Considering the need to reduce waste production and greenhouse emissions by still keeping high energy efficiency, various 4th generation nuclear energy systems have been proposed. As far as graphite moderated reactors are concerned, one of the key issues is the large volumes of irradiated graphite encountered (1770 m3 for fuel elements and 840 m3 for reflector elements during the lifetime (60 years) of a single reactor module [1]). With the objective to reduce volume of waste in the HTR concept, it is very important to be able to separate the fuel from low level activity graphite. This requires to separate TRISO particles from the graphite matrix with the sine qua non condition to not break TRISO particles in case of future embedding of particles in a matrix for disposal. According to National Regulatory Systems, in case of limited graphite waste production or of short duration HTR projects (e.g. in Germany), direct disposal without separation is acceptable. Nevertheless, in case of large scale deployment of HTR technology, such approach is not economical and sustainable. Previous attempts in graphite management (furnace, fluidised bed and laser incinerations and encapsulation matrices) dealt with graphite matrix only. These are the reasons why we studied the management of irradiated compact-type fuel element. We simulated the presence of fuel in the particles by using ZrO2 kernels. Compacts with ZrO2 TRISO particles were manufactured by AREVA NP. Two original methods have been studied. First, we tested high pressure jet to erode graphite and clean TRISO particles. Best erosion rate reached about 0.18 kg/h for a single nose ending. Examination of treated graphite showed a mixture of undamaged TRISO particles, particles that have lost the outer pyrolytic carbon layer and ZrO2 kernels. Secondly, we studied the thermal shock method by immerging successively graphite into liquid nitrogen and hot water to cause fracturing of the compact. This produced particles and graphite fragments with diameter ranging from several centimetres to less than 500 μm. This relatively simple and economic method may potentially be considered as a pretreatment step and be coupled with other method(s) before reprocessing and recycling for example.

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