back to article Hybrid fusion-fission reactors to run on nuclear 'sludge'

Texas-based boffins say they have figured out a cunning new method of dealing with America's nuclear waste, using fusion technology - which at the moment can't produce power - to turn 99 per cent of fission reactors' waste into useful energy. "Most people cite nuclear waste as the main reason they oppose nuclear fission as a …

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If...

...this turns out to be viable (and of course, that is a biiig if) then this would be a significant result. Suddenly we have co2-free energy and we dont have to sacrifice huge areas of land to turbines. Let's see them prove it in practise now...

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Wow....

Just Wow...

This is (to me at least) truly exciting.... Lets just hope that the anti nuke lobby sees this as a good thing.

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Coat

Texas Uni?

Which Texas Uni? We have dozens of top line universities here. Simply referring to Texas Uni is just not sufficient, pardner. A quick google reveals that these "boffins" work at The University of Texas at Austin. Known locally as "The University" but that is just to piss off the Aggies.

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Re: Texas Uni?

>>Simply referring to Texas Uni is just not sufficient, pardner.

Nobody actually cares, pardner.

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IF it works

I see no down side

we get rid of 99% of fission wast and we get the ball rolling on building more recherché of fusion things

I know there will be comments on the lines of "there is still going to be 1% very dangrous wast hanging arround and to get my retilation in first I will just say that thouse pepol do not relise how little wast this is. it could almost be delt with by flying ti into space and dumping it into the sun

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Texas Uni?

I think it's quite clear that it refers to the University of Texas. The only 'confusion' would be which of the nine universities inside the University of Texas system it is.

The Aggies are referred to as TAMU or A&M, not UT or anything similar.

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Boffin

Eyes glazed over, drool forthcoming

I understood less than 10 percent of that article, but:

"Yaaay!! Go science!!"

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Here's an idea...

...let's concentrate on getting fusion working first! The sooner that happens, the less nuclear waste from fission reactors we'll have to deal with.

Seriously, this article is about utilising a technology that doesn't exist yet to solve a problem that will be a mere formality once it does exist.

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Boffin

Fusion fanboy

"fusion, the same process that powers the sun, involves no carbon emissions, no troublesome wastes and no finite resources. The only fuel needed would be isotopes of hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, easily extracted from water."

Since you're obviously talking about Deuterium fusion, you're wrong. This generates neutrons which make the reactor radioactive. Radioactive reactor stuff is troublesome waste. IIRC there will also be some radioactive and highly toxic Tritium produced.

Deuterium is also a finite resource.

These problems are greatly less than they are for fission power, but your fanboyish claim that they go away entirely is just wrong.

You're spot on about the lack of carbon emissions though.

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Fantastic

if it works.

It'll reduce the waste a lot and further reduce the amount of weapons-grade stuff being produced. And even better, it'll mean that the enviro-tards won't spend their time trying to destroy vast amounts of this Green and Pleasant Land to make room for all the wind turbines and solar cells we'd otherwise need.

Even better, Labour will be out at the next election- so there's a chance we'll get someone fractionally more sensible in charge who won't listen to the "oooh, it's NOOKEELAR, so it's evil!" crowd.

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RE: Here's an idea...

lol ... actually its about using technology that is concievably closer than what full fusion is.. fool!

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@AC 15.02

If you read the article (carefully, that means ALL of the words) tokamaks already exist, they just dont produce power, they consume it (making them useless power plants).

The hope is that modifying them this way will allow them to produce power, or at least use less and get rid of the waste.

As for fusion being the solution? Yes, it probably is one of them, but I would suspect it would have exactly the opposite problem to wind, in that the output couldnt be changed to match supply (as opposed the output changing too much) as this would destabalise the reaction.

So ... like everything else ... its not the complete solution

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Existing technology

"Seriously, this article is about utilising a technology that doesn't exist yet to solve a problem that will be a mere formality once it does exist."

