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March 23, 2008



It's not recycling.
It's reprocessing.

Re-"Cycling" infers there's a cycle.

This however is:
1. Enriched Uranium
2. Depleted Uranium
3. Plutonium Oxide
The End.



==but recycling overcomes my main concern for nuclear power as it greatly reduces the amount of waste requiring long term storage and can reduce the time that the stored waste remains fissile.==

Who cares if it reduces the volume of the waste, if it doesn't decrease the radioactivity of the waste?

The limits to nuclear waste storage isn't volume.

Also it only reduces the time that it's stored if you assume that it's going to be run through a Fast Neutron Reactor.

Which for now, is merely wishful thinking.

Jim from The Energy Blog

GreyFlcn- The authors of the paper used the term recycling, so I just used their term. Besides if the uranium is processed so that it can be fed back to reactors for reuse, I would call that recycling.

"leaving a small amount of fission product waste which requires assured isolation from the environment for less than 500 years.” tells me that the waste is less radioactive than waste leaving the reactor. The quantity of waste is important if you have limited space to store it.


GreyFlan- Recycled, or reprocessed, doesn't matter. The energy extracted is orders of magnitude greater than current nukes. This is extraordinary and the best energy option out there for electricity. Radioactivity and waste IS reduced. 500 years vs tens of thousands is one, the other is the total volume. This, again is orders of magnitude less waste. From an engineering and environmental standpoint, fast nuclear reactors are by far the best strategy to pursue as long as humans desire electricity. If you ask "then why aren't we doing it", I think you could chalk that one up to the fact that those people in places of leadership in this country, (or those with influence over those people) are probably even less informed of the true benefits of this system than you are.

Charles Barton

GreyFlcn, you appear to be illiterate about nuclear issues. The radiation from chain reaction daughter products decreases rapidly. Within a few years, useful stable isotopes can be extracted from post-reactor fuel. The fact that once radioactive materials become stable they have industrial uses means that they are not waste at all.


Three historical problems with nuclear fission energy have been:

1. Safety of the reactor. (3-Mile Isle & Chernobyl) Newer low energy reactor designs are much safer. Let's hope that's true for these high energy reactors as well.

2. Possibility of theft from uranium and plutonium waste and their use for terrorist attack. (fission bombs or dirty bombs)

3. Cost and safety of storing large amounts of high-level nuclear waste for 1,000 of years. The cost is directly related to:
volume of waste X life of waste

Seems like development of high energy reactors would go a long way to solving the last two. I've read current fission reactors only use about 4% of the uranium fuel used. High energy fission could use the majority of it. Way easier to deal with the waste.

I'm all for solar, but hope they continue to move forward with high energy fission reactors as well. If they can come up with a fail-safe design this would be excellent!

(Now, if we could just move Hanford some distance away from the Columbia river. Pipe the water. I don't like have a reactor and high level waste disposal site so close to the main river of a major bread basket AND on a geological fault line.)


To Charles Barton and anyone else delusional enough to think ANY type of nuclear power had a chance for a comeback in the US: you appear to be ignorant of economics, politics, and social psychology.

"Lack of leadership"!?!? How laughable, unless perhaps you are referring to the banking industry, the true driver of all energy policy. Can you name a bank that will finance a conventional nuclear plant in the US right now, much less a fast breeder?

I didn't think so. On the other hand, at least 10 major banks have recently announced policies that bar them from investing in nuclear technologies.

Face it, if nuclear power didn't go anywhere under a Republican-controlled executive, judicial and legislative branch government, it sure isn't going anywhere now.

Nuclear energy has way too many problems (high present costs expected to go higher due to high uranium prices, lack of skilled manpower, high capital costs, financial industry jitters, "lack of leadership," etc., etc., etc.), and the chances of overcoming those problems in time to make any sort of useful contribution to energy policy goals (energy security, for instance) is absolutely nil. And when proponents offer to fix those problems by developing even more complex, expensive and dangerous technologies, it just further drives that industry into financial oblivion.

