Nations around the world are abandoning nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, however the UK is considering plans to launch a new generation of reactors by GE Hitachi that recycle nuclear waste into energy-generating fuel. According to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), these new reactors have the capability to consume Britain’s massive radioactive waste stockpile while generating enough low-carbon electricity to power the country for more than 500 years.

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Britain has been evaluating various options on how to handle its stockpile of nuclear waste, which includes more than 100 tons of plutonium and 35,000 tons of depleted uranium. The plutonium in particular presents an especially high security risk that would cost the country billions of pounds to dispose of. Thus far, to remedy the problem, the DECC has only proposed building a plant to combine the plutonium with other materials to create a less volatile mixed-oxide fuel. However, the resulting fuel allows only a tiny proportion of the energy in the waste to be converted into electricity.

As a counter proposal, GE Hitachi submitted their design for a new reactor based on their existing Prism design. The new reactor would be able to consume the plutonium and generate around 311 MW of power (equal to a quarter of a conventional plant). The reactor core would be cooled in a pool of liquid sodium, transferring the heat to turbines where electricity is generated. It is reported that if enough reactors can be constructed to consume the country’s existing nuclear waste, they could produce enough low-carbon electricity to supply the UK at current rates of demand for more than 500 years.

Cost of construction and running the facilities still remain points of concern, as does licensing requirements, but Eric Loewen, chief engineer at GE Hitachi nuclear, claims that the technology should be economically competitive due to its small and fixed-size and factory-made modular design.

Currently, GE Hitachi is in discussion with DECC on the commercial viability of the project.

Via The Guardian