Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Radioactive Wastes of the Integrated Fast-Breeder (IFR)
Name: dragonlady
Status: Other
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 


Question:
I just learned of the IFR that states that almost all fuel recycled and regenerated. My question: has anyone worked out what to do with the radioactive wastes that even this type of breeder reactor will generate? T understand that the wastes will be much less and will be dangerous for only 2 to 3 hundred years, but that still seems to be a problem to me, especially given that we must take care to not adversely impact the seventh generation from now. Thanks



Replies:
I am not a physicist or waste manager, but as a sociologist in the field of preventive medicine I have done some work on social impact assessment. With a question about the safety of nuclear waste, I have to ask "what is the alternative?" Since a generation spans about 25 years, seven generations spans about 175 years, which (as I understand) is about the same as the half-life of the wastes that concern you. You have to admit that the seventh generation would probably be grateful to receive a dump full of waste that will be practically harmless in yet another seven generations rather than a dump full of waste that will be deadly for 400 generations to come.

Of course it would ultimately be best if they receive no waste at all, but unfortunately that is no longer a possibility, since the waste is already here. We as a society must decide whether to develop more benign technologies or to abandon all attempts to develop and use nuclear power. The state of the world is such that other nations are pushing ahead with nuclear power development while research at ANL on the "integrated fast-breeder" was cut out of the budget this time around.

Don Libby


Don Libby is correct in his statement that other nations are pushing ahead with nuclear power developments, which brings up several noteworthy points of the IFR project. First, it is obvious that nuclear power is a relatively cheap energy source, which makes it appealing to third world countries. Second, the fuel for most conventional reactors can be used for less peaceful purposes than making electricity. The IFR, once in commercial use, will supposedly be able to use the high level actinide waste from conventional reactors as fuel. This material is not of weapons grade and would not be worth stealing. Once the fuel (reactor waste) is in the IFR complex, all recycling processes are performed "in-house."

There is little chance for diversion. Another important consideration is the efficiency of the IFR process. If nuclear power usage continues to increase at current levels the worlds uranium supplies will be depleted sometime early in the next century. A recycling reactor has the potential to substantially extend the usable life of what uranium we have left. When you speak of protecting the people 7 generations from now you speak of a small unit of time in terms of the lifetime of high level waste (such as conventional reactor waste). Repositories currently being planned will need to be safe for at least a millennium. This is a considerably more difficult task than protecting something for a few hundred years.

If you work at Argonne you should stop in building 201 and look at the displays on the first floor. (Also note that the IFR project may still receive funding from the Japanese, the DOD and DOE).

Eric Dallman



Click here to return to the Environmental Science

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory