The reactor that “eats” nuclear waste
We are giving the GE-Hitachi PRISM this page of its own as we believe is the best, most developed Generation IV design and it should be promoted as part of Energize Northwest’s effort to reduce global warming emissions. The PRISM is unique in that it can use the spent fuel from our present light water reactors as fuel and burn up the extremely radioactive transuranics they contain. This has resulted in the media describing the PRISM as the reactor that “eats” nuclear waste.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), headquartered in London, includes the PRISM in their article on Small Modular Reactors – A briefing article. Here is their description of the PRISM.
GEH PRISM – Nuclear Energy Power Reactor Innovative Small Module
The PRISM is an advanced reactor cooled by liquid sodium. The dynamics of using liquid sodium as a coolant instead of water allows the neutrons to have a higher energy (fast neutrons) that drives fission of the transuranics. This reaction produces heat energy, which is then converted into electricity by a conventional steam turbine. The PRISM reactor consumes transuranics in used nuclear fuel from water-cooled reactors, essentially turning waste into energy. In common with some other small reactor designs, the plant is proposed to be built underground on seismic isolators to dampen the effects of earthquake motion. Other design safety features include passive reactor core cooling which eliminates the need for multiple active safety systems. The coolant pumps have no moving parts and its simplified design eliminates valves and motors leading to increased reliability and operational flexibility. This simplified modular design also allows for factory fabrication and ultimately lower construction costs. Although at 311 MW(e) it is just on the limit of what is considered as a SMR, it is included because it is under consideration for use in the UK to “burn” the actinides in the wastes from conventional reactors.
The World Nuclear Association’s (WNA) report on Small Nuclear Power Reactors (Updated December 2014) also categorizes the PRISM as small. However, GE configures them in a power blocks of two 311 MWe modules, each with one steam generator, that collectively drive a single turbine generator producing over 600 megawatts of electricity. The commercial-scale plant concept, part of an ‘Advanced Recycling Center’, would use three power blocks (six reactor modules) to provide 1866 MWe. The “Center” would also include the facilities to reprocess spent fuel from existing light water reactors and the PRISM itself.
The WNA report stated that an application for design certification is expected to be submitted in 2012, and a decision by GEH on building a demonstration plant was expected soon after that. (It is now 2015 and GEH has not submitted a certification application to the NRC.)
After spending billions on the research and development that lead to the PRISM, the United States just ignored the GEH PRISM’s ability to reduce nuclear waste and produce clean energy and GEH had to turn to the UK to find a customer. In 2011 GEH confirmed that it was talking with UK government agencies about the potential use of PRISM technology to dispose of the UK’s plutonium stockpile. GEH has launched a web portal in support of its proposal. The UK’s “the Engineer” magazine has an excellent article on the PRISM and how it could inactivate the UK’s stockpile of Plutonium.
You can see for yourself how GEH was forced to market out of the United States. Compare the current GEH portal website (copyright 2015) which is specifically directed towards the UK, with this PRISM Power Point presentation posted on the web on 8/6/2010 at 5:11:44 pm, which is directed to the United States market. (Note that the “No LOCA” emblazoned across the reactor diagram on page 14 is nuclear industry jargon for No Loss of Coolant Accident and not some phrase directed to a Hispanic audience.) If the US had responded to GE’s efforts in 2010 we would be recycling dangerously radioactive fuel rods and generating megawatts of clean electrical power. Politics gets in the way of common sense and our planet is the looser!
Things are looking up. Since writing the above paragraph our Department of Energy (DOE) has funded an update of the safety assessment for the PRISM design. The Motley Fool views this as a positive step for the nuclear industry in general and GE in particular. This will link you to Maxx Chatsko’s Motley Fool article.
The article notes that this is the start of decade long process of obtaining Design Certification from the NRC. We (ENW) suggest that we (Washington State) help GE get the authorization to build the first PRISM as an experimental reactor at Hanford. The DOE could authorize its construction at the existing Fast Flux Test Facility site without the delays of a long certification process.
(The Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) at Hanford was the most recent antecedent to the PRISM. This 400-megawatt (thermal) sodium cooled research and test reactor demonstrated the viability and safety of the sodium fast flux design. The reactor has been decommissioned but all of the support facilities are still in place. The site of the FFTF is now surplus and would make an excellent location for GEH to construct its first PRISM. (ENW)
Our research on SMRs lead us to the website of Steve Kirsch which contains extensive information on several issues. One of them is an expert reviewed, 21 page analysis on The Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) project presented in Q&A form. (IFR describes the type of reactor which includes the GEH PRISM). This posting is a must read if you want to develop a comprehensive understanding of the issues surrounding Fast Flux Reactor technology.
- Link to GE-Hitachi PRISM website
- Wikipedia’s entry for the PRISM
- Wikipedia page on the FFTF
- Hanford DOE page on the FFTF
Other smaller reactor designs are discussed on our Small Modular Reactors page.