This morning I addressed the South Australian Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission. I was invited to discuss specifically the influence new technology may play on the proposal for South Australia to manage used nuclear fuel. I provided prepared remarks and then took questions. My prepared remarks are below.

Thank you for receiving me here today.

In my submission to this joint committee, I highlighted that the Royal Commission has taken a conservative approach with regard to the role of new technology.

Today I will explain this point further and describe some of the characteristics that I believe would represent a more balanced position to take forward for the further investigations, the development of policies, and the eventual offering of a commercial service.

Firstly, to be clear, I consider the overall findings of the Royal Commission to be robust. I consider the project that has been proposed by the Royal Commission to be well conceived, and the studies underpinning that project to be valuable information.

Were that currently tabled project to proceed I have absolute confidence that it would be safe in the immediate, short and long term. I am confident that such a project would be profitable, while acknowledging, as does the assessment by Jacobs MCM, that this is early-stage analysis.

The point I wish to raise here today is that while all of the above is true, this only represents one possible project, one possible pathway, within a narrow range of assumptions.

The options for detailed investigation were constrained to only consider direct disposal of used fuel in geological repository.

Such a service may well turn out to be the right service. Such a project may well turn out to be the right project. However at this stage it is too early for South Australia to be constraining its thinking in this regard.

Based on this constraint imposed on the investigations to date, we now have a single-track of conversation relating to the probable use of remote lands for disposal. This presents a difficult task of consent.

Our options are actually much broader. We have the chance to offer a range of services with lesser imposition, that is both seen and felt to be more just and equitable including, and not only, for traditional owners of the land.

What the Royal Commission has identified, as has my own research, is that there is a strong global need for service in the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. As such, a commercial opportunity exists. This simple concept is virtually beyond question.

In responding to that opportunity, South Australia should not only consider pathways to the establishment of an underground repository. We should be considering pathways to be an active, flexible, nimble, full-service provider at the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Various technologies offer different pathways for the material in question. At this time we don’t know precisely what the right combination of services will be and we cannot be certain how that market will evolve over the course of this project life. We should not feel threatened by that uncertainty, we should respond to it by positioning ourselves wisely to manage risk and capitalise on opportunity.

We can be confident of two fundamentals in providing service to the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle:

  1. Better technologies and options will continue to move to commercialization
  2. The right combination of services is going to be a combination, not just one service.

What we therefore must do is create a foundation service and, from the outset, position ourselves intelligently across the range of options such that implementation of different services can occur.

In providing a holistic service, there are some things we can already say with a high-level of confidence.

The first is that commencing with the establishment of an above-ground cask holding facility is the right way to go. Delivering a range of services can stem from that facility and that initial service of approved transfer of custody, and the need here is very high. This provides the foundation.

The second is that eventually, some form of disposal is necessary. However the range of need here, and what happens between those two points, can vary. Pathways might include the following:

  1. Direct, 100 % disposal of all material (as currently tabled by Jacobs MCM)
  2. Rolling above ground storage paired with 100% recycling of material via power generation (as proposed by Senator Edwards with my assistance) and only disposal of short-lived material
  3. Storage and disposal paired with partial recycling focused on existing long-lived material in in advanced reactors (i.e. using the existing plutonium without any net creation of new fuel)
  4. Storage, recycling, fuel fabrication for export and use elsewhere, with disposal of existing fission products only

In order be a flexible service provider, one other piece of infrastructure becomes important, and that is a fuel recycling and fabrication plant, based on electro-chemical process known as pyroprocessing.

I hasten to point out that this is very different from the chemical processes known as aqueous reprocessing that are commercially mature and deployed elsewhere, notably in France. As recently as introductory questions from the Citizens Jury, I have noted that this important distinction remains unclear in the minds of both those involved directly in investigations and in the general public.

I hasten also to point out that, as made clear in the reference I am tabling today, this is known and understood science. The current stage of investigation and progress in pyroprocessing is detailed facility design at industrial scale with accurate costing, not scientific breakthroughs.

