Reprocessing Nuclear Fuel

Can someone give me the straight dope on reprocessing nuclear fuel? Costs, amount reusable, amount of time until safe, is there still waste, how much and how long is the afterlife. Thank you.

CNN did a story on this yesterday. You might find it on the internets. They said that if Yucca Mountain opened today( it is 20 years late and 40 bill over budget) we could fill it with the military and power plant waste . We would need a new one immediately. We have waste and spent fuel rods sitting in pools at every reactor. It is the unsolvable problem.
France is recovering some of theirs . They dunk them under 14 feet of water for years until they can be handled robotically. Then they can reclaim most of the fuel. What America objects to is one of the byproducts is weapons grade plutonium. It was CNBC .I think this is it.

America is ignorant.

Right: If we can maintain adequate security for our stockpiles of actual functional nuclear weapons (as I assume that we can), then we could also maintain adequate security for the reprocessing facilities.

As I understand it, the biggest obstacle to reprocessing fuel is that it is cheaper to use new fuel. OTOH, I also understand that this cheap fuel will run out in about 40 years or so. It seems like you could keep the spent fuel in dry cask storage until it became economical to reprocess. Then it becomes a question of politics. Furthermore, someone posted in a similar thread about this topic a while back that we could extract uranium from seawater for about ten times the cost of the current ore and this puts an upper limit on the cost of nuclear fuel. I can’t validate that and I also can’t compare the price of reprocessed fuel. Also, some types of fuel may be less economical than others. The pebbles which power PBMR reactors fall into this category.


The CNBC links wouldn’t work on my computer. And no, we will not run out of fissionable material in 40 years or hundreds. I’m pretty sure that thorium and hafnium are also readily fissionable.

Although some recent incidents may shed doubt on the absolute security of the nuclear stockpile, I concur that providing security for aboveground dry-cask storage is hardly the problem it is often portrayed, and for a number of reasons including the issue being addressed by the o.p., probably preferential to permanent underground internment at Yucca Mountain or any other site. Although reprocessing nuclear fuel is not economical today, it may well become economical in the future as both fuel prices rise and cost-effective means of dealing with the waste products of processing are created.

As for the alleged problems with “weapons grade plutonium” this is easily addressed by adding “poisonous” isotopes to fuel in small quantities which allow the material to be used as fuel but will cause any attempt to make a nuclear weapon to fizzle with little or no effective yield. It doesn’t make plutonium any less toxic as material for a “dirty bomb”, but it will prevent anyone without sophisticated and labor intensive facilities from having any hope of converting the material to a fissile weapons grade state. If all you want is material for a dirty bomb type weapon, one can find radioactives in a number of consumer products, and it is even possible with a homebuilt neutron generator and a sufficient amount of energy to “activate” normally inert materials.

Nuclear fission isn’t the end-all be-all to solving problems of pollution and energy dependence, but short of practical and cost-effective nuclear confinement fusion, some order-of-magnitude increase in solar energy effectiveness, or some other beyond-science-fiction means of energy production it is a necessary component of a low carbon emissions future energy plan. It certainly produces some very nasty wastes, but these products can be dealt with, and the inherent risks of nuclear fission power managed, if the technical solutions are not overriden by political interests and a public which neither knows nor cares about how energy production works or what the realistic alternatives are.


So, I know we can’t just launch it off into space on a rocket because if the rocket malfunctioned it would be a Bad Thing.

Could we just launch it off into space with a railgun instead?

I just assumed it would end up in Chinese toothpaste.

What railgun?


McCain knows how! He insists that there is no problem with reprocessing nuclear waste, therefore it must be easy as pie. :smiley:

I was just thinking that as I read this thread. Didn’t McCain say at the debate that we have been doing this without problem on military naval vessels for 40 years? I wondered when I heard him say that where the waste went. I guess we know now - it apparently went nowhere! No wonder it’s easy! We just won’t do anything with it! :smack:

Well, that’s what got me to thinking too.

I don’t think that reprocessing is anything more than an incremental improvement to a problem that leaves lots of waste for such a long time that the storage of that waste is going to be preposterously expensive. I wanted to start this thread to find out if there was information out there that showed otherwise.

It is important to keep in mind that “reprocessing” as a category includes lots of different methods of recycling spent nuclear fuel. The most commonly discussed method is known as UREX+.

The waste streams created by UREX+ include lower amounts of isotopes with long half-lives–the type of isotope that presents the problem of storage over many generations. That is a significant benefit. The downsides include cost, increased transport of waste (and all the attached political minefields), and increased so-called TRU waste (a kind of low-level waste that is particularly hazardous).

It is difficult to accurately discuss the overall cost of waste disposal. Cost is partially determined by the amount of risk we’re willing to take. There are good arguments for why we should be willing to take on the relatively higher risk of lower cost disposal methods because that risk is still less than that posed by conventional power production. But politically, people are more afraid of tiny risks of cancer than they are big risks of climate change and asthma-related deaths, etc.

The program showed we put it in barrels and dumped it in the ocean.

So it’s outside the environment?


The program is on CNBC right now. Half over.

So John McCain does know how to do it. Just throw it overboard. Wow. There is a scalable plan. :eek:

Hafnium is about as non-fissionable a substance as you can get.

Not only is hafnium not fissionable, it is instead a nuclear poison, meaning it has a high neutron absorption cross-section and thereby is useful for the manufacture of nuclear control rods.