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Accelerator Driven Treatment of Nuclear Waste

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the mr.-fusion dept.

Earth 226

quax writes "In the wake of the Fukushima disaster the nuclear industry again faces massive opposition. Germany even decided to abandon nuclear energy altogether and the future of the industry is under a cloud of uncertainty in Japan. But one thing seems to be here to stay for a very, very long time: radioactive waste that has half-lives measured in thousands of years. But there is a technology under development in Belgium that could change all this: A sub-critical reactor design, driven by a particle accelerator can transmute the nuclear waste into something that goes away in about two hundred years. Could this lead to a revival of the nuclear industry and the reprocessing of spent reactor fuel?"

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226 comments

1,000 year? 200 year? Who cares. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442189)

I'll be long gone by then. Let someone else deal with it. Don't waste a cent of my money on it.

Re:1,000 year? 200 year? Who cares. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442497)

You're missing a very important point. Many governments (specifically the US) pay HUGE amounts of money for OTHER people to take the waste. So not only would you not spend a cent creating new energy... but you'd be paid for it.

Re:1,000 year? 200 year? Who cares. (1, Insightful)

HornWumpus (783565) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442669)

No they don't. They _collect_ HUGE amounts of money to be used to find/build a permanent storage facility.

They spend the money on bread and circuses while leaving the waste at the plants. Typical federal government.

Re:1,000 year? 200 year? Who cares. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442729)

The US government pays for reprocessing since Carter banned it here in the US. The US is not alone. There is a large reprocessing industry.

But please, don't let something like facts get in the way of your rant.

Re:1,000 year? 200 year? Who cares. (4, Informative)

icebike (68054) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443087)

They spend the money on bread and circuses while leaving the waste at the plants. Typical federal government.

Actually leaving the waste at the plant may in the long run prove to be the right decision.

After all, if this method works it is likely to be co-located with an existing generation plant, because it has the potential of transmuting the spent fuels into something useful again.

As TFA points out: In 2006 France changed its laws and regulations in anticipation of this new technology, and now requires that nuclear waste storage sites remain accessible for at least a hundred years so that the waste can be reclaimed.

Transporting, burying, and sealing waste up into vaults that may be too dangerous to open, could turn out to be exactly the wrong decision.

no (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442221)

no, in the long term nuclear is dead.

Re:no (3, Insightful)

KingMotley (944240) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443165)

In the long term, all of our current methods of producing electricity is dead. Just depends on what your definition of long is, and just because it is not the perfect solution for eternity doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile until we discover something better.

It's not "spent"... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442241)

...it's "spent." Past tense of "spend."

I see this error constantly, and I just do not understand it.

Re:It's not "spent"... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442265)

Well, fuck it all. I meant "It's not 'spend'...", but I fucked it up. This invalidates my rant entirely, and "spend" is now retroactively the correct past tense of itself, just to put me further in my place.

Re:It's not "spent"... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442285)

You do have to admit, it's pretty easy to confuse "spent" with "spent." Both are spelled the same. Sound the same. Both can even be used as the past tense of spend. But, alas, most just don't get the intricacies in the differences between spent and spent.

Thanks for clarifying.

Re:It's not "spent"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442411)

I subconsciously make this typo all the time.. I know it's wrong and usually catch it with proofreading - it comes from common finger-typing-patterns.

Re:It's not "spent"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442839)

I know it's wrong and usually catch it with proofreading

Proofreading, what's that? It's not something I've ever seen at /. before.

More importantly... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442245)

If we can fundamentally change the material to be more active, such that it decays in an exponentially shorter period of time, is there marketable energy potential to be realized in our nuclear "waste"? Such potential could drive industry to clean up its own mess.

Re:More importantly... (1)

man_of_mr_e (217855) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442679)

More importantly, how much energy will it take to do this? You are effectively destroying the efficiency of the reactor if you then have to turn around and reprocess it with more energy.

or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442259)

Wasn't it recently discovered that neutrino interactions with unstable neuclei causes an increased rate of decay?

Placing the waste near a particle accellerator that generates large quantities of neutrino emissions should reduce the time needed for those waste products to decay.

The neutrino emissions themselves are harmless to living things. You get uncountable numbers of them passing through 1cm of skin every second from sunlight. (Even if you are indoors!)

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

ericloewe (2129490) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442323)

Why waste the perfectly good stuff when it could be used to fuel other reactors that "burn" them into progressively more innocuous things (as in, half-lives of a few years instead of millenia).

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442365)

Uh, material with a half-life of a few years is hardly 'innocuous'. That's what we normally call 'crazy freaking radioactive'.

People seem to have this bizarre idea that a long half-life makes something dangerous, when it's precisely the opposite.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442447)

It is innocuous in terms of waste management because however extremely dangerous it is in the short term, it soon becomes inert.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

mellon (7048) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442709)

Not strictly true. Suppose you have a source with a half-life of 200 years, and you have a ton of it. In 200 years, half of that ton will still be radioactive. In 200 more years, a quarter. And so on. So its not like 200 years later, it's all gone. The trouble with the long half-life stuff is that although it isn't radioactive enough to kill you outright, it's more than radioactive enough to cause cancer, and it'll keep doing it for a lot longer.