A pyroprocessing plant enables separation of the used fuel into three basic groups:

  1. The shorter-lived, highly radioactive fission products. This is generally regarded as waste and is perhaps 2 % of the used fuel rod
  2. The longer-lived and also radioactive plutonium and other actinides. This is known to be effective fuel material and is perhaps 3% of the used fuel rod
  3. The balance of uranium-238. This material scarcely radioactive. It can be turned into more fuel, but does not have to be. It can be disposed as low-level waste or simply stored for future use.

The availability of such a facility would enable South Australia to boost the range of services it can provide in the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. From an environmental and energy point of view, it would provide the massive benefit of a pathway to destroying long-lived material as reactor fuel, rather than disposing of it. It is my contention that this would substantially lighten the challenge of consent by moving toward a model of disposal of only short-lived or low-level material.

The type of reactors that might be best deployed in partnership with such a recycling facility is an open question and, again, the best solution may well turn out to be a range of reactors depending on our priorities and the national priorities of other nations.

The solid-fuel fast reactor profiled in the submission from Senator Edwards provides the ultimate full recycling of the entire contents of the fuel rod. It can progressively turn all of the uranium in to usable fuel and therefore extend the fuel resource by nearly 20 times. If the uranium from the enrichment process also enters that cycle, the resource is extended by around 150 times. That may be seen as a desirable outcome.

Today I table an announcement this week of a Memorandum of Understanding between General Electric Hitachi and South Nuclear Company to collaborate in studying the development and licensing of advanced reactors including GEH’s PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor design, which provides the comprehensive recycling attributes I have just described.

A molten salt reactor would provide a simpler and more efficient pathway if the priority goal was getting rid of the existing long-lived material without any net increase in fuel material. With regard to this class of technology, I table a media release from September this year from Terrestrial Energy, notifying their invitation and intention to apply for a loan guarantee of between $800 million to $1.2 billion to support financing of a project to license, construct and commission the first US IMSR Advanced Nuclear power plant, a 190 MWe commercial facility. For the purposes of disclosure, I sit on the Environmental and Sustainability Advisory Board of Terrestrial Energy. This is an unpaid, non-executive position.

Those two reactor options could certainly co-exist, and they could also co-exist with a geological disposal facility. So while it may well turn out that a geological disposal facility is indeed required, being active in the development of these other pathways could well influence our decisions regarding:

  1. The best size of the geological facility
  2. The best location for the facility
  3. The right depth of the facility
  4. The right operational practices for the facility

Of these additional options, the recycling facility is relatively little additional investment, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and naturally provides outstanding skilled employment via the annual operations budgets. It also delivers very valuable product through those operations.

The reactors may well be very expensive, or they may not be too expensive. Either way, they too are not simply cost sink-holes for disposal: they would generate saleable electricity, at large scale, with high reliability and with important contributions to network stability through synchronous generation coupled to the network. Critically, these high-temperatures reactors can provide a vital part of the energy picture that is completely unaddressed by renewable technologies, which is reliable, high-grade industrial heat.

Or, we might choose no reactors in Australia. We might simply recycle and become suppliers for other nations. That too is an option.

In summary, while I endorse the work prepared to date, I ask this commission to acknowledge its limitations in breadth of scope. The study looked long and deep, it did not look wide. I believe that from a policy point of view, the right way forward is to proceed with further studies with an intent to provide a service. Those studies must include active engagement with key stakeholders in science and technology to ensure we position ourselves to

  1. Identify what the right service offering is
  2. Acknowledge that this may be a blend of offerings
  3. Acknowledge that this blend will likely evolve over the course of the project

Rather than fearing these technology developments as any kind of threat to the commercial opportunity, we must position ourselves to integrate them into the opportunity and make the opportunity itself more robust and future-proof.

Thank you for hearing these prepared remarks. I would be happy to now take your questions.

42 comments

  1. We might want to make the point that if South Australia is in the Uranium supply business, and resources are as limited as anti nuclear groups suggest, it s definitely in your interest to establish control of any partially used fuel resources and develop a recycling supply chain for the future (assuming the mine ready green field Uranium resource is indeed going to become a more scarce and therefore a more valuable commodity)

    1. Wherever I go, ANSTO are well respected.

      I have some meetings coming up.

