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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. ;)


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