Russia’s Mining and Chemical Combine (MCC) in Zheleznogorsk, Krasnoyarsk Territory (part of state nuclear corporation Rosatom) has begun pilot reprocessing of used nuclear fuel from NPPs using unique “green” technologies that minimise environmental risks.
MCC will begin this recycling on an industrial scale after 2020. An Experimental and Demonstration Centre (ODC) for radiochemical reprocessing of nuclear fuel using the latest, environmentally friendly technologies has been built at MCC’s chemical and isotope-chemical plant. The initial complex will be used to develop technological regimes for reprocessing on a semi-industrial scale. In future, a large-scale plant, RT-2, for the recycling of used nuclear fuel is to be built using the ODC technologies.
One feature of these technologies will be the complete absence of liquid low-level radioactive waste. The used fuel assembly from a VVER-1000 reactor at Balakovo NPP, which had been stored at the plant for 23 years, has now been placed in one of the "hot cells" at the ODC. First, the thermochemical opening and fragmentation of the fuel assembly will be carried out then a process of volumetric oxidation will be used, which will drive radioactive tritium and iodine-129 into the gas phase, avoiding the formation of liquid radioactive waste, after dissolving the contents of fuel assembly fragments. Next, uranium and plutonium will be separated and returned to the fuel cycle in the form of uranium and plutonium dioxide, from which it is then planned to produce mixed oxide uranium-plutonium (Mox fuel for fast neutron reactors and REMIX fuel for the thermal nuclear reactors. The fission products will be conditioned, vitrified and packaged in a secure container.
After perfecting the new reprocessing technology, it will be scaled to be used in the second, full-scale ODC stage, which will become the industrial basis for the closed nuclear fuel cycle. Construction of the building and the second stage of the ODC is being completed so that experimental demonstration centre can begin work on an industrial scale after 2020. In 2021 MCC expects to process dozens of tons of used fuel from VVER-1000 reactors, according to MCC general director Petro Gavrilov.
MCC is an important enterprise in Rosatom’s development of a closed nuclear fuel cycle based on innovative new generation technologies. MCC hosts three high-technology facilities for the storage of used fuel, its processing and the production of a new Mox fuel for fast neutron reactors.