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.

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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