Nuclear power Reusing nuclear waste would solve the global energy crisis once and for all – now the professor explains why humanity has not yet seized the means

Utilization of nuclear waste would also be possible in Finland, but it would require a lot of new regulation and large investments, says Professor Juhani Hyvärinen from LUT University.

Nuclear waste contains a huge amount of energy, and its utilization could be one way to get rid of fossil fuels.

Nuclear waste contains so much energy that it could offset the entire U.S. energy needs for a hundred years, recently estimates financial news channel CNBC interviewed by an expert Jess Gehin From the Idaho National Laboratory. According to him, nuclear power plants use only about half a percent of all the energy contained in natural uranium.

Technology to harness the energy contained in nuclear waste has been developed for decades, in the 1960s in the United States. However, it has never been exploited on a larger scale, primarily for economic and political reasons.

However, as climate change accelerates, the utilization of nuclear waste as an energy source should be considered in Finland in the long term, says Professor of Nuclear Power Engineering Modeling Juhani Hyvärinen From LUT University.

“I do not see that this is being done in Finland, even in the medium term. In the longer term, however, it is worth working towards this and not leaving any cards unturned in the face of the climate crisis. ”

Nuclear energy the use and production of nuclear weapons generates large amounts of radioactive waste, which is called nuclear waste according to its origin. In Finland, nuclear waste is generated mainly at the Loviisa and Olkiluoto nuclear power plants, and previously also in small quantities at the Otaniemi research reactor, which has already been decommissioned.

Juhani Hyvärinen, Professor of Nuclear Power Engineering Modeling at LUT University.

According to Hyvärinen, existing technologies can be used to make the difficult-to-crack part of natural uranium easy to crack, so that it can be utilized as fuel.

The technical term for the method is reprocessing, which in practice means dissolving highly radioactive spent fuel in acids and separating usable uranium and plutonium. Reprocessing does not completely eliminate the need for disposal, although it does reduce it the volume of the waste.

However, the technology is not used on a larger scale just outside Russia, and no similar technology is used in Finland, for example.

“Technically, this would be a feasible thing to do, as there is still usable stuff among spent nuclear fuel. My own question then is what this would cost, ”says Hyvärinen.

In Finland the construction of a spent fuel reprocessing plant is not technically and economically viable, on the website of the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. Spent nuclear fuel cannot be exported abroad for reprocessing either, as the transport of nuclear waste abroad is prohibited by the Finnish Nuclear Energy Act.

Instead, LUT University is currently designing heating reactors that would run on the same fuels as current power plants. According to Hyvärinen, the advantage of this solution would be that the technology could be commercialized much faster, even within 5-10 years.

Building a nuclear waste reactor would be a much longer project that would cost a lot, especially on a larger scale. According to Hyvärinen, this has been tested in France, which has cut France’s demand for natural uranium by about half.

“However, reprocessing is a rather demanding task, and France also has 50 nuclear reactors but only one waste treatment plant.”

“The uranium resources found on Earth would be enough for tens of thousands of years, when they are now enough for a few hundred.”

Nuclear waste At best, utilization could increase the amount of energy obtained from natural uranium by up to 60-80 times, which would make nuclear power virtually independent of the availability of natural uranium and ecologically sustainable, Hyvärinen says.

“The uranium resources found on Earth would be enough for tens of thousands of years, when they are now enough for a few hundred.”

However, the utilization of nuclear waste in Finland would require a lot of rethinking, for example in terms of who would own the reactors, how they would be regulated and what role they would play in our energy system.

So far, nuclear waste energy technology is not available on a commercial scale, but it is currently being developed by US startups Oklo and Terrapower and energy giant Westinghouse, for example.

“Spent nuclear fuel isn’t going anywhere, it’s safe and available. If such technology becomes competitive in larger countries, it can also be bought in Finland, ”says Hyvärinen.

In Finland spent nuclear fuel is currently buried in bedrock. In Finland, nuclear waste is generated from the Loviisa and Olkiluoto nuclear power plants and the Otaniemi research reactor.

The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority monitors the safety of nuclear waste management. At the end of December, Posiva, the company responsible for the final disposal of waste, submitted to the Government an application for a license to operate a spent fuel encapsulation and disposal facility.

The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority started examining the license application after mid-May.

Posiva is applying for a permit to dispose of spent fuel at a depth of approximately 430 meters in a cavity excavated in the bedrock of Eurajoki. It has previously been reported that the cavity is designed to hold nuclear waste generated during the entire life of the Olkiluoto three and Loviisa two reactors, ie approximately 6,500 tonnes of uranium.

Read more: Posiva wants to bury 6,500 tonnes of nuclear waste in Finnish bedrock – Authority begins processing application

Correction 12.6.2022 at 18.43: Corrected spelling of the name of LUT University. The story used to be called the University of Lappeenranta.

Corrigendum 12 June 2022 at 8.38 am: It has been specified that the Otaniemi research reactor has been taken out of service.

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