How long will our Nuclear Fuel resources Last?

  • #1
The other day I took note of the fact that the U.S. does not recycle its spent nuclear fuel. This struck me as very wasteful. Could it be recycled at some later date? Will we run out of Uranium in 50 years, or can we simply dig deeper into the earth to get more? There must be a large amount of Uranium in core, right?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
The other day I took note of the fact that the U.S. does not recycle its spent nuclear fuel. This struck me as very wasteful. Could it be recycled at some later date? Will we run out of Uranium in 50 years, or can we simply dig deeper into the earth to get more? There must be a large amount of Uranium in core, right?
Nope like Oil it's a finite resource, and the US being wasteful is the result of a criminally irresponsible government that holds up the almighty dollar as if it was some sort of holy talisman, and does not really give much of a toss about forward planning if it's going to cost money.

In essence fifty years maybe right maybe a hundred but sooner or later Uranium is going to run out too.

In the UK we recycle or reprocess the fuel which although it still leaves waste means that we get more out of our Uranium.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_reprocessing

The relative economics of reprocessing-waste disposal and interim storage-direct disposal has been the focus of much debate over the past ten years. Many approaches have been used and to a certain extent the approach taken has determined the outcome of the assessment. These studies model the total fuel cycle costs of a reprocessing-recycling system based on thermal recycling of plutonium and compare this to the total costs of an open fuel cycle with direct disposal. The range of results produced by these studies is very wide, but all are agreed that under current (2005) economic conditions the reprocessing-recycle option is the more costly.

If reprocessing is undertaken only to reduce the radioactive level of spent fuel it should be taken into account that spent nuclear fuel becomes less radioactive over time. After 40 years its radioactivity drops by 99.9% [17], though it still takes over a thousand years for the level of radioactivity to approach that of natural uranium [18]. However the level of transuranic elements, including plutonium-239, remains high for over 100,000 years, so if not reused as nuclear fuel (the whole point of reprocessing) then those elements need secure disposal because of nuclear proliferation reasons.
 
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  • #3
Morbius
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Nope like Oil it's a finite resource, and the US being wasteful is the result of a criminally irresponsible government that holds up the almighty dollar as if it was some sort of holy talisman, and does not really give much of a toss about forward planning if it's going to cost money.
WRONG!!!! WRONG!!! WRONG!!!

The reason the USA doesn't reprocess doesn't have anything to do with the "almighty dollar".

The USA doesn't reprocess because the anti-nukes got Congress to OUTLAW
reprocessing in the USA back in the '70s. Irrespective of what the economics are;
reprocessing / recycling of nuclear fuel in the USA is ILLEGAL.

There has been motion to REVERSE this ill-conceived policy; but the anti-nukes are
are up in arms about it again. Consider the following from the group that I call the
"Union of Concerned Pseudo-Scientists":

http://www.ucsusa.org/global_security/securitynet/Reverse_Reprocessing_nuclear_fuel.html [Broken]

as well as Public Citizen:

http://www.citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/nuclear_power_plants/nukewaste/reprocessing/ [Broken]

the SAME groups that were involved in getting reprocessing OUTLAWED in the USA back in
the 1970s.

The anti-nukes were able to convince Congress through their lies and "scare tactics" that reprocessing
nuclear fuel would increase the amount of nuclear waste, or would lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons
or ... whatever. Actually, their tactics are quite clear; they are opposed to the use of nuclear power, and
if the reprocessing of nuclear fuel is outlawed, and the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal project
is held up in the Courts; then at some point, the nuclear fuel cycle will become "constipated".

If the nuclear utilities can't recycle the waste, and they can't put it in an underground repository for
disposal, and they can't build more spent fuel holding pools, or dry-cask storage; all of which are
opposed by the anti-nukes; then sooner or later they will have no place to put spent nuclear fuel
at all; and they won't be able to refuel the reactors. This will accomplish what the anti-nukes want -
total shutdown of nuclear power plants.

Hopefully, more intelligent minds will prevail this time.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
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  • #4
I still think the assertion is correct, even though for once it's not about $ but stupid legislation. The US places economy above all else(at least the staunch Republicans do these days, anything else is a means to an end)
 
  • #5
Morbius
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I still think the assertion is correct, even though for once it's not about $ but stupid legislation. The US places economy above all else(at least the staunch Republicans do these days, anything else is a means to an end)
Schrodingers Dog,

WRONG AGAIN!!!!

The legislation that PROHIBITS reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel
in the USA is almost 30 years old.

The Republicans were NOT in power when this legislation was passed.

