Coming soon to power plants near you.
As long as your definition of soon extends a few decades or centuries.
Yesterday I talked about how today’s version of nuclear energy is a sorry replacement for coal. It’s the devil you don’t know.
But nuclear energy is not fully understood yet. There are other forms of nuclear energy that we don’t use for some reason or another. If we can work out the kinks, these alternate forms of nuclear energy could be the long sought after quick fix to the growing global energy crisis. Here is one example:
- Radioactive recycling:
How it works:
Nuclear waste contains large amounts of uranium, which is what is used to produce energy in nuclear plants. The problem is that the uranium is slightly different from the standard stuff. Several processes are needed to convert this uranium to usable uranium or plutonium.
Just like how recycling bottles and paper can multiply certain material supplies by tenfold, recycling (aka reprocessing) radioactive waste can vastly increase our nuclear material supply. In fact, recycling processes already worked out could increase our nuclear material supply by 100. That means our 200 year supply of nuclear material could be increased to 20,000 years or more. If we converted all of our coal and gas plants to nuclear energy, our supplies could last 2000 years (possibly up to 6000). Not to mention further discoveries in radioactive recycling.
Additionally, the waste produced at the end of several reprocessing cycles is much less dangerous than conventional nuclear plant waste. Conventional nuclear waste decays over years measured in the millions. Reprocessed waste can decay to harmless matter in a few centuries. This saves a lot of money, and you don’t have to worry about accidentally digging up radioactive waste a few hundred thousand years from now.
The main problem with building a nuclear plant with recycling capabilities is that it is EXPENSIVE. A recycling nuclear plant could cost upwards of $50 billion, compared with a conventional nuclear plant at $15 billion.
Politics is also holding nuclear recycling back. If nuclear recycling processes are developed and improved, more countries could have access to nuclear weapon grade material. Because of this, the U.S. is strongly against researching nuclear recycling. We have nukes and we don’t want other people to get them.
Nuclear recycling is a defined, researched way to vastly increase nuclear energy supplies. If only international relations could be improved, then perhaps developed countries will invest in this technology. I personally think this is our most promising solution to the global energy crisis.
Tomorrow I’ll take a look at our last nuclear topic: fusion.