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Using Nuclear Waste in the Prism Fast Reactor Could Power the UK for 500 Years

The UK has a 100 tonne stockpile of plutonium nuclear waste which the government has been trying to get rid of for years. One option that has been considered is to convert the plutonium into a mixed-oxide fuel (Mox), and then use it to fuel conventional nuclear reactors. Unfortunately a trial Mox plant in the UK failed. Another option is to use the plutonium waste in a fast reactor. The fast reactor would be able to extract far large quantities of energy than a Mox reactor. In fact back in February, David MacKay, the chief scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change said that the UK’s nuclear waste stockpile was enough to power the country for more than 500 years if used in a fast reactor.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) previously dismissed fast reactors as being decades from commercial viability. However on Monday GE-Hitachi submitted a thousand page feasibility report designed to persuade the NDA that the technology in their Prism fast reactor is already available and competitive.

The NDA has also received another proposal to deal with the radioactive waste from a Canadian firm who have designed a Candu reactor to be run on Mox fuel. The NDA will review both reports and then advise the government towards the end of the year. The government can then make their decision and refer the winning option to the Office of Nuclear Regulation.

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

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  • Mel Tisdale on July 13 2012 said:
    Each nation needs to conduct a thorough, independent review of its nuclear options. We need an energy supply that is both reliable and safe while also able to meet society's needs without spoiling the supply of other needs, such as the need for food met by agriculture, due to the excessive use of water that is a feature of nearly every nuclear reactor currently supplying domestic energy. We need a carbon free energy supply and we need it pretty damn quick if we are to avoid the more extreme ravages of climate change, which are looking ever more dire as we continue to fail to take action. Throwing the politicians, scientists and media people in jail that can be clearly shown to have deliberately hindered action to combat climate change will give us scant satisfaction as the earth refuses to support its burden of swarming humans.

    Simply reading both of the reports mentioned in the article and deciding the winner is a thoroughly amateurish way of going about the matter. We have to realise that there is a lot at stake here, not only for the public at large, but also the nuclear industry in general. Currently it uses a technology that is well beyond its sell-by date, yet has a lot of expertise invested in it (a bit like the rail industry’s investment in steam technology expertise back in the middle of the last century).

    Some say the current business model is that of manufacturing razors or computer printers. Both are sold at cost, or even less, to capture the ongoing sales of razor blades that only fit their razors, or ink cartridges that only fit their printers, With the current nuclear reactors the real profits are made from supplying the fuel rods, which are specific to the particular design and extremely expensive due to their complexity. This income stream is obviously lost with thorium fuelled molten salt reactors.

    So let’s have a professional appraisal of all the options for nuclear energy. An appraisal that not only gives the ‘pros’, but also the ‘cons’. Only then will anyone have a legitimate basis on which to decide which way to go. Such an approach would also assist in combating some of the more extreme elements within the ‘green’ brigade of bra-burners and tepee-dwellers, who will, at the first mention of the word ‘nuclear’ wet their knickers in anger and antagonism. Even its more intelligent members are blinkered when it comes to the issue of nuclear energy. They of all people should see the urgency of the situation as far as climate change is concerned.
  • Mike on July 12 2012 said:
    The downside is not going with a Prism reactor. We just 'bury' a potentially tremendous source of energy and have this radioactive waste hang around for tens of thousands of years. Also, some kook in the near or distant future could dig up the plutonium and reuse it for making bombs. The atom bomb fuel is now a peaceful electricity producing fuel.
  • Philip Andrews on July 12 2012 said:
    What's the downside?

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