would have a capacity of about 10 kilograms of fuel per day.

Its first priority would be to test the reprocessing of thorium, followed by checks on uranium, and then moving into waste solidification as the wastes are generated. Finally, it would be used for routine handling of the research reactor fuel to produce uranium-233 for recycle through the fabrication pilot line and refuelling of the research reactor for physics measurements with U-233/Th cores.

It will also be necessary for trouble-shooting experiments as the demonstration plant is being commissioned in 1989.

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[ A SENSE OF URGENCY ]

This is an extremely tight schedule and the timing is critical as you will see later.

The schedule for the demonstration phase has been set by normal technical considerations, that is using experience with pilot plants to prvide the design information for larger scale facilities.

The key demonstration facility is the Fuel Recycle Demonstration plant. The individual parts of such a plant would be reprocessing, fuel fabrication and waste solidification units. The entire plant would be sited to allow production of reactor fuel for the demonstration irradiations in existing power reactors.

The demo plant will provide experience and data on the design, construction and operation and costs of such plants. It could handle one tonne of spent fuel per day which is about the output of the 2000 MWe Pickering A station. The solidified waste produced would be used for demonstration in the geologic waste repository.

Allowing two years operating experience with the pilot plants, the design of the reprocessing and fuel fabrication demonstration units could be started in 1983, followed by the waste solidification unit in 1984. The first phase of the recycle plant could be operational by 1989. Another fabrication line for uranium-233 fuels would be started in 1992 and could be operational by 1997.

The first requirement from the fuel recycle demonstration plant would be to produce thorium/plutonium fuel, obtaining the plutonium from irradiated natural uranium fuel and fresh thorium from the mines and refineries. This fuel could begin irradiation in a demonstration power reactor starting in about 1991.

Once the first charge and spares have been produced for this, the recycle plant could be turned over to uranium/plutonium fuel production to demonstrate this recycle option in a second existing power reactor. Meanwhile irradiated thorium from the first should become available for recycle by about 1996, allowing for cooling time.

The uranium-233 produced by irradiation would be separated in the reprocessing unit and uranium-233 recycle fuel manufactured in the new alpha/gamma   [ "active" fuel ]   fabrication unit which comes on line in 1998. The first recycle uranium-233 fuelling could then take place starting in 1998, and the total demonstration would continue on beyond the year 2000 on the self sufficient thorium cycle.

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[ GEOLOGIC REPOSITORY : PART OF THE PLAN ]

In the waste management area, design of a mine will be an on-going activity over the next few years and the sinking of a shaft and initial mine development is expected from 1985 to 1983. In 1986 the first experiments will start in the mine with electric heaters to simulate wastes. Medium level wastes could gradually be added to the experiments. Some five-year cooled solidified wastes from the pilot plant should be available for high level waste testing by 1987.

Larger quantities for demonstration scale emplacement should be available from the fuel recycle demonstration plant about three to four years later. During this period up to 1990, test emplacements could also be made with irradiated fuel bundles as well as solidified waste. The demonstration phase starts in 1990, and at least 10 years experience should be accumulated towards a commercial licence application by the end of the century.

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[ SCHEDULE AND PRIORITIES ]

Summarizing the proposed schedule then, we have the R&D and pilot plant phase which goes from now until after 1990. Some of the facilities required already exist such as the Chalk River ZED-2 reactor, the Whiteshell WR-1 reactor and the Chalk River plutonium fuel fabrication line.

We need a start this year on a pilot plant for reprocessing and waste solidification to be operational by 1981, and we will need a second fuel fabrication pilot line for uranium-233 fuel to be operational by 1986. AECL is recommending that this phase proceed according to the schedule outlined. The activities would take place primarily at existing AECL sites and a capital expenditure of 25 million dollars is expected over the period 1977 to 1982.

The demonstration phase would start operation in about 1990 and will require 3 major types of facilities. One of these is power reactors to demonstrate recycle fueling, and we intend to use existing reactors, so no new facility is required there.

A fuel recycle demonstration plant is a major new facility for which detailed design could commence in 1984, providing fuel for the demonstration fuelling. The capital cost is expected to be about 350 million dollars.