The sad thing about all this is that of course there's a lot of potential energy in a radioactive isotope, at least potentially. So if we succeed in releasing that energy quickly and in a way that doesn't capture it, future generations may look back on and curse us for doing so. Just because we can't get our act together to keep our nuclear plants safe doesn't mean they won't figure out a way to do it.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442927)

Ideally, we would separate out the actinides (and so the stuff that makes people wonder how we will store 'waste' for thousands of years) and use them for fuel in conventional reactors. That leaves us the much hotter stuff that could economically drive a low temperature turbine for years without significant interaction.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443033)

no, you'd need a chemical processing plant to scrub the daughter isotopes out while pumping in hot stuff.

What you really want to do with it, is vitrefy it and dump it back where the uranium came from in the first place. Which is to say, deep underground, where it's not coming back up until long after it burns out.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442867)

Uh, material with a half-life of a few years is hardly 'innocuous'. That's what we normally call 'crazy freaking radioactive'.

People seem to have this bizarre idea that a long half-life makes something dangerous, when it's precisely the opposite.

That depends on how you count "dangerous" of course. Something that is very, very hot for a few years is much easier to deal with than something that is merely very hot but remains so for a few hundred years.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

alexander_686 (957440) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442581)

You might want to take a look at the article.

First, it uses the Thorium fuel cycle. Consider your slant I would think that was a plus.

Second, they are not talking about “perfectly good“ fuel – they are talking about heavy metals. Most of the waste, by volume, are not the fuel rods but more humdrum stuff, like metal pipes. Not usable for fuel but still very radioactive for a long time.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442619)

Uh, no it doesn't work that way. The reason neutrinos are "harmless" to living things is because they're so fucking lazy to interact with anything. Including living matters or atomic nuclei, radioactive or not.

In other words, if we could generate a beam of neutrino strong enough to change the property of materials in front of it,
(1) it will take a ginormous amount of energy, probably not available to mankind in any near future,
(2) it won't be "harmless to living things" any more.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442765)

Neutrinos are weakly interacting, yes. That is why they are harmless.

I am not proposing doing the prticle collisions that would produce the added neutrino flux JUST for the purposes of waste decontamination, but for scientific purposes. The waste is simply housed nearby to collect on the synergy of the neutrino production. Like any radiant energy source, concentration falls off on an inverse cube with distance, especially for something as electically charge-inert as neutrinos. You don't ramp up flux production, you move the items closer to the flux source.

You don't need to increase the rate of decay by orders or magnitude, just slightly. Continual exposure would have cumulative effects that would be equivelent to years of storage, when the materials being exposed are already very low level waste.

I am not proposing building a device that produces more neutrinos than the sun. I am proposing the placement of low level waste near existing colliders to have very near exposures for cheap.

If the headline approach is used, the subcritical fission would release such neutrinos as well.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443075)

I don't think you understand anything that you have just said.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443277)

Ok. Let's do a little thought experiment.

We have iron piping that has been exposed to high levels of alpha decay biproducts and heavy neutron exposures; they were the pipes that recirculated primary coolant in an old style reactor. They are hot, but won't decay to safe levels for a very, very very long time. You can't burn iron in a fission plant. Treating it in a breeder reactor would be retarded.

What to do with it?

We have very high energy colliders that produce neutrino beams used for scientific exeriments. The expense of running these colliders is offset by the scientific discoveries they make. When the neutrino emissions aren't being directly used, they can be used to treat these difficult to deal with waste materials.

Radioactive iron, such as these hypothetical pipes, decays VERY slowly. It can take years for a single atom to undergo spontaneous fission, and decay. (Perhaps hundreds of years.) Even if the rate of neutrino exposure was so low, that it impacted rate of decay by .0001%, it could result in several years of storage shaved off the time needed to decay to inertness.

The density of the neutrino flux falls off in the inverse cube of distance, like light, and other forms of radiation. It radiates evenly, because it is not disrupted by magnetic fields nor by interaction with matter in a meaningful fashion.

As such, the closer you plce the radioactive object to be exposed, the more neutrinos it will encounter. Even though the rate of neutrino interactions, as rated by percentage of neutrinos produced interacting with the target, does not change, the number of neutrinos per second does. This is why moving the material very near the source has an effect.

You don't need "black hole quasar jet-like neutrino emissions". You just need passive exposure to a strong source, using close proximity to that source.

We aren't trying to break down plutonium. That is better taken care of in a power plant's reactor. We are trying to reduce the time needed to sequester the low level waste.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443205)

A 1% change in the half life would mean you would "burn" 1.01% extra material after a single (original) half life period. The cumulative effect would be quite small short of a much, much large change in half-life. In other words, if the original half-life was 100 years and you needed to wait 10 periods (1000 years) to get to a safe level, the one percent change would mean you now have to wait 990 years. And that 1% is much larger than the purposed changes seen due to neutrinos, and would require the neutrino source to be running the whole 990 years.

