Much of the anxiety about nuclear energy is due to Cold War-era fears of nuclear weapons. Fortunately nuclear weapons & civilian nuclear energy couldn’t be more dissimilar. Reactors from civilian plants don’t blow up like atomic bombs & nuclear waste isn’t a glowing toxic ooze.
The total volume of nuclear waste material, including all military related nuclear waste, accumulated over 60 years is less than .01% (one hundredth of one percent) of the total volume of coal burned every year in the USA—every year!
e=mc2 “The great advantage of nuclear power is its ability to wrest enormous energy from a small volume of fuel. Nuclear fission, transforming matter directly to energy is several MILLION times as energetic as chemical burning, which merely breaks chemical bonds.
Light-water reactors consume less than 2% of the potential energy within the uranium fuel. The light-water reactor technology is incapable of using the remaining energy within the spent uranium, which is why it is called “spent fuel"
Spent nuclear fuel is not “waste” — if spent fuel is kept for another 50 years, then the development of new Fast Nuclear Reactors (FNRs), which scientists are improving on today. They will be capable of consuming the energy remaining in the spent fuel, with minimal waste.
What is a fast reactor?
Traditional reactors contain moderators to slow down neutrons, fast reactors keep their neutrons moving (hence the name). Fast neutrons can unlock the energy in the dominant isotope of uranium (U238) and thus extend known fuel resources by around 200x.
Fast reactors are capable of destroying the longest-lived nuclear waste, transforming it to waste that decays to harmlessness in centuries rather than hundreds of millennia.
Fast reactors typically use liquid metal coolants rather than water. These have superior heat-transfer properties and allow natural circulation to remove the heat in even severe accident scenarios. The result:
So if something goes very wrong at the plant, and none of the operators are awake, AND none of the control rods work, the reactor can just naturally shut itself down.
One of the only ways to really destroy nuclear waste is to burn it in fast reactors. So, by providing good responses to the sustainability and the waste toxicity, fast reactors have maintained the interest of much of the forward-looking nuclear crowd.
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