The Great Electrifier: Nuclear Energy & the Myth of Nuclear Waste

There is no such thing as nuclear waste — and that’s just one of the many beautiful things about nuclear energy.

A nuclear reactor is refueled by its waste.

Quoting Dr. Pierre Guelfe, chief engineer of France’s main nuclear facility, in an interview he gave with William Tucker, author of an excellent book called Terrestrial Energy:

Pierre Guelfe: When the depleted fuel rods are removed, the reactors are shipped to La Hague for reprocessing. They let it cool down for a few years and then remove the uranium and plutonium. They ship the plutonium here. We take it and mix it with another stream of material, which is the scrap that is left over from uranium enrichment. The U235 content of this is very low … U235 is the fissionable isotope. But the plutonium is much more fissionable than the depleted uranium. So when we mix them together, you get a fuel that is very close to enriched uranium. It’s called ‘Mixed Oxide Fuel’(MOX). We have 20 reactors here in France running on MOX and there are ten more in Germany and two in Switzerland. So we’re pure plutonium, and we scrap uranium together. We use everything. We don’t leave any waste.

William Tucker: I’ve read this several times but I want to make absolutely sure: The plutonium that comes out of a commercial reactor, that you separate from the fuel rod, that cannot be used to make a bomb, right?

Pierre Guelfe: That’s right. You have four plutonium isotopes: Pu239, Pu240, Pu241 and Pu242. Of the four, only Pu239 can sustain a chain reaction. The others are contaminants. The PU241 is too highly radioactive. It fissiles too fast so you can’t control it to make a bomb. But you can use all of them to sustain fission in a MOX reactor (source).

And yet on the basis of some colossal misinformation, the United States now has fifty thousand tons of nuclear “waste,” because our government won’t allow nuclear plants to reuse it.

The stated policy of the Department of Energy (DOE) is “not to reprocess” a perfectly reusable by-product — and all for absolutely no good reason.

That, as I discuss in Chapter 12 of my book, is why Yucca Mountain is unnecessarily, and at great cost, being built in southwestern Nevada: to store a nuclear “waste” that could instead be simply and efficiently reused.

Nuclear “waste,” incidentally, is also used for medical isotopes. In fact, over 40 percent of medicine now is nuclear medicine. Currently, we must import all our nuclear isotopes because we’re not allowed to use any of our own.

This is not only profligate.

It’s a kind of lunacy.

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