The emotions of energy

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Hybrid fusion-fission energy generation a possibility via Futurismic.

Isn’t it interesting how this story swept through the internet?  Everyone, of course, wants to get rid of nuclear waste right?  Awful, evil stuff.  Bury it in the earth if you have to.  Making it disappear in a magic theoretical reactor is even better, what great news!  But what struck me is how no one seems to realize that this is by no means the first idea for a reactor to deal with nuclear “waste”, and that the stuff isn’t really waste at all once you understand a little about it.

Read on, and discover a whole nuclear world that you’ve probably never even heard of.

I’m not an expert, but it should be mentioned that this “hybrid’ is not the only idea for handling spent LWR fuel, not by a long shot.  There are several (fission) reactor designs that can actually gobble up all our “spent” fuel and burn up the long-lived radioactive compounds to produce energy.  Vastly more energy than the once-through LWR reactors managed to extract from it in the first place.  An order of magnitude more– energy that’s just sitting around in the spent fuel being all nasty and lethally dangerous now, and we could be using it to power our elecrtic cars and toothbrushes for the forseeable future.

I’m not going to try to make the case here, I’m not a nuclear physicist and my research into this has been limited so far.  Just enough to realize there’s a lot more here than most people know about.  The sites Energy from Thorium and Nuclear Green are good places to start for anyone who’s interested to learn more.  These sites are maintained by strong advocates and enthusiasts, but I would ask you to at least familiarize yourself with what they have to say before writing them off as cranks.  And they’re not good candidates for “industry shills” because frankly the current nuclear power industry is nowhere near this far along, and shame on us for that.

While we’re swinging for the fences with fusion research (that’s cool but seems to stay 2 decades away forever), there’s a lot of great fission approaches that are comparatively easy, but research and development are languishing basically because public sentiment associates nuclear energy with bombs and accidents.  The bitter irony* here is that the new reactors, by design, can be safe in all the ways that people associate with nuclear danger, and green in all the ways people associate with nuclear .. um, evilness?  I’m not talking about throwing more security at it, or digging a deeper hole for the nasty byproducts.  I seriously mean safe and good.  I know, it knocked me over too when I first started hearing about it.

* I thought about it, and yes I think that’s an appropriate use of the word ‘irony’

Skeptical threat level orange: Energy production is one of the hardest topics on which to find rational discourse and unbiased information.  Personally I don’t have a horse in this race, I’m not a nuke head or an anti-nuke.  I’d love it if fusion was practical now.  It would be great if solar and wind could produce power on the scale we need**.  Maybe the next breakthrough will do it, of course let’s keep up the fierce R&D.  And that’s all I ask for nuclear.  Get your head out of the 1960’s and give it a fair shot.

** Heck it’s not even a scale problem yet, the EROEI is still so bad on wind and solar that they’re the butt of jokes, among those who bother to do the calculations.  Remember ethanol from corn?  Remember when everyone thought it was going to be awesome… before someone did the math?

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