Will Nuclear Waste Disappear?

in science •  4 days ago 

I just came across this article: https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Nobel-Prize-Winner-Suggests-Blasting-Nuclear-Waste-With-Lasers.html and it got me thinking.

The basic gist of the article is that the team that came up with a super-powerful, super-fast laser system (and won the Nobel Prize) have a hypothesis that they could apply these techniques to nuclear waste.

The key bit is here:

The method would work by blasting nuclear waste with a laser pulse so strong and fast that it could knock protons out of the nuclei of dangerous substances like uranium 235 and plutonium 239, rendering them harmless.

Well, harmless might be a stretch. If you knock out a proton, that changes what element you are dealing with. It would be a secondary fission. U-235 would become Pa-234, which is in the island of stability. But let's say you knock out a neutron instead and it becomes U-234. Then there is potential to become spontaneously fissile.

It's an interesting idea though. If the technology can be developed, it would solve the issue of nuclear waste. That's an amazing idea.

Investment implications?

Let's wave our magic wand and say this thing happens. The entire value chain from uranium mining to nuclear power generation could see an uplift in business.

Companies like BHP, U, NRG, LEU, and DUK (not an exhaustive list) could all benefit.

Electric power from nuclear sources is the cheapest of all the current power generation methods at scale. If the cost of waste disposal is eliminated, then it could be cheaper still, creating downward pressure on coal and oil plants.

Food for thought.


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I'm a little skeptical. The energy levels required are huge. I mean, even if you can get photons to those energy levels, you might end up using a large portion of the energy produced by nuclear, just to deal with the waste, using this method.

I think the waste problem is overstated. It's a result of government intervention. When a nuclear plant is designed, one of the considerations is waste. And the US government tends to subsidize waste removal. When the government fails to live up to their end of the bargain, which is what they've done historically, the plant fails.

The proper approach is for the plant to incorporate waste removal into their business model.

Hard to argue with a premise of government intervention screwing things up. I remember all the controversy about the plan to ship nuclear waste by rail to be buried in the mountains (in Nevada maybe?). Nobody trusted the government to not fuck it up.

With net power consumption, who knows. Maybe the free H+ generated can be used somehow to recapture a portion of that energy.

This is firmly in fantasyland at the moment though as just a hypothesis along with all that revolutionary battery technology that is just around the corner.

Fascinating idea with a myriad of potential applications. But the spontaneously fissionable material problem 🤯 KaBoom 😂🤣😅

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