UT Researchers Patent Way To Turn Nuclear Waste Into Fuel

By Joseph Mandour on September 14, 2012

nuclearpower-164x164 San Diego – A group of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin said Wednesday that they have been awarded a patent for a type of nuclear reactor that could eventually be used to turn radioactive waste into new fuel.

Mike Kotschenreuther, Prashant Valanju and Swadesh Mahajan, physicists at UT’s College of Natural Sciences, said the patent covers a fusion-fission hybrid nuclear reactor that would use nuclear fusion and fission together to incinerate nuclear waste. Fusion produces energy by fusing atomic nuclei, and fission produces energy by splitting atomic nuclei.

The process of burning the waste would also produce energy, a process which the scientists hope could eliminate 99 percent of the most toxic waste from traditional nuclear fission reactors.

“The potential for this kind of technology is enormous,” Mahajan said. “Now that we have the patent, we hope this will open up opportunities to engage with the research and development community to further this potentially world-changing technology.”

The patented reactor would rely on a tokamak device, which uses magnetic fields to produce fusion reactions. The tokamak is surrounded by an area that would house a nuclear waste fuel source and waste byproducts of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The device is driven by a new technology the three physicists developed called the Super X Divertor, which they called a “crucial technology” with the capacity to safely divert enormous amounts of heat out of the reactor core to keep the reactor producing energy.

The need to store nuclear waste is among the biggest impediments to more widespread use of nuclear energy. Projects like the proposed Yucca Mountain long-term nuclear waste storage site in Nevada have met with much public opposition.

The physicists say their invention could someday drastically decrease the need for any additional or expanded geological waste dumps like Yucca Mountain, making nuclear power cleaner and more viable.

The scientists’ hybrid reactor currently remains in a conceptual phase, they said. The Super X Divertor, though, is being installed as the centerpiece of a $40 million upgrade of the MAST tokamak in the United Kingdom.

“This installation is a critical step forward in testing the Super X Divertor experimentally,” the scientists said.

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Posted in: Patent Registration