Sunday, July 27, 2008

Next Generation Nuclear Plant: Very High Temperature Reactor to Burn High-Level Radioactive Waste

The new high temperature reactors are said to have the ability to reduce high level radioactive waste by a factor of 50!
Research commissioned this week by the DoE would see two teams of scientists examine the potential of a VHTR such as NGNP for 'deep-burn' of nuclear fuel. This means using nuclear fuel which contains not just uranium but also plutonium and certain higher transuranic elements which would otherwise be treated as high-level radioactive waste.

The DoE said that transuranic elements are the hottest and most radiotoxic chemical elements in used nuclear fuel, but that they could be recycled into particle-coated fuel and used to produce more energy. It added that 'deep-burn' referred to the VHTRs ability to burn up to 65% of its inital fuel, compared to burn-up levels of around 5% in conventional light-water reactors.

The concept of deep burn relates to the US-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, in which advanced reactors would destroy similar wastes produced by mainstream light-water reactors of the kinds widely used today. It is projected that volumes of high-level waste could be reduced by a factor of 50, while extra electricity is generated. The reactor envisaged for GNEP, however, would be a sodium-cooled model.

The DoE said that the deep-burn research would go towards the GNEP effort but would also "enable a quantitative assessment of the scope, cost and schedule implications of extending the NGNP mission in the future to destruction of plutonium and other transuranics." This is a remarkable turn-around compared to recent years when NGNP appeared to be effectively on hold and GNEP was promoted. When announcing the research, the DoE noting that the two research efforts would be coordinated to ensure synergism and avoid duplication. _WNN
The research on the deep burn program will take place at the Idaho National Lab.

Several different approaches to the rapid, permanent disposal of high level radioactive waste are showing promise. This is but one approach.



Blogger John Nicklin said...

This is good news. Its about time that such reactors are tested and eventually built. I was looking at some data on the liquid sodium cooled reactors that reduce fuel radioactivity to very low values. Of course, Chernobil and Three Mile Island will always be held up as diasters even though TMI was a success since it failed and no radioactive material escaped. Chernobil is just another example showing that the old Soviet Union couldn't build a toaster that wouldn't burn down the kitchen, bad technology results in bad outcomes.

If we are to pursue zero emission pwer plants, nuclear is one of the answers. This new techology makes it even more attractive which will raise the ire of the "envoronmentalists" even more.

As you know, wind and solar are still, for now, not mature enough to replace conventional power generation. Cost will be the governing factor. Environemental impact will be second.

10:12 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, I agree. With the US national laboratories playing a key role in testing and proving the technologies, perhaps the rest of the US government will be more likely to grease the wheels of regulatory approval.

Not likely, but a good thought.

6:55 PM  

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