Fast Nuclear Reactor Technology Still Alive in UK
Despite rumours to the contrary, Britain has not rejected the fast reactor concept as presented by GE Hitachi (PRISM). Talks will continue for at least 6 months, according to Nuclear Decommissioning Authority officials.
Britain's large stockpile of nuclear waste includes more than 100 tonnes of plutonium and 35,000 tonnes of depleted uranium. The plutonium in particular presents a security risk as a potential target for terrorists and will cost billions to dispose of safely...The engineering firm GE Hitachi has submitted [a] ... proposal based on their Prism fast reactor, which could consume the plutonium as fuel while generating electricity.Current commercial nuclear reactors generate large amounts of so-called nuclear waste, which is actually extremely valuable nuclear fuel. Advanced generations of nuclear reactors will be able to burn this "waste" as an integral part of their fuel.
"It's a very elegant idea that we should try and use [the waste] as efficiently as possible. I definitely find it an attractive idea", said Prof David MacKay, Decc's chief scientific adviser.
Recent news reports have suggested this proposal has been rejected by the government and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) on the grounds of being too far from commercial viability.
However, the Guardian has confirmed that talks between GE Hitachi, Decc and the NDA are continuing. MacKay told the Guardian: "My position as chief scientific adviser at Decc is that I think Prism is an interesting design and I'd like to see [details about its credibility] worked out." A spokesperson for the NDA said: "The statement that the NDA has rejected the GE Hitachi Prism reactor is completely without foundation." He added that the current round of discussions "might last about six months". _Guardian
If the material we have seen until now as waste is instead seen as fuel, it has the potential to solve three problems at once: the UK's contribution to climate change, possible future energy shortfalls and a significant component of the massive bill - and massive headache - associated with cleaning up the current nuclear mess.Monbiot is a curious example of the growing number of leftist greens who have adopted advanced nuclear energy as a viable path forward for human civilisations. While still believing in the orthodoxy of carbon hysteria, such pro-nuclear greens have seemingly rejected the "dieoff.orgiasm" of their brother and sister greens.
The technology with the potential to solve these problems is the fast reactor, ideally the integral fast reactor (IFR), which I wrote about in December. It exploits the fact that conventional nuclear power plants use just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels them. IFRs, once loaded with nuclear waste, can, in principle, keep recycling it until only a small fraction remains, producing energy as they do so.
The remaining waste is both unusable for anyone who might hope to make a weapon from it and presents much less of a long-term management problem, as its components have half-lives of tens, not millions, of years. An IFR plant could melt down only by breaking the laws of physics: if the fuel pins begin to overheat, they expand, stopping the fission reaction.
GE Hitachi has offered to build a fast reactor to consume the plutonium stockpile at Sellafield, though not yet the whole kit (the integral fast reactor). It has offered to do it within five years, and to carry the cost if it doesn't work out. This is the proposal the government is now considering. I would like to see it go further and examine the case for the full works: an integral fast reactor (incorporating a reprocessing plant) that generates much more energy from the waste pile. _G.Monbiot
As for the integral fast reactor which Monbiot mentions, it is an idea that needs to be developed and put into commercial use as soon as safely possible. A well-planned and phased move from light water reactors to integral fast reactors, molten salt thorium reactors, and gas cooled reactors -- at all scales from the MW to the GW ranges -- would provide a safe and solid energy foundation under future societies and civilisations.
Wikipedia Integral Fast Reactor