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Published on November 12th, 2013 | by Joshua S Hill

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New Research Suggests Nuclear Waste Could Be Reduced 90%

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November 12th, 2013 by
 
Researchers from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering have developed a method which would significantly reduce the volume of nuclear waste, by up to 85-95%. Not only would it reduce the volume, but the end product would also effectively lock in the radioactive plutonium, creating a stable end product, a much more appealing proposition than current radioactive end results.

The researchers have developed a method that would mix plutonium-contaminated waste with blast furnace slag to create glass, locking away the radioactive material and reducing nuclear waste volume by over 80%. This is a much more attractive option compared to current method of containing the radioactive material in copious measures of concrete, which in turn increases the overall volume of waste products.

“The overall volume of plutonium contaminated wastes from operations and decommissioning in the UK could be upwards of 31,000 m3, enough to fill the clock tower of Big Ben seven times over,” says lead researcher, Professor Neil Hyatt. “Our process would reduce this waste volume to fit neatly within the confines of just one Big Ben tower.”

“If we can reduce the volume of waste that eventually needs to be stored and buried underground, we can reduce the costs considerably. At the same time, our process can stabilise the plutonium in a more corrosion resistant material, so this should improve the safety case and public acceptability of geological disposal.”

The method is currently designed around certain plutonium products, such as filters, used personal protective equipment, and decommissioning waste such as metals and masonry (from a nuclear production facility, for example). Subsequently, this approach could be useful in treating the large amounts of contaminated waste currently located at the damaged Fukushima power plant in Japan, when a clean-up is approved.

The research comes in the wake of recent attention redirected back towards the need for nuclear energy to supplement renewable energies in weaning humanity off fossil fuel energies. A week ago four leading climate scientists authored a public letter asking “those influencing environmental policy” to consider safe nuclear energy as a means of supplementing renewable energy.

“As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are writing to urge you to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems,” they write, adding that “continued opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.”

The letter was followed by research from MIT which suggests that nuclear power plants could work in tandem with certain renewable energies to create hybrid power plants that “could add up to much more than the sum of its parts.”

While nuclear energy has never won a popularity vote, recent signs point to the fact that nuclear energy is going to be a vital intermediary step in reducing our dependence on fossil fuel energy, and creating an environment beneficial to all.

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About the Author

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.



  • Erwin Jones

    This site is super. I’ve been looking for information on Nuclear Waste. Your site will be bookmarked for future reference..

  • Others

    10 % of the World’s Oil is used for power generation and this is where Oil feels that Nuclear is threat.

    There is a clarion call to reduce Oil and that’s why even Oil exporting countries like Russia, Iran, UAE are building nuclear power plants to
    1. Export the Saved oil
    2. Leave some Oil for future generations
    3. Reduce pollution and global warming.

    So its very important to reduce oil consumption first instead of looking at Nuclear.

    So even oil exporting countries realized.
    Did Cleantechnica realize ???

    • A Real Libertarian

      Electric cars reduce oil consumption much more.

      Nukes aren’t needed for electric cars.

      Any more talking points?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Yes, we’ve often discussed where new nuclear is being considered. We’ve also watched countries talk about building new nuclear, look at the price, and walk away.

      More and more people are doing the math and finding nuclear priced off the table. In the last year several US proposed reactors have been canceled and planned upgrades abandoned.

  • JamesWimberley

    Quiggin’s Fork: nuclear can only compete with fossil fuels if there’s a carbon tax. If there’s a carbon tax, it can’t compete with wind and solar.

    • A Real Libertarian

      If there’s no carbon tax, it still can’t compete with wind and solar.

      There, fixed it for you.

  • CaptD

    I see this article as yet another bit of Nuclear Baloney* (NB) that seeks to somehow make the case that nuclear waste is much less of a BIG DEAL than it is! The industry tells us that what is needed is yet more R&D into new nuclear that will somehow reduce the amount of nuclear waste produced, to which I say N☢ THANKS, Solar (of all flavors) is far less expensive and has no nuclear RISK OR storage issues which must be included in all cradle to grave costs analysis used to compare what the actual costs of different energy systems is.

