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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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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?


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