Feeds

Hybrid fusion-fission reactors to run on nuclear 'sludge'

Most nuke waste actually useful fuel, say boffins

Intelligent flash storage arrays

At the end, the high-level waste needing to be stored would be one per cent of the original amount.

"We have created a way to use fusion to relatively inexpensively destroy the waste from nuclear fission," says Kotschenreuther.

There have long been plans to deal with nuclear wastes by neutron bombardment, of course, but these have normally centred on the use of normal fission-driven processes to provide the neutrons rather than fusion. Such "fast breeder" reactors have been built by many countries. However, waste processing has been only one of their goals - fast breeders have also been historically seen as a means of artificially creating fissionable fuel and/or weapons material, though this aim has lost relevance as it is expensive and troublesome compared to mining or waste-processing. (There turns out to be more uranium ore in the world than people thought back in World war Two.) Most commercial-scale fast breeder facilities worldwide have shut down in recent decades.

But Kotschenreuther seems to suggest that hybrid fusion/fission processing would be much cheaper, so much so as to be cheaper than simply storing wastes. He and his colleagues believe that one hybrid fusion-fission reactor could process the transuranic "sludge" output of ten to 15 LWRs. The special Super-X-Divertor tokamak cores of these facilities would be only the size of a small room, according to the scientists.

Mahajan, Kotschenreuther and their colleagues obviously look forward to the day when fusion reactors can produce abundant energy on their own, avoiding the need for scarce uranium. On that long-anticipated day, the human race's energy problems will largely be over - fusion, the same process that powers the sun, involves no carbon emissions, no troublesome wastes and no finite resources. The only fuel needed would be isotopes of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, easily extracted from water.

But the advent of fusion power has been expected for a long time, and the human race needs to start getting off fossil fuels now.

"The hybrid we designed should be viewed as a bridge technology," says Mahajan. "Through the hybrid, we can bring fusion via neutrons to the service of the energy sector today. We can hopefully make a major contribution to the carbon-free mix dictated by the 2050 time scale set by global warming scientists."

The nuclear boffins say that research tokamak facilities in the UK and US are interested in testing out their Super X Divertor tech. Their research is published in the January issue of Fusion Engineering and Design. An abstract and DOI details can be viewed here. ®

Bootnote

*The normal method of getting an atom to "fission", or split into smaller ones, is to bang a flying neutron into it. The neutron comes from another unstable atom which has split on its own. In normal fission reactors, the neutron-split atoms then release more neutrons to split more atoms, so making the process self-sustaining.

In a weapon, by cramming together a lot of highly refined fission-y atoms very quickly using ordinary explosives, the process can be made to go runaway so fast that the lump of material has no time to melt or otherwise separate itself out and so reduce the intensity of the neutron hail as would normally happen. The result is a nuclear explosion.

No doubt most of you remember all this from school - sorry to waste your time.

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.