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Not quite a two-seater hybrid electric, but ORNL's new nuclear fuel promises to boost efficiency by as much as 900%.

U.S. Nuclear reactors are not known for their fuel efficiency. At a mere three to four percent burn-up, much of the uranium fuel is wasted and current reactors produce large amounts of unsightly nuclear waste. Advanced gas reactors may offer a better choice for the aging U.S. nuclear power posse.

Working together with the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and the Babcock & Wilcox Company, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), with funding from the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Science, has produced a new fuel for the high temperatures of advanced gas reactors. In tests conducted at the Advanced Test Reactor at INL, the fuel reached a nine percent burn-up, a near three-fold efficiency gain from traditional water-cooled nuclear plant fuel and halfway to the targeted 16 to 18 percent.

The fuel, produced in the ORNL Materials Science and Technology Division, is made up of thousands of tiny carbon and silicon carbide coated spheres of uranium, which are compressed into fuel sticks and loaded into a graphite form.

With growing concerns about nuclear reactor waste products, skeptical outlooks for the future of nuclear power and foreign companies selling mini-plants to U.S. customers, a new, more efficient fuel made in America is a ray of hope for U.S. nuclear power advocates. Though it will possibly never be without its own pollution problems, further refinement and research into fission reactors may yield a very efficient and comparatively clean energy generation model.



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Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By FITCamaro on 4/15/2008 9:27:35 AM , Rating: 5
All we have to do is reprocess spent fuel back into old fuel rods and then the waste is minimal.

It'd be nice to see the US turn into a nuclear nation. Power bills that don't fluctuate with the price of oil or natural gas. No air pollution. Not to mention it would require far fewer plants.




RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By Jedi2155 on 4/15/2008 9:29:09 AM , Rating: 2
Except the reprocessing procedure is still an extremely costly AND dirty procedure. Which is why is isn't done as often as you think.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By Jedi2155 on 4/15/2008 9:31:52 AM , Rating: 1
Sorry I meant the plants involved in reprocessing were usually pretty dirty....in particular one located in France....


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By arazok on 4/15/2008 9:39:46 AM , Rating: 1
Yeah, but everything in France is dirty. I'm sure any American version would be much more sanitary. ;)


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By elessar1 on 4/15/2008 9:49:56 AM , Rating: 2
can you add a link to this information??? (i'm lazy, i know)

thanks... ;)


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By Jedi2155 on 4/25/2008 1:08:24 AM , Rating: 2
Sorry for the late reply but here's the place I was referring to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COGEMA_La_Hague_site


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By masher2 (blog) on 4/15/2008 10:03:17 AM , Rating: 2
> "Except the reprocessing procedure is still an extremely costly AND dirty procedure"

It's not terribly dirty....and it's only costly in comparison to the price of raw uranium, which at present is such a minimal amount of the cost of nuclear power it's essentially meaningless.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By bobbronco on 4/16/2008 1:02:33 AM , Rating: 4
quote:
it's only costly in comparison to the price of raw uranium


I suppose you have a different definition of "costly" that the rest of us, or for that matter the National Academy of Sciences. The NAS put out this little report in the mid 90s at the request of the DOE called Nuclear Wastes: Technologies for Separation and Transmutation. This panel of scientists and engineers involved with the industry concluded that recycling transuranics contained in spent fuel rods, that would otherwise have been stored in Yucca Mountain or elsewhere, would require "at least $50 billion [dollars] and easily could be over $100 billion."

On top of that, these numbers would likely have to be doubled to account for the amount of spent fuel that the existing U.S. reactor population is expected to expel during their lifetimes - let alone any new reactors that are built as part of the proposed "nuclear renaissance" in the power industry. For reprocessing to be ultimately viable and self sustaining, a significant percentage of those new reactors would need to be specially configured breeders which are much more expensive to build than their water-cooled counterparts and would require even larger government subsidies to construct and operate. That last point not withstanding, that's something like $500-$1000 dollars for every person in the U.S., a figure that throws a wrinkle in the arguably optimistic $0.02/kWh cost estimate for nuclear power generation moving forward.

