A quick thought to share – I frequently talk about recycling used nuclear fuel, but I want to make sure that everyone who reads Atomic Insights understands that does not mean that I advocate the installation of massive facilities designed to tear apart used fuel rods, break them into constituent components and reform them into new fuel rods with similar characteristics as new fuel rods.
In other words, I am not necessarily a strong advocate of large scale reprocessing as the only way to make better use of the energy potential of uranium and plutonium. My use of the term “recycling” is not just a branding exercise – though it is a much more friendly term. I use it because reprocessing has a very specific meaning to me and it includes some real baggage from both an economic and political point of view.
Recycling used fuel does not need to result in release of volatile fission products and it does not necessarily require the use of traditional solvent chemistry.
There are plenty of other ideas for employing the concepts of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” to get a larger portion of the potential energy out of raw material inputs. Molten salt reactors that use fissile material initiators to convert fertile material into fuel, fast neutron liquid metal reactors, epithermal resonance absorption converter reactors, the DUPIC cycle, and traveling wave reactors that act more like a well managed community fire burning large logs are just some of the possibilities.
As my friend Ted Rockwell says – there is no rush. We know how to store used material safely. It will never take up much room or cause much trouble if we just keep doing what we know how to do with an eye on future technology that turns waste into useful materials in a cost effective, environmentally friendly manner.
Someday, I will tell you the story of the barrels of pink plastic regrind at J&M Industries. It opened my eyes to the reality of “one man’s waste is another man’s raw material.”