Chemical separation processes for advanced nuclear fuel cycles: Challenges and possibilities

MON, 03/14/2011 – 4:00PM TO 5:00PM
Spring 2011 Colloquium Series

In the world today, nuclear energy comprises ~15% of the total electricity mix. This power source produces no CO2 during the operation of the plants and can provide bulk power to industry and households 24/7. Concerns about CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) have caused the world demand of nuclear power to rise. With increasing interest in nuclear energy, we are facing a problem of sharing the readily available uranium resources. To increase the energy utilization and decrease the radiotoxicity of the waste advanced concepts for fuel reprocessing are being investigated on a global scale. This is a multi disciplinary research field spanning from organic synthesis to particle physics, and no single research group can hope to cover all aspects. Collaboration is crucial to the success of these projects. For a successful advanced nuclear fuel cycle, one or several chemical separations steps are required to fractionate the different elements in spent fuel. These separations processes are of varying complexity and use a range of different chemicals making it challenging to implement them on industrial scale. Furthermore, some of the processes under development are still in the experimental stage and require supporting fundamental studies to succeed. In this presentation, similarities and differences between the different separation schemes are discussed, emphasizing the challenges that will be faced before an advanced nuclear fuel cycle can be implemented in industry. Current projects carried out by the UC Irvine nuclear group that address some of these challenges will be presented and discussed.

About the Speaker:

Mikael (Micke) Nilsson joined the department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at University of California – Irvine in January 2009. His expertise is in the field of nuclear energy and nuclear waste treatment, and encompasses both the fundamental and applied aspects of the field. Dr. Nilsson is a specialist in separations technology as it applies to the reprocessing of spent fuel from nuclear reactors. He also studies the effects of radioactive decay on solvents and chemicals used for nuclear waste management. Dr. Nilsson received an M.S. degree in chemical engineering in 2000 and a Ph.D. in nuclear chemistry in 2005 from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. Between 2006 and 2008 he was a post-doc in the chemistry department at Washington State University. At UC Irvine, Dr. Nilsson teaches courses in chemical engineering thermodynamics and unit operations, nuclear chemistry, and the nuclear fuel cycle. Dr. Nilsson recently (October 2010) passed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission exam and became a qualified senior reactor operator on the UC Irvine TRIGA reactor. The research group of Dr. Nilsson currently comprises 5 graduate student researchers and 4 undergraduate students.