      I need some embrace of these concepts by the formal process. My plans are all well and good but I am not actually in charge!!!

  2. After all this time, writing to ministers and addressing participants in the study conducted by the SA Government, it is a great relief to see someone with such understanding of the opportunity given the chance to speak in the forums with such a positive and innovative message. Congratulations on the presentation and I trust that some minds were opened to the possibilities for nuclear disposal, and highly effective power generation which is currently lacking in our power security and economic outlook. Well Done!!

    1. Thank you Craig.

      The questions I received showed both interest and insight, as well as acknowledging that I raised some new questions.

      This was an excellent opportunity and I was certainly pleased to be called.

  3. I suspect between now and the mid 2030s the cheapest nuclear electricity will come from large or multi unit light water reactors, be it pressurised, boiling water or clusters of small modular units. These all need enriched uranium which will be imported since the world will have excess enrichment capacity for some time. Down the track NuScale say they can run on a high fraction of reprocessed MOX fuel. The PwC study on a NSW-SA connector briefly threw in a suggestion about replacing the 2 GW coal fired Liddell NSW with SMRs. The 1.6 GW Hazelwood Vic could close in just a few months from now. At some point coal closures will be hard to replace.

    Whether or not SA is the first nuclear state it should eventually reprocess used fuel from light water reactors and dispose of unusable waste generated in Australia. A combined reprocessing and mid sized nuclear electricity facility in SA could take used east coast nuclear fuel as well as providing local power stability. While IFRs and MSRs may be some time away we could also consider the AFCR Candu variant used in China which I understand has lower burnup but is on the market now.

  4. Ive read this report and truly it is got so many holes in it that you could shoot Cannonball through it. All your main points are not in the here and now but in the nuclear never, never in the future it might happen….. it could be like this… what a load of crap. …Keep it real! Servicing the backend is plain talk for taking all of the other countries nuclear crap……shame!

    1. I’ll tell you what…use a real name, a real email address (nuclear.spin666@waste.com , how dreadfully original), some decent punctuation (“cannonball” is not a proper noun) and an actual question and I will engage.

      Otherwise, I hope writing that made you feel better for today, because it certainly did nothing for the rest of us, the state, the country or the world.

    2. None of the technology options Ben has noted rely on technological breakthroughs. He IS keeping it real, and doing a very fine, very careful job at it.

      There is a lot of misunderstanding about nuclear technology. For example, few people realise that a modern coal power plant fitted with carbon capture and storage is actually a far MORE complicated and expensive facility than a nuclear power plant.

      Nuclear power technology is in fact not so complicated at all. That’s why the first operational nuclear power plants were built decades ago, when people didn’t even have computers!

      What people should understand is that nuclear power delivers huge societal benefit. Whether people are working in the nuclear sector itself, or working in industry that is being supplied by reliable, low-cost nuclear power, or simply living and breathing air that is free from the air pollution typically caused by fossil fuel combustion.

      All in all, I think South Australia is about to embark on a path that will have far-reaching, BONA FIDE, impacts long into the future, not just for South Australia but the entire world. South Austrialians can be proud of what they have already achieved by taking these opportunities seriously. And South Australians stand to be even more proud when they go forward with this, I am confident.

      For what it’s worth, living in The Netherlands – a country that is firmly in the grip of the awful, truly dangerous and very deceptive antinuclear propaganda movement – I am envious of the progress being made by South Australians. I am seriously thinking of moving to you! I love you and what you are trying to achieve! 🙂

      1. I hope in the near future, South Australia can welcome you with open arms. That will be quite the turn-around for my state, I assure you: drawing in people instead of losing them. It’s what we need.

  5. I am guessing one of the reasons for the narrow focus of the SA Royal Commission was the need to take small steps in the face of deeply entrenched anti-nuclear attitudes within the general public. The politics looks very difficult considering how effective anti nuclear scare campaigns can be at creating NIMBY opposition and I admire your perseverance.

