Skip to main content

Used Nuclear Fuel and the Fission-Fusion Cycle

fusion-reactor-5 President-elect Obama often mentions the "safety" of used nuclear fuel as a block to a whole-hearted embrace of nuclear energy, so we wondered what thinking was going on that seeks to mitigate or even eliminate permanent or even (long-term) interim storage.

We might be all aboard the Yucca Mountain Limited, but recognizing the skittishness that some feel about it, what else might we do?

The NYT's Green Inc. blog reports on a notion to use fusion energy to further split and essentially put to immediate use plutonium and the transuranic elements to generate more energy - instant recycling, if you will:

But what if these “transuranics” could themselves be split? Yet more energy would be derived — but perhaps more importantly, the resulting waste, while still radioactive, would be far less long-lived. [note: which might forestall all the science fiction work Washington has done on how to warn people of the far future - or their ape successors -  that radiant elements are present.]


At the heart of the concept — which exists only on paper — is what the scientists call a “compact fusion neutron device.”

The compact nature of the reactor is key, as the immensity of previously designed fusion reactors - and the immense amount of energy they need to operate effectively - has kept them off the boards. But considering this is coming from academics still at the preparing-a-paper-for-a-journal phase, this is, at best, a long way from any sort of practical application - which, come to think of it, is true of fusion projects in general. But it is the percolation of ideas that has value.

Read the whole thing - it actually proved tough to excerpt - and see what you think.

Cutaway of an ITER Tokamak fusion reactor. See here for more on it. What the gentlemen in Austin have in mind hasn't seen publication yet.


Anonymous said…
Guys, See the IAEA's paper on fusion / fission breeder reactor:


I read an article about this back in 1977 when I was an RO on a submarine. This never took off because fusion could never be made self-sustaining and economical. Kirk Sorensen's molten salt thorium reactors or Carlo Rubbia's energy amplifiers are much better ideas:
Luke said…
Interestingly, the fission-fusion hybrid reactor concept dates at least as far back as an essay published in Physics Today in 1979 by the illustrious Hans Bethe.
donb said…
Looks to me like someone is fishing for more research money for a fusion reactor (which has been only 10 years off for the last 50 years).

At least one way of destroying actinides has already been demonstrated - the IRF, though the fuel fabrication cycle was not fully demonstrated (thank you Bill Clinton). This reactor could also burn up the many tons of depleted uranium we have around, both in used fuel from light water reactors and from the U235 enrichment process.

The molten salt thorium reactor mentioned above is also very interesting, and has already been demonstrated.

I say we first spend our money on things we already know work in order to make it commercially viable. Then we can go after more "speculative" solutions like Carlo Rubbia's energy amplifier.

I say we wait until we have working fusion reactors (I'm not holding my breath) before using their excess neutrons from fusion to destroy unwanted products from fission reactors.
M. Simon said…
There are other ways to fusion that might prove quicker and less expensive:

Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion

IEC Fusion Technology blog

Popular posts from this blog

A Billion Miles Under Nuclear Energy (Updated)

And the winner is…Cassini-Huygens, in triple overtime.

The spaceship conceived in 1982 and launched fifteen years later, will crash into Saturn on September 15, after a mission of 19 years and 355 days, powered by the audacity and technical prowess of scientists and engineers from 17 different countries, and 72 pounds of plutonium.

The mission was so successful that it was extended three times; it was intended to last only until 2008.

Since April, the ship has been continuing to orbit Saturn, swinging through the 1,500-mile gap between the planet and its rings, an area not previously explored. This is a good maneuver for a spaceship nearing the end of its mission, since colliding with a rock could end things early.

Cassini will dive a little deeper and plunge toward Saturn’s surface, where it will transmit data until it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere. The radio signal will arrive here early Friday morning, Eastern time. A NASA video explains.

In the years since Cassini has launc…

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.


The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.

What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot., the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.

From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…