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Fusion-Fission System Burns Hot Radioactive Waste 432

An anonymous reader writes "A hybrid fission-fusion process has been developed that can be used in some traditional fission reactors to process radioactive waste and reduce the amount of waste produced by 99%. This process uses magnetic bottle techniques developed from fusion research. This seems like the first viable solution to the radioactive waste problem of traditional nuclear reactors. This could be a big breakthrough in the search for environmentally friendly energy sources. Lots of work remains to take the concept to an engineering prototype and then to a production reactor."
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Fusion-Fission System Burns Hot Radioactive Waste

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  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:30AM (#26666649)

    If at any point in this process (say you stop it at 50%) the 'waste' is now weapons grade this will never be allowed in the US.

    If it's still 'radioactive' you can still get energy from it. You can refine it, clean it up and shove it back through again.

    Generations ago we were masters of waste not want not. If you burned candles for light, you collected your drippings, remelted them into new candles. Imagine if the 13 Colonies outlawed this because you could also remelt them into canon wicks... absolute stupidity.

  • What a waste... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:34AM (#26666705)

    So instead of reusing the waste in further fission, thereby prolonging our fissible materials supply & making energy cheaper, we're just going to be removing the ability for it to perform useful work.


    This should only be used on radioactive waste that has absolutely no more useful applications (so that you don't have to store it).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:35AM (#26666717)

    This assumes they have a magnetic confinement
    fusion system already working. Then they add in
    a surrounding layer of fission waste. ...What could go wrong?

    The Chrysler Patriot Lemans car planned to use
    a turbine engine, a flywheel energy storage capacitor, and regnerative braking for a racecar.
    Three technologies that had not succeeded on the racetrack... together. It was as successful as you might expect.

  • Keep wishing... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sac13 ( 870194 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:35AM (#26666721)

    There's never going to be an energy source that will be environmentally friendly enough for the people that think nuclear is too dirty now. Should coal and nuclear be replaced with solar, wind and/or wave generation, these same people will begin complaining about the negative effects of removing energy from the environment with those methods, wildlife being killed in wind/wave farms or whatever other impact can be identified.

    The fact will always remain that life, regardless of humanity or other life, impacts its environment. If we want to have zero impact for our energy needs, we have to get to zero energy need. The only way to have that is for the entire of humanity to become extinct.

    Of course, that won't stop other species from also becoming extinct. It also won't stop the climate from changing. That's all been going on before us and will be long after we're gone.

    If it keeps you feeling morally superior, though, keep fighting the fight. We, our planet, our solar system and our little galaxy are pretty insignificant in the whole grand scheme of things. There's nothing to save. It's all going to be destroyed anyway. You're not even going to be able to delay the inevitable.

    Have a nice day! :)

  • Neat technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:41AM (#26666787)

    This is neat technology, and may some day be practical. But, i don't think that day is coming for 50-100 years.

    Here's why : solar is getting cheap very rapidly. Today, you can pick up panels at $2.85 a watt off the shelf. Below $1 a watt, and it will be cheaper to put panels up than it will be to burn coal.

    A fusion-fission hybrid system will cost a LOT. According to the wall street journal, nuclear fission plants are already deal-breaker expensive. It would be cheaper per watt to build more wind farms than new fission reactors. []

    Another way to look at it :

                    To operate a fusion-fission hybrid system, as well as dozens of large gigawatt fission reactors takes a lot of well trained and educated people working round the clock to make all of the technology work. There are very real dangers, and very expensive regulations that have to be followed.

                  To build more solar panels? You print some more off the reel and slap them on to glass. You park the panels in the desert and leave them alone for 25 years. Maybe a simple robot wipes them off occasionally.

                  There's no liability, or need for exhaustive quality control. If a panel fails prematurely, you pay a warranty claim.

                Inherently, solar is going to always be cheaper for the foreseeable future.

  • by conureman ( 748753 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:46AM (#26666845)

    Most corporations diversify, and the smart ones don't waste money maintaining their infrastructure. (Federal bailouts FTW.) If I had oil production revenues, I'd be plowing all my profits into tying up all the alternative energy IP and buying legislation to benefit from the coming switch.

  • by robot_love ( 1089921 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:47AM (#26666853)
    I've read that article several times before, and it always makes me depressed. How come I can't shake the feeling we'll doom ourselves slowly with petroleum usage rather than attempt a reactor like the article outlines?
  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:55AM (#26666973)

    Generations ago we were masters of waste not want not.

    Generations ago a single bomb couldn't eviscerate millions of people.

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:57AM (#26667019) Journal

    If at any point in this process (say you stop it at 50%) the 'waste' is now weapons grade this will never be allowed in the US.

