Nuclear Fuel in a Reactor Accident

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Science  09 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6073, pp. 1184-1188
DOI: 10.1126/science.1211285


Nuclear accidents that lead to melting of a reactor core create heterogeneous materials containing hundreds of radionuclides, many with short half-lives. The long-lived fission products and transuranium elements within damaged fuel remain a concern for millennia. Currently, accurate fundamental models for the prediction of release rates of radionuclides from fuel, especially in contact with water, after an accident remain limited. Relatively little is known about fuel corrosion and radionuclide release under the extreme chemical, radiation, and thermal conditions during and subsequent to a nuclear accident. We review the current understanding of nuclear fuel interactions with the environment, including studies over the relatively narrow range of geochemical, hydrological, and radiation environments relevant to geological repository performance, and discuss priorities for research needed to develop future predictive models.

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