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Advanced nuclear concepts

Advanced reactors and concepts of waste reduction

The nuclear industry seems to be convinced that advanced nuclear technology will provide the solutions to problems that may emerge in the future, especially uranium shortages and radioactive waste handling. A number of advanced concept are being promoted, such as:

• Recycling of plutonium and uranium in LWRs [more i32]

• Breeder reactors for high utilization of uranium [more i33]

• Reduction of radioactive waste hazards by partitioning and transmutation [more i34]

• Use of thorium for production of nuclear fuel [more i35]

• Reduction of radioactive waste by reprocessing [more i36]

• Nuclear fusion [more i37].

Each of above concepts will be discussed briefly in separate items on this website. Of these proposed technologies only recycling of plutonium in light-water reactors (LWRs) is being practiced on limited scale in a small number of nuclear power stations. The other technologies are actually old promises from the nuclear industry, dating back from the 1950s and 1960s, but did not materialize. The nuclear industry asserts that these developments has been terminated for economic reasons and/or political unwillingness. In practice these technologies proved to be physically unfeasible by fundamental limitations, and consequently they proved to be economically not viable.

A single process turns out to be crucial for the feasibility of all of these concepts: the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. For that reason this issue will be addressed separately [more i31].

Aerospace Plane

Technical dreams are not typical of nuclear technology. A parallel of the failure of the breeder cycle in nuclear technology can be found in space technology: the development of the Aerospace Plane during the 1980s and 1990s. This craft was envisioned to be able to lift off like a plane with jet engines from a conventional airport, accelerate to hypersonic speeds within the atmosphere by means of scramjets and to orbital speed in the rocket mode of its engines. The spacecraft would return to a conventional airfield in a unpowered aircraft mode. The heavily promoted concept of the Aerospace Plane proved to be unfeasible for the same reasons as the failure of the breeder and thorium cycle: the limitations to materials and structures set by the Second Law of thermodynamics [more i39, i41].

Advanced uranium recovery

Probably the nuclear industry has also advanced concepts of uranium recovery in mind, expecting that advanced technology will make it possible to recover uranium at an affordable price from unconventional sources, for example seawater. However, the energy cliff is based on natural laws, not on economic notions [more i38].

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