    That's the dumbest fucking policy we've ever come up with and yet another reason that Jimmy Carter ranks up there with worst Presidents we've ever had. How does preventing our own country from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel do a damn thing to prevent nuclear proliferation? Other countries can (and indeed do) pursue reprocessing. We've handicapped ourselves for zero gain as far as I can see. Thanks a lot Mr. Carter.

    <sarcasm>But at least we've stopped GE and Westinghouse from going rouge and building their own nuclear arsenals</sarcasm>

  • by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @11:58AM (#26667025) Homepage

    Amen. That article was a reprint from Dec. 2005, IIRC.

    Here a link [] to a QA session regarding AFR/IFR technology. It irks me to no end that ignorant, short-sighted politicians quashed this technology 15 YEARS AGO, and the greenies have taken that long to get over the "my god, it's nucular!" fearmongering and actually start to embrace it as an environmentally-safe alternative to our current mess.

  • Breeder reactors? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LSD-OBS ( 183415 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:07PM (#26667133)

    Forgive my vast amounts of ignorance on the matter, but I thought breeder reactors [] were a viable way of burning nuclear waste down to nothing. Or is this the same thing? I'm

    Either way, it's good to know there are options to hush up them "ZOMGZ NEWKEELER HOLLERCAUST!" crowd that's so vehemently opposed to the cheapest and quickest to implement short- to mid-term solution we have to burning fossil fuels.

  • by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silas AT dsminc-corp DOT com> on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:20PM (#26667323) Homepage

    Because the eco lobby does not like it and will scare monger anything to do with it. Grandma thinks that a reactor failing will look like Hiroshima.

    Unfortunately people can not get it through there heads that fission/fusion is the only sustainable method of energy generation that can deal the increasing demand. Demand will not decrease, this would mean your children will have a lower standard of living than you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:24PM (#26667387)
    Except that there are not any safer viable alternatives. More radioactivity has been released into the atmosphere through burning coal than has ever been released by Nuclear means. More deaths have occurred due to Fossil fuels than nuclear energy. Now lets take the hippy route and suggest we go to alternative energy. No more than 20% of a countries supply can be powered by wind and have a stable grid (frequency fluctuations). That leaves 80% to be made up by Solar, Water and Geothermal. This is a significant shortfall. That is of course ignoring the energy and materiel required to produce these alternative extraction technologies (ever seen the mess a chip fab can leave?)
  • by finarfinjge ( 612748 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:27PM (#26667425)
    The push to go nuclear was nearly dead until Jim Hansen started agitating about global warming. Since then, as this article shows, the nuclear industry has revived. The mercury industry has also revived (thanks to compact fluorescents) and the lead industry has revived (thanks to electric cars). Now if we could only do something to promote asbestos and smoking, the environmental gains from the global warming industry would be complete.

  • by inviolet ( 797804 ) <slashdot.ideasmatter@org> on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:30PM (#26667489) Journal

    For commercial energy production, we do not NEED nuclear energy. There are safer alternatives. It is a needless risk.

    What a bunch of mealy-mouthed dreck!

    I challenge you to define 'need', 'safer', and 'needless' in a way that excludes nuclear energy production in the face of its competitors for base load generation. Your statement must account for all the safety and environmental issues (including wars) associated with fossil-fuel extraction.

    And your definitions must hold for those regions that are not blessed with geothermal, tidal, and wind resources. Nor can you handwave away solar power's problems with efficiency, transmission, overcast sky, and battery problems.

  • by jonored ( 862908 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:33PM (#26667541)
    On the other hand, this machine would then be converting what they are asserting is hard to deal with transuranic waste to mere irradiated metals - this might be a situation where it really would be better to need to dispose of irradiated reactor parts rather than a smaller mass of worse waste. They are wanting to use this to take just the hard to burn fraction of the waste, and burn that to get rid of it - most of the waste is burning in normal breeder reactors like the ones other countries use and the US doesn't build.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:41PM (#26667673)

    We've had it for decades. It has such a high burnup that spent fuel can be returned directly to the ground, because it is less radioactive than natural uranium ore. The submitter is uninformed, or a luddite moron shilling for the enviro-freaks.

  • Re:Mr. Fusion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tritonman ( 998572 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:47PM (#26667765)
    That's great that they may have a way to solve the issue of nuclear waste, but that doesn't solve the main problem which is that you average person is afraid the power plant will blow up and destroy everything around it for hundreds of miles.
  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:48PM (#26667787) Homepage

    We do NOT want to encourage the establishment of a nuclear infrastructure in commercial hands.