The other major facility is the geologic waste repository for which the shaft should be sunk in 1983 so that the experiments can begin in 1986 and the demonstration phases can start in 1990 using material from the recycle demo plant. The capital cost of this facility is estimated to be 55 million dollars.

We also recommend proceeding with the establishment of the geologic repository. A commitment on the rest of the demonstration phase is of course desirable but it is not necessary until design is required for the facilities, that is in about 5 or 6 years.

The capital costs for the program are summarized on SLIDE 5. These do not include siting of the facilities which Mr. Mayman will be describing later. Operating costs over the next 5 years are shown in SLIDE 6 for the R&D program.

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[ SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION ]

In summary then, AECL believes that our major long term program should be development and demonstration of fuel recycle and disposal of radioactive wastes. Given a start this year and the availability of world technology through agreements with other countries, we believe that it is possible to complete this by the end of the century.

Any delays in committing the first phase of the program will lead to similar delays in completion. If we are unable to acquire outside technology, it will be very difficult to hold to the schedule even with a start this year. At the same time we recommend that uranium exploration should be increased to improve our assessment of uranium resources.

The successful completion of this program will put us in an excellent position by the year 2000.

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CONCLUDING REMARKS

J. S. Foster, President,
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

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[ PRO-NUCLEAR DECISIONS : PAST ]

Canada ranks fifth among the countries of the world, led by only the United States, Russia, Germany and Japan, in electrical energy consumption. Most of this electricity comes from hydro-electric power. As recently as 15 years ago hydro power produced 96 per cent of this country's electricity. The raw energy resource, falling water, was domestic as was also the manufacture of the plant to exploit it.

In the early fifties, however, hydro-electric sites convenient to major load centres were becoming fully developed and the country had to turn to thermal-electric power fuelled with coal, oil or gas. Much of the technology and equipment had to be imported, as -- in Ontario-and later the Atlantic Provinces -- did even the raw energy resources.

Fortunately, at about the same time, nuclear-electric power generation became a realistic prospect. In nuclear power, Canada got in on the ground floor as she had with Hydro power two generations before. As a consequence, in the past few years, 5 per cent of the country's electrical energy has come from-nuclear stations of Canadian design, using domestic fuel and plant developed and, to a very large extent, built in Canada.

The basic decision that led to this favorable state of affairs was taken in Ottawa over 25 years ago. The last relevant major decision taken in Ottawa -- the decision to participate in the Pickering nuclear generating station -- was taken 14 years ago.

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[ PRO-NUCLEAR DECISIONS : NOW ]

Today, you have heard a series of papers and have had a chance to discuss the background to another equally important phase in Canada's nuclear power program.

Decisions comparable in import to those taken a generation ago will be necessary to embark on this new phase. The situation is very different in certain respects from what it was a generation ago but there are also some interesting parallels.

The first difference is that 25 years ago, nuclear energy was still an esoteric, rather secret business and decisions were reached largely on the basis of discussions between Dr. C. J. Mackenzie, president of the National Research Council and C. D. Howe, Minister of Trade and Commerce and Dr. Mackenzie's friend-and-former-professor. In those days, Dr. Mackenzie didn't even have a board of directors to convince, because one of the early actions was to create a Crown company to carry out the development.

Today, many of us in this room and many more elsewhere need to be persuaded as to the merits of any course to be followed in this field.

The second difference is that nuclear energy was new and, except for military purposes, unimportant. As a result there was no general knowledge of it and little attention paid to it by the media, nor was there an established body of opposition to it.

A similarity lies in the fact that Dr. P. C. Dobson, Director of Research of Ontario Hydro, promoted nuclear power with his Chairman, R. H. Saunders, and later R. L. Hearn and these latter men took the matter up with Dr. Mackenzie.

Dr. Mackenzie was, of course, getting similar advice from the staff of his Chalk River Laboratories. The co-operation of the two organizations has persisted to this day and has been the sine qua non of Canada's nuclear power program. It is proposed that we embark on the next major phase of the program in this country in a similar cooperation with Ontario Hydro.

Another similarity, of course, is the importance of the decision. Today, made-in-Canada nuclear power is an option because the people in the position to take the relevant decisions a generation ago took them.

The assurance that there will be enough fuel for nuclear power plants a generation from now is very largely dependent upon the decisions people take today.

