The US Department of Energy (DOE) on 16 March announced up to $48 million in funding for a new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) programme that will support the deployment of Advanced Nuclear Reactor (AR) technology by providing safe and sustainable domestic fuel stocks. The “Converting UNF Radioisotopes Into Energy” (CURIE) programme focuses on substantially reducing the disposal impact of used nuclear fuel (UNF) and supporting a comprehensive national strategy to deal safely and securely with waste.
“CURIE will fuel advanced reactors and provide important clean energy elements, all while drastically reducing waste,” said Dr Jennifer Gerbi, Acting Director of ARPA-E. “With this new programme, we’re emphasising safeguards and lowered costs as we provide clean energy technology options for the future.”
CURIE seeks to develop innovative separations, online monitoring, and materials accountancy technologies that would support the domestic production of AR fuel feedstocks or important commercial radioisotopes and critical minerals. CURIE also aims to support system design studies related to fuel recycling, separations technologies with improved proliferation resistance, and minimisation of waste volumes.
DOE said enabling the secure, economical recycling of UNF, by using UNF as new fuel for ARs, would improve resource utilisation and drastically reduce the volume of nuclear waste that requires permanent disposal. These technologies could also substantially reduce the heat load and radiotoxicity of waste requiring permanent disposal while providing a valuable and sustainable fuel feedstock for advanced fast reactors.
CURIE is named to honour pioneering physicist and chemist Marie Curie. It joins ARPA-E’s other programmes supporting AR development, including MEITNER – whose namesake Lise Meitner discovered fission and the element protactinium –GEMINA, and ONWARDS.