Re:or, they could bombard it with neutrinos.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443143)

Assuming the variations seen in radioactive half-lives were measured correctly, and actually are the result of the attributed effect of neutrinos, the effect is still very, very small, a fraction of a percent. Additionally, the effect is only seen in specific isotopes, as there have been other isotopes measured with no effect seen. Plus, one of the best sources of neutrinos we have now is a nuclear reactor, where a 1 GWe reactor may be putting out 100 MW of anti-neutrinos (although much less of normal neutrinos). Using accelerators to produce neutrinos can expect some serious efficiency issues, since it would involve creating high energy protons to get pions and/or muons for production of neutrinos. There is work being done, but most of it seems to be toward generating high energy neutrinos that are a bit easier to detect.

Well, it hasn't yet. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442269)

This is not a new idea.

But anything that can transmute nuclear waste can be used to breed plutonium (or potentially other weapons-usable fissiles), so certain world powers would rather we sit the waste in a heap for a few thousand years. Until you fix the political problem, no technology, new or old, will lead to "a revival of the nuclear industry and the reprocessing of spend reactor fuel".

A step (3, Insightful)

Quantus347 (1220456) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442281)

Its a step in the right direction, but it wont gain any sort of sustainable foothold until the technology can get the half-life of the waste down to within a single lifetime. In truth, what it really needs to accomplish is a technology that actually breaks even: something that reduces the stockpile at at least an equal rate to what our nuclear power use is producing.

Either that or productive Fusion, which does not produce near the lasting Radioactive waste.

Re:A step (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442567)

If we can convert long half life materials to short halflife materials, would those short halflife materials provide enough decay heat to harvest energy from? Why not hook a turbine up to the waste pools and get some useful work out of that?

Re:A step (5, Informative)

dargaud (518470) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442697)

I'm the guy who write the software for the reactor (and the accelerator) of TFA. And yes, it run Linux, on embedded Xilinx cards with custom FPGAs. I can't vouch for the ability of the system to transmute long-life waste in a semi-industrial way as it's only a research reactor, not even a demonstrator. But it's the 3rd prototype of its kind and it's working well enough. More information is available here in french [in2p3.fr], and, as a long time /. member, if you have questions about the control/command software, I'll be happy to answer when I wake up in the morning ! Yeah, the name of the experiment is somewhat confusing: Genepi/Guinevere/3C/Venus/Ganddalf. One is the accelerator, one is the reactor, one is the data acquisition, one is the combined experiment... I get lost too.

Re:A step (1)

quax (19371) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443017)

This is really neat. So is the current control software in Mol using your code? Will MYRRHA use the same code base or does it require a complete re-write?

Are you using a real-time kernel?

What kind of quality control are you using to ensure the software performs exactly as designed?

Are you using a functional programming paradigm?

Are the reactors computer systems networked to the outside world? If so what kind of security measures do you have in place to safeguard access?

Is your software a critical component of the control feedback loop e,g. reduces beam intensity based on the measured neutron flux? If so what kind of redundancy is build into the system?

Re:A step (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443013)

In truth, what it really needs to accomplish is a technology that actually breaks even: something that reduces the stockpile at at least an equal rate to what our nuclear power use is producing.

But the nuclear waste stockpile already exists. It is a sunk cost, it's not going away even if we abandon all nuclear power.

Waiting for a negative-waste power reactor design is like waiting for cars that actually sequester carbon as they run. It's not too practical, and maybe the job ought to be done by some more-specialized device.

Re:A step (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443261)

Either that or productive Fusion, which does not produce near the lasting Radioactive waste.

Additionally, there are various Fusion-Fission hybrid schemes where the neutrons from a fusion reactor are used to reprocess and/or clean waste from fission reactors. You might have half a dozen fission reactors to every fusion reactor, and there are various plans that would work even if the fusion reactor was a net energy loss used just for waste processing.

Cue the hippies (5, Insightful)

ericloewe (2129490) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442289)

"Nuclear is bad for everyone!"

Compared to what? Coal and natural gas, that are bad for us even when they're within normal parameters? Renewables that are nowhere near enough to properly replace what we're currently using without using up massive land areas?

I'll take a nuclear reactor in my backyard over a natural gas plant in my neighborhood or a coal power plant within a 20 km radius any day.

Re:Cue the hippies (4, Informative)

CrtxReavr (62039) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442343)

Yes, everyone's so worried about the disposal of the spent nuclear fuel rods, while coal ash is scattered to the wind with reckless abandon: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste [scientificamerican.com]

Re:Cue the hippies (3, Insightful)

mellon (7048) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442781)

Generally speaking you will find that the same people who oppose nuclear also oppose coal, for precisely the reason you state, as well as a few others—e.g., mountaintop removal, watershed destruction, deforestation. In fact, in general at this point I think you will find that people who oppose both oppose coal more than nuclear. But it's not an either-or proposition—despite widespread naysaying, it turns out that renewables really can work. What we lack is not the technology, but the ability to wean people who depend on extractive industries for a living from the dark teat.

Re:Cue the hippies (1)

ericloewe (2129490) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442993)

That's a very nice concept. In practice, no nuclear means more natural gas and more coal, which will inevitably have ill effects on us, while nuclear is safe if correctly handled.

