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Investigation of the Feasibility of a Small Scale Transmutation Device


This dissertation presents the design and feasibility of a small-scale, fusion-based transmutation device incorporating a commercially available neutron generator. It also presents the design features necessary to optimize the device and render it practical for the transmutation of selected long-lived fission products and actinides.

Four conceptual designs of a transmutation device were used to study the transformation of seven radionuclides: long-lived fission products (Tc-99 and I-129), short-lived fission products (Cs-137 and Sr-90), and selective actinides (Am-241, Pu-238, and Pu-239). These radionuclides were chosen because they are major components of spent nuclear fuel and also because they exist as legacy sources that are being stored pending a decision regarding their ultimate disposition.

The four designs include the use of two different devices; a Deuterium-Deuterium (D-D) neutron generator (for one design) and a Deuterium-Tritium (D-T) neutron generator (for three designs) in configurations which provide different neutron energy spectra for targeting the radionuclide for transmutation. Key parameters analyzed include total fluence and flux requirements; transmutation effectiveness measured as irradiation effective half-life; and activation products generated along with their characteristics: activity, dose rate, decay, and ingestion and inhalation radiotoxicity.

From this investigation, conclusions were drawn about the feasibility of the device, the design and technology enhancements that would be required to make transmutation practical, the most beneficial design for each radionuclide, the consequence of the transmutation, and radiation protection issues that are important for the conceptual design of the transmutation device.

Key conclusions from this investigation include: (1) the transmutation of long-lived fission products and select actinides can be practical using a small-scale, fusion driven transmutation device; (2) the transmutation of long-lived fission products could result in an irradiation effective half-life of a few years with a three order magnitude increase in the on-target neutron flux accomplishable through a combination of technological enhancements to the source and system design optimization; (3) the transmutation of long-lived fission products requires a thermal-slow energy spectrum to prevent the generation of activation products with half-lives even longer than the original radionuclide; (4) there is no benefit in trying to transmute short-lived fission products due to the ineffectiveness of the transmutation process and the generation of a multiplicity of counterproductive activation products; (5) for actinides, irradiation effective half-lives of < 1 year can be achieved with a four orders magnitude increase in the on-target flux; (6) the ideal neutron energy spectra for transmuting actinides is highly dependent on the particular radionuclide and its fission-to-capture ratio as they determine the generation rate of other actinides; and (7) the methodology developed in this dissertation provides a mechanism that can be used for studying the feasibility of transmuting other radionuclides, and its application can be extended to studying the production of radionuclides of interest in a transmutation process.

Although large-scale transmutation technology is presently being researched world-wide for spent fuel management applications, such technology will not be viable for a couple of decades. This dissertation investigated the concept of a small-scale transmutation device using present technology. The results of this research show that with reasonable enhancements, transmutation of specific radionuclides can be practical in the near term.

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