Could Nuclear Waste Be a Future Energy Resource?

Last week MIT hosted a panel of nuclear power industry experts to address nuclear waste recycling and disposal options. Considered by many analysts to be the chief barrier to building a new generation of nuclear power plants, the debate around what to do with high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants continues to be the industry's hot button issue. 

Experts suggest that the current system of storing waste in dry casks on nuclear power sites is still a viable option for several decades to come, but others point to the fact that the 104 US nuclear reactors will generate over 105,000 tons of waste in their life cycle, which would require more than 1,700 acres to store the highly radioactive material. With the Obama administration's recent decision to stop plans for the Yucca Mountain, Nevada nuclear storage facility, the question of where to store nuclear waste continues to loom large.

However, an alternative solution has surfaced in the debate, pointing to the potential energy source lost in all the nuclear waste. Only about 1 percent of the raw nuclear material's energy is used in the present "once through" fuel cycle, which Charles Forsberg, director of the Fuel Cycle Study in MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering suggests could be reprocessed to make use of the left over energy.

Does the technology exist to extract the residual energy? Not yet, but research is underway to determine if reusing nuclear waste as fuel is an option for generating more energy and reducing the toxic waste associated with nuclear processing.

5 comments
Posted by ME! on July 1,2009 at 2:37 AM

I dont know whether to trust you or not now with all that information you said because jim said there is technology to extract the residual energy of spent nuclear fuel but you said there isnt. Maybe you should do more research before you put it all online ... because if i didnt read jim's comment then i would have got my school project wrong... sorry if you took this the wrong way but i was just letting you know what i think.

Posted by Renewable Electricity on June 23,2009 at 5:22 AM

Great post! Thank you for given this...

Posted by Amitabha Mukhopadhyay on May 28,2009 at 11:17 PM

What Jim commented makes lot of sense. What America is doing towards energy policy is very wrong. Ten years down the line America will be far behind countries like France and India. Instead of investing heavily on superior atomic reactors and fast breeder reactors or building geostaionery orbit based solar power plants, all of which calls for developing much advanced technologies, America is spending its time in low tech and low energy flux areas of ground based solar and wind power.

This is a total waste and in future this era would be recalled as an era of solar madness that pushed the great land backward.

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Posted by Christie on May 28,2009 at 10:47 AM

Thanks for your comment, Jim! It's nice to know there are readers out there who can add more information to these tough topics.

Posted by Jim Baird on May 28,2009 at 10:33 AM

The technology does exist to extract the residual energy of spent nuclear fuel. It is the Nuclear Assisted Hydrocarbon Production Method - www.nuclearhydrocarbons.com.

The initial heat flux of the global inventory of spent nuclear fuel is approximately equal to the energy output of 200 operational reactors (nearly twice U.S. operating capacity). This heat, placed in North America's unconventional oil formations, can pyrolyze roughly 3.5 billion barrels of U.S. oil shale or flow 6 billion barrels of viscous bitumen annually.

Once the heat producing fission products have decayed, within 100 years, and the hydrocarbons have been produced, the spent fuel can be recovered and recycled a second time. Most spent fuel - LWR fuel - can be re-burned in a CANDU reactor without, expensive, dangerous and potential proliferation problems.

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