    Another thing not mentioned is that some nuclear waste (high burnup fuel rods like those used at San Onofre nuclear power plant (NPP) in CA) do not even have an approved storage system for long term storage, which means that the NRC has licensed the use of hotter fuel rods before they even have an approved storage system to contain them for however many decades that will be required to store them AFTER they have been kept in spent fuel pools for many years!

    Briefer on the DOE’s High Burn-Up Used Fuel Demonstration Project

    Despite what the folks that are PRO Nuclear want us to believe, the cost of using nuclear no longer pencils out, that is unless the political fix is in and Utility shareholders profits are more important than the true cost is to ratepayers that always get stuck paying for not only the expensive NPP but also the long term storage of all waste. Plus, that is if everything goes OK, if not then in the USA except for a $12 Billion Gov’t. fund, they might get stuck with a Trillion Dollar Eco-Disaster like Fukushima, which would spell G-A-M-E O-V-E-R for our economy!

    http://www.power-eng.com/articles/npi/print/volume-6/issue-5/departments/nuclear-world/briefer-on-the-doe-s-high-burn-up-used-fuel-demonstration-project.html

    * http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Nuclear+Baloney

  • MikeSmith866
    • CaptD

      Just because an article lists some potential positive things does not mean that they will ever become a reality, why are so many Pro Nuclear supporters willing to bet huge R&D costs on some unproven (in the real world not Lab) new nuclear tech when that same money spent on Solar (of all flavors), could be producing clean RISK-FREE energy for the next 30+ years?

      • MikeSmith866

        The links (if you read them) suggest we need solar, wind and nuclear.

        But you read them differently. Sorry I brought this up.

  • Others

    Typhoon Haiyan slammed Phillippines and killed more than 10,000 people and its obvious that its caused by global warming.

    Very little reference to global warming is talked here, had there been 1 nuclear plant in Phillippines, there should have been a big shout about the nuclear plant even if it has shut down safely and all those deaths should have been linked to that nuclear plant.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It is not clear how much of a role, if any, climate change played in Typhoon Haiyan. It will take some time for climate scientists to tease that apart.

      There has been some speculation that warmer ocean temperatures fed the cyclone, but at this point that is speculation.

      ” had there been 1 nuclear plant in Phillippines, there should have been a big shout about the nuclear plant even if it has shut down safely and all those deaths should have been linked to that nuclear plant.”

      That’s just batshit crazy talk.
      —-

      BTW, a few months ago the Philippines announced intentions to have 100% renewable electricity in a decade.
      http://cleantechnica.com/2013/06/29/philippines-makes-100-renewables-in-10-years-plan/

      • MikeSmith866

        I agree Bob that connecting the dots between Global Warming and Typhoons and Hurricanes is difficult.

        Here is a first shot.

        http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/typhoon-haiyan-influenced-by-climate-change-scientists-say-20131111-2xb35.html

      • Others

        After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Sandy, there was lot of linking to Global Warming. Same thing should hold true for Haiyan as well.

        If you feel that there is no connection between such events and global warming, then you are probably another global warming sceptic.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, I am by training and attitude a scientist.

          To date I’ve seen no general agreement among climate scientist as to the role global warming might be playing in cyclonic storms.

  • Bob_Wallace

    “… 91 million gallons (344.5 million liters) of high-level waste left
    over from plutonium processing, scores of tons of plutonium, more than
    half a million tons (453,592 metric tons) of depleted uranium, millions
    of cubic feet of contaminated tools, metal scraps, clothing, oils,
    solvents, and other waste? And with some 265 million tons (240 million
    metric tons) of tailings from milling uranium ore—less than half
    stabilized—littering landscapes?”

    http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/earth/inside-the-earth/nuclear-waste/

    What is the solution for all that radioactive waste?

