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New Invention Using Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods Could Unlock U.S. Oil Reserves Three Times Larger Than Saudi Arabia's

There's some incredible new oil extraction technology being investigated over at Nuclearhydrocarbons.com.

Essentially, the U.S. has a lot of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) rods from nuclear reactors, which need to be disposed off in deep, protected underground sites. Yet these rods give off massive amounts of heat as they slowly cool.


Jumping to oil extraction challenges, there are massive amounts of oil locked in U.S. shale formations, which could equal three times the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia even using relatively conservative extraction estimates. Problem is, they require inordinate amounts of energy to heat up, liquefy, and then extract; which makes them too expensive to be worthwhile based on established technology.

Thus there might be an excellent use for spent nuclear fuel rods which are otherwise be left to rot -- use the heat they produce, in an environmentally-protected fashion, to liquefy hard to get U.S. oil reserves.

Yes it sounds completely crazy at first. It's the kind of story an environmental opposition would have a field day creating scare stories with, but it might actually make sense.

If proven viable, using spent fuel rods to assist in oil extraction could actually be a cheaper and cleaner way to turn the U.S. into an oil production behemoth. It would also financially incentivize nuclear waste away from terrorists, since the price of such waste would rise given the substantially increased economic usefulness.

Nuclearhydrocarbons.com While oil shale is found in many places worldwide, by far the largest deposits in the world are found in the United States in the Green River Formation. Estimates of the oil resource in place within the Green River Formation 6 range from 1.2 to 1.8 trillion barrels. Not all resources in place are recoverable; however, even a moderate estimate of 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from oil shale in the Green River Formation 6 is three times greater than the proven oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

Present U.S. demand for petroleum products is about 20 million barrels per day. If oil shale could be used to meet a quarter of that demand, the estimated 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from the Green River Formation 6 would last for more than 400 years..

It is an objective of this invention to use the global inventory of SNF as a heat resource for the production of the oil shale deposits shown in FIG. 1. This is the surest way the United States can prevent the plutonium contained in foreign sourced waste from ever being used to construct a nuclear weapon for use against it.

This technology could also unlock cheaper oil from Canadian tar sands. Metal Miner, who alerted us to this technology, highlights how Suncor Energy could, for example, reduce its financial and potential environmental costs by using SNF-assisted extraction:

Metal Miner: Suncor Energy, one of the country’s largest oil sands operators, announced quarterly results, which were a disappointment to its investors. Taking into account the Energy Return on Investment for SAGD extraction techniques at current prices roughly $15 worth of energy is used to produce a barrel of bitumen. If Suncor/Petro-Canada had produced the 318,200 bpd it reported in its last quarter using the Nuclear Assisted Hydrocarbon Production Method they could have increased their profits by some US$430m -almost double what they did make – and would have produced zero CO2 and polluted not one gallon of surface water.

It's further proof that available oil remains more a function of technology rather than physical limitation.

This article was originally published at Business Insider

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Leave a comment
  • Anonymous on February 11 2010 said:
    Lets hope the spent nuclear fuel rods don't make the resultant shale oil radioactive (if planning to directly heat the shale with the rods), let alone the fact that water or any inflammable liquid less dense than the oil, would still have to be used to force the created oil out. Interesting.. just had to check it wasn't April the 1st today.

  • Anonymous on February 11 2010 said:

    We are developing a method of using the waste (fuel rods) to generate electricity without needing to move the rods away from their present locations.

    If it proves successful, and it does appear that it will, this is a far more practical, elegant and economic solution.

    It will also end any need to build new nuclear power plants.

  • Anonymous on February 12 2010 said:
    I took basic training twice in the US Army, at Fort Jackson and Fort Ord. If I remember correctly, I was called a fool at least once every week. In civilian life I have mostly avoided that designation, although on one occasion I was sitting at a table in Vienna with a group of researchers and businessmen, and one of the latter called me a fool because of my belief in oil shale. And do you know something: he was probably right.
  • Anonymous on February 15 2010 said:
    800 billion bbls - 20 million bbl/d = 400 yr supply ????
    Is there something wrong with my brain? Seems more likely about 110 yr. (calculator not at hand)
  • Anonymous on February 19 2010 said:
    A large Chinese designed "Pebble Bed" reactor in the Tar Sands, powered buy Canadian Uranium, can produce just the right kind of heat source required to extract the oil from the sand cheaply and cleanly! Americans and Canadians ravaged the area with poorly thought out and very shady technology and got an environmental backlash! This time, the problems must be resolved with a long range future in mind, (planning, God Forbid!) and only China has the intellectual powers, competent, (none-weaponized) nuclear engineers, and the cash flow to resolve the problem - but: they lack incentive and they are able to buy easy oil on the world market by bidding against the Americans with stronger currencies (Yuan) and winning every time! Perhaps a co-operative venture with a less conservative government in Canada will resolve the issue, but for now, Steven Harper, Prime Minster of Canada, is spread Eagled before the Corporatists of America, jar of his own Vaseline (bought by his wife) in hand, begging for a rough exploitation for a small commission and paltry royalties on the "take" and is seen as positioned correctly by the Canadian hewers of wood and carriers of water for the forces from the South to take full advantage. Perhaps the "Bloc Quebecois" will show some opposition to this ruination of the country, and favor a consortium with China, who by the way, have bought up a good portion of the "Tar Sands" anyway.
  • Anonymous on May 19 2010 said:
    Why don't we just use the fuel rods to heat up water, make STEAM, turn a Turbine, and generate ELECTRICITY. This seems like an easy answer, so it must be much more complicated than that. I think that using the fuel rods to heat something else up to remove oil from shale is asking for more pollution from run off or some other kind of leak that may hurt the environment or someones' water supply. Lets just make steam!

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