For various countries, the direct disposal of high level nuclear fuel wastes is a key option for the backend of the fuel cycle. For HTR/VHTR reactors this is assumed for the introductory phase of this reactor system. However, closed fuel cycles or a separation of spent coated-particles from the graphite moderator and specific treatment, conditioning and disposal of these waste streams are also possible. In the European Community project “RAPHAEL”, fuel waste performance is going to be studied in depth, including post-irradiation fuel characterization, analysis of the stability and failure mechanism of coatings and of fuel kernels and overall performance of waste packages with compact fuel and/or only with fuel particles in geological disposal environments. Different confinement matrices for separated fuel particles (vitrification, SiC, ZrO2) have been adapted to limit release of radionuclides into groundwater at low temperatures over geological time spans. The investigations are limited to Low-Enriched Uranium (LEU) fuel with uranium oxide and uranium oxycarbide kernels that will allow higher burn-up, but may be more susceptible to leaching.

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