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