    Oh, no. That would be Truly Terrible. We'll just leave it in the safe, responsible, competent, caring hands of the US government and military, who are always looking out for our best interests as citizens. ;)

  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <> on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:49PM (#26667797) Journal

    It's not about stockpiling bomb grade material, it's about using it to produce electricity. Plutonium works fine in power plants (indeed, most fission plants make a decent proportion of their power off plutonium, because U-238 transitions to Pu-239 during the fission process).

    Switching to fast neutron plants would cut the waste by 99%, which would cut the cost of reprocessing as well. All the "worst" nuclear waste is high energy stuff that needs to be stuffed back into a reactor, not stored under a mountain. The only stuff that can't be reused is on the level of the stuff we use for medical imaging.

    I would love to see every existing plant decommissioned and replaced with something that wasn't hip in the 70's. We need the power, it's cheaper and cleaner than coal and better for the environment.

  • by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @12:51PM (#26667825) Journal

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for increasing solar, wind, ocean-based, and other 'passive' power systems. But, all the people talking about wind and solar seem to always leave off some important problems - That solar panel which is producing 1kw (or whatever) at noon on a clear sunny day might only be producing 150W on a cloudy day, and nothing at night. That wind turbine which is producing 1kw on a nice windy day might be producing nothing on a stagnant day.

    Now, I believe the counterargument to that is the idea that if you have enough wind farms and enough solar panels around the country and around the world, "It's always sunny/windy *somewhere*", but then you have problem of transmitting power from where you can produce it, to the place where it needs to be employed, and until we have high-temperature superconductors, that means we are suffering somewhat significant power losses during transmission. Also, you still need some way to ensure a stable baseline of power - power that you can count on producing a minimum amount, all hours of the day or night, every day of the year. Coal, oil, nuclear, and geothermal offer that - wind and solar really do not - they are spikey.

    Finally, have environmentalists considered the impact of the land use necessary to produce electricity on the scale our nation needs using solar and wind? We're talking about putting arrays of turbines and solar panels (or other solar technologies - PhotoVoltaic panels aren't the only solar energy generation systems) on very large areas of land - what affects will that have on birds, insects, animals, native ecologies? How many birds will be hacked to death by wind turbines, or cooked alive by thermal solar systems? Maybe bird migrations will be confused by all the glare from PV panels? I mean, who knows what the impact will be of putting the enormous amounts of land necessary to power our nation to use as wind and solar farms?

    Also, have you considered that, while the USA maybe has lots of undeveloped land in sunny deserts that are ideal for solar power, maybe other nations don't have such good conditions for solar power? Where are the UK, France, Germany, etc going to build their solar and wind farms? India? China? I suppose you can probably put lots of solar panels on roofs of buildings , so that does mean that you can use some already developed land as part of your solar farms, but I'm not sure you can get enough panels in place just doing that? Maybe, but I suspect that buildings will not be sufficient alone (I think about it this way - my understanding is that a solar panel on the roof of a typical house, commercial building, or skyscraper cannot provide enough power for that house, building or skyscraper, so it stands to reason that panels on the roof of every building cannot provide enough power for every building).

  • by FTWinston ( 1332785 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @01:04PM (#26668035) Homepage
    The fusion will be of lighter nuclei; deuterium or helium probably. They won't be fusing the 'sludge' or anything heavy that; that would take more energy than it would produce (thats why stars stop fusing at iron).

    The fusion of the lighter nuclei will produce a lot of neutrons, their idea being to bombard the 'sludge' with neutrons to cause its nuclei to destabilise and fiss apart. Its kinda win-win really: the fusion reaction won't be terribly efficient, and on its own would probably produce only about as much energy as it takes to sustain it, but the fissing of the heavy nuclei will release a bunch more.
  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @02:12PM (#26668977)

    "So it would take a couple days of planes dropping bombs to flatten Dresden. Even without nukes there is something appalling about our capacity to destroy one another."

    And how many Tutsis were were killed by Hutus using machete's?

    Technology is not the problem.

  • by Heather D ( 1279828 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @02:22PM (#26669137)
    If I could mod you up I would. Current US policy concerning nuclear waste is rife with kindergarten logic.
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @03:17PM (#26669981) Journal

    Hmm, I wasn't aware that Ford had made it an indefinite suspension. I had thought he made the initial decision to suspend and that Carter then made it a permanent suspension. So I guess we can blame both of them.