I'm sorry to burst the pro-nuke apologists' bubble, but among those who actually deal with energy policy in the US right now, nuclear power is irrelevant.


Mr NorCalMatt: I thought this was a discussion of change. Given your accurate assessment of ignorance, or at least questionable risk weighting, of systems they are unable/unwilling to understand, our congess and banking institution should stick to fossil fuels. Well understood, economical, and plentiful (coal). Why mess with any other technology that has new risks/benefits that require a new model?

Cyril R.

In terms of extractable energy at a reasonable price, uranium is more abundant than coal. This is because the raw fuel cost of nuclear fission plants is very low and so the uranium price could double without people noticing anything on their electric bills.

A doubling of the uranium price however, would greatly increase the uranium reserves.

Spent fuel is an issue but has less to do with an actual threat than a perception of risk.

Reprocessing isn't required from a resource viewpoint, and it doesn't add anything for enhancing security either (indeed, it would increase security and environmental risks slightly over a no-reprocessing scenario).

This is even more true for fast breeders. I think thorium slow (thermal) breeders are superiour for a large number of reasons. And then there's work going on in Japan regarding cost effective sea water uranium mining.

There simply is no sane reason to agressively push reprocessing or fast breeders. We don't need them, so don't bother with the business/political risks in the first place.

Robert Schreib Jr.

Look, the reprocessing of spent nucelar fuel into new fuel has a great track record in France. Let the French control or supervise all of this breeder reactor program. Further, THINK BIG. The USA once had the biggest economic/political boondoggle, "The Tennessee Breeder Reactor Program, which coast billions and failed. Why not take all of that gear from that project, and retrofit it all onto "The City Of The Chocolate Eaters", that Russian city-factory-com-lex designed during the cold war to keep producing weapons grade Plutonium even after WWIII was to occur, but didn't, and consolidate ALL of the world's spend nuclear fuel recycling into that one spot, a global project as opposed to this local project, and use that as a way togreatly lessen the overall amont of nuclear waste in the long run, and MORE< use it as a tool to eliminate ALL global terrorism. Use the promise of unlimited energy to all of the nations in the M-d-East adn everywhere else in the world,a condition that they fight terrorism, in exchange for Plutonium to empower their own nucelar power plants. Look, the next world war is going to be fought over energy, so GIVE them energy from this "City Of The Chocolate Eater' source, which is jsut sitting around waiting for terrorists to steal their fuel to make nukes, and instead bribe everyone to be internatationally co-dependant and make peace finally? Further, this project could finance our space program, so that we COULD economically blast the nucelar waste we cannot recycle to outer space or the moon for eternal storage. Further, If Lasers empowered by solar power arrays in outer space using the powerful sunlight up there could re-charge the nucelar fuel as well, we could establish a 'power pipeline' of renewable energy, using the re-charged Plutonium as a an energy vector to take power from the sunlight in outer space and ship it back to earth to use in the nucear power plants. And such a massive nucelar power project would make a BIG dent in global warming. Again,THINK BIG!

Paul F. Dietz

Look, the reprocessing of spent nucelar fuel into new fuel has a great track record in France.

Even the french admit reprocessing there has been an economic bust. That they continue to do it at all shows the overall cost of nuclear waste disposal is still modest, even if done in a needlessly expensive manner.


Cryil R.
Could you provide me some reference information/links as to why you believe reprocessing and fast reactors should not be pushed. I would think the use of nearly all the available nuclear material, in conjunction with the low level waste and quantitiy would justify the technical difficulties. Is it mostly percieved issues? I would like to become well informed on this topic.

Cyril R.

Keith, the main problem is cost. Both reprocessing as well as fast breeders have proven to be very expensive, and the latter have proven to not work very well commercially at all.

Uranium resource simply isn't the problem. The raw fuel costs of current gen reactors are very low. That means fuel costs could rise several times over current spot price while not adding much to the levelized cost.

