The end of nuclear waste ? Part II

nuclear02Last week I wrote about a technology that decreases the amount of radioactive waste by hybridizing fission and fusion. Now comes another breakthrough as TerraPower prepares to launch reactors using depleted uranium.

Such material would lead to lower risks of nuclear proliferation. Additionally, the amount of uranium on Earth could last centuries or even millennium instead of decades with current technologies.

Last but not least, Terra Power inventions could be used in smaller plants, just like Hyperion mini nuclear plants. All these news convinces me that nuclear has a really bright future.

According to GreenTech Media:

Intellectual Ventures, the high-level think tank created by ex-Microsoft chief scientist Nathan Myhrvold, is going nuclear.

The firm is getting prepared to spin out a company called TerraPower that will develop nuclear reactors that run primarily on natural or depleted uranium, rather than enriched uranium. With un-enriched fuel, the reactors could be loaded up with fuel and sealed for 30 to 60 years.

Switching from enriched fuel would reduce risks associated with nuclear proliferation and transportation as well as reduce the amount of nuclear waste primarily because the stockpile of uranium would go farther. Depleted uranium is a waste product in the enrichment process. TerraPower’s reactor needs some enriched uranium, but only at the beginning to initiate a reaction.

The switch could also mean that the available supplies of uranium could be exploited to provide power for centuries or even thousands of years, according to the company, far longer than what can be done with enriched uranium.

The reactors will ideally vary in size from a few megawatts, big enough to power industrial sites or small cities, to large multi-gigawatt reactors that can power a major city. Terrapower is also looking at thorium reactors, which do not release plutonium as a byproduct. That would further reduce any risks associated with nuclear.

Like it or not, nuclear is making something of a comeback worldwide. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency expects to receive approximately 30 applications for new reactors over the next few years. Proponents say nuclear is clean and inexpensive and safer than it was in the past. Critics say it still isn’t cost effective.

Threading that gap are new startups like TerraPower and Hyperion Power Generation, which is also developing a small nuclear reactor. Some companies such as General Fusion want to do fusion reactors.

Via CleanTechnica.


Edouard is a sustainability and energy professional committed to bringing our societies to a carbon neutral future. He has been writing on related topics on this very blog since 2007.

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8 Responses

  1. Greg says:

    I’ve always thought that the way many “green” leaning people rejected nuclear power outright was wrong. I do agree that implementation needs to be extremely careful, but whether it’s nuclear waste that has to be contained or carbon dioxide that’s causing the green house effect, every power source has its pros and cons. But research has to go forth in all areas including nuclear and where the right nuclear technology makes sense it should be used.

    Compared to everything but solar and hydro (which have their own severely limiting considerations and are almost too different to effectively compare) nuclear’s per pound efficiency is too high to ignore. And if this use of depleted uranium does pan out, it becomes even more efficient than before.

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