The law that prohibits reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel in the USA was
passed by a Congress controlled by the Democrats, and with a Democratic President
in the White House; namely President Jimmy Carter.

NO WAY can the prohibition on reprocessing / recycling of spent nuclear fuel in the
USA be laid at the feet of the Republicans!!

The legislation was passed by Democrats at the behest of the anti-nukes; and their
hews and cries that nuclear power was horrible and that it was causing cancer and was
going to kill us all.

President Carter wanted the United Kingdom and France to stop reprocessing, since
he felt that reprocessing of nuclear fuel would encourage nuclear proliferation. So
President Carter decided that the USA should "lead by example"; and that if the
USA decided to forego reprocessing, that the United Kingdom and France would
naturally follow the lead of the USA. The United Kingdom and France aren't
lemmings that do whatever the USA does; and they pursued policies that are in
their own interest.

That legislation has stood for nearly 30 years. Few politicians have had the courage to
revisit it. At one point, President Ronald Reagan suggested a change, and that went
nowhere. Politicians of neither Party have seen fit to revisit this issue and change it.

The current President Bush has suggested that this be changed, and the Dept of Energy
is starting to look at the issue. You can see the response from the anti-nukes as shown
in the links to "Union of Concerned Pseudo-Scientists" and Public Citizen that I cited in
my previous post.

They are girding for a new battle with the current Administration over plans to revisit
reprocessing and recycling technology as part of the GNEP - the Global Nuclear Energy
Partnership.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
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  • #6
253
1
The uranium resources are for all practical purposes unlimited.
When the cheap and easily recoverable uranium starts to run out we can begin to extract it from the ocean and our civilisation will be long gone before we can exhaust that supply.

When people say we have uranium for 70 more years they mean uranium that is economic to recover with todays prices.

This is a nice article
http://www.uic.com.au/nip75.htm

When we begin to build fast reactors we will be able to fuel them with todays waste alone for several hundrad years.
 
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  • #7
Morbius
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When we begin to build fast reactors we will be able to fuel them with todays waste alone for several hundrad years.
Azael,

Correct - with fast reactors all the "depleted uranium" that now is essentially a unusable
byproduct as far as nuclear power is concerned; then becomes a resource.

With fast reactors; instead of using the 0.7% of natural uranium that is the fissile isotope
U-235; we can use ALL the uranium. The U-235 is already fissile, and fast reactors can
turn the remaining U-238 into Pu-239 which is fissile and can be used as reactor fuel.

With fast reactors; you can multiply your nuclear power reserves by a factor in excess
of 140!!!

Yes - we would have enough nuclear fuel to last for hundreds of years; long enough
to achieve controlled thermonuclear fusion. With 1% of the entire volume of ocean;
nuclear fusion should last for the nearly indefinite future.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #8
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I believe that if nuclear power is taken to be the ONLY source of power, natural uranium will run out in 50 years.

Reprocessing usually gets a lot of what the input amount of fuel was. 96% of spent uranium is still fissile, and can be used again; which saves 30% of raw uranium from being used at that point in time. Although it does separate plutonium, it does prevent it from being heavily energized and unstable to where it can be used in a nuclear weapon directly.

Also, it makes sense that congress would ban it because it is costly. I would agree that they are 'stupid' from taking advice from anti-nuke activists.
 
  • #9
Morbius
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I believe that if nuclear power is taken to be the ONLY source of power, natural uranium will run out in 50 years.

Reprocessing usually gets a lot of what the input amount of fuel was. 96% of spent uranium is still fissile,

Also, it makes sense that congress would ban it because it is costly. I would agree that they are 'stupid' from taking advice from anti-nuke activists.
regent,

I'm afraid you are INCORRECT in virtually EVERYTHING you said above.

For example, spent fuel is NOT 96% fissile. Nuclear reactor fuel starts out fresh as
about 4% U-235 and 96% U-238; which is probably where you got the 96% number.

After 3 years in the reactor, virtually ALL the fissile U-235 has been burned up. However,
some of the "fertile" U-238 has been transmuted into Pu-239 which is fissile. Some of
that Pu-239 is fissioned in the reactor. In fact, in the 3 years that a fuel assembly
spends in a reactor, about 40% of the energy you get from that assembly comes from
fissioning Pu-239 that was created in situ. At the end of 3 years, there is still some
Pu-239 left in the fuel; about 2% or so.

So spent fuel consists of about 2% fissile Pu-239, about 4% fission products, and
about 94% U-238. So only about 2% of the spent fuel is fissile; NOT 96%.

NO - it DOESN'T make sense for Congress to ban reprocessing because it is costly.
Reprocessing IS economical; and that is what the British, the French, and the
Japanese do with their fuel cycle. Reprocessing IS economical.

