Generating Power from Nuclear Waste – A Moonshot Proposal

Leslie Dewan presents her vision of a new reactor that uses nuclear waste for fuel.

Leslie Dewan wants to save the world with nuclear power. But she doesn’t want to generate the nuclear power on her own, she wants to create energy from nuclear waste. Nuclear energy is well developed and can be scaled to meet the energy needs of the world but the current waste creation and safety issues are heavy deterrents.

Dewan has proposed a nuclear reactor that runs on, and completely consumes, nuclear waste as its fuel. 270,000 metric tons of nuclear waste exists worldwide being stored as a hazardous material. The estimate given in the talk is that today’s nuclear waste could power the world for seventy two years.

The current theory is that the waste reactors could be located in the same property as the existing units, so the waste would not have to be transported long distances before use. Uranium dissolved in a molten flouride salt is the main component of the proposed fuel for the new reactor. Inspiration was taken from the molten salt reactor experiments done in Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1950s and 60s.

Leslie Dewan is an engaging speaker full of knowledge about nuclear power and a great communicator. She breaks down the process of fueling conventional reactors with pellets of uranium oxide, and the process then feels both clear and easy to understand. This easygoing communication also allows her to explain the differences in the proposed reactor, and how it can pull the last remnants of energy from existing nuclear waste.

This project is a true moonshot, with heavy activity happening at Dewan’s company TransAtomic Power. This Solve for X talk, Power from Nuclear Waste, was presented in early 2014 but the company has been busy talking to the press and publicizing their efforts for a few years. There are years or decades of work that still needs to be done before this process might be implemented, in the fields of technology, safety, and public perception.