26 September 2008

Transmuting the Elements for Energy, Fun, Profit

Every alchemist's dream is to transmute lead into gold. But a more practical and realistic form of transmutation of the elements may soon remove one of the most emotional obstacles to the widespread use of nuclear power--long-lived radioactive waste products in expended fuel. From Brian Westenhaus:
One (the) big worry in nuclear power from fission processes is the creation of very heavy atoms, those more heavy than the uranium used for fuel - such as curium and actinium. The group is called “actinides,” the heavy elements that can take millions of years to get through half-lives to less radioactive states. The idea of containing such things for very long periods sets even the most callous thoughts on edge as millions of years of storage managed by mankind isn’t an idea that builds confidence. Especially as these elements would be a dirty bomb maker’s dream component.

....“The core concept of transmutation – which was formulated as early as mid 20th century – consists of irradiating the actinides by fast neutrons. The highly stimulated nuclei that are generated this way suffer a fission, which leads to relatively short-lived nuclei, which in turn rapidly disintegrate into stable isotopes. Then, they cease to be radioactive,” explained Professor Leeb. Thus, the required radioactive waste isolation time of several millions years could be decreased to 300 and up to 500 years. The technological progress made in the last decades has made the transmutation possible at the industrial level.

....Leeb points out another path, the “thorium-uranium cycle,” an alternative nuclear fuel, which leads to a reduced incidence of radioactive waste. “Thorium is a potential nuclear fuel, which may be incubated into a light uranium isotope, whose fission generates basically no actinide. Furthermore, thorium can be found approximately five times more often than uranium. However, special reactors must be still developed for this, reactors that would be appropriate for the reaction pattern and for the somewhat harder gamma radiation. India is one of the countries that already host experiments with thorium in reactor cores,” said Leeb. _NewEnergyandFuel
Also: Brian Wang presents an update on thorium, nuclear fuel breeder-reactors, and supplies of uranium.

Nuclear fission power is positioned as one of the most important transitional forms of energy between the fossil fuel age and the renewable/advanced energy age. For supplying large population centers with energy, there is no better form of energy at this time. Government Luddites such as Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer, Ken Salazar, and the rest of the usual suspects need to pay far more attention to the energy future of the country, and far less attention to doing favours for corrupt, powerful, and wealthy friends.

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