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McNair Scholars Program

Samuel Brinton, M.S.


Education: Bachelor of Science in nuclear engineering and vocal music (May 2011)

Master of Science in nuclear science and engineering (technology and policy) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

McNair Project: An Initial Study on Modeling the Future Global Necessary Nuclear Reprocessing Capacity (2008)

Mentor: Ken Shultis, Ph.D.

The United States produces 2,000 tons of nuclear spent fuel every year from its 104 reactors. This amounts to over 57,000 tons of spent fuel in storage, which may seem excessive, even though it is the byproduct of one of the most environmentally friendly electricity-producing technologies currently available. However, spent fuel is an international problem and it must be disposed of properly for public and ecological protection.

The current plan for spent fuel is transportation to, and storage in, a geologic disposal site for underground secure placement. However, high nuclear decay heat is limiting the amount of nuclear fuel that can be stored in the proposed Yucca Mountain site in southern Nevada and other analogous locations around the world. Nuclear reprocessing technologies should be used in conjunction with geologic disposal. Reprocessing is used in some areas of the world and can reuse 96% of the material in most spent fuel from reactors. Thus, a mere 4% would be sent to Yucca Mountain and similar repositories, extending their service period significantly.

This research concentrated in the construction of a model of the growth of reprocessing centers based on reprocessing the total spent fuel produced by currently operating and future constructed nuclear power plants (NPPs). The MIT “Future of Nuclear Power” report was used to find the construction rate of future reactors. Two models based on the operation license lengths of 60 and 80 years were used to study the different storage requirements of spent fuel before reprocessing centers can accept it. It was found that both models require a reprocessing center of 1800 tons per year capacity be built roughly every 3.5 years.