The main problem with nuclear power is that it leaves radioactive residues behind; otherwise, it would be the almost perfect solution for our energetic and climate crises. The US government wants to build extra storage sites for collecting and burying what’s left behind the nuclear power plants. They plan to dig a huge cave in the Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but doing that is both costly and dangerous. In addition, the work would only be finished in 2020, and it would store only about 77,000 tons of waste. I say “only” because this amount of waste is going to be exceeded by the actual nuclear plants until 2010.
The almost-perfect solution comes from the physicists at the University of Texas at Austin, who created a way to “use fusion to relatively inexpensively destroy the waste from nuclear fission,” says Mike Kotschenreuther, senior research scientist with the Institute for Fusion Studies (IFS) and Department of Physics. “Our waste destruction system, we believe, will allow nuclear power-a low carbon source of energy-to take its place in helping us combat global warming.”
The scientists want to destroy the waste using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor, having a high power Compact Fusion Neutron Source at its core.
There are more than 100 fission reactors in the US. They are called “light water reactors”, or LWR. The fission reactors are the ones that actually produce energy, but they only use about 75% of the uranium’s capacity.
If you remember, we talked a while ago about fusion reaction, as being a source of energy. A fusion reactor has a magnetic device named “tokamak”, preventing the fusion reaction’s high temperature (more than 100,000,000°C) to melt down the walls of the very chamber the reaction is taking place in. The crucial invention that would pave the way for a CFNS is called the Super X Divertor. The Super X Divertor is designed to handle the enormous heat and particle fluxes peculiar to compact devices; it would enable the CFNS to safely produce large amounts of neutrons without destroying the system.
So, first of all, 75% of the waste is being destroyed during normal operation. This stage does not destroy highly radiotoxic, transuranic, long half-time waste, what the scientists call “sludge”.
The second step consists in the use of a CFNS-bases fusion-fission hybrid, who is able to burn the radioactive sludge contained in 10 to 15 LWRs, operation that also produces energy.
These two steps will destroy the nuclear waste in proportion of 99%, the rest remaining to be buried.
Scientists say this is a “bridge technology”, that will allow us to both produce energy efficiently and save some clean air by removing the coal-powered plants altogether, until solar and “pure fusion energy” are developed for everyone to use cheaply, and the ex-coal and oil industry to change their working profile – the real big problem with clean energy (money).