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Earth Power Science Technology

Planned Nuclear Reactors Will Destroy Atomic Waste 344

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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  • 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.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:28PM (#31576558)

    The last time a reactor like this came up, then President Bill Clinton signed the bill killing at, after Senator John Kerry led the charge to end the program. Read the wikipedia article on the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). Oh, and that was 1994.

  • by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:29PM (#31576580) Journal

    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).

  • 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 Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday March 22, 2010 @06:57PM (#31576928)
    Maybe in your ass nobody mentions this, but where my head is, it seems like that's all people ever talk about. And we ran the numbers: The low-hanging fruit has been picked. There is still a lot that we can do to reduce our energy use (better insulation and public transportation are the best places to start) but nobody who actually knows the science has any hope that global energy demand would decrease even on the most optimistic scenarios of energy conservation. Of course we should do it. I'd even say it's necessary. But the notion that it would be sufficient must be stamped out of all conversations, and the people who suggest it must be subject to merciless humiliation as deniers of science.
  • 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 bunratty ( 545641 ) on Monday March 22, 2010 @07:28PM (#31577262)
    Yes, of course, no one even mentions energy efficiency, which is why the Obama administration has been pushing for more energy efficient lighting [greenecon.net], applicances [suite101.com], homes [nwsource.com], automobiles [nytimes.com], and industry [businessweek.com]. But don't tell anyone I mentioned it. It's a secret!
  • by Pentium100 ( 1240090 ) on Monday March 22, 2010 @07:44PM (#31577406)

    Smaller power plants that generate more power with less fuel and waste

    AFAIK, bigger power plants are more efficient than small ones.

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

    by Billy the Mountain ( 225541 ) on Monday March 22, 2010 @08:36PM (#31577922) Journal

    Do a google search on LFTR, a Liquid Fluoridic Thorium Reactor. A LFTR does the same thing as described: It consumes 99 percent of its waste or, even better, you can feed it existing nuclear waste and it will happily consume most of it while generating electrical energy. Check this Youtube video out (16 minutes) Thorium LFTR described in 16 minutes [youtube.com]

    Also this forum is, in a sense, developing the "open source reactor" by its forum members Click Here [energyfromthorium.com]


  • 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.
  • Re:Doesn't matter (Score:3, Informative)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday March 22, 2010 @08:57PM (#31578090) Homepage Journal

    appose [thefreedictionary.com]

  • Carter banned the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. He knew reprocessing was a good idea (the French do it right now, to great effect), but he did it anyways for political reasons.

  • by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Monday March 22, 2010 @11:53PM (#31579264) Homepage Journal

    The Japanese happen to use roughly half the energy per capita as the US. The same with Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and several other developed, high tech societies all use maybe 40-50% less energy per person as the US. How you can honestly say there's not much that can be done is baffling.

  • by ZorbaTHut ( 126196 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @01:15AM (#31579740) Homepage

    Yellowcake is one of the smallest costs involved in nuclear power plants. If your plant is a reprocessing plant, it's even smaller. With a sufficiently advanced plant (and by "sufficiently advanced" I mean "we know how to build them, we just haven't done it yet thanks to politics") it's nearly economically feasible to extract uranium fuel straight out of seawater, which has enough reserves dissolved in it to last for literally tens of millions of years.

    That's a conservative estimate.

    Nuclear fuel is not limited in any practical sense.

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:06AM (#31580418)
    No you've got it wrong about reprocessing. The French do it right now and now how hard it is which is why they, India and a few other places are busy looking for alternatives that don't need it. I suggest you look up some details of the approaches they have taken to make it cost effective over the last few decades.
    Spend a bit of time thinking about the concept of handling this material to reprocess it. Spent fuel rods are highly radioactive so everything you have to do with them has to be done remotely - you can't walk up to one with an angle grinder. Also the stuff is quite strong mechanically so it's a fairly major effort to cut it into small enough parts to reprocess.
    It's a hell of a lot more expensive than digging up new Uranium, Carter and everyone who advised him on nuclear matters knew that. It made it a cheap bargaining chip for a treaty that has now long expired.
  • A few typos above (Score:3, Informative)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @04:16AM (#31580450)
    It should read "The French do it right now and KNOW how hard it is". Also they have tried many approaches to make it more cost effective but it still costs a lot more than new fuel - I didn't make that so clear above.
    Superpheonix was supposed to solve it all but it just threw up more problems so a different approach is needed. There's been some work done since then but it's not the solved "clean, too cheap to meter" thing that makes any commerical sense yet - it's a very messy and dangerous industrial process which is fine so long as you keep it contained but that makes things expensive.
    Anyway, check out things such as accelerated thorium which can use expended fuel rods or expired weapon materials without reprocessing.
  • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Tuesday March 23, 2010 @06:49AM (#31581196)

    Companies which run plants pay a small portion of their income over the life of the plant to the federal government to pay for the eventual decommissioning costs.

    So no.
    They have not just walked off and left all the cost to the federal government.

Sigmund Freud is alleged to have said that in the last analysis the entire field of psychology may reduce to biological electrochemistry.