Reprocessing lets you recover the fissile Plutonium so that it can be recycled back to
the reactor - so you get more energy out of a given amount of Uranium. Additionally,
because the Plutonium is recycled back to the reactor; you don't have Plutonium in the
waste stream. One of the reasons for the high cost of the USA's spent fuel disposal
repository at Yucca Mountain is because it is being built to survive thousands of years;
which is the lifetime of the Plutonium that will be entombed there.

If you get the Plutonium out of the waste stream, and recycle it back to the reactor to
be burned; then the repository doesn't have to survive for thousands of years. That's
because the longest lived fission product of any consequence is Cesium-137 which has
a half-life of 30 years compared to the 24,000 year half life of Plutonium-239.

In a time span much, much less than that required to store Plutonium, ALL the
radioisotopes in the nuclear waste will have decayed to a level of radioactivity LESS
than the Uranium that was mined from the ground. If you aren't concerned about the
Uranium in the ground naturally, and its level of radioactivity; then you shouldn't be
concerned with fission products that are several hundered years old either.

Reprocessing is an EXCELLENT, and COST EFFECTIVE technology; and the USA
would use it just like the other countries, Britain, France, Japan,.... but Congress made
reprocessing ILLEGAL in the USA.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #10
Schrodingers Dog,

WRONG AGAIN!!!!

The legislation that PROHIBITS reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel
in the USA is almost 30 years old.

The Republicans were NOT in power when this legislation was passed.

The law that prohibits reprocessing and recycling of spent nuclear fuel in the USA was
passed by a Congress controlled by the Democrats, and with a Democratic President
in the White House; namely President Jimmy Carter.

NO WAY can the prohibition on reprocessing / recycling of spent nuclear fuel in the
USA be laid at the feet of the Republicans!!

The legislation was passed by Democrats at the behest of the anti-nukes; and their
hews and cries that nuclear power was horrible and that it was causing cancer and was
going to kill us all.

President Carter wanted the United Kingdom and France to stop reprocessing, since
he felt that reprocessing of nuclear fuel would encourage nuclear proliferation. So
President Carter decided that the USA should "lead by example"; and that if the
USA decided to forego reprocessing, that the United Kingdom and France would
naturally follow the lead of the USA. The United Kingdom and France aren't
lemmings that do whatever the USA does; and they pursued policies that are in
their own interest.

That legislation has stood for nearly 30 years. Few politicians have had the courage to
revisit it. At one point, President Ronald Reagan suggested a change, and that went
nowhere. Politicians of neither Party have seen fit to revisit this issue and change it.

The current President Bush has suggested that this be changed, and the Dept of Energy
is starting to look at the issue. You can see the response from the anti-nukes as shown
in the links to "Union of Concerned Pseudo-Scientists" and Public Citizen that I cited in
my previous post.

They are girding for a new battle with the current Administration over plans to revisit
reprocessing and recycling technology as part of the GNEP - the Global Nuclear Energy
Partnership.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
I think your missing the point I'm taking a pot shot at the Republicans being money obsessed crooks atm, don't take that away from me :wink::smile:.

As I inferred in the original post I made. I'm sure the only consideration of not changing this law isn't whether anti nuke protesters or whoever would lobby against it, it's probably more to do with cost why this is still in existence.
 
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  • #11
Morbius
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I think your missing the point I'm taking a pot shot at the Republicans being money obsessed crooks atm, don't take that away from me :wink::smile:.
Schroedingers Dog,

Why not? When you are WRONG - then you are WRONG!!!

I don't care what your intent or motives are!! The information you gave is WRONG!!!

As I inferred in the original post I made. I'm sure the only consideration of not changing this law isn't whether anti nuke protesters or whoever would lobby against it, it's probably more to do with cost why this is still in existence.
Again WRONG, WRONG, WRONG - for the hundredth time WRONG!!!!

The Congress wasn't concerned about economics. I've read the Congression Register
on the debate. The US Congress passed this law PURELY at the behest of the
anti-nukes. There was no discussion of econmics.

If reprocessing / recycling were not economical; why does Great Britain, France, and
Japan continue to do it?

The point is, reprocessing DOES make economic sense; as well as simplifiying the
waste disposal problem.

Don't tell people there is an economic reason when there isn't!!!

I don't care whether you want to bash Republicans or not.

This forum is about science and physics.

If you want to bash people for their politics - find a political forum.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #12
Schroedingers Dog,

Why not? When you are WRONG - then you are WRONG!!!

I don't care what your intent or motives are!! The information you gave is WRONG!!!



