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Planned Nuclear Reactors Will Destroy Atomic Waste 344

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-where-will-we-get-our-superheroes dept.
separsons writes "A group of French scientists are developing a nuclear reactor that burns up actinides — highly radioactive uranium isotopes. They estimate that 'the volume of high-level nuclear waste produced by all of France’s 58 reactors over the past 40 years could fit in one Olympic-size swimming pool.' And they're not the only ones trying to eliminate atomic waste: Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin are working on a fusion-fission reactor. The reactor destroys waste by firing streams of neutrons at it, reducing atomic waste by up to 99 percent!"
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Planned Nuclear Reactors Will Destroy Atomic Waste

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  • Doesn't matter (Score:2, Insightful)

    by AnonGCB (1398517)
    The anti-nuclear group will always come up with something to deter nuclear plants from taking off.
    • I don't care if coal outputs an order of magnitude of radiation than all of the nuclear reactors combined. I don't care if the number of terrorists in the world will be stopped by reducing access to this deadly radioactive material. I don't even care if we are entrusting the French (yea the FRENCH!) with coming up with a solution to the world's power generation problems and global warming at the same time. No sir! I'm thinking of the Children. The C-H-I-L-D-R-E-N! And they are not too happy about this devel
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Charliemopps (1157495)
      Because they hate progress, not nuclear power. If the general public could understand who really apposes Nuclear power and their reasons are simply that they want to return us to some mythical agrarian society where everyone lives off vegetables they grow in their back yards and spends the evening reading books and listening to bluegrass, I think we might have a chance. But as-is they just associate any nuclear reaction with BOMB and all the sheep get scared.
    • The anti-nuclear group will always come up with something to deter nuclear plants from taking off.

      Sure, but there are detractors for almost all ideas, good and bad. There are people who hate animal testing. We're still going to continue making sure medicines are safe though. Animal testing is one of the only real ways to do that, like it or not. Furthermore, good ideas don't implement themselves even when there's not vague misgivings about them, as there is with nuclear power. Most people don't know why chernobyl happened, they think it's inherent to nuclear power. That could be changed, it would

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664)

        Most people do not hate animal testing, just unnecessary cruelty and waste. Destroying animals that are no danger to others and would make suitable pets is one example. Another is not sharing data properly so many different labs conduct the same tests on similar animals. Even worse are tests that seem to serve no purpose, for instance dripping known irritants into the eyes of rabbits. When animal testing is done in a rational and ethical manner few would oppose it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          Destroying animals that are no danger to others and would make suitable pets is one example.

          It's a liability issue. My S.O. is taking a biotech course, and has learned that most animals in studies are euthanized as a matter of course. The reason is apparently the fear of lawsuits should the animal ever do anything and it being blamed on whatever treatments they gave it. This made her very sad. It sounds retarded and lazy to me. Is it not possible to sign a waiver that says "This animal was once treated

    • Re:Doesn't matter (Score:4, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday March 22, 2010 @08:15PM (#31577720) Homepage
      The anti-nuclear group will always come up with something to deter nuclear plants from taking off.

      And the pro-nuclear group will always have a reason why nuclear plants are never a danger, any accident would never happen again, and nuclear waste is absolutely no problem because waste from burning coal is more radioactive, so that means concentrated nuclear waste has to be safer than diffuse coal plant waste, just like a glass of arsenic is safer to drink than a glass of sea water because there's more arsenic in the ocean than in a glass of arsenic. Strawmen are fun on both sides!
    • Pardon me if I wait for a few non-Texas sources on scientific topics.

  • This is one more reason that we should move ahead with the green (no greenhouse gases) technology of nuclear fission based electricity generation. One of the classic arguments against fission reactors is waste containment. Now that problem is behind us. Race ahead, my brothers, to a greener future.
  • by Muckluck (759718) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:18PM (#31576450)
    Nuclear, like it or not, is the intermediate solution to first world energy needs. As long as we can mitigate past mistakes (sloppy arms races) with technology such as this, nuclear will also have a promising future.
  • Not helping (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Gertlex (722812) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:19PM (#31576458)

    Educating, not sensationalizing, is what the nuclear industry needs. Or at least not exclamation marks.

