Argonne National Laboratory

Upcoming Events

Efficient and Timely Reactor Production of Valuable Radioisotopes

Alexander DeVolpi and Ralph Moir
May 29, 2013 10:00AM to 11:00AM
Building 203
Presented by Alexander DeVolpi, (Argonne, retired) and Ralph Moir, (LLNL, retired)

Valuable and indispensable radioisotopes – such as T-3, He-3, Mo-99, and Np-237 – could be produced and separated most efficiently and economically in a single, small liquid-salt reactor necessarily situated on a government reservation.

Various international and national commissions have recognized looming shortfalls in some radioisotopes designated as essential. At present, nearly 80% of all nuclear medicine procedures worldwide are derived from Mo-99, and there are no major producers of Mo-99 for medical use in the United States. Much of the world’s production is inefficiently carried out by irradiating solid HEU targets in aging reactors fueled with LEU.

Much better sustained production could be obtained from a liquid-salt reactor (LSR), an enterprising approach satisfying near-term high-priority goals in production of valuable radioisotopes. One such small 100MWth reactor is sufficient to meet domestic requirements for tritium, as well as international needs for medical radioisotopes with a commercially profitable return on investment. The proposed reactor would be similar to the circulating MSR originally developed at ORNL. Its secondary coolant consists of F/Li/Be compounds that provide very good and relevant reactor-compatible properties, allowing function with near-atmospheric pressures, reduced mechanical stress, simplified reactor design, and safe operation. Some comparative technical considerations — such as neutron spectra, production yields, and engineering-design factors — will be addressed in this presentation.

DOE has overtly recognized the need for advanced R&D on innovative small-reactor concepts, explicitly making reference to “liquid-salt” coolants that offer “added functionality and affordability.” Under constrained circumstances wherein reactor funding, development, and construction options are limited, this particular concept offers near-term benefits while avoiding most shortcomings. Because of national-security considerations, the LSR likely would have to be government prioritized and located on a government reservation.