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Further evaluations of the toxicity of irradiated advanced heavy water reactor fuels.

Health physics (2014-10-02)
Geoffrey W R Edwards, Nicholas D Priest
ABSTRACT

The neutron economy and online refueling capability of heavy water moderated reactors enable them to use many different fuel types, such as low enriched uranium, plutonium mixed with uranium, or plutonium and/or U mixed with thorium, in addition to their traditional natural uranium fuel. However, the toxicity and radiological protection methods for fuels other than natural uranium are not well established. A previous paper by the current authors compared the composition and toxicity of irradiated natural uranium to that of three potential advanced heavy water fuels not containing plutonium, and this work uses the same method to compare irradiated natural uranium to three other fuels that do contain plutonium in their initial composition. All three of the new fuels are assumed to incorporate plutonium isotopes characteristic of those that would be recovered from light water reactor fuel via reprocessing. The first fuel investigated is a homogeneous thorium-plutonium fuel designed for a once-through fuel cycle without reprocessing. The second fuel is a heterogeneous thorium-plutonium-U bundle, with graded enrichments of U in different parts of a single fuel assembly. This fuel is assumed to be part of a recycling scenario in which U from previously irradiated fuel is recovered. The third fuel is one in which plutonium and Am are mixed with natural uranium. Each of these fuels, because of the presence of plutonium in the initial composition, is determined to be considerably more radiotoxic than is standard natural uranium. Canadian nuclear safety regulations require that techniques be available for the measurement of 1 mSv of committed effective dose after exposure to irradiated fuel. For natural uranium fuel, the isotope Pu is a significant contributor to the committed effective dose after exposure, and thermal ionization mass spectrometry is sensitive enough that the amount of Pu excreted in urine is sufficient to estimate internal doses, from all isotopes, as low as 1 mSv. In addition, if this method is extended so that Pu is also measured, then the combined amount of Pu and Pu is sufficiently high in the thorium-plutonium fuel that a committed effective dose of 1 mSv would be measurable. However, the fraction of Pu and Pu in the other two fuels is sufficiently low that a 1 mSv dose would remain below the detection limit using this technique. Thus new methods, such as fecal measurements of Pu (or other alpha emitters), will be required to measure exposure to these new fuels.

MATERIALS
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