    Alas, I can can guarantee you that 1: it will take another decade minimum of legal wrangling to get large-scale stuff like this in the works
    2: This type of research in general is old news. It's still viable, but from reading the summary (I'm lazy) it doesn't seem to be anything new that I haven't heard of before.

    P.S. I don't consider myself knowledgeable enough to be one who does the educating. (Oh wait, I don't need credentials to educate on the internet, do I? :P )

  • by noidentity (188756) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:20PM (#31576474)

    Planned Nuclear Reactors Will Destroy Atomic Waste

    Destroy as in convert matter to energy?

    a nuclear reactor that burns up actinides

    Wait, so it's a chemical reaction (rapid oxidation)?

    Or is this fission, where they convert the actinides into other less-dangerous elements via fission?

    • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:23PM (#31576518) Homepage

      Destroy as in convert matter to energy?

      That is, broadly speaking, the way that nuclear fission works. Got it in one.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by chgros (690878)

        That is, broadly speaking, the way that nuclear fission works.
        That's also (speaking just as broadly) how combustion works. What a coincidence.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Khashishi (775369)

      The terms burn, burning, ignite, etc., are frequently used in the nuclear community for nuclear reactions as an analogy to chemical reactions.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:31PM (#31576596)

      It's fission. They are fissioning minor actinides which normally do not completely fission. This needs a reactor with improved neutron economy (such as a fast reactor), because these MAs will need more than one neutron per atom to fission (usually they will first capture one more neutrons (transmuting in the process) before fissioning).

    • by Dr. Spork (142693)
      The idea is that the fission releases most of its energy as neutrons, and these neutrons would get captured by heavy nuclei, which would then undergo either an alpha or beta decay and end up as something non-radioactive.
    • by Shimbo (100005)

      Or is this fission, where they convert the actinides into other less-dangerous elements via fission?

      It's not really so much induced fission as in a normal reactor, it's that you push the isotopes past the point where they are long term active into really unstable ones. It's like a fast breeder reactor in reverse. Since they are French, they are probably talking about using a magnetic confined fusion reactor [wikipedia.org] as the neutron source.

      The 'burn up' analogy isn't bad really. Partially burnt products of normal combustion like soot and carbon monoxide are toxic. Add more oxygen and heat, and the problem goes away

  • How can it be that they don't know how many waste they created? I would (maybe falsely) assume that practically everything that happens in a reactor is measured? Keeping track of your waste looks to me like single most important job in a reactor besides preventing it to go kaboom on us. But definitely more important than producing power (for me, feel free to disagree). So I find it a bit scary that they 'think' they 'might'...
    • by BlueParrot (965239) on Monday March 22, 2010 @07:01PM (#31576966)

      After reprocessing you don't just pour the waste into storage tanks, you want to stabilize it first. There's two ways to do this. You either mix it with glass and cast it into a stable solid, or you separate it into noble metals and other waste products, the latter of which is usually turned into a ceramic.

      Because the amount of material you need to add to the waste to stabilize it can vary depending on the wastes' exact composition ( in particular how much heat it generates ) it's not really possible to accurately know the final waste volume before you've worked out the entire process.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:21PM (#31576498)

    French Scientists?

    A university in Texas?

    I think you tried a little too hard on that one. Less is more.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Dan667 (564390)
      yea, a University of Texas in Austin would be like a beacon of knowledge in a sea of red necks.
      • by Jenming (37265)

        shrugs, they elected a gay mayor in Houston. Sometimes people can surprise you.

  • LFTR (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Motor (104119) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:21PM (#31576500)
    The article doesn't make it clear which technology they are referring to... however this google tech talk on LFTR [youtube.com] is absolutely fascinating.
  • So I heard! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:27PM (#31576550) Journal

    Watch this [ted.com]

    You might not like Gates because of Windows, but if you're a fan of nuclear power this might stop your assassination attempt.