Re:Cue the hippies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442361)

Nuclear waste can be very entertaining -

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmfJpq8pOV0&feature=relmfu
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2QWiBiaqCQ&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gbc1dJNQgM&feature=relmfu
http://www.bellona.org/subjects/Lepse
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XMfPIfk8xo&feature=related

Re:Cue the hippies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442369)

How big is your backyard???

Re:Cue the hippies (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442375)

When you're living 2,000 years old and stuck in the same neighborhood make that same argument. Otherwise who gives a shit? Plenty of people are happy to destroy their environment for others at personal gain.

Re:Cue the hippies (3, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442601)

It's true, many on the left are overly skeptical about nuclear power. But at least liberals change their opinions [salon.com] when educated.

Nuclear power is a classic test case for liberal biasesâ"kind of the flip side of the global warming issueâ"for the following reason. Itâ(TM)s well known that liberals tend to start out distrustful of nuclear energy: Thereâ(TM)s a long history of this on the left. But this impulse puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).

So are liberals âoesmart idiotsâ on nukes? Not in Kahanâ(TM)s study. As members of the âoeegalitarian communitarianâ group in the studyâ"people with more liberal valuesâ"knew more science and math, they did not become more worried, overall, about the risks of nuclear power. Rather, they moved in the opposite direction from where these initial impulses would have taken them. They become less worriedâ"and, I might add, closer to the opinion of the scientific community on the matter.

You may or may not support nuclear power personally, but letâ(TM)s face it: This is not the âoesmart idiotâ effect. It looks a lot more like open-mindedness.

Re:Cue the hippies (1, Flamebait)

Medievalist (16032) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443031)

Compared to what? Coal and natural gas, that are bad for us even when they're within normal parameters? Renewables that are nowhere near enough to properly replace what we're currently using without using up massive land areas?

Well, personally I'd just use enough renewables to properly replace what we're currently using, since we have tremendous land area available - hundreds of thousands of times the area actually required to power the world, in fact, even using fairly old technologies.

But don't let me get in the way of your anti-hippy rant, I can tell it's very meaningful to you. Please carry on.

Developed in the US not Belgium (5, Informative)

goombah99 (560566) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442297)

Back in the 1990s this was developed at Los Alamos and a few other accelerator centers. it's not new or unique to belgium.
http://www.lanl.gov/orgs/pa/science21/ATW.html [lanl.gov]

http://www.world-nuclear.org/sym/1999/venneri.htm [world-nuclear.org]

Re:Developed in the US not Belgium (2, Insightful)

radtea (464814) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443421)

Back in the 1990s this was developed at Los Alamos and a few other accelerator centers. it's not new or unique to belgium.

But because it's a technological solution to a political problem, it's a wheel that will keep being reinvented and everyone who ignored it the previous time will be surprised by it the subsequent time.

The dialog goes like this:

Anti-nukes: "Nuclear power is unsafe. We must ban it!"

Engineer: "Look, I have found a way to make nuclear power safer than coal!"

Anti-nukes: "That would be terrible! It would make people want nuclear power, but we can't be having with that because nuclear power is unsafe. We must ban it!"

Until we have a solution for the political problem, which is that there is a large body of ignorant and fearful people who think that nuclear power is far more dangerous than it actually is and who will steadfastly refuse to ever under any circumstances to compare nuclear power with any other viable source of base-load industrial supply, the advances of technology will be almost completely irrelevant to human progress.

Subcritical fission? (1)

mlts (1038732) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442311)

Depending on how big the accelerator has to be, I wonder if this could be used for making smaller reactors, perhaps using thorium instead of uranium as fuel. With the permanent moratorium in place since Carter, this would allow nuclear energy to be useful in the US, and since the reactors are smaller and can be QA-ed at a factory before hitting a site, it means that problems have a greater chance of being caught before the thing goes live.

Subcritical fission isn't just useful for getting rid of fuel, it would allow for reactor arrays to be built when it would be impossible to build the larger type.

Re:Subcritical fission? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442515)

There are several efforts worldwide aiming at a demonstration of ADSR (accelerator driven subcritical reactors). The US is doing very little.

The accelerator does need to be substantial (think 10MW CW proton beam power at 1 GeV) but there are no insoluble problems here.

It's the Plutonium... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442315)

The chief drawback to fuel reprocessing, besides the increased volume of contaminated material, is the concentration of plutonium in the spent fuel. We can't have weapons grade material floating around, now can we?

Re:It's the Plutonium... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442499)

We can't have weapons grade material floating around, now can we?

Something I've always thought a stupid concept, honestly.

Maybe "weapons-grade" fissile materials wouldn't be such an issue, if our species were smart enough to find uses for said materials other than killing each other.

Re:It's the Plutonium... (5, Funny)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442717)

We must ban this weapons-grade steel for the good of our children. Bronze is good enough for knives for shaving, tanning hides, working the fields. We don't need steel. The steel industry tries to convince us that steel has peaceful uses but we know that steel weapons easily fall into the hands of bandits and brigands. Arsenic poisoning is simply a lie by big steel so that they can create their death tools. In reality, bronze is safe, reliable and fulfills our tool needs.