Again WRONG, WRONG, WRONG - for the hundredth time WRONG!!!!

The Congress wasn't concerned about economics. I've read the Congression Register
on the debate. The US Congress passed this law PURELY at the behest of the
anti-nukes. There was no discussion of econmics.

If reprocessing / recycling were not economical; why does Great Britain, France, and
Japan continue to do it?

The point is, reprocessing DOES make economic sense; as well as simplifiying the
waste disposal problem.

Don't tell people there is an economic reason when there isn't!!!

I don't care whether you want to bash Republicans or not.

This forum is about science and physics.

If you want to bash people for their politics - find a political forum.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
OK.

It is controversial whether reprocessing is cheaper, see my first post. But I think I've kind of got the message, don't say anything if someone is going to take offence. My apologies. I'll withdraw and hope that somehow my serious misadventure isn't taken too much to heart? I'm a cynic at heart and I think personally that unless given reason to be otherwise I'll be cynical. In this case I was wrong, sorry if that annoys you, it wasn't a deliberate attempt to mislead, but past history does seem to indicate a healthy level of cynicism in everything that happens or continues to happen at least with the current government. :eek: OK my attempt at humour was misplaced, sorry.

I bash everyone for their politics, it's what my media was founded on, it's what they're there for, if they don't want to be criticised then don't go into politics, in this case it was wrong, sorry Mr Bush.

Please understand this was on the GD section at first, had it of started off here, things may of been different, in fact I almost certainly never would of posted. And even if I did I certainly wouldn't have posted what I did.

Humble apologies. :frown:
 
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  • #13
Morbius
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OK.

It is controversial whether reprocessing is cheaper, see my first post.
It's only controversial for those that don't want anybody to do it. When a nations, like
the United Kingdom, France, and Japan have the opportunity to reprocess / recycle
without a governmental prohibition - they do it!!!

But I think I've kind of got the message, don't say anything if someone is going to take offence. My apologies. I'll withdraw and hope that somehow my serious misadventure isn't taken too much to heart? I'm a cynic at heart and I think personally that unless given reason to be otherwise I'll be cynical. In this case I was wrong, sorry if that annoys you, it wasn't a deliberate attempt to mislead, but past history does seem to indicate a healthy level of cynicism in everything that happens or continues to happen at least with the current government. :eek: OK my attempt at humour was misplaced, sorry.
It's not a question of offending - it's a question about presenting ACCURATE information.
I believe people come here to get ACCURATE technical information; NOT information
that has been filtered by one's political agenda.

I bash everyone for their politics, it's what my media was founded on, it's what they're there for, if they don't want to be criticised then don't go into politics, in this case it was wrong, sorry Mr Bush.
Again I say - that may be fine for a political forum. But that's NOT what this forum is
about. This is a forum about science and physics. It's a place where people can get
good technical answers to their questions. Not answers that have been filtered through
someone's politics.

That's one of the BIG problem with Nuclear Engineering especially in the USA. We are
awash in misinformation due to the antics of the anti-nukes. They don't know the
science; and spread misinformation that is motivated by their politics. Many are against
big business, many think oppose nuclear power is a way to oppose nuclear weapons...
whatever. They spread misinformation for their own political purposes.

Please understand this was on the GD section at first, had it of started off here, things may of been different, in fact I almost certainly never would of posted. And even if I did I certainly wouldn't have posted what I did.
I would suggest that when responding to a scientific question on a scientific forum, that
you answer the technical question with a technical response. Check your sources. You
aren't going to get a good technical answer from Greenpeace, Helen Caldicott, or the
Union of Concerned Scientists, for example; when it comes to nuclear power.

Activist and activist agencies aren't playing by the rules of scientific discourse. They
are free to express their free speech rights. However, when they or anybody else posts
scientifically incorrect information because they are being political and not scientific;
then they better be prepared to get called on it; and to defend their position if they can.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #14
Yes Ok but bear in mind my initial response was on GD, and intended to be a little light hearted, I can only apologise so many times. I'm sorry OK.


Moved: How long will our Nuclear Fuel resources Last?
dimensionless

EDIT: and I don't think wiki is that biased in this instance, I don't see any reason to believe it's the cheaper option, and if I wasn't so p'd off with being taken to task about a post I made on GD, I might stick around to find out why.
 