Amortizing this cost out over say 30 or 40 or 50 years makes it easier to justify, but I say it's much easier and cheaper just to forgo reformation altogether and store spent fuel in dry casks or in geologic repositories. That way you don't have to worry about tons and tons of extra separated plutonium, something of which we have too much of already, lying around from bare reformation. Just throw everything in the ground, erect some universal warning monolith that future generations will understand, and be done with it.


By SectionEight on 4/15/2008 10:13:48 AM , Rating: 5
Dirtier than getting 70% of our electric from burning coal and natural gas? I think not.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By aftlizard on 4/15/2008 9:45:52 AM , Rating: 5
Reprocessing isn't even needed. Breeder reactors create their own fuel. On top of that the waste products can be reprocessed into other needs such as medical products. There will still be waste that must be contained and disposed of but we need to do something and IMO Nuclear Energy is the best way to achieve energy independence for home energy and as you said it withstands the price pressures of the volatile fuel market.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By masher2 (blog) on 4/15/2008 10:02:07 AM , Rating: 2
> "Reprocessing isn't even needed. Breeder reactors create their own fuel"

You still have to reprocess to get the bred fuel, however. And since you're doing that, most breeder programs go ahead and reprocess the original fuel elements as well.


By QuantumPion on 4/15/2008 10:24:29 AM , Rating: 5
There is a reactor prototype called the IFBR which has the capability to breed fuel and reprocess it at the plant itself. It uses a simple casting process to melt the fuel down, separate it, and reform it on-site.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By AntiM on 4/15/2008 10:45:11 AM , Rating: 2
I can envision a day when nuclear power is safe and clean. I can even imagine everyone having their own nuclear powered generator in their home, something about the size of a refrigerator, eliminating the need for electric companies and power lines. They can then recharge their electric car that can go 2000 miles on a 1/2 hour charge. Maybe in 100 years there will even be nuclear powered vehicles.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By spluurfg on 4/15/2008 12:18:46 PM , Rating: 3
Gee, I don't know if that's feasible...

Radioisotope Thermoeletric generators (generators which convert the heat from a radioactive material into electricity) are compact and have been used in satellites frequently, but for example the unit used on the Voyager probe generated only 400W of power. This would only be 0.5 horsepower, not measured in terms of output after conversion to mechanical energy but before. This was using 4.5kg of radioactive material...

In terms of having a nuclear fission reactor in a vehicle or home... well that just sounds scary.


By murphyslabrat on 4/15/2008 3:00:52 PM , Rating: 2
So, you're telling me that with a 14-pound power-supply, I could have a computer that was completely self-powered?


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By AntiM on 4/15/2008 3:54:54 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Gee, I don't know if that's feasible...

quote:
Radioisotope Thermoeletric generators (generators which convert the heat from a radioactive material into electricity) are compact and have been used in satellites

Converting heat directly into electricity is the key. Just think of the things we have today that weren't feasible 50 years ago.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By spluurfg on 4/15/2008 5:21:56 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Converting heat directly into electricity is the key. Just think of the things we have today that weren't feasible 50 years ago.


Completely true, but on the other side of the coin, around the 60's everybody thought nuclear power meant practically unlimited, cheap, reliable, clean electricity. Didn't turn out perfectly. But I agree that there's a tremendous amount of potential, and I hope that attempt #2 goes better.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By masher2 (blog) on 4/15/2008 8:08:48 PM , Rating: 2
> "[in] the 60's everybody thought nuclear power meant practically unlimited, cheap, reliable, clean electricity. Didn't turn out perfectly."

It would have, had we not stopped building new plants, particularly the newer designs which are safer, cleaner, and more efficient.

