Magazine article USA TODAY

Converting Nuclear Waste into Energy

Magazine article USA TODAY

Converting Nuclear Waste into Energy

Article excerpt

Ten thousand years from now, radioactive wastes from today's nuclear power plants still will be around, barely affected by the march of time. Nations with standing nuclear arsenals will continue to be storing and guarding at great expense the tons of plutonium kept for use in the warheads of outdated or scuttled atomic weapons.

"That doesn't have to be the case," maintains John C. Courtney of Louisiana State University's Nuclear Science Center. "These wastes can be converted into materials that need to be stored and secured for only a few [hundred) years, rather than for the millennia. With new technology, we can reduce the amount of these potentially hazardous materials and at the same time convert them into useful energy."

Courtney is conducting tests with other scientists at Argonne National Laboratory in Idaho on a novel experimental nuclear reactor that burns radioactive wastes to make electricity. The Integral Fast Reactor's technology place's on tomorrow's horizon a new generation of electrical power plants that could take wastes out of storage and burn them.

"What comes out at the other end would be short-lived wastes--200- to 400-year problem, rather than one spanning tens or even hundreds of thousands of years," Courtney explains. "The waste-burning plants would be a revolutionary way of generating power in the nuclear fuel cycle. As an approach to nuclear waste management, it's like recycling trash to produce energy, but without the smoke and the pollution," he indicates. …

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