Jeffrey LewisPyroprocessing is Reprocessing

For those of you who follow South Korea’s interest in pyroprocessing spent nuclear fuel (or “recycling used fuel” as proponents are apt to say) Dick Stratford made an unusually straightforward comment at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference that pyroprocessing is reprocessing.

Here is the full-text of Stratford’s reponse to a question by Daryl Kimball.  (You can listen to the full remark in the audio at 57:48):

DOE states, frankly and positively, that pyroprocessing is reprocessing. Period.  Full-stop.  They did not say that five years ago when we started down the road to cooperation on pyroprocessing.  Then the product was not weapons-usable.

But, electroreduction combined with electrorefining has moved to the point where the product is dangerous from a proliferation point of view. So for that reason, pyroprocessing is reprocessing  …

Stratford dropped a couple of other bombs during his remarks, including references to quiet DOE discussions with Mongolia that might lead to a 123 Agreement.  More on that tomorrow.




  1. FSB (History)

    You don’t think Mongolia will make a bomb? Why cause it is friendly with the US. What if Mongolian extremists take over?
    On the potential, dumb 123 agreement:

    On crazy Mongorians:

    • Jeffrey (History)

      No, I do not believe Mongolia is interested in nuclear weapons.

    • FSB (History)

      Yeah, well the DNI said that Iran is not making nuclear weapons either, and we all know better than the DNI. Ergo extremist Mongorians will definitely make the bomb to tear down the Great Wall.

      South Park says so.

  2. Miles Pomper (History)

    Has FSB forgotten that Mongolia is the only country in the world to belong to a single-state nuclear-weapon-free zone?

    • FSB (History)

      Oh that nuclear weapons free zone ploy!

      Did you hear that the Iranians are hosting a conference on nuclear disarmament?


    • Tom (History)


      So, Mongolia is the only country belonging to a single-state nuclear-weapons-free zone? Very impressive. Did you know Germany is the only country with an official (=international treaty-established) “three-eights-of-a-state nuclear-weapons-free zone”?


      (Not that this has anything to do with pyroprocessing. Sorry.)


  3. nuc free korea (History)

    I haven’t seen the latest on refinements to pyroprocessing, but the US’s interest in this deal is proliferation (both Koreas) while South Korea’s is both commercial and status (countering or matching NK’s programs). Unfortunately, the ROK has very real issues in spent fuel storage and needs to be allowed some solution. Best to fine the most proliferation resistant technology rather than do nothing. How proliferation resistant are spent fuel pools?

  4. gbettanini (History)

    “the product is dangerous from a proliferation point of view”

    Ok, but the plutonium in the spent fuel contains at least a 20% of Pu-240.
    Is Stratford saying that the pyroprocessing could be dangerous if Sout Korea decides to process low burnup fuel?

    • Miles Pomper (History)

      There is lot of literature explaining why reactor-grade plutonium is weapons usable.
      But even leaving that aside, Stratford didn’t do his own analysis, he used DOE’s whch looks at how the process compares to PUREX generally. (obvioulsy low burnup fuel would be better)
      Office of Nonprolifeation and International Security, Draft Nonproliferation Impact Assessment for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership December 2008. Pyroreprocessing thus constitutes Sensitive Nuclear Technology (SNT) under the definition of the term in section 5 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 (22 USC 3203 (5)). For a fuller technical explanations of the NPIA finding, see: Robert Bari et al., “Proliferation Risk Reduction Study of Alternative Spent Fuel Processing Technologies,” BNL-90264-2009-CP, 2009.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      The three forms of proliferation resistance from “reactor grade” Pu are:

      (1) predetonation, which is not a problem for boosted weapons

      (2) heat generation (which shortens the life of the weapon, but is manageable in the design phase) and

      (3) exposure levels for workers (a nuclear aspirant might not care.)

      I think, to a first approximation, you are correct. Stratford was speaking about whether the process, in the abstract, is substantially more proliferation-resistant than PUREX (it is not “substantially” so) and not whether pyro in South Korea is a particular threat. (I worry about the indirect impacts more than a South Korean bomb at this point.)

      I happen to think that Japan and South Korea wouldn’t bother with SNF from civilian reactors (weapons-grade is preferred, though not strictly necessary), but in the event something happened that pushed either toward a small number of bombs in a hurry (very unlikely), I wouldn’t count on SNF from civil reactors being proliferation resistant.

  5. bob (History)

    Hope you don’t mind me cross-posting this as people may not notice it on the end of the previous thread.

    Folks – in case anyone has missed them, there are some fascinating hi-res aerial pics of dai-ichi on cryptome:-

    There are also some higher res pics in a zip file to download.

    Try following the vent piping – not exactly a “hard pipe” eh?

    • FSB (History)

      Great! Thank you.

      Just filed it under the “Folly of Man”, next to Jared Diamond’s book, “Collapse”, on the shelf below Ballistic Missile Defense.

  6. Tom Clements (History)

    Glad to hear Stratford admit what many have been saying for more than a decade. This is more confirmation that public interest groups often lead the way and have to push and pull the government into proper understanding of issues and into better policies. By the way, Stratford, was most likely the main State Department person to check off on the MOX shipment to the Fukushima reactor site in 1999 – with “US-origin” plutonium (from US-supplied uranium fuel). That shipment and loading was opposed by international NGOs and Japanese groups, which delayed the MOX loading, about 5% of the core, until Sept. 2010. If it had been up to him, Unit 3 would now have a one-third MOX core melting its way southward.8

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