Er, the tokomak technology does indeed exist, it's been in use for nearly half a century now! The issue was not that it's unproven, just that it doesn't produce a net gain of electricity in itself, it takes so much power to operate. As the second half of the quoted sentence implies, this idea does indeed reduce a significant problem to a "mere formality" - which certainly makes it newsworthy!

Now we just need a great big batch of new fission reactors, some waste recycling sites and a few of these things to mop up the leftovers cleanly. Roll out algae-derived biofuels, and the future finally looks good, despite the eco-luddites trying to force hair shirts onto us all.

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@Phil Clemow

"As for fusion being the solution? Yes, it probably is one of them, but I would suspect it would have exactly the opposite problem to wind, in that the output couldnt be changed to match supply (as opposed the output changing too much) as this would destabalise the reaction."

Just have a honkingly large lightbulb attached to the reactor that will glow bright with surplus demand, dim during peak periods. In case of a ridiculous surplus, have 2 honkingly large lightbulbs.

My God, do I have to think of everything myself??

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Paris Hilton

@Phil Clemow

The opposite problem to wind? Where the supply is reliable and constant as opposed to unreliable and variable? Not sure how that's a problem?

The problem must be that the supply is sometimes inadequate, an excessive supply can just be adjusted by sticking a big bank of <choose your favourite method of dumping power here>?

I feel like Paris here, because I'm probably being stupid or ignorant.

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Boffin

a better idea TM

"We have created a way to use fusion to relatively inexpensively destroy the waste from nuclear fission," says Kotschenreuther.

the tomahak is a horrendous expensive machine and in my opinion a nono for the fusion future.

if they instead use a over-size fusor and use the walls as repositorium of the target(that it is itself used for heating some fluid to generated electricy later), that may be done very cheaply and probably will get positive energy output without a lot effort.

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Good Lord!

I don't think that I've ever read such rubbish in my entire life!

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Paris Hilton

What's going on here?

Where are the people saying that Scientists make all the shit up to make sure they get grant money???

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Tom
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@Adam Foxton

Labour have basically given the green light to new nuclear plants. All of the the other parties are opposed (I believe... the Tories can never make their minds up these days!)

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Boffin

Slight problem or two there

Erm nobody has a successful working, self sustaining fusion reactor. Another problem is that by the time we might actually make this work all the lithium (see explanation below) will have been used up (exploded) in laptop batteries.

NB lithium is used to make tritium, the deuterium-tritium fusion reaction works at 10MK where as all deuterium is a toast burning 100MK

PS @Eddie Edwards

your talking bollocks, tritium is a fuel for a fusion reactor dummy not a waste by-product and it only has a half life of 12 years. I guess your the bloke who does the sciencey bit on Newsround when you really have a BTEC in media studies. Please leave this sort of things to the real scientists here thanks.

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Hmmm

Not sure about this one: It sounds like a way to dirty up a fusion process by splitting fission waste into lots of more radioactive products.

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Old Idea

I remember seeing this in Scientific American 20 odd years ago. The sole difference was that they were using non-enriched/depleted uranium there to burn up high energy neutrons.

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Happy

@Ross Fleming

You owe me a new keyboard.

But... if you can only buy low-energy, high-mercury (oops) bulbs by then, they'll have to be truly humongous light bulbs to soak up the spare watts. You might even be able to read using the light emitted.

Clearly the environmentalists didn't see that coming...

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Old hat?

From the register article, this one looks to me like a modification of Rubbia's 'Energy Amplifier' (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_amplifier - I could find the wikipedia article faster than the original publications on the CERN server), 'simply' replacing the accelerator with a fusion reactor. Using an accelerator, it would have been 'available technology' and even commercially viable 10 years ago (ok, some of the metallurgy/materials science would have been challenging, but not unsurmountable).

But apparently nobody, at least not in any government or nuclear power industry, seems to be interested in building such a beast.

Bye

Markus

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I love it when people say...

..."hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe and you can get it from water." As it misses four critical factors:

1) Most hydrogen in the universe is gaseous and, well, out in the universe. Not easy to get hold of.