Re:It's the Plutonium... (2)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443211)

We must ban this weapons-grade steel for the good of our children. Bronze is good enough for knives for shaving, tanning hides, working the fields. We don't need steel. The steel industry tries to convince us that steel has peaceful uses but we know that steel weapons easily fall into the hands of bandits and brigands. Arsenic poisoning is simply a lie by big steel so that they can create their death tools. In reality, bronze is safe, reliable and fulfills our tool needs.

Uh-huh, that's exactly what a pro-bronze shill like yourself would want us to think!

Obviously, anything more advanced than rocks tied to sticks is far to dangerous to be allowed to fall into the 'wrong hands,' better go ahead and ban it all...

Re:It's the Plutonium... (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442883)

Its really not a big deal because the guys in caves can do it pretty easily if they don't care about dying, or can just use the fuel pellets as is to create contamination.

The chief problem with reprocessing, US, USSR, as far as I know "everywhere" is you're fundamentally going to have to convert a ridiculously chemically inert ceramic or oxide to a water soluble ion, and every freaking place that does it invariably eventually turns into a glow in the dark superfund site.

Can't trust the capitalists, can't trust the commies... Everyone who tries it creates a superfund site, often worst than just dumping the stuff out on the dirt and walking away. Its a law of nature... Making the "stuff" a billion times more bio available by dissolving a ceramic in water means you have to be a billion times more careful not to spill it, or rephrased, being as safe as possible with both the insoluble and soluble stuff means spilling a billionth of the liquefied stuff is now just as bad as dumping the entire solidified batch in the back yard and walking away.

Imagine a big ceramic lump. It'll take a billion years to weather away. Of course in a million it'll totally decay to being as harmless as granite, but... Or you can dissolve it for reprocessing and it seems not to be technologically possible at an industrial scale to not pollute the environment... and unlike the non-reactive lump, the dissolved solution will go right in your drinking water. Ooops.

Also whenever you have "security" it inevitably devolves into "security... provided to coverup the environmental contamination". Combine that with a profit motive and you're got a recipe for disaster.

You need a reprocessing strategy that doesn't involve mechanical grinding or dissolving or ionizing or ... in other words something that doesn't exist. Whoops.

NIMBYs and BANANAs (0)

Chas (5144) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442377)

No. Because reprocessing of spent nuclear waste, even into usable nuclear fuel for second-stage deployment has been around for decades.

A bunch of "Nuclear = bomb = baaaaaaaaaad" sheeple will bitch about storage anyhow.
They'll bitch about transportation of the waste in both pre and post-processed forms.

And pretty much ANYTHING else that'd allow companies and government agencies to handle nuclear power (even its shutdown) in a safe, intelligent and responsible manner.

Re:NIMBYs and BANANAs (1)

bigtrike (904535) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443151)

Reprocessing uranium involves producing bomb grade plutonium as a step, so we better regulate the hell out of these plants to make sure they have a small military for protection. The real reason why nobody without massive government subsidies does it is because it's currently cheaper just to get new fuel.

Thorium reactors? (3, Insightful)

kheldan (1460303) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442381)

I keep hearing about thorium reactors. What I've read of it seems to indicate it'd be much safer and cheaper to operate than what we've been using. I really haven't read about any downside to these. Anyone care to fill me in on why we aren't using them?

Re:Thorium reactors? (5, Informative)

Que_Ball (44131) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442529)

Primary reason is the many billions of dollars of development needed to figure it all out.

There is no design for a "working commercial thorium reactors". It's all just bits and pieces of theory, and experimental reactors that only answered some of the questions.

It's a possible technology, just not an actual technology. Kind of like the guy at NASA who recently got into the news for a pen and paper proposal of how warp speed might be possible. We are still a long way from building interstellar spaceships. Just like we are long way from building a Thorium salt reactor that works and is economically viable.

Re:Thorium reactors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443217)

That is not an apt comparison (with a theoretical warp drive) as molten salt reactor technology has already been demonstrated, the concept is sound, and the main barrier to their development and deployment is a lack of interest. The thorium community is currently busy trying to advocate their use as many of us believe that the technology has the potential to dramatically lower the cost of energy by turning nuclear power into something universally desirable. These machines have the potential to be flexible, scalable, very clean, and super efficient. We could run our entire economy on these things, and if the low cost of production is demonstrated, we will be able to essentially eliminate poverty. Definitely a powerful idea worth pursuing.

Re:Thorium reactors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442533)

We haven't used them in the past because they did not produce plutonium for our weapons program. That's not a downside(?) anymore, and thorium looks good on paper, but there's still a lot of development work to be done, and no one is going to put in that kind of investment in the current NUCLEAR=EVIL environment no matter the rational merits. Sad, really.

Re:Thorium reactors? (1)

Zeromous (668365) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442551)

Capitalism and the fact Thorium does not produce products which can be weaponized.

I guess it sort of made sense at the time.