Uranium itself isn't a very rare metal. The recoverable uranium resource, often argued to be less than a hundred years, does not take into account the above mentioned resilience of nuclear plants to rising raw uranium price.

And there's the problem: double the uranium price, and the recoverable uranium resource is much more than doubled. You can see where this is going - reprocessing and breeders will not be necessary from a resource viewpoint for a long time.

In fact, they may not be the best long term option anyway.

Sea water uranium mining is a wildcard, but has projected costs much lower than reprocessing and fast breeders and is also much more proliferation proof.

But the real problem is the reactor design. We need a lower cost, mass producable design. One promising option is the molten fluoride reactor, which has a plethora of benefits over fast breeders, especially with the thorium fuel cycle.

All I'm saying is, we have time to investigate the best long term options.

Here's a link to a post on Theoildrum which you may find interesting, be sure to get the various links in the posts.

Or you could ask Paul Dietz, he knows a lot about the subject.



Thanks for your response. I'll read those links. I've read about the work done in Idaho on the molten sodium reactor. It seemed to have some nice benefits, and quite surrmountable engineering issues. Project has been scrapped.

Does your costing model account for the waste cycle. I understand the raw uranium is not the driver for the breeders, but if you factor in storage and security of wastes does it become more economically attractive? Would the molten metal type reactors be inherently more safe (as claimed) therefore reducing other reglatory/saftey costs?

I work in the fuel cell industry, and it seems that the nuclear technology offers many more benefits, yet it seems to be progressing poorly.

Cyril R.

Using molten sodium has some problems actually. For example, being a metal, it is not transparant, which gives problems with monitoring and control of reactor physics.

There were other safety issues as well with sodium breeders, for example it is difficult to control fast neutrons compared to slow ones.

And of course there is the issue of sodium violently reacting with water and air, and dealing with this issue has proven to be an excessive overhead cost.

There is also the issue of decommissioning. Some nuclear designs have really high decommissioning costs, as evidenced in the 12000 per kW estimate of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, to decommission the entire current British nuclear fleet. However, to be fair this also includes the militairy part, so the estimate is a somewhat misleading. But the real cost of decommissioning has been somewhat overlooked in the past, or perhaps the costs have escalated as well. I am worried that some designs will be at least an order of magnitude over their decommissioning budget.

But the cost relating to the waste itself, and the fuel in general, is relatively small, and has an excellent safety record, so it doesn't appear to be a reason for concern. But using fast sodium breeders to get rid of the waste? Definately not safer or cheaper than the methods that are used right now, and they are proven.

We really need another design philosophy. CANDU's are a nice design, and commercially available. They have a few benefits over light water reactors. A promising longer term development is the molten fluoride reactor. For an excellent resource, you could visit Energy from thorium. Unfortunately, for such a promising technology, it is substantially underfunded. That's what you get when politics interfere with engineering... But I digress.

Cyril R.

One other problem about reprocessing is that the cleanup of the facility has proven to be very expensive. I definately encourage more research in cleaner, safer, better reprocessing. There's plenty of conventional uranium, and storing the spent fuel is relatively cheap, so we've got all the time to develop the right technologies for the future. And when we've proven, for example, really cheap and safe reprocessing, we can start implementing it on a large scale. Makes more sense than rushing into large scale reprocessing when we already know that with current technology (purex) it's going to be expensive and, more than that, won't improve on anything.

Paul F. Dietz

Cyril: you are right that cleanup of a reprocessing facility is expensive. Reprocessing inevitably involves flows of radioactive materials, some small fraction of which will contaminate surfaces and equipment. The french reprocessing plant has caused 3 or 4 orders of magnitude more escape of radioisotopes than simple storage of the spent fuel would have caused.

You need to follow this further, though, when you suggest the molten salt reactor is promising. Since such reactors have radioactive materials flowing through them as liquids, much like a reprocessing plant, they will inevitably have larger escapes than conventional reactors with sealed fuel elements. I suggest this and the difficulty of performing maintenance on a reactor in which the entire primary loop is radioactive will render the concept a nonstarter.