2) Getting hydrogen for water requires a lot of energy

3) Water is a finite resource on Earth

4) What about the helium waste products? Free party balloons for all?

Fusion is not the answer, it merely changes the problems.

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Boffin

If fusion could be used for war...

...then we'd have that technology by now. If the money spent by the UK alone on playing in Iraq was spent on fusion tech we'd be closer to something tangible, just imagine if the US were to contribute some of the billions they spent on killing things and war-boffinry to an international peace-boffinry project.

Are you listening Obama? *

@ AC (Slight problem or two there)

i fink your talking bolox if you r a reel scientits then u cud spel

* Of course he is.

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Paris Hilton

@Ross Fleming

Thank fuck for that I assumed I was the only one that was thinking about using lightbulbs.

I now feel slightly less stupid, at least on average.

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Go

@Britt Johnston

I'd think of it less as a way to dirty up an unproductive fusion process and more as a way to clean up a productive fission process.

Glass, half empty or half full?

It should give milage to more investigation into making fusion productive if nothing else.

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Coat

Transuranic heavy elements...

... may not be used where there is life.

(Sorry ;-) )

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@ AC and Clemlow

No need to go to all that trouble of large banks of resistance to dump power. As the heat from the reaction will no doubt be used to drive steam turbines, you simply divert the steam to vent rather than generate excess power.

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@Daniel Garcia

"if they instead use a over-size fusor and use the walls as repositorium of the target(that it is itself used for heating some fluid to generated electricy later), that may be done very cheaply and probably will get positive energy output without a lot effort."

Ummm, do you know how fission works? (what our current nuclear power stations run on)

Or even fusion for that matter?

lets say you meant fission when you said 'fusor'. if you have an oversize reactor there, you will reach critical mass within no time at all, regardless of how many control rods you have. also, for heating up liquid, THAT IS HOW THEY WORK! the heat from the reaction turns water to steam, which is shoved through a turbine!

Lets say you meant fusion when you said 'fusor'. a tokomak requires all materials inside it to be in the plasma state. (Dictionary for dummies: plasma: A very HOT gas) if you had it up against the sides of the tokomak, it would melt, thats why they have to keep it in a magnetic field. if you had it any bigger, the magnetic field would have less of an impact, and would be less successful in keeping the plasma under control, which would touch the sides of the tokomak, forcing the entire operation to shut down.

P.S. please learn english, thats the language we speak here, not engrish!

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Erm, Mike...

Fusion CAN be used for war. And we DO have something tangible - they're called thermonuclear weapons.

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Paris Hilton

@Mike Westmacott

"If fusion could be used for war"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teller%E2%80%93Ulam_design

Kaboooooom!

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Never mind the waste,

did anyone else notice those two shady looking characters in that picture?

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Venting the steam ...

Really depends how much control you have over the fusion reaction, if there isnt much control, imagine that you have the generator producing the peak energy for the day, then imagine how much steam you have to vent at night?

Global warming through a more direct route :)

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Nuclear is the only option.

Renewable sources ... might supplement energy supplies but can never replace fossil fuels when they either simply run out ... or we decide its to environmentally dangerous to use them.

We need to pick a spot in a desert somewhere dig a big hole, line it with clay start dumping waste while accepting the fact that eventually the storage system will start to leak, eventually climate/geological change is going to release that radiation into the local water system.

Actually maybe we should just dump in in the rain forest instead. The environmental impact of the increased radiation levels would probably be far less than the impact cause my humans ... and it will scare the humans away.

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@Moronic AC 17:36

He said "Fusor" he meant "Fusor"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnsworth-Hirsch_Fusor

Probably a good idea to consider teh context of a word before deciding it's wrong.

Nice to see a Futurama reference too :)

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Rob

@Phil Clemow & Anonymous Coward

Storing AC power is best done by storing it as "potential to generate".

