However, the truth is that nuclear waste will pollute the soil for years and generations to come. It also poses health risks to anyone who comes in contact with it such as workers, children, and even pets. The best solution for all of these problems is recycling.
Recycling nuclear waste allows everyone to keep some of their wasted fuel away. Once fuel (uranium or thorium) has been used in a nuclear reactor, it is very difficult to recycle it. In reality, most average Nuclear Reactor’s only recover about thirty percent of their energy from the fuel, leaving behind many unsafe byproducts such as strontium, iodine, or cesium. You could power the entirety of your electric grid off the power from spent nuclear fuel for… nothing.
Uranium is the most abundant element on Earth, and accounts for most of the material used to make nuclear weapons. When nuclear fuel is placed in a nuclear reactor to generate electricity, there is uranium decay which results in uranium-fuelled rods. These rods contain U 235 or Uranium 238. As the fuel runs through these rods, the Uranium decay spreads the U-236 and U 238 into tiny particles, which then become atomized and released into the atmosphere. The released gases are called Flue gases.
When we talk about the waste from Pu 239 (UR-239) Reactor’s, it is a different story. The Pu-239 Reactor produces no byproducts at all! It is completely silent! What is more amazing about the Pu-239 is that it is one of the safest styles of Reactor on the planet. This makes it the perfect candidate for recycling. The only way to achieve this is to take the fuel out of the nuclear fuel pools, which is quite difficult and expensive, and then bring the fuel back to life inside of a different type of Reactor.
Fuel Cycle Programs
When talking about closed fuel cycle programs, you have to understand that you cannot just take any old nuclear waste, and mix it up in some new location. For example, if an old uranium mine was opened up, and nuclear waste was gathered and transported to the area, how safe is it? The simple answer here is that it would be very dangerous, as well as very expensive. How would you extract uranium ore out of an active volcano, and transport it thousands of miles away? The truth is, you would probably be better off just leaving it there in the first place.
Because of this fact, nuclear fuel companies are very careful not to leave any leftover materials in place. Many times, they will just dismantle a fuel assembly and dispose of it properly. However, you must be careful when looking to recycle, especially if your waste is highly contaminated with radiation emitting compounds, or has a lot of metals in it. You do not want to make the same mistake as these companies.
Commercial Power Plants
You see, there are two main types of waste recycling programs that work well. One type of program recycles the spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants. The other type recycles that nuclear waste that is radioactive; that is, if it contains high levels of enriched Uranium, or other radioactive isotopes. It also takes material such as spent nuclear fuel rods, and pipes. These are all used for waste reclamation purposes.
One other option when recycling waste is to use what is known as “breeder reactors”. This is a way of recycling waste that uses a great deal less energy than traditional methods such as boiling water reactors. The breeder process uses what is known as an artificial growth element; which is in essence made up of different elements. When these different elements are put together, they create more Uranium, which is then further processed into fuel rods.