Idaho National Laboratory’s associate lab director Jess C. Gehin believes that there exists enough energy in nuclear waste in America to power the whole nation for a century. This, he says, could help solve the issue of how to dispose of nuclear waste.
A fast nuclear reactor, which is the technology required to convert nuclear waste into energy, was developed decades ago. However, for economic and political reasons, this technology was never developed at a commercial scale. Now, however, as the urgency to address climate change through the decarbonization of energy grids increases, interest in fast nuclear reactors has surged.
Data from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission shows that currently, there are 93 commercial nuclear reactors at 55 operating sites in America. About 25 of these reactors are in some stage of the decommissioning process, with the commission noting that all of these reactors are light-water reactor designs.
Light-water reactors work by a uranium fuel powering a fission reaction where an atom’s nucleus splits and releases energy. It is this energy that heats the water creating steam that is used to produce electricity and power generators. Once the fission reaction is complete, only radioactive waste is left. This waste has to be carefully maintained to prevent contamination.
Currently, there are roughly 80,000 metric tons of nuclear waste from nuclear reactors in the United States. Operational fleets also produce about 2,000 tons of nuclear waste annually. In a recent interview, Gehin stated that recycled uranium could be used to generate power for fast reactors. Fast nuclear reactor technology has existed for decades. One fast reactor plant, dubbed the EBR-II (Experimental Breeder Reactor-II) ran for 30 years, after beginning its operations in 1964.
In the interview, Gehin explained that this particular reactor was powered using recycled uranium, which proved that energy could be harnessed from used uranium. He noted that while the technology was safe, it would be a challenge to ensure that this could be done economically on a commercial scale.
Gehin then added that while a fast reactor would decrease the amount of nuclear waste generated, it wouldn’t eliminate it completely. This means that there would still be some nuclear waste to be disposed of.
At the moment, the Idaho National Laboratory can only reprocess enough fuel for R&D, as more private companies work to innovate and commercialize designs of fast reactors while others push for the development of domestic fuel supply chains. Such fuel supply chains are likely to prominently feature entities such as Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR), which are playing a leading role in extracting uranium domestically.
NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR) are available in the company’s newsroom at http://ibn.fm/UUUU
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