    On a separate note, I am a bit mystified at the massive costs of underground Nuclear Waste Repositories. Why can these not simply be fairly shallow tunnels (say 100 metres in depth) storing dry casks? Even if the outer casings need to be replaced every couple of hundred years, assuming the contents are not reprocessed into fuel, it does not seem that onerous. Instead these sites cost billions and are then presented to the public as white elephants.

    Finland’s Olkiluoto site is projected to cost $5.3 billion to build and operate until the 2120s, while Yucca Mountain has cost a reputed $12 billion and may never be used?

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-08/finns-to-bury-nuclear-waste-in-world's-costliest-tomb/7488588

    1. Storing for >10K years implies that creep, etc becomes an issue.
      Creep which may end with nuclear radiation (particles) at the surface, spoiling water & making agriculture impossible.
      Consider also that the generated heat in the dry casks can no longer escape well, once the cask is enveloped by the earth.

      These issues stopped the Germans who stored dry casks in tunnels in stable salt layers, 600m below the surface.
      The heat made the layers less stable and the dry casks started to leak (probably also due to the salt) so based on measurements the predictions are that some radio-active material may reach the surfaces in 2000years.
      So Germany is making preparations (research, etc) to get everything back to the surface (€100B or so).

      1. I would want to see the risks quantified. In South Australia there is already radiation creeping through to the surface and some springs, hot both in temperature and radioactivity, are considered unsafe to drink or for swimming. These springs have been this way for thousands of years.

        What is the size of the risk in 10K years, and if it occurred, how would it compare to the natural radiation coming to the surface? Is the risk of serious climate change in over the next 50 years a greater threat?

        It is also impossible to foresee future technological developments 100 years out. It is quite possible that any risk could be mitigated by extracting and using the waste as fuel, if only to permanently neutralise the problem.

        It is all one hell of a risk assessment.

        1. Molten Salt Reaction burns the fuel, even disused conventional fuel rods, to within a few hundred years of the end of the radioctive cycle of the waste, instead of 10’s of thousands. With the energy issues that the world is now facing, this is probably the most sensible option available. This represents SA chance to solve a global problem, provide secure energy for an unsecured market, and lead the world in developing the solution.

        2. @Steve,
          It was a test, so the amount of stored material is not huge.
          Still the costs to retrieve all are huge as e.g. the brine (and air) in the former mine have substantial increased radiation levels now.

          The radiation amount reaching the surface would be enough to make a larger area (especially down stream) unsuitable for agriculture.
          There is no real plan how to handle the situation best, yet. Research & studies ongoing.

          May be it’s best to hire elderly people for retrieving all casks, as those are far less sensitive for increased radiation because of:
          – their very low rate of cell division;
          – the long period before health damage shows (~20-50years, same as with smoking, asbestos, etc).

          1. Can you back any of your statements with evidence?
            Exactly what are you referring to by “It was a test ..”. What was a test, where and when?

            It’s pretty much impossible to refute your “claim”, when you never make one. Your post reads like a non-specific dissing of nuclear something, anywhere.

            1. That’s because it *is* nonspecific dissing. It’s “Darius” after all, (AKA Darius Bentvels, Som Negert, Sanne, Basm, Bas Gresnigt).

              He’s a prolific antinuke fear-, uncertainty- and doubtmonger. He believes that Chernobyl killed a million people and that AGW doesn’t exist. Read his comments with a big pinch of salt.

              “Darius”, if you are not the Darius I’m speaking of, please excuse me. But you should provide specifics to support your outlandish claims, or else you may be seen as a propagandist.

    2. Perhaps Oz public attitudes are not so entrenched. A 2014 poll shows Australian public support for nuclear power out weights opposition: https://decarbonisesa.com/2014/04/03/polls-and-perceptions/

      Yet Australian anti-nukes: people like: Helen Caldicott, Jim Green, Mark Diesendorf, … still believe they can get away with saying anything. I suppose that’s both a blessing and a curse for us. Anti-nukes elsewhere, e.g. in UK, focus on their economic case against nuclear power and downplay the most extreme and dishonest arguments of the past. I suppose that gives them a seat in the big tent of policy making.

