1. It is worth noting that the Java app for the used fuel that Kirk is demonstrating in the video is available to investigate and try out on the energyfromthorium web site. It has some functionality that Kirk did not describe at Google.

  2. Interesting nuclide selection for an RTG. I participated in a nuclear forensics exercise where we “detonated” an RDD in Chicago, which contained about 40,000 Ci of Sr-90 in ceramic form (Strontium Titanate). Can’t give the details, but it could have made a big mess of the Millennium Park. The Health Physics Journal had a good article for first responders and an RDD event:
    Health Physics:
    August 2005 – Volume 89 – Issue 2 – pp S35-S39
    doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000165872.29693.2d
    Basically, most of the stuff will travel no further than about 500m and anything that goes further will be of such small particle size that the winds will quickly disperse it to below hazardous levels. If you find your self near one of these events, the best course of action is to go home, take your clothes off outside your house then take a shower.

    1. @John – I am not sure from your comment whether or not you would agree with using Sr-90 in RTGs, especially those that would have been designed to sit on the bottom of the ocean along the path of an undersea cable. The containers would have been terrifically robust and put into a location where no man ever travels.

      1. @ Rod – Sorry about the ambiguity in my comment. RTGs are a good use of Sr-90. Certainly better than hauling truck loads of fuel to remote locations such as north of the arctic circle in Alaska. I am glad that the Russians are doing a much better job of keeping track of their RTGs than they were in the early ’90s right after the collapse of the FSU. I’m also surprised that given how much fear there is of “dirty bombs” that no one has actually deployed one. Not for lack of opportunity either; in Africa, a team from Sandia Labs recovered a Cs-137 blood irradiator that was sitting, unguarded, in an abandoned hospital. It still contained about 1,000 Ci of cesium chloride.

      2. The only problem I see regarding using Sr-90 RTGs in an undersea cable — what do you do when the cable stops functioning several decades down the line because so much Sr-90 has decayed away that there isn’t enough left to power the amplifiers? How would you replace the Sr-90?

        1. @George – the replacement process would obviously need to be developed and implemented. Obviously, no matter what the solution is for providing power to the amplifiers, there would need to be some kind of maintenance and replacement strategy. NOTHING lasts forever.
          For people who earn their living by fixing stuff, that is a good thing. It keeps them employed.

    2. Thank you for that reference. I’ve been collecting material on RDDs to show that they pose little risk, and are basically ineffective ether in terms of direct casualties, or as as area denial. This one will go into the pile.

        1. Thanks, Rod – I remember reading that one but didn’t mark it, as I was not collecting info on this subject at the time.

  3. Wow. What a great video. Thank you so much for linking this. I’ve been thinking of trying to find a source to learn more about what exactly the spent fuel is composed of, and how it behaves over time, and this video gives a great explanation.
    There are some very interesting points which are made during the Q&A session at the end of the video, which I didn’t really think about before – I’d heard before this that plutonium was one of the longest lived elements in the ‘waste’, but Kirk made a great point which should have been obvious, but I just never considered before:
    If we just take spent nuclear fuel, and bury it, we are essentially creating a plutonium mine – most of the stuff in the ‘nuclear waste’ which makes it unsuitable for use in weapons, over the course of – what was it 100 or 200 years – goes away through natural decay, and you are left with a lot of plutonium, and lighter elements which can be separated from the plutonium. People don’t want to reprocess and burn nuclear fuel because of proliferation concerns, but we might be creating an even bigger proliferation problem in a few hundred or thousand years. Perhaps at some point in the future, whatever facility(ies) all the spent fuel ends up stored at, aren’t guarded well anymore, and someone goes and gets some of the spent fuel inventory, and begins extracting plutonium.
    I began my ‘journey’ of learning more about nuclear power about a year ago, and nuclear waste was the starting point in that journey for me. I had heard in the media, over and over, people decrying how nuclear waste is an unsolvable, 100,000 year problem. Now that I’ve learned more about the issues, I’ve become absolutely convinced that anyone who *really* cares about the nuclear waste issue should, A) Demand that we restart Yucca Mountain, but not as a 10,000+ year repository for nuclear waste, but instead as a place to hold spent nuclear fuel that is waiting to be burned in reactors like an IFR, Thorium MSR, etc, and also to hold the final true ‘waste’ after burning – the stuff that needs to be stored for 200-300 years and then becomes essentially harmless; B) Demand that we begin moving forward on developing technologies which can burn the spent nuclear fuel to produce energy, so that we can begin to truly ‘deal’ with the waste issue.