Re:Thorium reactors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442553)

Last I read, the dominant issues are the difference between "in theory" and "in practice" as well as the usual anti-nuke whiners. It might actually be the difference between "in lab tests" and "in large scale production" instead, but I think it's one of those typical engineering hurdles.

Re:Thorium reactors? (2)

sjames (1099) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442571)

Uranium reactors were developed first because we (the U.S.) needed bomb grade material. Thorium reactors cannot provide that.

Re:Thorium reactors? (2)

erice (13380) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442651)

I keep hearing about thorium reactors. What I've read of it seems to indicate it'd be much safer and cheaper to operate than what we've been using. I really haven't read about any downside to these. Anyone care to fill me in on why we aren't using them?

1) They are more complex than Uranium reactors we use now. The fuel is cheaper but fuel is not a major contributor to the cost of running a nuclear power plant.
2) They are inherently breeder reactors and that raises concerns about nuclear proliferation. U-232 contamination makes it actually rather difficult to use a Thorium reactor to make bomb material but not everyone is satisfied that is it difficult enough.
3) U-232 contamination also makes normal operation more difficult too. U-232 is an intense gamma emitter. All handling must be done remotely.
4) Politics has made it difficult to get even modernized non-breeder reactors built, much less anything as radical like thorium.

Re:Thorium reactors? (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443115)

They are inherently breeder reactors and that raises concerns about nuclear proliferation. U-232 contamination makes it actually rather difficult to use a Thorium reactor to make bomb material

Close but wrong. All you need to make Pu is some U (no big deal) and some excess neutrons laying around for the U to soak up... like from a Th reactor.

A Th reactor can cook above delayed critical (obviously, otherwise how does it power up?, think about it). So you have a convenient controllable source of excess of neutrons laying around, and its no great technical achievement to shove a U target in there to soak up the excess neutrons thus making yummy Pu.

You have a really awkward situation of trying to prove they're not operating sloppily given the burnup vs claimed power output ratio. Its like using a town's Census and GDP figures to prove there's a meth cook in the town based on monetary flow rates or something... its just not gonna happen.

Or you can play around with making a design thats barely critical when you crank out all the stops, which is going to be an unholy PITA to operate and probably not terribly stable.

Hilariously, if you build a dual purpose reactor made to generate power and have a facility for neutron activation (research, hospital radiation therapy, etc) then all you need to do is stick a chunk of U in the neutron activation pig (usually pneumatic like a bank drive thru window) and pop that dude in the reactor and you'll get SOME Pu. Now you'll need more than a research pig to make a big Pu powered boom anytime this century, but this can be scaled up and this gives you an idea whats up.

It'll be slow and non-productive, but some big booms are worth waiting for.

Re:Thorium reactors? (1)

cheesecake23 (1110663) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443343)

Very good summary of the arguments against Thorium, but your first point can be put more succinctly:

1) They are more complex than Uranium reactors we use now. The fuel is cheaper but fuel is not a major contributor to the cost of running a nuclear power plant.

1) There is no economic advantage to Thorium reactors.

And make no mistake: the main factor holding back nuclear all over the developed world is not safety issues, public opinion, waste management or proliferation, but cost.

Re:Thorium reactors? (1)

quax (19371) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443359)

If you read the TFA it links to a paper that discusses Thorium use in an accelerator driven reactor. I guess in a sense this is a breeder but the Thorium fuel cycle only requires Plutonium to achieve criticality. Don't see a need for it in this kind of sub-critical design.

Plutonium management really is a matter of political will, one can also argue that Thorium can be used to constrain Plutonium as this paper does (PDF) [iaea.org].

Re:Thorium reactors? (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442723)

You could watch "LFTR remix 2011" but since google/YouTube is down where you live:

-Banks don't like unknowns. A commercial-grade LFTR reactor has never been built. If it did they would know how long it would take for the reactor to make $.
-Current regulations only cover WW2-tech reactors. Anything else is a gray zone. So, no permits, etc.
-Current nuclear industry is a monopolistic cash-cow. They don't want to end the 25-year, sole source supply contracts for solid fuel.(You can't buy fuel pellets on special on E-bay or Walmart...)
-Governments want to please the NIMBYs and nuclear-phobes. They would rather live with the time-bomb reactors we have in service today.
-LFTR could kill the coal and the oil well business. so...

(BTW: Coal power plant makes radio active ashes)

Re:Thorium reactors? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443347)

That might explain why there are no such reactors in the US, but there are plenty of other countries interested in nuclear power. India is actively seeking thorium based solutions due to having large thorium deposits within their country, but still have a ways to go and will have to see how effective it is. There is still engineering to be done, it is not just regulations and lack of interest holding it back.

Re:Thorium reactors? (1)

werfu (1487909) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442805)

Thorium reactor designs are somewhat "new" or unproven compared to actual nuclear reactor. The nuclear reactors operators are somewhat conservative, but it's quite understandable. You don't want something going wrong when you mess with radioactivity. But we should see Molten-salt thorium reactor in a somewhat near future, India having bought the right to build them.

