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5 Comments

  1. @Rod,
    given that current reactors only consume a tiny fraction of the energy in fuel, it’s almost inconceivable that people would permanently bury used LWR fuel; that’s like throwing away all of the oil in Saudi Arabia many times over. The plans to abandon Yucca Mountain show that the US government is officially recognizing that fact.
    That said, the actual practice of what’s been done over the past 30 or so years has been sound. Between the West Valley Experience, the Smiling Buddha scare and Kerr-McGee’s troubled MOX plant, there were plenty of reasons in the 1970’s to fear commercial reprocessing. However, in 2010, the French have gone a long way towards showing that they can export a commercial reprocessing system that is… commercially viable. Our LWR waste has been sitting in storage pools and dry storage for a long time, and when it comes time to reprocess it, many fission products will have decayed, making the materials safer and easier to handle, and reducing the ultimate release of Kr85 to the atmosphere.
    So long as our system is basically LWR-based, “long holdup” at the reactor site or elsewhere is a good idea. If we make a transition to some kind of breeder, fast or thermal, fissile inventory becomes a big issue, and then there will be pressure to cycle fuel more quickly: I’m not sure that a system based on aqueous reprocessing will be viable for breeders, but we’ve got plenty of time to worry about that.

  2. The LFTR, the TWR, and the IFR are breeder reactor that offer the near elimination of actinides in their waste. Why should we fuss around with separate reprocessing. The LFTR and the TWR appear to deal with weapons proliferation well enough to entertain the idea of placing reactors in developing world countries. Promoting industrialization in countries with high birth rates may be an effective way to deal with the over population problem. The prospect for producing a reactor that can produce energy cheaper than coal speaks to the climate change issue as well. R&D for infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, has historically been funded by the State. It’s time for our congress to step forward. Breeder reactor efficiency means that the fuel supply is limitless. Perhaps a letter writing campaign to Washington may provide some traction.

    1. @John — I believe it has been established that there is a correlation between economic prosperity, per capita energy consumption and birth rates. That is, the greater the prosperity and the higher the energy consumption yields a lower birth rate. Am not sure where I read that, but even a cursory look at developed vs developing countries would seem to bear this out.

      1. Stewart Brand in his book “The Whole Earth Discipline” makes the point that our world’s population is moving to cities. If cheap energy is available to developing countries, industrialization occurs, wealth accumulates and women in cities gain reproductive freedom. They opt for smaller families and the birthrate falls to replacement or below.

  3. James M. Hylko and Dr. Robert Peltier, PE wrote:
    As a nation, we would be better served if Congress would amend the NWPA (Nuclear Waste Policy Act) and NWPAA (Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendment) to delete the statutory responsibility of the DOE (Department of Energy) to store SNF (spent nuclear fuel), refund the NWF (Nuclear Waste Fund) contributions, and quickly settle the 60-plus lawsuits pending to cover all current and future nuclear plant SNF storage costs. The elegant solution is nuclear fuel reprocessing, perhaps primed by reprogramming NWF money into building such a facility.
    The article focuses on the problems with the present “business as usual” once-through fuel cycle with no reprocessing. While the once-through fuel cycle works technically, at least until uranium becomes much more expensive, it still leave nagging doubts in the minds of many people as they contemplate the need to isolate the used fuel for millenia.
    The proposed “elegant solution” of fuel reprocessing is the first step in a larger vision. As Rod Adams noted, the “spent fuel” is hardly spent. To take advantage of this spent fuel, we need advanced reactors. Even if we eventually switch to something like the LFTR and end up simply putting the U238 back in the ground (in the same oxide form that is was when mined), the fuel cycle we do use needs to output just fission products. This vastly reduces the volume of material to be stored, reduces the time it needs to be stored, and has the potential to provide various valuable radioactive and non-radioactive materials. If presented well, I think this would appeal to the environmental conciousnes of many who support recycling, reuse, and waste minimization in other areas.
    The article talks about how the various states have blocked the proposed waste repositories. In the case of Yucca Mountain, Nevada became the target for the “waste” while deriving almost no benefit from the process that produced the “waste”. The benefits of clean, inexpensive power need to be tied to the waste disposal. While this may not be do-able on a state-by-state basis, states could form consortia. This follows logically since typically several states will benefit from the power produced at a nuclear power plant (e.g., Vermont Yankee). Once these states become comfortable handling the waste, they may want to expand their waste storage capabilities and take on waste from other states outside the consortium that have no appropriate storage locations (at a profit, of course).
    We are at the beginning of a long, uphill battle to make nuclear energy the energy of choice for generating electricity, providing large quantities of process heat, and powering large ships. The battle needs to be waged on a number of fronts. The technical front is but one of them. The concern for the environmental has put the wind at our back, and has helped to turn the political tide against nuclear energy. The drive for nuclear energy will become unstoppable when we get to the point where nuclear power is cheaper than coal power.

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