It's also interesting to note that, even though our current reactors are essentially 1960s-era tech, the nuclear industry is still generating electricity for under 2c/kW-h.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By spluurfg on 4/16/2008 2:46:45 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
It would have, had we not stopped building new plants, particularly the newer designs which are safer, cleaner, and more efficient.


Exactly... even if the technology is fine, things have a habit of going wrong... Also, for 2c/Kw-h, does that include amortization?


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By Samus on 4/16/2008 1:29:39 AM , Rating: 1
Nuclear power kills far less people than any other fuel. Oil has killed millions. Look at Iraq. Has you seen There Will Be Blood?

I'm shock the Old Testament doesn't discuss oil, as religion is probably the only other product of modern civilization I can think of that has killed more people.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By Polynikes on 4/15/2008 11:04:09 AM , Rating: 3
I don't understand what kind of retarded political crap is stopping us. Why do we bury fuel? It's not like this stuff grows on trees. Like oil, there is a finite amount.


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By KingConker on 4/15/2008 12:33:00 PM , Rating: 2
Actually we (the UK) take all your waste Nuclear sh*t (depleted fuel rods)and process them.

We carefully make sure to use minimal security and due care when transporting the stuff - typically via rail so if it doesn't get delayed via a faulty signal and actually remain on the rails we can then process it with equally 'careful' attention. We don't actually want to do the work ourselves so we let the Polish our friends do it for us. They want to do a god job, but our unions prevent them from doing so and call a strike because 35 days annual leave is not enough.

In a typical Heath Robinson (bodge stylee) fashion we then stick it somewhere in the countryside and build a housing development on top because we can't remember where we buried it and then let all the chavs on benefit move in whilst we pay for their rent.

Built in Britain - God Save the Queen :)


RE: Nuclear waste is unneccessary
By Spuke on 4/15/2008 5:28:20 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Built in Britain - God Save the Queen :)
But you're not bitter. ;)


By kjboughton on 4/15/2008 11:29:43 AM , Rating: 3
Nuclear power has been the future of energy production for a while now. Environmentalists are just too stupid to realize it. I suppose they'd rather has coal or "natural" gas plants spew waste directly into the surrounding air. The let the word 'nuclear' scare them into thinking they should be afraid. I swear, it's almost like watching those movies were the caveman is terrified of fire because he doesn't know what it is...




By kjboughton on 4/15/2008 2:19:29 PM , Rating: 5
I've spent over six years in nuclear power overseeing the operation of a multitude of different plants. Trust me when I tell you they are no more dangerous than any other heavily industrialized area.

The fact that you show fear for the sirens located near your home just goes to prove my point. I bet there's a fire alarm in every public building you enter but I doubt you get all fearful of the constant threat of a fire whenever you enter one of these places. If you're smart then there's a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, too - am I to believe my life would be in grave danger if I came over for dinner for one evening? Point being, safety systems are intended to provide protection in the case of an accident, not to forshadow any increased sense of threat.

Could it be that the “ominous threat” is just a byproduct of your conditioning? It’s important to understand that nuclear power can be just as safe as any other industry. The first step in all of this is to help people realize that they may have an unfounded bias against this wonderful source of power.


By mindless1 on 4/16/2008 5:20:12 AM , Rating: 1
Apples and oranges. If my neighbor across town has a fire in their kitchen while I'm asleep, it's not likely I'd have any problems as a result the next day. Not only the scope but the controllablilty of a disaster is far better with most types of accident.

I'm not saying the odds are higher, as I don't think they are, but the same basic greed and human error scenarios can effect everything. Odds are it'll never be a problem. Odds catch up to some people eventually.


By FITCamaro on 4/15/2008 2:28:58 PM , Rating: 2
The only thing bad about that plant is that its decommissioned.

So instead of the one in several thousand, or tens of thousand, chance of the nuclear plant blowing up, you'd rather have a coal plant spewing black smoke.

You base nuclear safety off the few incidents of disaster from poorly funded plants. And even if it was 100% guaranteed that a nuclear plant would never have problems, they'd still have speakers outside to warn of a problem. It's called "just in case".


