President Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. government will offer $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for the first new nuclear plant in the country in 30 years upset clean energy advocates for a number of reasons. One of the biggest problems: all that radioactive waste. Now GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, one of the world’s biggest suppliers of nuclear reactors, claims that it can safely turn nuclear waste into fuel. Goodbye, Yucca Mountain.
GE’s process separates nuclear waste into three streams: waste material that needs to be stored underground for a few hundred years (vs. thousands of years for standard nuclear waste), uranium that can be used in deuterium uranium reactors, and a mixture of transuranic elements (plutonium and neptunium) that can be used as fuel in nuclear reactors that use molten sodium as a coolant.
In the past, the idea of repurposing nuclear waste into fuel has been criticized because of the potential for terrorists to steal the pure plutonium produced as part of the process and use it for nuclear weapons. But GE Hitachi’s fuel is difficult to steal because the plutonium isn’t separated from other elements, making it difficult to detect.
The fuel is far from perfect — deuterium uranium reactors are only found in Canada and molten sodium-cooled reactors haven’t yet been approved in the U.S. — but if the Obama administration is serious about bringing even more nuclear power plants into the world, it might want to look into GE Hitachi‘s process.
Lead Photo by tnarik