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nucl_thompson39 karma

For nuclear waste/used nuclear fuel, there are a few ways to handle the situation.

But first, a little background. Right now in the US, there are ~100 (I think the exact number is 98-99) nuclear reactors operating, and many of them have been operating for 30+ years. Others have already closed down. Pretty much all of that used nuclear fuel remains ‘on site’, where the reactor is/was, either in large spent fuel pools or concrete casks.

In the 1980’s, two laws were signed that basically said 1) the US government will handle the used nuclear fuel, and 2) the US government would put it in Yucca mountain. In exchange, nuclear reactor operators would pay a tax on the electricity they produce to pay for it.

In the time since, Yucca mountain hasn’t opened, and the used nuclear fuel is still sitting there.

So, the first way to solve the problem would be to finish Yucca mountain, or some other ‘deep geological repository’, and put the waste deep underground. This is probably the most straightforward solution.

The second solution would be to ‘reprocess’ the used nuclear fuel, extracting the plutonium and the highly radioactive fission products, and you could use the plutonium as fuel again in nuclear reactors. This has the added benefit of also reducing the mass of the highly radioactive used nuclear fuel by about 95%, since you’re removing the highly radioactive material from the uranium (which is most of the used fuel, and isn’t that radioactive). France has actually been doing this for decades.

The third solution would be to reprocess the used fuel and use fast reactors as well, which can actually produce more plutonium than they use in uranium. In this way, you can use these reactors to make fuel for other reactors while also limiting the amount of waste that’s produced.

There are some other interesting ideas out there too, like ‘interim storage’, basically temporary storage while we build some of these other facilities, and ‘deep boreholes’, which are literally very deep holes we could put the waste into, so you wouldn’t need to excavate a huge mountain.

All of these methods can be done safely with the right safety culture, regulations, and oversight.

nucl_thompson22 karma

Not exactly a regulatory change, but one change that could help is how the NRC is funded. Currently, by law, 90% of the NRC's budget comes from fees they charge, either to facilities that have an NRC license, or those applying for one.

This means that a company with a new reactor design needs to be able to pay literally hundreds of millions of dollars for the NRC to review their reactor design - and these reviews also take a long time - sometimes a decade or more. The time it takes to review a design is another major issue, and one I'm not sure there is an easy solution for.

If the NRC was funded like some other government agencies, or if the application fee were capped, this could lead to a lot more innovation in the nuclear sector and products actually getting to the market.

nucl_thompson16 karma

The most fair way to compare energy sources and the greenhouse gas emissions they produce is called a Life Cycle Analysis. This is basically adding up all the greenhouse gases emitted over the entire life of that energy source, including mining the materials to build it, making the fuel, the construction, operation, dismantling – the whole life span, and dividing by how much energy that source produces. This is pretty hard to do, and it’s not my area of expertise. Luckily, the good people at the National Renewable Energy Lab have done a really detailed study – results here. The big takeaways – coal has very high emissions, natural gas is better than coal but not good, and solar/wind/nuclear/hydro all have about the same emissions (very low). In fact, nuclear is a little lower than some of the solar technologies.

TL:DR; over their lifespan, accounting for all emissions and all energy generated, solar/wind/nuclear/hydro have similar emissions.

nucl_thompson11 karma

I haven't been to Area 51, but I've been near it. The Nevada National Security Site (Nevada Test Site) was where many nuclear weapons were tested, and it's just south of Area 51. One of the facilities, the Device Assembly Facility, is home to the National Criticality Experiments Research Center, where LANL's critical experiments are housed. It's also where KRUSTY, the prototype space nuclear reactor developed by the DOE and NASA was tested recently.

nucl_thompson10 karma

Personally, it might help with modeling, but we shouldn't start testing nuclear weapons again.

The US has signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which states that we will not test nuclear weapons, or participate in the testing of nuclear weapons. We do perform subcritical nuclear tests, which help validate weapons simulations.

So the pros of full scale testing would be better data, but the cons would be potential world wide condemnation, and could lead to other countries testing weapons as well.