By Durrr on 4/15/2008 9:44:56 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention the radioisotopes a coal plant churns out on a daily basis is astounding.


By kjboughton on 4/15/2008 2:33:06 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
Once the chain reaction gets out of control it's bend over and kiss your bottom goodbye.


What???? Are you speaking from experience or are you just spurting out nonsense? Do you have any idea how a nuclear chain reaction works or are you trying to dazzle us with your BS? I call shenanigans. I know what could happen should multiple levels of automatic and manual safeties were to fail and it wouldn’t involve any bending or kissing.

Way to feed the fire. Its statements like these that will keep us forever tied to energy sources controlled by some of the most evil regimes in history.


By Chernobyl68 on 4/16/2008 12:18:28 PM , Rating: 2
LOL I read that bit and started laughing as well. Ignorant hyterics can be quite amusing.


By Fenixgoon on 4/15/2008 9:22:30 PM , Rating: 2
I lived near Calvert Cliffs Nuclear power plant in MD and I was glad to hear that they were a site considered for an additional reactor expansion. Nuclear power = win.

Nuke plants != nuke bombs. I think many people have that misconception.


By Alexstarfire on 4/16/2008 1:06:46 AM , Rating: 2
That is so true. While you may be able to turn a nuclear plant into a nuclear bomb, it'd be a monumental waste of time. A nuclear meltdown is far different from a nuclear explosion.


By Chudilo on 4/15/2008 1:27:44 PM , Rating: 1
You people sound ridiculous.
Quit listening to what the media is trying to feed you and think for yourself.
If you think nuclear is so great, ask yourself this: Would you live within a line of sight of a nuclear plant?
Would you let your children play near the plant?
Well why not, if you think that it's so darn safe.

I am originally from and area within 130 kilometers of the Chernobyl plant. There are 3500 sq miles of beautiful and pristine farmland with rivers and lakes that now lies in waste. and will do so for the next 500 years. This is not your average ash pollution or an elevated level carbon dioxide in the direct surrounding area.

Clouds containing radiation from the accident have traveled great distances. Causing all sorts of mutations and cancers in many areas. Humanity still does not have all of the real data on long term effects of this thing.
If you think that US has not had any incidents , you better do some research. It only takes a couple of arrogant idiots or an extremely well executed plan to create destruction that has not seen an equal.
Beware what you are asking for.


By masher2 (blog) on 4/15/2008 2:25:41 PM , Rating: 3
Chernobyl was a design the US (and the rest of the world, except for the Soviets) rejected as being far too dangerous all the way back in the 1950s. The US's equivalent accident was TMI -- which proved the complete safety of the design. Not one single person was harmed by TMI, and no dangerous levels of radiation were released.

Meanwhile, the amount of daily environmental destruction from hundreds of coal-fired power plants continnues constantly. It's not sexy, so it doesn't get as much press...but tens of thousands of people die annually from health problems caused by coal pollution.

I won't even go into your exaggeration of the effects of Chernobyl. It's not relevant, as such runaway reactions are impossible with Western negative-void reactors...and we have far safer design on the books, should environmentalists ever allow us to build them.


By FITCamaro on 4/15/2008 2:31:35 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Would you live within a line of sight of a nuclear plant?


Yup. The high current power lines present more of a danger than the plant itself ever will.


By Haven Bartton on 4/15/2008 2:43:03 PM , Rating: 2
That's not really a great argument. I certainly wouldn't let my kid play near a coal/gas power plant either. Actually, I'd *rather* them play nearer a nuclear plant (if forced to choose). Barring some sort of significant disaster, there are no ill effects of simply breathing air near to the plant.

Chernobyl was an awful, terrible disaster, there is no doubt of that. But all sources of power have their inherent dangers. Just ask all the coal miners who get all sorts of respiratory diseases from their work. Just ask the soldiers dying in the Middle East (and not just Allied soldiers, taking all sides into consideration) to secure oil reserves (though of course there are other factors).