    1. @Jeff – you are making good progress, but there are still some “holes” in your education – at least from my point of view. πŸ™‚
      First of all, I would rephrase the following:
      People don’t want to reprocess and burn nuclear fuel because of proliferation concerns to read
      People say they don’t want to reprocess and burn nuclear fuel because of proliferation concerns but what they really mean is that they want access to useful materials like Pu and U-235 to be so restricted that it drives the costs WAY above their natural level. (That might seem illogical until to come to the conclusion that the nonproliferation movement is just another fossil fuel protection racket.)
      Secondly, I do not understand why anyone who knows anything about transportation costs would want to spend the money to move used fuel from its current resting place to the most remote place in America from the point of view of maximizing the total ton-miles required. Why not build a few interim storage facilities in locations that are relatively close to large concentrations of existing nuclear plants? Keep them simple and on the surface. Put them right next to existing rail lines or port facilities, not someplace that needs a 385 mile, $1 billion (1999 dollars) rail spur for the final leg of the journey to a place where no other freight is likely to pay part of the infrastructure costs.

      1. @Rod, well, perhaps Yucca Mtn isn’t the best interim storage, but, well, the way I see it, even if we start pursuading people, we need “Interim Storage” for about 500-1000 years, because we’ll only ‘burn up’ the waste so fast. 500-1000 years is a pretty long time. Do we want that stored fuel to be in sites for that long which might be less secure and stable? I’m pretty comfortable that the U.S. Govt can make Yucca very, very secure because of its remoteness, and the fact that the facility would be UNDER A MOUNTAIN. *grin*
        That said, if you think you could convince people to allow storage at secured facilities in closer locations (maybe one or two along the west coast, one or two in texas, maybe one in georgia, one in kentucky, places like that – states which could service 5 or 6 other neighboring states.
        The main thing is, I’m kind of uncomfortable with the current situation – storage at nuclear plant sites with nowhere too go. I mean, the current situation isn’t terrible – the sites are secured to a reasonable degree, from what I’ve read, but I’d rather have long term storage at fewer sites, and have those sites be like underground bunkers with military units guarding them.
        As for the costs of interim storage – on the one hand, we already have a large fund for waste disposal which could be applied, and, additionally, in the future when we start burning the fuel, the government can sell it (back) to utilities to use in their reactors. As Kirk said in the video, that ‘waste’ is really valuable stuff. No reason the government can’t sell it again when it comes time to re-use it, to cover the costs the taxpayers shoulder for the storage and transportation of the waste. (That should only be done, though, if the costs end up being larger than the Waste Fund has accrued by then, because ratepayers have *already* payed for that fund, and so should not have to pay twice, so to speak).

    2. Jeff,
      In addition to Rod’s response, at 500 years the plutonium in used fuel is about 30% Pu240 according to Kirk’s program. Pu240 will really screw up a nuclear weapon. Weapons grade plutonium in the US arsenal is at least 93% Pu239. Plutonium with 30% Pu240 would work fine as MOX or, even better, in a fast reactor but don’t try to make a weapon out of it.

      1. I watched this show last week and I noticed Kirk restrained himself from getting into too deep an argument or explanation in response to one of the questions referencing proliferation at the end. So in many hundreds or thousands of years you end up with a mix of plutonium isotopes which are not easily separated, a small quantity of decay products, some U235, and the rest is still U238. This is STILL NOT a viable path to a weapon. I wish Kirk had emphasized that.

  4. This is a real gem Rod. The more stuff like this that gets out, the more people will learn the truth about nuclear.

  5. Kirk? presentation did not spend much time talking about actual reactor hardware for burning up the components of spent nuclear fuel. Systems that can fully burn SNF to fission products (and energy) show promise for helping to increase the long term sustainability of nuclear power.
    Kirk earlier shared some of his thoughts along this line in a proposal that involved a molten salt concept that uses fast-spectrum neutrons in a liquid-chloride reactor to burn up the minor actinides in SNF. If the chloride reactor is surrounded by a thorium blanket we can make uranium-233 fuel for startup of new LFTRs while we burn up the longest half life components of SNF. LFTRs produce orders of magnitude less transuranics (four orders of magnitude less Pu-239) than current LWR technology [1].
    An End-to-End Integrated Liquid-Salt Reactor System for Nuclear
    Waste Transmutation without Reprocessing and Long-term Storage
    G.I. Maldonado, L.F. Miller, A.E. Ruggles, K. Sorensen
    University of Tennessee-Knoxville
    J.C. Gehin, D.E. Holcomb, G.D. DelCul
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    [1] Le Brun, C., “Impact of the MSBR concept technology on long lived radio toxicity and proliferation resistance” – http://bit.ly/bLqIxB

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