That's the long term plan for the industry (5, Insightful)

Que_Ball (44131) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442419)

Yes. Spent fuel has always been considered a long term asset by the nuclear industry. People in that industry believe that as mining the raw ore becomes more expensive and the technology for reprocessing the spent fuel becomes better it starts to become a more valuable source of future fuel.

The industry would be very different if the governments did not push the technology towards weapons production. The reactor designs we have are all old and they are designed in a way that facilitates the production of plutonium. If the research into other reactor and fuel designs that did not have as many dangerous byproducts were pursued it would be a safer industry today.

The most promising alternative is and was to use Thorium fuelled reactors instead of uranium. There is the potential for far safer reactor designs and far less hazardous waste when using that type of fuel. The USA took a relatively short look at this but then they stopped since they could not also produce weapons from these reactors and at the time it was all about the bomb. But from what I have read they will likely become a technology that becomes more interesting over time as it's capable of using depleted uranium along with the Thorium as a way to use up that spent fuel that's hanging around.

It should be obvious though there are significant challenges to getting the theory into a practical design. All those research reactor projects back in the 50's that gave engineers and scientists the knowledge to build the current reactors would need similar efforts to develop the technology for these alternative fuels and reprocessing technologies. It's starting to happen but in China and India where they have not lost their love for nuclear power yet.

Re:That's the long term plan for the industry (1)

kevkingofthesea (2668309) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442721)

The USA took a relatively short look at this but then they stopped since they could not also produce weapons from these reactors and at the time it was all about the bomb.

Alvin Weinberg (former head of the Oak Ridge National Lab) actually took on a fairly ridiculous nuclear aircraft project in order to be able to put more development time into LFTRs.

Re:That's the long term plan for the industry (2)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442997)

starts to become a more valuable source of future fuel.

To expand on that, non-nuke people think fuel is burned up and there's just a tiny percentage of ash remaining, like coal plants.

Nukes work differently. Usually the fuel rods have to support themselves... what fraction of atoms in a chunk of "stuff" can you screw up and its still recognizably a chunk of "stuff"? AKA "burnup" or "burnup ratio". Well it turns out "a percent or so" is the most you can do before mechanical properties get all weird. More with some chemistries and designs, less with others.

Imagine as a thought experiment a "coal plant" where the coal is formed into pencil like rods, and the rods are burned until it would be too risky WRT collapse. Maybe you could only burn one percent of the coal. The other 99% is perfectly ready to use coal, plus 1% of really icky waste contaminants that have to be removed. Thats kinda how nukes are.

By weight, almost all of the "waste" is perfectly good unburned fuel.

Re:That's the long term plan for the industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443163)

By weight, almost all of the "waste" is perfectly good unburned fuel, that would kill you if you ingested it or just got too exposed to it.

There, fixed that for you.

There's no such thing as nuclear waste... (4, Insightful)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442467)

... there's just stuff you haven't configured your second fast-breeder reactor to run on yet.

Re:There's no such thing as nuclear waste... (1)

Hillgiant (916436) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443333)

Yeah, sure until you have stripped everything down as far as will go and are left with a cloud of hydrogen gas... oh. I see. Clever.

But fusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442511)

We'll we'll all have energy too cheap to meter when fusion is developed.
In 20 years or so...

Resonates with me, for some reason (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442541)

"I never thought I'd see a resonance cascade, let alone create one. "

How much? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442545)

I thought the problem was that trying to scale the technology was very difficult. On facility said that they could transmute long lived radioactive isotopes into short lived only in small quantities. I think they transmuted something like 30g of material in 3 weeks!

If they can't scale this up.. BIGTIME.. then there's no way this will ever be useful. At the rate the waste is generated it will decay naturally before it could all be transmuted.

Yes, I work in the nuclear industry. When I read about this technology a year or so ago I was cautiously optimistic.

sounds too good to be true (2, Informative)

edxwelch (600979) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442575)

The "transmutation" of nuclear waste into harmless substances, sounds too good to be true? That's because it is. This paper takes a more critical look at the theory: www.laka.org/docu/boeken/pdf/6-01-5-56-25.pdf

"Transmutation of all long-lived radionuclides into short lived ones to a degree sufficient to obviate the need for a geologic repository is practically impossible. In particular, the transmutation of separated uranium, which constitutes about 94 percent of the weight of light water reactor spent fuel and which is very long-lived and generally
contaminated with some fission products, would be counterproductive. The main transmutation route for almost all the uranium would be to convert uranium-238 (the dominant isotope) into plutonium-239. Hence, the complete transmutation of uranium-238 essentially requires the creation of a plutonium economy, which would be unsound
whether viewed from an economic, environmental, or non-proliferation standpoint. Almost all the uranium must therefore be disposed of without transmutation as a matter of practical necessity. Other long-lived fission products as well as residual transuranic actinides would also need disposal. Hence, a repository, as well as other waste
management and storage facilities would still be an essential part of transmutation schemes. "

Re:sounds too good to be true (1)

thrich81 (1357561) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443195)

If they (the referenced paper, which I flipped through) are saying that you need to transmute the U-238 to a short-lived isotope to make it safe, they are nuts. U-238 has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and so is not very radioactive, it is what primarily comes out of the ground. If the industry were to just mine the natural uranium, take out the U-235 for reactors then put the leftover U-238 back into the ground (or dump it in the sea which already has a lot of natural uranium) then the final result is less natural radioactivity than what was started with. Considering U-238 as a dangerous waste product weakens their argument considerably.

