Monday, July 30, 2012

What I’m reading: Nuclear power from nuclear waste?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2012 at 12:10 PM

When it comes to nuclear power, storing and disposing of spent fuel rods is a problem. Power plants have to keep the spent rods on site, because there’s nowhere else for them to go.

For environmentalists, the on-site storage is a major concern, though not the only one they have with nuclear power. And nuclear and critics agree that the spent rods pose safety and security problems. And storing the spent rods is costly for plant operators.

A recent article on Yale Environment 360 says that fast-breeder reactors could be a solution to the spent-fuel storage issue. The fast-breeder units can be run off of the plutonium contained in spent fuel rods, says the article. It also says that GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy wants to export a fast-breeder reactor to England for a test project; that country has the world’s largest stockpile of civilian-use plutonium.

“Theoretically at least, fast reactors can keep recycling their own fuel until all the plutonium is gone, generating electricity all the while,” the article says.

But fast-breeder reactors won’t solve all of the problems associated with nuclear power; among the other issues are water consumption, destructive uranium mining, and the cost of building reactors. The Yale E360 article asks whether fast-breeder reactors are a panacea; it hardly seems that they are. But if the technology works, it may help mitigate one serious problem.

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