The easiest & cleanest way I know of is to pump water uphill into reservoirs using your cheap predictable-supply nuclear stations or whatever in times of low demand, then let the water run downhill again through turbines in times of peak demand. Then, when things get quiet again, pump it all back uphill. It's used a lot in Scotland, who are I believe a net exporter of electricity.

Bonus points because mother nature's fusion reactor will pump some of it back up for free in the form of precipitation.

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Boffin

Yup, the nuclear engine in the sky

David, why not use the fucking huge nuclear power station safely stationed 93 million miles away?

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E

It might...

help advance tokomak design as a side effect. More people using them = more minds and larger pool of experience to draw from.

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Boffin

RE: I love it when people say...

Ah, the irony.

Someone spouting off about what they know not and kidding on they're one of the cognoscenti.

Tritium. Even rarer, but still a lot of it.

Fusion reactor, with Lithium shell around. Lithium is so easy to get that we make batteries out of it.

Tritium gives excellent energy conversion with the temperatures we can manage in a tokamak (much lower than the solar core) and releases neutrons.

Neutrons hit lithium and the product is.... tritium!

There *are* engineering problems but your four points are neutered badly if you consider the above real-life example.

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@never mind the waste

Yes, the two shady looking characters are the obligatory "it's so safe we could stand right next to the reactor" silhouettes (pun intended).

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very minor point, but

Nuclear plants do cause thermal pollution... not quite a panacea (but that's definitely a much simpler nut to crack I'd think)

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wary of offering corrections

in light of some of the comments here, but isn't calling something a "tokamak doughnut" a tad redundant?

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ObThoriumReference

http://thoriumenergy.blogspot.com/

'nuff said

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Anonymous Coward

Sounds Great!

I really hope it works. We already have a lot of nuclear waste that needs to be disposed of, any process that reduces the amount is good in my book.

What I can't quite get my head around is that the article suggests that for fusion, all you need is hydrogen, yet posters are talking about lots of of other elements and their lack of abundance.

Who's right?

Also, the BBC program Top Gear, did a review of a hydrogen fuel cell car made by Honda. Now I know it's not a program renowned for its science, but they said that the cars fuel cell mixed hydrogen with oxygen so that the only waste was water (much less as than the volume of hydrogen pumped into the fuel cell, you can make energy from nothing). But the problem with it was making the hydrogen in the first place at it is always bound to something else.

So, for a hydrogen fuel cell car to be viable, the hydrogen has to be separated from what ever it is attached to first. Like water, good old h2o. And in sufficient quantities to be used by the huge amount of vehicles in the world.

Surly the same would apply for a fusion reactor?

And does hydrogen have the four states of solid, liquid, gas and plasma?

I ask because the car used "compressed" hydrogen.

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Boffin

RE: Boot note

At the risk of being picky, fission bombs often have a beryllium core that is a neutron emitter when squeezed by the conventional explosives. That is one way you can get a pocket nuke with what would normally be a sub critical mass.

People seem to be missing that the intent of the fusion reactor is to _greatly_ reduce the amount of waste materials. If you get a net positive energy return that is gravy.

We should IMHO see if scales to commercial use. Nuclear power of some variety is all be a requirement if we want to get off fossil fuels and have something beyond an 18th (or 13th) century level economy.

The remaining waste can be glassified, canned, and shot by big linear accelerator ( a.k.a rail gun) into an inward spiral towards 'mother nature's fusion reactor' for total disposal.

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Go

RE: the AC above

your ignorance is well recived.

Learn physics (and related techologies). King's of London is a good college for a Physics degree, i recommend it.

And yes, i am dislexic

thanks Martin for the support (btw i need to check that chapter of Futurama :) )

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Boffin

@Mike Westmacott

Scientists a notariously bad speelers :)

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Brilliant

So what they're really planning is a mini-star. It burns up all the fuel until there's only iron left. If you can make that work without using gravity it has a lot going for it.

Even better if you could get a neutron star or black hole to form in the middle. Think of the waste you could cram into one of those!

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