I'm no expert, but from what I do understand nuclear power is still the most efficient, cleanest, and altogether safest option we have. Most importantly, it's available right now, unlike alternatives such as solar panelling which is not yet efficient enough to use en masse.


By FITCamaro on 4/15/2008 3:29:42 PM , Rating: 1
quote:
and not just Allied soldiers, taking all sides into consideration


I really don't give a shit about the "soldiers" dying on the other side. They're murderers who don't even blink an eye at killing women and children.

quote:
to secure oil reserves


Yes thats why we're fighting. Because we're getting so much from Iraq's oil. The first oil contract out of Iraq went to China.


By nofranchise on 4/16/2008 4:33:41 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
Yes thats why we're fighting. Because we're getting so much from Iraq's oil. The first oil contract out of Iraq went to China.


So...why ARE you fighting?

Find any WMD's yet?


By mindless1 on 4/16/2008 5:38:50 AM , Rating: 1
Ah, good old stereotypes. ALL of the supposed enemy, every last soldier must be woman and child murderers. Seems pretty impossible their society could exist as it did at all if that were the case rather than the notible exceptions - even if those exceptions were higher than we or they would like.

Basically you are saying it's ok to kill men or boys, just not women or children? Maybe you're just using an excuse to hate? Perhaps in your attempt to find a target for your feelings of anger or powerlessness, you have been too eager to indict nameless faceless strangers?

Individuals do bad deeds, focus on that. If you want to think in terms of groups, in the good ole US of A, groups of people do some pretty terrible things too, then spewing some nonsense about group or herd mentality as if that excuses personal irresponsibility.

If you only mean a select few plural soldiers, not all of them, then a select few of the US soldiers aren't exactly saints either. The military, all volunteer militaries, tend to draw in those who are not just full of anger but want to act on it. Military - another convenient excuse for herd mentality, lack of personal responsiblity. It's just unfortunate the military is also a vital group with an important purose, or really I should write fortunate.

It's not the soldiers that are the problem. It's the leaders and lack of punishment for soldiers that cross the line.


By rcc on 4/15/2008 7:20:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
If you think nuclear is so great, ask yourself this: Would you live within a line of sight of a nuclear plant?


Yup, I do.
The kids surf near by. They love it. Little buggers don't even glow in the dark. They were hoping.

I'd much rather live here, then downwind of a coal or oil plant, thank you very much.


By mindless1 on 4/16/2008 5:23:19 AM , Rating: 1
Because I had a reasonable expectation that the area was far more heavily monitored, and if I had access to the environmental data to ease my mind, yes I would let my children play near the plant - but they'd also be taught what those sirens mean, as well as taught about what a car horn or many other indicators of potential harm are.


By djc208 on 4/16/2008 7:59:05 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
If you think nuclear is so great, ask yourself this: Would you live within a line of sight of a nuclear plant?


Every parent with a kid in the Navy basically does. If you live within sight of a naval base you most likely do as well. Every sailor on an aircraft carrier or submarine lives, eats, sleeps, works and (for subs) breaths on around and because of that reactor and no one thinks twice, because there's never been a reason for them to do so.

Truth is nuclear power is just like guns or hazerdous materials or even your car. You should be afraid of it, it's extremely dangerous and not to be taken lightly, but that doesn't mean they're bad, or that we shouldn't use them.


Clarification please ?
By Reclaimer77 on 4/15/2008 6:30:53 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
U.S. Nuclear reactors are not known for their fuel efficiency.


This implication here, is that other countries are using more advanced high efficiency reactors ?

I'm pretty sure we're on the cutting edge of efficient nuclear reactors. If your going to make a statement like this, I feel you should provide comparison data on other countries and how much more " efficient " their reactors are.




RE: Clarification please ?
By Phillipma on 4/15/2008 9:15:34 PM , Rating: 2
You are quite mistaken. Because of the ban on building new nuclear reactors, the US has quite old reactors compared to countries that are currently allowed to build new reactors.