      Australian anti-nukes also had huge sucess before the “disasters” of Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl. Way back in the 1970s. So I guess their arguments were always germane to the specificity of Oz : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-nuclear_movement_in_Australia#1970s

  6. If that is indeed the desired option, where is the necessary information for the public to make a sensible decision ?
    Isn’t there anyone willing to provide it ? (By that I mean in the popular media, including Facebook)
    What is the expected outcome?

    1. I think this is a fair proposition to put up for consideration. Nuclear as a fuel is extremely clean, with a lower irradiation and carbon footprint than the production of Wind Turbines, for example, and results in a far more efficient fuel source. As pointed out, it also generates industrial grade heat, which is not provided by alternative ‘non-fossil’ fuels. The combined solution of waste disposal by usable combustion and conversion of remaining energy (rather than dumping and storing), is a consideration which SA, and in fact, the world, must look at seriously. Molten Salt Reactors are an established technology which performs this role. Of course it should be on the table as an option.

  7. Brilliant stuff Ben. I hope that your well thought out approach is appreciated by the government and for their sake and our state, I hope they open their minds.

  8. Ben – thanks for posting your presentation to the Joint Committee. There’s so much I like about it that I don’t know where to start!

    – You have a global view, providing a world service, instead of the parochial view taken by so many advocates and nations.

    – You describe and discuss MANY options rather than falling into the (ideological) ‘just one’ trap of promoting THE one and ONLY way open to ‘true believers’.

    – You get engineers to provide information on those many options, to inform decisions about policy. I think that many nations are taking the opposite path of making policy decisions then tasking the engineers to implement them. Engineers will create designs for whatever the client asks for, regardless of what their (private) opinion of the request might be. This could be called a Dilbert disconnect’, being one of the themes of Scott Adams’s Dilbert cartoons.

    – Your focus on existing and near term technology with already established or (relatively) easily established supply chains. The importance of off-the-shelf kit for building solutions is hard to overemphasize. Too many look to the next discovery for a ‘silver bullet’ to slay the dragons of our troubles, and ignore the industrial level scaling and supply chains required for effective implementation.

    I’ll stop there. (Phew!)

    On a related topic, I think it would be worth your time to read (or listen to, as an audiobook) Robert Cialdini’s science based book Pre-Suasion (2016, excerpt at books.google.ca/books?id=RmOdCwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=pre-suasion&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=pre-suasion&f=false ) and check out his Influence ( 2009, excerpt at books.google.ca/books?id=5dfv0HJ1TEoC&printsec=frontcover&dq=editions:sLSpCUILN78C&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false ). I’ve read Influence and am just reading Pre-Suasion. I think they’ll show you how to be even more effective in persuading people to your point of view.

    In Pre-Suasion, Cialdini devotes a chapter to the ethical implications of using the scientific results he describes. Persuasion is a very serious business. My hope is that people working from ‘isms’ will dismiss the book for being ‘too scientific’ and ignore it.

    Keep up the great work!

  9. Off topic, but I was pleasantly surprised at some positive news posted on WNN today:

    * Russia’s BN-800 FNR Enters Commercial Operation: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Russias-BN-800-unit-enters-commercial-operation-01111602.html

    * GEH and Southern Nuclear team up on S-PRISM IFR: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-GEH-and-Southern-team-up-on-Prism-0111168.html

    * UK’s National Grid updates plans for new nuclear plants: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-UK-National-Grid-updates-plans-for-new-nuclear-plants-25101601.html (This is fascinating reading for the environmental considerations being given to new transmission alone. And the costs…)

    * The economic reality of Hinkley Point C: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-UK-National-Grid-updates-plans-for-new-nuclear-plants-25101601.html (With a few remarks on the economic reality of wind as well.)

