Study - Study: Small nuclear power projects may face big waste problems

Study – Study: Small nuclear power projects may face big waste problems

Cooling towers near the Golfech Nuclear Plant on the Garonne River border between Agen and Toulouse, France, August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

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The planned new generation of small nuclear reactors will create more waste than conventional reactors, while militants trying to obtain fissile material may exploit treatments to make some types of waste safe, a study published on Tuesday said. .

The projects, called Small Modular Reactors (SMR), are designed to be simpler and safer than conventional plants in the event of an accident. It is also expected to be built in factories in place of the existing massive light water reactors being built on site and typically running billions of dollars over budget.

SMR proponents say it is a safe way to promote virtually zero-emission electricity generation and will help reduce climate change.

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But reactors will produce more radioactive waste, per unit of electricity they generate, than conventional reactors by a factor of 30 according to study Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some reactors, with molten salt and sodium-cooled designs, are expected to produce waste that needs additional processing to make it safe for storage in warehouses. She added that these processors are vulnerable to being converted by militants into fissionable materials for a primitive nuclear bomb.

Alison MacFarlane, co-author of the study and former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority, said that SMR designers “generally don’t pay much attention to waste…because the thing that makes them money is the reactor.”

“But it is important to learn more about waste products and whether they would pose any difficulties in their disposal and management,” MacFarlane said.

The United States has no plan to permanently store long-term toxic nuclear waste, after Washington halted funding for the Yucca Mountain waste site in Nevada. Instead, the waste, which the industry calls spent nuclear fuel, is mostly placed in nuclear plants in vats, and later in dry drums made of steel and concrete.

“Even if we had a robust waste management program, we think there would be a lot of challenges to deal with some of the SMR waste,” said Lindsey Krall, lead author of the study.

The study found that NuScale Power Corp. (SMR.N) reactors, which can use light water as a coolant, like conventional nuclear plants, will produce about 1.7 times more waste per energy equivalent than conventional reactors.

Diane Hughes, a spokeswoman for NuScale, said the study used outdated design information and incorrect assumptions about the plants.

Other reactors, which Terrestrial Energy and Toshiba Corp. (6502.T) plan to use different fuels and coolants than conventional reactors, are also expected to create more waste per unit of energy, the study said. She added that those reactors would likely require additional procedures known as conditioning, which provide pathways for propagation.

Simon Irish, CEO of Terrestrial Energy, said its plant will generate less waste per unit of energy, and the company is developing a conversion process to make the waste more geologically stable than waste from existing reactors.

Toshiba did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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(Reporting by Timothy Gardner) Editing by Richard Boleyn

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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