Study: Small Nuclear Power Projects Might Face Big Waste Problems
According to a study published on Tuesday, a planned new generation of small nuclear reactors will generate more waste than traditional ones, and efforts to make some types of waste safe could be exploited by militants seeking fissile materials.
In the event of an accident, the projects, known as small modular reactors (SMR), are supposed to be simpler and safer than traditional plants. In contrast to today's large light-water reactors, which are built on-site and frequently run billions of dollars over budget, they are intended to be manufactured in factories.
Supporters of SMRs argue that they are a safe approach to increase the generation of almost emissions-free electricity while also assisting in the fight against climate change.
According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the reactors would produce up to 30 times more radioactive waste per unit of electricity generated than conventional reactors.
Some of the reactors, with molten salt and sodium-cooled designs, are likely to produce waste that will need to be further processed before being stored in a repository. According to the report, militants may turn these treatments into fissile elements for nuclear weapons.
Allison Macfarlane, a co-author of the study and former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said: "SMR designers don't pay that much attention in general to the waste ... because the thing that makes money for them is the reactor."
"But it's important to know about the waste products and whether they're going to pose any difficulties in disposing of them and in managing them."
Following the cancellation of funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada, the US has no plans to store long-term, hazardous nuclear waste. Instead, the waste, known as spent nuclear fuel in the industry, is stored in pools at nuclear power plants and ultimately in steel and concrete dry casks.
The study indicated that NuScale Power Corp (SMR.N) reactors, which may use light water as a coolant like existing nuclear facilities, would produce 1.7 times more trash per energy equivalent than traditional reactors.
According to Diane Hughes of NuScale, the analysis used outdated design information and made inaccurate assumptions about the plants.
Other reactors, such as those proposed by Terrestrial Electricity and Toshiba Corp (6502.T), are likely to produce more waste per unit of energy than traditional reactors. Those reactors would almost certainly require further conditioning operations, which could lead to proliferation, the report said.
Terrestrial Energy's chief executive, Simon Irish, claimed the facility would produce less waste per unit of power and that the business is working on a conversion technique to make waste more geologically stable than waste from existing reactors.