Re:sounds too good to be true (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443227)

Yes, U-238 gets turned into Np-239 and then Pu-239 or Pu-240. One of the major difficulties people have transmuting U-238 into Pu-239 is that they need short irradiation times and lots of reprocessing to keep the Np-239 from picking up that extra neutron. A decent part of the energy from current reactors comes from transmuting and burning U-238. There's a lot of plutonium in the waste, which is too contaminated with Pu-240 for weapons use.

The whole point of this exercise was to burn the Pu-239 and Pu-240.

Stupid leftists hate radiation even more than they hate racism. I used to be a anti-nuclear leftist myself. Then I decided to study some physics.

Re:sounds too good to be true (1)

quax (19371) | about a year and a half ago | (#41443425)

As another commenter pointed out transmuting U238 is kind of pointless. The Minor Actinides is specifically what they are after (this becomes clear if you look at the linked papers and presentation in TFA).

you are missing the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442649)

what a laugh - only 200 years

200 years ago the wealthy were burning candles for light.
200 years ago horses were the fastest means of transport
200 years ago cobblestone pavement was state of the art infrastructure
200 years ago soldiers lined up opposing each other and fired flintlocks

who knows what state we will be in 200 years from now. better or worse.

How long for a thousand tons? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442741)

Gee....I wonder how long it would take to convert a thousand tons of waste? And it makes it decay in only two hundred years. So I guess we just put in a landfill in two hundred years. What could possibly go wrong?

Are accelerators power efficient? (1)

erice (13380) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442755)

Ive always heard of particle accelerators as enormous power hogs. Is this really an effective means of generating net power? If neutrons can be generated efficiently, couldn't you also use this to generate power by directly fissioning U-238? (I.e., not breading plutonium)

Re:Are accelerators power efficient? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442989)

Breeding (not breading like fried chicken!) plutonium is really much more power efficient -- you might get a lot of energy continuously fissioning U238, but a plutonium warhead will deliver far more power.

Re:Are accelerators power efficient? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443271)

Well, U-238, like Th-232, isn't fissile. U-238 absorbs a neutron to make Pu-239, and Th-232 absorbs one to make U-233. These are the fissile isotopes. Yes, you can use U-238 in the same way as Thorium, in ADSR or a breeder reactor, but there are two disadvantages: Thorium is more abundant and easier to mine than Uranium, and it doesn't produce Pu-239, so doesn't make it so easy to produce things that go boom.

In terms of the efficiency, you need a few MW of proton beam power at around 1GeV to drive a 2GW Thorium ADSR. That few MW of proton beam costs you tens of MW of electric power.

Still not enough (1)

slazzy (864185) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442841)

While I think this would be great to deal with the waste that already exists, I think for budgeting 200 years is longer than anyone is willing to think anyways, so it won't make much of a difference to the financial viability.

How big a plant? (2)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#41442913)

This has been talked up for a decade or two, but needs cost and capacity numbers.

There's also the painful fact that every reactor design that had anything mechanically non-trivial inside the reactor has been a flop. There have been two German pebble-bed reactors, both of which had pebble jams serious enough to cause major accidents with significant radiation leaks. Tsinghua University in China has one that's worked for a while, and that design is being scaled up. The Rongcheng Shidaowan Nuclear Power Plant, with two pebble-bed reactors, is under construction now. Completion in 2015. Maybe they can make it work. We won't really know until there are a few hundred reactor-years on that technology.

High temperature, gas-cooled reactors have been tried, but were troublesome. The only big one was Fort. St. Vrain, which had a lot of troubles with auxiliary equipment and corrosion. It only ran 10 years. No big safety issues, though; just high maintenance costs.

Maybe the wrong problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41442953)

Their stated advantage is that when you turn off the Neutron beam, the reactor stops reacting.

In a regular reactor, the control rods stops the primary reaction, but it takes about 24 hours before the thing can be left without active cooling.
    (Which combined with a dead cooling system due to flooded backup generators is what killed the reactor in Japan.)

We need a reactor that can be switched off and passively walked away from.
      (Also, not having storage pools outside containment would be nice as well.;-)

Are they saying this process is fundamentally safer in this way, or that it's just a better control rod.
    Perhaps with this system, there is no need for enough fuel to form a critical mass no matter what the geometry?

(That would be good.)

Speaking as a (ex) physicist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41443037)

The main problem up to now has been a problem of quantity done versus price. It is actually pretty damn cheap to put stuff in salt mine for a long time. Furthermore it is compounded by the fact very long term element (half life above 1000 years) are poorly radioactive and those below a few year half life are rapidely not a problem. And the final nail is that a lot of what is put in waste salt mine are actually useful and could be reused, but due to many concern on proliferation and dirty bombs, simply put in guarded salt mine.
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