  • After 99% of the waste is eliminated, the 1% left is the pure blood of Cthulhu ready to make mankind wilt in horror??

    • Re:The problem?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by BlueParrot (965239) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:51PM (#31576846)

      After 99% of the waste is eliminated, the 1% left is the pure blood of Cthulhu ready to make mankind wilt in horror??

      Not quite. Nuclear waste is mostly made up of un-burnt uranium. The long-lived stuff is mainly even heavier elements than uranium, such as plutonium, americium and neptunium. What these new processes do is to recycle the heavy elements like uranium and plutonium from the waste so that it is all burnt. Thus while you still get the same amount of fission fragments per kilowatt hour of electricity, you don't get any of the heavier stuff mixed into it.

      There are three huge benefits to this.

      a) The waste fits in a much smaller volume
      b) You can get almost 100 times as much energy from the same amount of uranium
      c) The resulting waste decays to safe levels within a few hundred years as opposed to many thousands of years.

      Since we can easily construct structures that can last a few hundred years, and because the waste volume is so much smaller, this technology would essentially solve the nuclear waste problem. The improved utilization of uranium also makes sure that the fuel will last for any foreseeable future.

      The snag is that so far all reactors of this type has been prohibitively expensive compared to existing technology, and there are concerns about how to implement the recycling step in a manner that makes it possible for inspectors to monitor the process to ensure no plutonium is diverted for weapons use.

      • by mellon (7048)

        Burnt? No argument with the rest of what you said, but "burnt?!?" As a geek, I deeply resent this dumbing down of the science.

        My main complaint about nuclear power has always been that people weren't willing to spend the money to do it right. This would be a step in the right direction, but there are so many other necessary steps...

      • by tchdab1 (164848)

        I'd like to see complete studies of this before jumping on the bandwagon.
        For example, all the neutrons don't nicely run into uranium atoms and make the bad stuff disappear - there will be fallout from this process (so to speak), there will be other bad byproducts created, and there will be byproducts of the normal fission process that are not "made to dissappear" by this new magic (as portrayed) process.
        Does anyone have a link to a study conducted over several weeks/months/years analyzing all the products o

      • Some argue that typical waste contains way to much Plutonium 240 along with the Plutonium 239 (Pu-239 is what Plutonium bombs use) for making bombs out of it. Pu-240 causes the would-be bomb to pre-detonate. So yes, it explodes, but only in a small area. It's the so-called fizzle. And Pu-239, being chemically identical to Pu-240 presents a problem of separation, in the same way that it's hard to enrich uranium without gas diffusion or centrifuge techniques.

  • clean nuclear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Khashishi (775369) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:30PM (#31576592) Journal

    Clean nuclear is far more realistic than the fantasy that is clean coal.

  • http://www.northernsun.com/n/s/0016.html [northernsun.com]

    Mutants for Nuclear Power!

    *)

  • Time to go upstairs and find the nearest Greenpeace doom-sayer (I work on a Uni campus, there's usually 2-3 around trying to snag them some suckers) and hand them a print out of this. Lately they've been deriding Obama's nuclear power policy.

    Of course they'd probably call me a tree killer, you can't ever win with them.

  • See? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RoboRay (735839) on Monday March 22, 2010 @07:11PM (#31577070)

    Some of us have been saying for decades that another way to say "nuclear waste" is "nuclear fuel." The current view of "spent" fuel is akin to refining crude oil to make gasoline and then having to store all the waste diesel, fuel oil and other petroleum byproducts until the end of time.

    • Re:See? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday March 22, 2010 @07:30PM (#31577288) Homepage

      The current view of "spent" fuel is akin to refining crude oil to make gasoline and then having to store all the waste diesel, fuel oil and other petroleum byproducts until the end of time.

      So to make sure I have this car analogy right... you're saying that these new reactors are like a Volkswagen Jetta?

    • Re:See? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dbIII (701233) on Monday March 22, 2010 @09:55PM (#31578544)

      Some of us have been saying for decades that another way to say "nuclear waste" is "nuclear fuel."