    How about the used up reactors we’re letting rot in place?

    One Big Ben clock tower my ass.

    • Others

      Can you tell me as how much pollution is left by fossil fuels.

      Every year,
      7.8 billion tons of Coal
      4.2 billion tons of Oil
      3.0 billion tons of Natgas is burnt and in this process some 35 billion tons of CO2 is released into atmosphere also leaving massive amount of forests barren with the land messed up and water poisoned.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Can I tell you as how much pollution is left by fossil fuels?

        Yes, I can.

        Too damn much.

        There’s a good solution for that. It’s the same solution as for not adding more nuclear waste to our environment.

        Switch to renewable energy and quit using both fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

        • CaptD

          True, why are the Pro Nuclear and Pro Coal supporters having such a hard time understanding this key issue, they all claim to be so educated?

          • A Real Libertarian

            They understand very well. It’s why they lie so much, to keep the scam going just a bit longer.

  • Others

    Nuclear waste recycling is known technology and the French have been doing for years.

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Fuel-Recycling/Processing-of-Used-Nuclear-Fuel/

    • CaptD

      The French are also getting out of Nuclear and are now charging an additional tax on energy produced by Nuclear because they suddenly find that decommissioning all their aging nuclear power plants is going to cost MUCH MORE than they had estimated!

  • http://aircrap.org/ Dave Murphy

    Fusion Power Now! Turn mercury into GOLD!!

    CRIMINAL OBAMA STILL WORKING FOR WALLSTREET! LaRouchePAC 2

    • Peter Gray

      Really? LaRouche? Are you a member of the Flat Earth Society, too? If you don’t have anything sane to add, please take your nutball comments and videos to a site where someone might care.

  • JamesWimberley

    What’s with the “intermediary step”? Intermediary to what? Fusion? They are still at best two reactors and 20 years away from a commercial fusion design.

    Just do the thought experiment. Start your 50 GW crash nuclear programme (30 reactors) tomorrow. You get exactly zero electricity from them for 10 years. What do do you do meanwhile? Burn all the gas and coal you can? Game’s up for the climate. Or build out solar, wind, and geothermal? That looks better. But if you can do this to meet the demand before the nukes come on stream, why stop when they do? The renewables are all cheaper and more capable than today.

  • José DeSouza

    Too late because it won’t make nukes any more acceptable than it’s been so far. Nuclear’s greatest flaw lies inside the nuclear establishment itself:

    “Nuclear power requires obedience, not transparency. The gap between
    nuclear rhetoric and nuclear reality has been a fundamental impediment
    to wise energy policy decisions for half a century now. For various
    reasons in many nations, the nuclear industry cannot tell the truth
    about its progress, its promise or its perils. Its backers in government
    and in academia do no better.”
    (Peter A. Bradford, in : http://www.worldnuclearreport.org/World-Nuclear-Report-2013.html)

  • Senlac

    This is the only viable nuclear option that makes any sense. Use current waste in a salt brine reactor which is a lot safer. http://transatomicpower.com/index.php

  • Mark Benjamin David

    This sounds great, except, I am wondering how much energy it takes to do this, if it ends up costing more.

    This does sound ok, but, what about all the radioactive waters/waste in the Pacific? What about radioactive waste already dumped?

    Nuclear needs to be ended, not “fixed”. Until someone can safely come up with fusion that works without waste, and can be contained, all other nuclear options need to be stopped.

    Solar PV will overtake everything in residential market for producing electricity. Wind especially, along with Solar, and also hydro and other renewables will also overtake for commercial, and condo/apartment dwellers.

  • Grad

    “recent signs point to the fact that nuclear energy is going to be a vital intermediary step in reducing our dependence on fossil fuel energy”

    Quite the opposite: nuclear has become obsolete, because renewables are now much cheaper and much faster to deploy.

    But it is good news that something can be done with radioactive waste. But of course, this further worsens economics of nuclear plants.

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