    Still, I'd beg the question: How does suspending reprocessing in our own country help to combat proliferation? That's like saying "OMG, India has developed the lightbulb! We must stop developing them ourselves to prevent them from obtaining this dangerous technology"

  • by MaxwellEdison ( 1368785 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @03:32PM (#26670201)
    I lived in the same township as Three Mile Island for about 10 years. Also, my National Guard unit was tasked with providing an additional security presence in the months following 9/11. Anyone who wants to say anything about the horrible environmental impact of nuclear energy need only visit the southern 2 miles of the island (don't actually try to'll get arrested and possibly shot a bunch). It is as off-limits and protected as the rest of the facility, and is covered in wildlife, including more deer than I have seen anywhere else in my life. It's a nice area, plenty of good farm land, and not a single three eyed fish to be found. Be gone with your fear fueled rhetoric against nuclear power. I'll take one in my back yard before a fossil fuel plant any day.
  • by IronChef ( 164482 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @03:38PM (#26670283)

    Our culture's scientific illiteracy isn't just a fun joke any more... It's almost literally putting a gun to our heads.

    History will recognize this--if they haven't become scared of books by then.

  • by localman ( 111171 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @04:00PM (#26670535) Homepage

    I sense there's some hand waving going on here because some materials are finite while manhours are not. Yes, I'm playing fast and loose with the term "finite", but I think the point stands. All the manhours in the world won't be worth much when we run out of some critical resource. At which point manhours suddenly become finite too, if you understand my meaning.

    Unfortunately most people don't see a distinction between "more than I can imagine" and "infinite". Thus we have no need to worry about our atmosphere, water supply, arable land, etc.

    I think "waste not want not" is still a very useful value. I promise it will come into play again someday after we've run this course.


  • by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @04:46PM (#26671117)

    Weed is natural and they hate that. I don't think the 'average' person has a pattern, they are just idiots.

  • Re:Mr. Fusion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by XcepticZP ( 1331217 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @05:20PM (#26671493)
    Courtesy of the media brainwashing the public. People are spoon fed lies by the media. They are told to fear doctors for they are fallible, have alternate agendas and are just plain instruments of "big pharmaceutical". Yet at the same time they preach alternative medicine, spirit-healing, homeopathy, chi energies and other "alternative medicine" to the public, as if they are miracle cures that somehow all scientists and doctors have missed so far after so many years of study. Most fall for this kind of thing, just like they fall for the propaganda advocating against nuclear energy.

    Logical and scientific thought is being spit on by the "average joe". Yet at the same time, "average joe" loves to watch tv, have a cell phone and enjoy dental work.

    People used to trust and respect doctors. Now they all read medicine websites and think they know better than their doctors.
  • Re:Mr. Fusion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by happyemoticon ( 543015 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:00PM (#26672675) Homepage

    Fortunately, soon enough, the Baby Boomers, the generation who both fought against nuclear power and have proven time and time again to be happy to fuck over their children and grandchildren so they can indulge in the present, will all either be senile or dead. Then, we can stop banking on some tech riding in on a white horse to save us all and talk about a real solution to our energy needs.

  • Re:Mr. Fusion (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ihmhi ( 1206036 ) <> on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:20PM (#26672901)

    Can it? I mean, really, with all the safety features in nuclear power plants, are they even capable of "blowing up" or is it all just hogwash?

    The only things that have went wrong with nuclear power plants have been meltdowns. There's only been, what, three or four meltdowns ever out of some 400 plants in the world? Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and one or two others that I can't quite remember.

    That represents a roughly 1% failure rate. Yes, it contiminates the area. Some people get cancer and some people die. Chernobyl was due to poor engineering and incompetence of staff. Three Mile Island was basically a freak accident partially due to poor engineering - one reactor had a *partial* meltdown while the other was shut down for refueling, and the system couldn't vent the heat as it started to melt down.

    Consider all of the people who have died over the years from nuclear accidents compared to the people who have died or been displaced from coal fires and coal mine cave-ins. Let's not forget the wars fought over oil and the international hair-pulling over natural gas.

    Nuclear is a finite resource but it's wildly more efficient and reactor designs get safer every day.

  • by MaxwellEdison ( 1368785 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:31PM (#26673051)
    Culinarily, the deer which cross the river in the fall to raid farmer's corn fields taste no different than deer shot 200 miles away. TMI is not Chernobyl, and the events are wholly different. To use the stand-by car analogy; Chernobyl was a Pinto (Kablooie!), where TMI was a town car with an engine that overheated and needed to be shut down.
  • Dangers of coal (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bagsc ( 254194 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @07:53PM (#26673281) Journal

    Instead of calling it "fly ash," we need to start calling it "carbon fallout"

  • by tsotha ( 720379 ) on Friday January 30, 2009 @08:38PM (#26673627)
    The majority of nuclear plants that have been canceled over the past 20 years have been canceled not because of environmentalist pressure, but simply because the ROI wasn't there. Yes, and the ROI wasn't there because of all the extra cost and delays put in place... by the anti-nuclear lobby. Why is it the Europeans seem to be able to do this but in the US the ROI isn't there?

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.