      But you've been completely wrong, it's exactly like calling what you excrete food. While there is plenty of energy that can be recovered from that it takes a lot of work or something else with a completely different digestive system.
      The whole reason people have been saying for years that Uranium is running out is only because ore of very high purity was running out - there was a lot of other stuff but it was a lot more expensive to turn it into fuel.
      One of the things about some newer designs is they are nowhere near as fussy about their fuel, so a shortage of high purity Uranium ore doesn't matter to them, or they can use retired or stockpiled weapon material, or even some kinds of waste. It's a lot better than the reprocessing attempts by the French over the last thirty years that resulted in fuel a lot more expensive than making new fuel from ore in the first place - use something that can use the waste without so much reprocessing instead.

  • How would this new reactor they're developing compare with a breeder reactor. From what I remember a breeder reactor will take the waste from traditional Uranium fission and convert it into Plutonium. So it's more efficient but the waste has an increased perceived scariness factor. Either way you have hazardous material to contain, perhaps this way we can reduce the amount of it that we must store.
  • They estimate that 'the volume of high-level nuclear waste produced by all of France’s 58 reactors over the past 40 years could fit in one Olympic-size swimming pool.'

    Why do the nuclear industry always trot out these cutesy metaphors? They're so easy to pick fun of that even people who are reasonably friendly toward the industry can't resist. I mean, yes, it would all fit into an Olympic swimming pool. For about a millisecond. Then it would go critical, and your swimming pool would be an area

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Then it would go critical, and your swimming pool would be an area the size of texas covered in a very thin layer of radioactive waste, plus a big glass pit in the middle.

      No, it wouldn't. However, well done for acting as a perfect example of the idiotic "OH GOD WONT SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN WE CAN'T HAVE TEH NUCULAR!" response. I hope that was your intention?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by lennier (44736)

      I mean, yes, it would all fit into an Olympic swimming pool. For about a millisecond. Then it would go critical, and your swimming pool would be an area the size of texas covered in a very thin layer of radioactive waste, plus a big glass pit in the middle.

      But for that millisecond, you'd have the most awesomely radical Olympic swim meet in the history of mankind.

  • That this thing pollutes by producing lead. (Which last I checked is the end product of alot of this stuff.)
    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      So we sell it to the Chinese who can make kids toys out of it, problem solved.

  • by bjourne (1034822)
    Despite the intentions of the summary to say otherwise, the volume of an olympic swimming pool is actually a lot. For example, all gold ever mined would also fit in an a pool of that size. The comparision is therefore meaningless. A better comparision would be the *area* required to safely store all that nuclear waste. That area is orders of magnitudes larger than the area of an olympic swimming pool.
    • by Low Ranked Craig (1327799) on Monday March 22, 2010 @08:57PM (#31578086)
      An Olympic pool is 2500 cubic meters: 50x25x2. All the gold ever mined is estimated at 10 billion troy ounces, which has a volume of roughly 25m cubed, or 15,625 cubic meters, or 6.25 Olympic pools. If you assume that the storage containers are about 1 meter in height, you'd need an area of 2,500 square meters, or about half the size of a football (American or otherwise) field. Even if you assume that you need 100% additional space for walkways, containment, etc, the area is only 4 times that of the pool, which is hardly multiple orders of magnitude larger.
  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:07AM (#31580422)

    ... WTF are these guys smoking?

    Actinides aren't the big problem as far as nuclear waste is concerned - fission products are. Especially the long-lived ones that are very mobile in the environment, easy to incorporate (iodine, cesium, strontium) and basically impossible to separate from the rest of the waste chemically (unlike actinides). Heck, many actinides are actually nuclear fuel or could be turned into nuclear fuel. Fission products are just nasty, deadly poisons.

    That's why I'd rather spend more on researching fusion power - you'll still end up with some radioactive waste, but you have some degree of control over its composition and you will not create any of the problematic isotopes mentioned above.

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