Nuclear fuel cycle, with a liquid ore and fuel: toward renewable energy
To fulfill the conditions required for a nuclear renewable energy concept, one has to explore a combination of processes going from the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle to the fuel production and the energy conversion using specific fluid fuels and reactors. Extraction of uranium from a diluted fluid ore such as seawater has been studied in various countries worldwide. This extraction should be carried out parsimoniously. An extraction rate of 103 tons of U per year over centuries would not modify significantly the equilibrium concentration of uranium in the oceans (3.3 ppb). This equilibrium results from the input of 104 tons of U per year by river waters and its scavenging on the sea floor from the 1.37 × 1018 tons of water in the oceans. For a renewable uranium extraction, the use of a specific biomass material is suggested to adsorb uranium and subsequently other transition metals. The uranium loading on the biomass would be around 100 mg per kg. After contact time, the loaded material would be dried and burned (CO2 neutral) with heat conversion into electricity. The uranium ‘burning’ in a molten salt fast reactor helps to optimize the energy conversion by burning all actinide isotopes with an excellent yield for producing a maximum amount of thermal energy from fission and converting it into electricity. This optimisation can be reached by reducing the moderation and the fission product concentration in the liquid fuel/coolant. These effects can be achieved by using a maximum amount of actinides and a minimum amount of alkaline/earth alkaline elements yielding a harder neutron spectrum. Under these optimal conditions the consumption of natural uranium would be 7 tons per year and per gigawatt (GW) of produced electricity. The coupling of uranium extraction from the sea and its optimal utilisation in a molten salt fast reactor should allow nuclear energy to gain the label renewable. In addition, the amount of seawater used by a nuclear power plant to cool the last coolant fluid and the turbine would be ∼2.1 × 109 tons per year for a fast molten salt reactor, corresponding to 7 tons of natural uranium extractable per year. This practice justifies the label renewable.
- This article is part of the themed collection: 2019 Sustainable Energy and Fuels HOT Articles