Saturday, May 31, 2008

Recycling Nuclear Waste

Unlike most European countries and Japan, the US stores perfectly good used nuclear material that might be recycled back into valuable reactor fuel.
In other countries - like the UK, Japan, Russia, and France - the removed fuel is recycled to recover the uranium and plutonium that can be put back into the fuel cycle so that they can later be split (fissioned) to release heat. Those components of used nuclear fuel are also the ones that have long half lives, ranging from a few thousand years in the case of some plutonium isotopes to several billion years in the case of the uranium-238 that is a major component of the material.

Currently, the used fuel recycling regimes in operation still consider the lighter parts of used fuel to be a waste material that needs to be put into long term storage, but there are some very bright people who believe that even that material is far to valuable to throw away. NNadir, a diarist on Daily Kos has written extensively on this issue in commentary like Profile of a “Dangerous Nuclear Waste,” Cesium, Part 5.

The US used to have a plan to recycle our fuel as well, but a great deal of marketing and pressure by people that do not like the idea of using plutonium as a source of commercial heat resulted in President Ford issuing a presidential order to temporarily halt nuclear fuel recycling in 1976. President Carter, a man who claimed to be a nuclear engineer, made that ban permanent in the hopes that forcing US companies to avoid fuel recycling would cause others to abandon the very logical idea.

That effort did not work as planned, but the people who had invested large amounts of time and money into building three recycling plants in the US only to have them shut down with the stroke of a pen decided “once bitten, twice shy.” Though President Reagan removed the ban, President Clinton essentially reinstated it and no commercial company has been willing to build a facility and risk having it turn into a white elephant after an election.

The US is now back to considering the idea that used fuel should be recycled, a concept that makes a world of sense. That is especially true since it looks like there will be a number of new reactors under construction soon and they will provide a ready market for the recycled fuel. __CleanTechnica
As the number of nuclear fission power plants increases across the developed world and the Persian Gulf area, the need for recycled fuel will increase. In North America, a radically bad form of environmentalism has held sway for the last few decades, leading many parts of the continent into energy starvation. As the stupidity of many of the radical environmentalist's causes grows more apparent, a larger portion of the more technically knowledgeable public is beginning to demand a change in government's approach to various energy technologies.

That would come none too soon, as the planet considers the implications of a prolonged solar minimum.

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