    1. I don’t think that should surprise anyone — the product in the two cases is very different also !

      The odd part about pyroprocessing for an IFR plant is the capacity sizing.
      A fairly large capacity is needed initially, to process used LWR fuel into metal fuel for the PRISM reactor(s).
      In other words, a couple of cores worth of fuel has to be produced (at a minimum) in something like a year of pyroprocessing operation.
      But once that’s done, the plant will be sitting largely idle — unless more PRISM units are built.
      The only activity following reactor startup is periodic re-processing (recycling) of the irradiated PRISM fuel — which will only be a few tonnes per year, on average (Any idea what fraction of the PRISM core is swapped out during a “refueling outage” ?)
      Actual consumption – fission – of fuel in a twin-unit 1000 MWe plant is only about one tonne per year !
      Tom Blees & Co. propose a 100 tonnes per year pyroprocessing “demonstration plant” — which seems MORE than adequate for an initial IFR-PRISM setup in SA (or anywhere else).

      For the proposed SA international used fuel repository, the “base case” is 50,000 tonnes of LWR used fuel.
      Comparing that to the throughput of a 100 tonnes per year pyroprocessing plant – or more importantly the one-tonne fission of fuel in a couple of PRISMs – suggests that a large fraction of the imported 50,000 tonnes would end up going underground, unless a very large fleet of PRISMs got built somewhere in a fairly short time.

      On the other hand, the 100 tonnes per year pyroprocessing plant is very compact and economical (estimated at about $500M). It’s the one shown in the picture in my earlier post.

      1. Interesting comment.

        I think it bears mentioning that pretty much the only reason that aqueous processing plants were built historically, is to enable the separation of plutonium from used fuel: plutonium usable for bomb-making. That is what justifies the significant expense of those “Purex” aqueous processing plants.

        The reason why pyroprocessing – which is physically a far simpler, rugged, more compact, and therefore far cheaper process – was not developed earlier is because pyroprocessing cannot separate plutonium to anything near the purity needed for bomb-making, if at all. Only the traditional “Purex” process can do that.

        Isn’t that right?

        1. Yes.
          And the need for high purity of extracted plutonium and uranium is because the MOX fuel destined for LWR plants is handled without shielding, by plant personnel (similarly for bombs, handled by soldiers).
          By contrast, PRISM is designed to load highly radioactive fuel, using automation and shielded remote handling.
          So the goal of pyroprocessing is not to produce radiation-free fuel, only to remove enough fission products so that the reactor can remain in operation (maintain criticality).

          1. @ Jaro Franta:
            To emphasize your point, one goal of pyroprocessing is to firmly keep Plutonium inside the highly radioactive stream, from which only uranium and sufficient fission products are removed. This is a major anti-proliferation safeguard. Also to clarify Joris van Dorp, Purex was indeed invented to separate weapons-grade plutonium, but weapons-grade is not obtainable from today’s commercial light-water reactors. To keep plutonium weapons-grade requires one limit irradiation time to less than about 60 days, after which build-up if the Pu-240 isotope renders the plutonium increasingly useless for that purpose. Power reactors are fine, and Pu-240 can build up to about 30% of the plutonium at the end of a fuel pin’s ~6 year life.

            Also, as does CANDU, IFR / S-PRISM do online refueling. Spent pins are lifted from the sodium pool robotically, then sliced, diced, and transferred to the molten-salt pyroprocessing bath.

            As you previously noted, IFR on-site pyroprocessing is not sized to quickly produce excess amounts of fuel. It would need be scaled up were that the goal. However, I don’t think plutonium disposal should be an issue, as for example UK’s surplus is fairly pure reactor-grade material that may readily be down-blended with natural or depleted uranium to make suitable IFR fuel pins. (Or it may be fine as – is with suitable pin spacing in the core.) It’s then a matter of how quickly one wants to render the entire stockpile radio-toxic, but that’s largely a political decision.

            Either way, chemically pure plutonium is an energetically valuable commodity. Russia is using their surplus weapons plutonium as seed fuel for their BN-800. Many wish US would do the same, but we have no fast reactor program, nor molten salt: Pu can also be used as seed fuel for a thorium breeder. We’d originally agreed to build a MOX plant to down-blend our weapons plutonium into commercial LWR fuel, but [spoiler alert] the project is plagued by delays and massive cost overruns. With the GEH-Southern hookup it becomes likely we’ll have a commercial IFR long before we have a defense MOX plant.

