Optimizing Nuclear Waste and Advanced Reactor Disposal Systems


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Program Description:

The next generation of advanced nuclear reactors (AR) is currently being developed to enhance the safety, reduce the cost, and increase the efficiency of nuclear power generation. The future deployment of ARs will ensure that the U.S. meets its goals of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and facilitates U.S. energy security and global thought leadership in advanced nuclear energy. To enable the growth of advanced nuclear energy, ONWARDS seeks to develop and demonstrate breakthrough technologies that will facilitate a 10x reduction in AR waste volume generation or repository footprint. In addition, ONWARDS aims to advance development of high-performance AR waste forms while maintaining exemplary safeguards standards and global back-end costs in the accepted range of $1/megawatt-hour.

Innovation Need:

Challenges associated with disposal pathways of waste threaten the development and deployment of the next generation of ARs. The development of technologies that enable the final disposition and improve the disposal impact of AR used nuclear fuel (UNF) will facilitate the growth of advanced nuclear energy, which is vitally important to meeting GHG emission goals.

Technological areas identified as the most likely to improve disposal impacts for AR fuel cycles are:

* Process: Improvements in fuel recycling that significantly minimize waste volumes, improve intrinsic proliferation resistance, increase resource use, and bolster AR commercialization.

* Safeguards: Improvements in sensor and data fusion technologies that enable accurate and timely accounting of nuclear materials.

* Waste form: Development of high-performance waste forms for all AR classes with an emphasis on those forms that span multiple reactor classes and disposal environments and are safe and stable over required timescales.

Potential Impact:

By identifying and addressing challenges at the back end of the fuel cycle before the deployment of future AR technologies, ONWARDS will:


Support the growth of advanced nuclear energy with safe and sustainable domestic fuel stocks.


Play a vital role in significantly reducing GHG emissions. Proactively mitigate the disposal impact of AR UNF with integrated non-proliferation safeguards. Provide transformative solutions to improve the management, and disposal of radioactive waste and UNF.


Complement ARPA-E’s existing nuclear energy research portfolio, such as the MEITNER and GEMINA programs in AR R&D, further ensuring the commercial viability of innovative new ARs.


Program Director:
Dr. Robert Ledoux
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