Ultimately, I expect reprocessing, if done on a very large scale, will be done off our planet entirely. The moon might be a good place for it. This is science fiction now, but in a few centuries it might be both economical and safe.

Cyril R.

Since such reactors have radioactive materials flowing through them as liquids, much like a reprocessing plant, they will inevitably have larger escapes than conventional reactors with sealed fuel elements.

This is my primary concern with molten salt reactors - an uncanny resemblence with wet reprocessing!

However, with the thorium fuel cycle, this is much less of a problem because of much shorter half lives of the waste inventory and very high burnup rates.

And there's a substantial amount of knowledge gained from the molten salt reactor experiment in the 1960's, and many technical difficulties have been resolved.

When I said promising, I meant the liquid fluoride reactor in particular, not the molten salt reactor in general. There's much more work to be done of course, but it doesn't sound like the issues that LFRs have are insurmountable.

I'm not sure if using graphite is a really good idea. Radioactive graphite can be a pain in the butt to decommission properly, although it might be less of a problem when only used as a retort. Someone else mentioned using heavy water could have some advantages.

For the near term though, I think something like a CANDU makes a lot of sense to implement on a large scale commercially. The Canadians have made some interesting improvements in the ACR1000 which should come on line in the next decade.

Kit P

I do not expect to see any new CANDU reactors unless the government of decides to market them at a loss. If the CANDU was such a good idea the French would be building the FRENCHDU and the Swiss would the FONDU.

Since all the major countries with commercial nukes reprocess commercial fuel and have no intent of abandoning programs, it is certainly time for the US to consider it.

Cyril R.

FONDU? That's a good one. Boil your piece of meat in heavy water?

Unfortunately, Kit P does not appear to be aware of the importance of other factors in the choice of nuclear technology, or more likely he is omitting them.

Military and political ones to name a few.

Bill Mosby

Great little article on reprocessing, fast reactors, etc. One thing though, the reprocessing waste is not ever "fissile". The fissile material is the fuel, and is removed from the waste to the maximum extent possible.

I worked at Argonne National Laboratory-West from 1986-2004, during which time most of the experimental work was done on the Integral Fast Reactor concept. Nice to see it having a bit of mention again, although most of the folks who worked on it have scattered to other jobs or to retirement by now. Perhaps someday that research will be put to use, or perhaps all the writeups have been thrown in the trash by now. I know quite a bit of experimental data bearing on it was saved from that fate by chance by one of my co-workers who was trying to find a report for another purpose, and found about 30 years of experimental data in the trash pile.


I can answer one question: Why we don't yet have clean inexpensive nuclear power. We never did it because the left doesn't want it. They don't want a solution to our energy problems any more than the oil industry wants electric cars. Why? Think about it if you solve Americas energy issues it takes away a good portion of their political agenda. No more CO2, No more big oil companies, No more acid rain. Its stuff like this that gives them something to talk about. They don't want a solution. It's the last thing they want and it's obvious.

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The radiation from chain reaction daughter products decreases rapidly......

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Antibodies, I think I need more of those! And interesting thought that they actually don't want to solve America's energy problems....

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That's incredible!!!! most outstanding resourceful websites of its kind. I take advantage of reading it. All the best.

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I hate how it takes almost running out of space or resources for people to start working on alternative methods for things- how dumb are people??

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Nuclear power is dangerous, isn't it? Look at that plant that just had a meltdown, in Japan I think?

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Why do energy prices have to be high to force conservation?? The government should already being mandating conservation!!

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I want to send your website to everyone I know and tell them to START CONSERVING NOW! People think what, the future will just work itself out?

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If we could recycle plutonium in the 70s I would think our advances would be farther along at this point...

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It's good they're recycling, that makes this good in that aspect.

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It's good they're recycling, that makes this good in that aspect.

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