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[ AVDANCED FUEL CYCLES ]

All other industrialized countries decided years ago that advanced fuel cycles involving fuel recycle   [ reprocessing ]   were necessary if fission power was to be an assured major source of energy for a considerable period.

In AECL, rightly or wrongly, we pondered the necessity of advanced fuel cycles for several years before concluding that the uncertainty in the availability of uranium was sufficient to warrant these cycles.

There is no question today that there will be a strong growth in demand for uranium as far ahead as we can see. Canada is providing the nuclear input to a World Energy Conference report on energy to the year 2025. With a not unoptimistic forecast of the contribution from Fast Breeder Reactors and a rather modest prediction of third world energy requirements, the projected uranium demand for 2020 is about 400,000 tons a year as an annual requirement for the mining and milling of an amount of uranium equal to more than half of the reasonably assured and estimated additional resources in Canada at present.

The development of the thorium cycle for the CANDU reactor will halve Canada's uranium requirements in the first part of the next century. This will save about $ 1 billion (at present prices) worth of uranium a year.

Because of its simple fuel cycle the natural uranium CANDU system is particularly suited to the first 25 years or a national nuclear power program. It is, however, with the thorium cycle that the CANDU reactor realizes its full potential.

An efficient fuel cycle, utilizing thorium (more abundant and in less demand than uranium) in a water-cooled thermal reactor might very well be attractive for many nuclear power reactor programs. The system has already attracted the attention of the United states. Its development will ensure Canada her accustomed role as one of the leaders in the field of nuclear power development and at least raises the prospect of future interest among the major countries of the world.

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[ ESTIMATION OF COSTS ]

With respect to costs, the Background Paper indicates a total expenditure for research and development, pilot plants, site investigations and acquisition and preliminary engineering for a waste repository of $ l75 million (in 1976 dollars) over the next five years.

Development of the initial phase of the waste repository is estimated to require $ 85 million (1976 dollars) over the ensuing four years. Other parts of the program are impossible to estimate properly at this stage, although the main capital item, a demonstration fuel cycle plant, might cost up to $ 500 million. An operating staff of 900 people for 10 years would cost about $ 500 million. The total cost of the program is therefore probably between $ 1.5 and $ 2 billion. Proper estimates can only be produced as each phase of the program becomes firmer.

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[ RADIOACTIVE WASTES ]

I have not said much about the waste disposal aspect. This is not because it is not important -- it is extremely important; but it is a part of the total program. It cannot be dissociated from the fuel cycle program.

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[ NEEDED: GUTS, AND PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE ]

Any decision on a program calculated to take 20 years is, of course, not irrevocable or complete. Many people will make decisions affecting the program down the years. Yet the decisions taken (or not taken) in this year are very important. They are much too important to be taken on the basis of certain elements in the media, the reaction they might elicit from the critics and general public. The decision must be based on the assessed merits.

Public acceptance is, of course, essential and it will be important to gauge what real majority opinion is, and to properly inform the people. We in AECL would like to see a completely open program with frequent information releases and the same kind of public access as has been provided at the nuclear power plants.

Admittedly, a positive decision with respect to the back end of the fuel cycle, today, takes a certain amount of guts -- because authorities all over the world are proceeding with understandable caution in the face of the bad name undeservedly attached to plutonium. Plutonium recycle   [ reprocessing ]   is not the main objective of our proposed program but plutonium is an extremely useful material and we will be dealing in it.

Those around the world who are responsible for ensuring future energy supplies must take a stand. There is no reason why the processes associated with advanced fuel cycles and the disposal of their wastes cannot be handled in a very safe manner.

Our experience in the nuclear power program has been that those who have some familiarity with nuclear power and particularly those living in the vicinity of a plant have been receptive to nuclear power projects.

I feel that we should have faith in the Canadian public's readiness to accept advanced fuel cycles and waste disposal if the facts are properly presented.

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[ CONCLUSION ]

Canada is a very fortunate country. There are perhaps only three or four others that have both the raw resources and technological competence in the measure that Canada does, in relation to national need. This is particularly true in the energy field.

To capitalize on the resources however -- and ensure adequate energy in the future -- will entail development on many fronts:

To those must be added the development of the thorium fuel cycle and the safe disposal of radioactive residues.

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