Remediation of Nuclear Waste

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, no solution has been found to the safe disposal of the highly radioactive and toxic waste produced by Nuclear Power Stations. 12,000 tonnes of spent fuel is produced annually.

Thousands of tonnes of these deadly substances are still stored in "temporary" facilities at nuclear installations around the globe. The exact quantities and status of this waste is often unknown.

In some cases, the waste is so dangerous that it cannot be approached or disturbed. An example of this is the infamous building B12 at Sellafield in the UK.

Production of Electricity from Nuclear Waste

In the 1990s, CERN conducted experimental tests on a concept developed by Dr Carlo Rubbia he has called the Energy Amplifier. The EA uses the concept of Accelerator Driven Fission to disintegrate radioactive substances by bombarding them with high energy neutrons. Excess energy is released by the nuclear reaction which can be used to produce electricity and run the initiating neutron accelerator. It is a sub-critical fast neutron system, as opposed to a conventional fission reactor which operates on the principle of a chain reaction sustained by slow neutron emission.

This improvement on conventional nuclear fission would allow current nuclear waste to be burned up as fuel in an Energy Amplifier to produce electricity. The waste products are radioactive but short lived and so decay away to stable harmless end products quickly. Other long lived waste can be rendered harmless by the Energy Amplifier using the system of Adiabatic Resonance Crossing, which was experimentally tested at CERN in an experiment called TARC. Other experimental verifications called FEAT, MUSE and MEGAPIE have also been carried out.

FEAT was the First Energy Amplifier Test, carried out under Rubbia direction at CERN. This verified the principle in a test that was limited to a power output of 1W.

TARC was the second set of experiments carried out under Rubbia to examine Adiabatic Resonance Crossing of neutrons in a lead matrix with samples of Technetium 99. The experiments showed that ARC is a viable and powerful method of neutralising nuclei showing resonances, which is the case for all nuclei in nuclear waste management.

The Energy Amplifier concept has two other advantages: it is a sub-critical system which cannot enter into a critical chain reaction or Chernobyl type reactor meltdown and it does not produce plutonium waste that could then in turn be used to manufacture atomic weapons. Therefore it only has civil applications - energy and medical uses - and cannot be used for military purposes. This could make it an ideal form of nuclear power that could provide an answer to nuclear weapons proliferation concerns.

Research in the USA has lagged behind, with no experimental tests carried out to date as far as we know. Research is also being carried out in Japan and Russia into this concept.

References

1. "Conceptual Design of a Fast Neutron Operated High Power Energy Amplifier", CERN AT 95-44, 29/9/95, DR Carlo Rubbia.

2. "Design of an Accelerator Driven System for the Destruction of Nuclear Waste", Y. Kadi, JP Revol, 3-7/9/01, Lectures given at the Workshop on Hybrid Nuclear Systems for Energy Production, Trieste.

3. "Conception of Secure Atomic Energy Plant with Sub Critical Reactor and 100meV Proton Accelerator", AN Didenko, AD Koljaskin, GL Horasanov, VE Kalantarov (Downloaded from CERN website)

4. Laser Driven Photo Transmutation of 129 I - a long lived nuclear waste product, Ledingham et al., J. Phys. D., Appl. Phys., 36 (2003), L.79 - 82.

5. The Photon Reactor: Producing Power by Burning Nuclear Waste, Dr Paul Brown, Nuclear Solutions LLC.

 

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Copyright 2005 Meridian International Research
Last updated 22/09/05