Sarah Parsons

New Nuclear Reactors May Almost Completely Destroy Atomic Waste

by , 03/22/10

Areva, University of Texas in Austin, nuclear reactors, nuclear reactors burn waste, fusion-fission reactor, nuclear power, nuclear waste, nuclear waste repositories, green design, nuclear power in France

Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant

Despite its lack of carbon emissions, many environmentalists fear wider adoption of nuclear power. One main concern is where to store all that atomic waste produced by nuclear fission. A group of French scientists aim to allay that particular worry. They’re developing a new type of nuclear reactor that burns up nuclear waste, reducing the need for geological repository sites like Yucca Mountain.

Areva, University of Texas in Austin, nuclear reactors, nuclear reactors burn waste, fusion-fission reactor, nuclear power, nuclear waste, nuclear waste repositories, green design, nuclear power in France

The group of scientists is developing the tech for Areva, the world’s largest nuclear energy company. The new reactor would immediately burn up actinides, radioactive uranium isotopes. While the tech wouldn’t completely eliminate waste, it would greatly reduce it: An Areva spokesperson said that waste from France’s 58 reactors over the last 40 years could fit nearly inside an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Scientists claim they’ve already proven the technology can work inside a lab; now it will take more R&D to get the reactor working on a large scale.

The French project is similar to another reactor being developed at the University of Texas in Austin. Scientists there are working on a hybrid fusion-fission reactor, where waste is held in place around the reactor core and destroyed by firing streams of neutrons at it. Many technical hurdles need to be overcome in order to fully optimize the device, but researchers are hopeful that once perfected, it could reduce nuclear waste by 99 percent!

Even with these new reactors and significantly reduced atomic waste, nuclear power will likely remain controversial. After all, uranium mining wreaks havoc on the environment, and safety issues with nuclear power production abound. Still, reducing atomic waste by 99 percent would be a hugely amazing feat. It might just be the innovation that gets some environmentalists to warm to the idea of greater reliance on nuclear power.

+ Areva

Via The Times

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4 Comments

  1. Mike Conley January 22, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    @ Taylen24 – “Burning” is a misnomer. Reactors have nothing to do with combustion. Combustion is what got us into this mess. Reactors “fission” or split big fat nuclear fuel atoms into smaller atoms (yep, they make big ones into little ones…). Splitting the atom releases the fusion energy stored in the nucleus – ancient supernovas at the start of the universe formed all elements heavier than iron, by fusing little ones into big ones. Fission just reverses the process.

    The best new reactor concept is the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR.) The design is totally different than any other, including the reactors we’re currently using.

    MSRs use liquid fuel – a salt form of uranium (Uranium Fluoride or Uranium Chloride) melted in a hot “kettle” of molten fluoride or chloride salt – similar to the molten salt used to store solar heat.

    It’s super-efficient because the fuel atoms can be bombarded from all directions, all the time, and thus have a far better chance of fissioning (of being “split”).

    Solid fuel reactors fission about 1-3% of their fuel. The rest is waste. Molten Salt Reactors can fission about 99% of their fuel. And the waste that remains will become benign in 300 years, not 300 centuries.

    Nuclear waste is wasted fuel.

  2. mattban January 7, 2011 at 4:04 am

    they can do what ever they like, but solar and wind is still the most environmentally friendly way to go.
    why they waste time and money, r&d, etc on coal and nuke is beyond me…..

  3. fabrice March 22, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    We keep earing great break thru but we will see in a few 100’000 years, by the way looking forward to see the nuclear greats going to digg up all the old stuff to make it safe.
    How would i know i guess i am a pessimist (for nuks that is)

  4. taylen24 March 22, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    i hope it works because that would be huge, but “burning” nuclear waste just sounds scary to me!

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