Do we have designs that are as you say on the "cutting edge of efficient nuclear reactors"? Absolutely, but since we can't build them and put them into operation they aren't doing us much good.

Once the new reactors start being built and producing electricity then you will see how quickly all these people change sides.


RE: Clarification please ?
By Durrr on 4/15/2008 9:50:21 PM , Rating: 2
The most efficient designs are in fact designed in the US at various universities, however, the designs are actually employed mostly in France and Japan.

I forget exactly what year, but there has been a moratorium on new reactor designs allowed to be employed for some time. Only the US Navy which operates outside the DOE was able to do R&D with new reactor designs and actually employ them.


RE: Clarification please ?
By mindless1 on 4/16/2008 5:42:19 AM , Rating: 2
You are mistaken with your idea that if someone expresses a fact, or opinion, that differs with your own, that it is then THEIR burden to prove something you didn't bother to yourself. You are the one making the claim this is incorrect and as such it is you who has the initial contradictory burden if anyone does.


RE: Clarification please ?
By Reclaimer77 on 4/16/2008 4:39:45 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
You are mistaken with your idea that if someone expresses a fact, or opinion, that differs with your own, that it is then THEIR burden to prove something you didn't bother to yourself. You are the one making the claim this is incorrect and as such it is you who has the initial contradictory burden if anyone does.


Who, what, when, where, why. The five W's of good journalism. If this simple rule every fifth grader is taught is always used, then there would be be no burden of proof.

Until I see some numbers, I'm going to assume our reactors rock your face :P


Severe Misrepresentation
By jtemplin on 4/15/2008 10:20:45 PM , Rating: 2
Describing the downsides of nuclear waste typically might include descriptions of half-life decay times, deleterious effects on biological systems etc instead the worst the author had to say was this:
quote:
unsightly nuclear waste


The flamingo in my neighbors lawn is unsightly...but it definitely isn't going to cause genetic mutations.




RE: Severe Misrepresentation
By nofranchise on 4/16/2008 4:49:30 AM , Rating: 1
Well said sir!

I once witnessed the incredible process of "safe" storage of spent fuel rods. From the rods being inserted into a HUGE metal/concrete cylinder - which is warm to the touch because of the radiation - to the transport by boat and the insertion into deep primeval bedrock.

This is a costly and still controversial process, and I am very pleased, some research is going into improving the way we handle nuclear waste - or hopefully lack of waste in the future.

On a side note: Lets build nuclear plants, but keep the electricity bill high, and spend the extra cash on research into fusion. Come on people - how long can it take to get this to work!!??


RE: Severe Misrepresentation
By mindless1 on 4/16/2008 5:46:26 AM , Rating: 2
Let's not keep the electric bill high, that places a burden on the poor working class upon which the country depends.

Let's instead place a large tax on luxury electrical products, even a lesser tax on non-electrical luxury products because manufacturing and distribution isn't *free*.


Pebble bed rods
By nafhan on 4/15/2008 11:29:00 AM , Rating: 2
Sounds very similar to a pebble bed reactor:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor

The main difference being the "pebbles" are pressed into fuel rods presenting a similar form factor to traditional nuclear reactors. Similarities being the gaseous coolant and the use of nuclear fuel pebbles.

Go nuclear! :)




Nuclear balony
By andrinoaa on 4/15/2008 6:01:36 PM , Rating: 2
Yea yea yea, Ive heard it all before. I heard it when I was a kid, I heard it yesterday and the day before.
Nuclear power is a dead end, when will these guys ever learn. It's time to pick the "low lying fruit" before we spent another trillion or so on this dirty research. I say enough is enough already. IT AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN.




By phxfreddy on 4/15/2008 6:59:34 PM , Rating: 2
ever notice most libs males are somewhat less than manly in their thinking methodology? I'm happy to see we have a truly manly crowd commenting!




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