            Meanwhile, there are those adverse to a plutonium economy who would rather see our weapon’s grade plutonium mixed with high-level waste and deep-six’ed at WIPP. Russia is not among them, and has pulled out of the Pu stockpile reduction agreement as result. Or that’s what they claim: politics might also be involved. Russia promises they will continue to use their weapons plutonium surplus as fuel in their commercial fast reactor program, leaving the US as the bad-boys of weapons plutonium retention.

            1. Hi Ed,
              Regarding your comment that the “goal of pyroprocessing is to firmly keep Plutonium inside the highly radioactive stream, from which only uranium and sufficient fission products are removed,” my understanding is that the uranium actually stays mostly with the plutonium & other TRUs.

              1. Thanks Jaro

                Its a fine article and good overview. But as befits the general nature of Scientific American and a somewhat advanced topic, it is a bit of a simplification of what is actually a fascinating bit of electrochemistry. Basically, uranium is a bit more electronegative than plutonium and the higher transuranics. Which means one cannot plate both uranium and plutonium on the same cathode. Because any plutonium that does plate out immediately reduces nearby uranium cations and pops right back into the molten chloride salt solution.

                You don’t want it there. The molten salt is where the fission products live. we want to throw those out.

                So one needs two cathodes:. the first is solid steel, and accumulates fairly pure uranium. The second is liquid cadmium, pooled at the bottom of the reaction vessel. It is the cadmium electrode that collects plutonium and the higher stuff, and some uranium as well. There will be uranium with the plutonium, and whether its “some” or “substantial” depends upon one’s point of view. The ratio of plutonium to uranium in the final cadmium product is between 1:1 and 1.55:1. This is “some” in the sense that it represents a much higher Pu:U ratio than in the original pins, so most of the uranium plates onto the steel. But it is “substantial” enough to render the plutonium useless for weapons purposes, even if it were isotopically pure and didn’t have all the higher transuranics poisoning the mix.

                So one collects nearly pure uranium on the steel cathode, which may then be recycled into the new fuel pins before or during the final casting stage. It’s lower-enriched than the original source (which might not have been enriched at all), so not a proliferation worry.

                Here’s a Plentiful Energy freebie from the wonderful folks who brainstormed this scheme: http://www.thesciencecouncil.com/pdfs/PlentifulEnergy.pdf. Look for section 5.5, and chapter 9 for the details.

  10. I’m baffled why people believe salt deposits are a good place to put used nuclear fuel. Someone please explain why. First: Salt is fragile and may easily collapse on top of the items stored under it. Second: Salt is soluble so I imagine scenarios where the roof or floor collapse. Either way retrieval will be very difficult. Deep geological disposal is a one-time event. It goes. It will not come back. Far better to leave it on the surface inside its large concrete casks, where it can come to no harm. Where it will be immediately available should the prospect of economic reprocessing arrive to fully burnup the actinides. Hence the supposed 200,000 year dangerous waste is reduced to 300 year waste of one thirtieth weight.

    1. Largely, Mark. The salt deposits chosen, for instance at WIPP, are quite dry and have been for several hundred million years. Water isn’t an issue, not will it be. But yes, they are salt and they are plastic. Waste buried there had better be waste, as the salt does slowly deform around whatever is buried, rendering it very inaccessible. That is the intent. In New Mexico WIPP is intended for, and licensed to receive, only Department of Defense waste from weapons production and some naval reactors.

      Not slightly used commercial nuclear fuel.

  11. How much compensation would be required for any nuclear waste spillage in getting it our island nuclear waste hub? How does this compare to the US$44 Billion BP has paid so far for Deepwater Horizon?

    Some of the ideas around safe storage of nuclear waste remind me of “clean coal”. Keep it real!

    Be interesting to see how many PRISM reactors get built before the seven member (not Australia of course) ITER full fusion experiments starting in 2027.

    Australian political environment and the lack of any real leadership now or in the foreseeable future will mean the country will remain incapable of investing in any big infrastructure (e.g. Ziggy’s NBN obsolete even before completion) or agreeing on any long term strategies (e.g. Carbon tax/ETS replaced by… ummm).

    I’d suggest you take your very good ideas to a country where they will have some chance of being implemented, or get into mining/property/banking.

    Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s