Tuesday, November 22, 2005

This Month's Scientific American: Nuclear Power With 1/100th the Waste

Great article in December issue of Scientific American, describing a new type of nuclear reactor.

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&colID=1&articleID=000D5560-D9B2-137C-99B283414B7F0000

This is a new, more advanced reactor design which:

- Produces as little as 1/100th the waste, and uses 1/100th the fuel, as the normal reactors we use today.

- Uses a new type of fuel processing, almost completely eliminating potential for nuclear proliferation.

- Can burn leftover fuel (what we currently call "waste") from the current nuclear reactors.

- Is inherently safe.

These new reactors could literally power all of human civilization, for many hundreds or thousands of years, without a hiccup.

These reactors require no major scientific breakthroughs. This isn't like fusion. They have already built one (the IFR reactor, tested in 1993) and proven that it works. Yes, there would be many years of hard engineering and testing required to perfect them...they are at least 20 years away, and more likely 40 years away.

The US and other nations have formed a consortium (Generation IV consortium) to do joint design on these reactors. It's a international cooperative project, much like a human voyage to Mars might be, but in this case, the goal is much more practical--to produce a clean carbon-free power source for the future of human civilization.

Once the reactor is perfected and commercialized, the plan would be to build 3 or 4 of the new reactors "next door" to each of our existing reactors, and for the first few decades, just burn up the leftover fuel the existing reactors. .

Yes, you heard right folks. For the first few decades of use, these reactors would actually BURN WASTE. Output of nuclear-generated electricity might increase 500% while the amount of waste drops.

By the way, for this plan to work, we need to build more of the current (2005 model) reactors. We should at least double our "fleet" of current reactors over the next couple decades. Why not? Their spent fuel can be re-used as fuel for the new design, and it gives us clean, green, dependable energy in the meantime. Plus it keeps the nuclear industry healthy so they can keep pouring effort into safety and cost improvements.

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