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  • #15
Andrew Mason
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The other day I took note of the fact that the U.S. does not recycle its spent nuclear fuel. This struck me as very wasteful. Could it be recycled at some later date? Will we run out of Uranium in 50 years, or can we simply dig deeper into the earth to get more? There must be a large amount of Uranium in core, right?
In a Candu reactor about 60-70% of the U235 undergoes fission or about .5% of the total fuel put into the reactor. Approximately 30% of the energy comes from fission of Pu (created from neutron bombardment of U238 in the reactor), so the total fuel consumed is about .7% of the total raw U. For LWR, the actual percentage of the input enriched fuel that is consumed is higher than in a Candu (70-80%), but the percentage used of total raw U before enrichment is lower. Once you get down to .2% fissile material, thermal reactors can't make much use of it no matter how much reprocessing is done.

Morbius is the expert here, but my understanding is that the only way to significantly increase overall use of fuel is to use fast reactor technology. With fast reactors, the U238 can be entirely used over the fuel life cycle, provided reprocessing can be done periodically to remove fission products. Using fast reactor technology you can use 99% of the fuel leaving only the relatively short lived fission products as waste.

In my view, the real challenge for nuclear energy is to make more efficient used of our limited supply of uranium rich deposits (I don't think it is possible to extract U from granite or coal in any cost effective or environmentally responsible way), to minimize long lived radioactive wastes, while making the technology exceedingly difficult to be used for non-peaceful purposes. The current brand of uranium hogs that are being used cannot provide the foundation for a sustainable or secure nuclear energy future.

AM
 
  • #16
Andrew Mason
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Yes Ok but bear in mind my initial response was on GD, and intended to be a little light hearted, I can only apologise so many times. I'm sorry OK.


Moved: How long will our Nuclear Fuel resources Last?
dimensionless

EDIT: and I don't think wiki is that biased in this instance, I don't see any reason to believe it's the cheaper option, and if I wasn't so p'd off with being taken to task about a post I made on GD, I might stick around to find out why.
Frankly, I thought it was a good post. What Morbius may lack in tact he makes up for in knowledge and experience. Don't take it too hard because you can learn a lot from posting incorrect stuff and getting him to respond. I certainly have, and I am much indebted to him for the time and interest he gives to PF and to this board in particular.

AM
 
  • #17
Morbius
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Frankly, I thought it was a good post. What Morbius may lack in tact he makes up for in knowledge and experience.
Andrew,

Guilty as charged!! Yes - at times I do lack tact - especially when frustrated by
other pressures.

Additionally, I can't tell when I'm dealing with someone who is just pushing their agenda;
irrewpective of the facts.

For example, in another forum that I folow - a political forum - we were discussing the
recent flap about speaker Pelosi wanting the equivalent of a Boeing 757 for her personal
aircraft because it could get to California non-stop.

One of the other posters in that forum didn't even want to accept that a headwind would
reduce the ground speed, and hence the range of the aircraft. She just fought tenaciously
for Pelosi's need for a Boeing 757. [ The point I was making about headwinds actually
auggered for a larger plane - but she was just so adamantly in support of Pelosi and her
contention; and against what I was saying; the fact that the particular point about the
headwinds that I was making, actually helped her case.]

Over the years, I've run into a lot people that will take trivial non-issues and blow them up
into insurmountable terrors, just to feed their own agendas. My current belief is that the
remedy for that is to blast them good and hard with the facts. We'll see if it works.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #18
Morbius
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I
. With fast reactors, the U238 can be entirely used over the fuel life cycle, provided reprocessing can be done periodically to remove fission products. Using fast reactor technology you can use 99% of the fuel leaving only the relatively short lived fission products as waste.
Andrew,

Correct. With fast reactors; you can make a "breeder". Since a breeder produces more
fuel than it consumes; you can "boot-strap" your way up into using ALL the uranium.

Suppose you had a breeding ratio of 1. [ You can actually do better ]. Then you start with
the 0.7% of natural uranium that is U-235; and you can use that to turn 0.7% of the U-238
into fissile Pu-239 - so you can now use 1.4% of the fuel. But when you burn that 0.7%
Pu-239; you can create another 0.7% Pu-239; so you have used 2.1% total - and so on
until you have used 100% of the natural uranium as fuel.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #19
I know this thread has long since closed, and in fact I registered to voice my sentiment...

Is fission viable? Do reactor walls in the most sophisticated projected fission reactors not need replacing every few years at vast, non-nuclear, cost? Where do we store waste? These questions, none of them, are answered.
 
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  • #20
88
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I know this thread has long since closed, and in fact I registered to voice my sentiment...

Is fission viable? Do reactor walls in the most sophisticated projected fission reactors not need replacing every few years at vast, non-nuclear, cost? Where do we store waste? These questions, none of them, are answered.
I suspect you might be a little confused between fusion vs. fission reactors. Do you mean a fusion reactor, like an ITER-style Tokamak?
 

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