Planning future use of nuclear waste

In summary: There is also the potential for using these materials for weapons grade plutonium. However, the significant investment needed to make these changes would likely preclude their widespread use in the near future.
  • #1

Andrew Mason

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Given that almost all of the fuel waste from LWRs is potentially useable with future fast breeder reactor technology with periodic reprocessing, rather than planning to dispose of this waste we should instead be storing it for future use. The goal should be to design reactors today to produce waste that has optimal usefulness as future fuel. I am thinking that safe fast breeder reactors are about a 40 years away from being widely deployed, so it doesn't have to be stored all that long. So:

1. what changes could be made to existing reactors and fuel bundle design to optimize the usefulness of waste fuel in the future.

2. is anyone even looking at this issue?

AM
 
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  • #2
Andrew Mason said:
1. what changes could be made to existing reactors and fuel bundle design to optimize the usefulness of waste fuel in the future.
It would be difficult to redesign LWR fuel in a meaningful way - designs are currently pushed to the limit.

Several plants in the US are already running with enrichments of 4.95% U-235, since the limit is 5%. Enrichment could be increased, but that would require a substantial investment on the fuel suppliers to address the criticality concerns.

Then there is the fact that fuel assembly lattices have been optimized for current core designs and reactors. Since PWR fuel must necessarily accept current control designs (geometrically that is), PWR fuel is pretty much set except for distribution of enrichment and burnable absorber. It's easier to modify BWR fuel, but 10x10 seems to be the limit.

Perhaps what can be changed is inside the fuel rod, i.e. the fuel ceramic, which could be replaced by cer-cer or cer-met material. However, replacing U with inert material necessarily means raising the enrichment to maintain a given level of fissile material (e.g. U-235).

2. is anyone even looking at this issue?
Yes, there has been consideration of the fact that spent fuel contains some rare isotopes, such as some of the rare Earth's (lanthanides).
 
  • #3
1. One change that could be made to existing reactors is to use a higher concentration of fissile material in the fuel, such as enriched uranium or plutonium, which would result in a higher concentration of usable fuel in the waste. Another change could be to use different types of fuel, such as thorium, which can be converted into usable fuel in fast breeder reactors. Additionally, research could be done to optimize the reprocessing process to extract the maximum amount of usable fuel from the waste.

2. Yes, there are definitely researchers and organizations looking at this issue. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has a program specifically focused on fast reactor technology and fuel cycle development. There are also numerous research institutions and companies working on advanced fuel cycle technologies, such as pyroprocessing and molten salt reactors, which could greatly increase the efficiency and usefulness of waste fuel. It is important for governments and the nuclear industry to invest in and support this research to ensure a sustainable and efficient use of nuclear fuel in the future.
 

1. What is nuclear waste and why is it a problem?

Nuclear waste is the byproduct of nuclear reactions, including power generation and weapons production. It is highly radioactive and can remain dangerous for thousands of years. The problem is that there is currently no safe and permanent way to dispose of nuclear waste, posing a threat to both human health and the environment.

2. How is nuclear waste currently stored?

Nuclear waste is currently stored in temporary facilities, both above and below ground. These facilities are designed to isolate the waste and prevent it from leaking into the environment. However, they are not intended to be a permanent solution and may require long-term monitoring and maintenance.

3. What are the potential risks of nuclear waste?

The main risks associated with nuclear waste include radiation exposure, groundwater contamination, and the potential for accidents or natural disasters to damage storage facilities. If not properly managed, nuclear waste can also pose a threat to future generations.

4. What are the proposed solutions for the long-term storage of nuclear waste?

Some proposed solutions for the long-term storage of nuclear waste include deep geological disposal, where the waste is buried deep underground in a stable and impermeable formation, and transmutation, where the waste is processed to reduce its radioactivity. However, these solutions are still in the research and development phase and have not been implemented on a large scale.

5. What are the challenges in planning for the future use of nuclear waste?

The main challenges in planning for the future use of nuclear waste include finding a suitable and safe long-term storage solution, addressing public concerns and perceptions about nuclear waste, and ensuring funding and resources for the continued management and monitoring of the waste. There are also ethical considerations about passing on the responsibility of nuclear waste to future generations.

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