Fast reactors and problem of nuclear non-proliferation
The growing number of countries wishing to use nuclear energy, and expansion of the NPPs geography may increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, given that the leaders of some countries may be willing to purchase or develop sensitive nuclear technologies. A certain risk of proliferation by means of nuclear power technologies and materials cannot be excluded completely. In the nuclear fuel cycle there is a large amount of nuclear materials, including fissile ones – many hundreds of thousands of tons. The problem of spent nuclear fuel and plutonium in it, especially for nuclear power newcomers and countries with small nuclear power program also increases the risk of proliferation, including increasing risk of possible actions by the sub-national and terrorist organizations because of spread of nuclear technologies and materials at insufficient measures on their protection in these countries.
For thermal reactors, uranium enrichment is an indispensable element needed to produce the fuel. Forlong-term storage of spent nuclear fuel in thermal reactors open fuel cycle, which is being implemented today, the risk of proliferation due to the weakening of the radiation barrier over time is increasing as well as possible unauthorized removal of the fuel by proliferator state and its theft by criminal and terrorist elements. For start-up of fast reactors with plutonium fuel, uranium enrichment is not required. Long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel is not envisaged in a fast reactor closed fuel cycle. Gradual replacement of thermal reactors by fast reactors, due to the shortage of natural uranium, creates prerequisites for phasing out uranium enrichment. However, countries with small nuclear power program and, therefore having a limited number of nuclear power units will exploit thermal reactors for a long time, which requires uranium enrichment.
Making nuclear weapons from civil plutonium using a simple “gun-type” design is almost impossible because of high neutron background of this kind of plutonium. However, this does not preclude a group of terrorists from attempting to manufacture a primitive nuclear explosive device. In case of start-up of fast reactors using uranium fuel with subsequent transition to plutonium fuel both sensitive technologies, i.e. uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing (with plutonium separation) will be needed and used. In this case, plutonium with little content of higher isotopes will be bred not only in the blanket, but also in the reactor core in much larger quantities.
The paper deals with various technological and institutional approaches to solve the problem of fast reactor blankets as far as provision of of reliable nuclear non-proliferation regime.
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