|Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor
A new type of nuclear reactor that could permanently
"destroy" atomic waste is being developed by French scientists, according
to the chief executive of Areva, the world's largest nuclear energy company.
Mike Kotschenreuther, also of the IFS, said that the technology rested on the use of a spherical hybrid fusion-fission reactor. The waste would be held in a "blanket" around the reactor core and destroyed by firing streams of neutrons at it. He acknowledged that big technical challenges remained, not least that to work effectively the reactor would have to operate continuously, creating the problem of how to extract the destroyed waste.
About 440 nuclear plants are operating in 31 countries worldwide, with a collective generating capacity of 370 gigawatts of electrical power, or 15% of the global total. But electricity produced from nuclear fission also produces 12.000 tonnes of high-level radioactive waste per year, including plutonium that can be used to manufacture weapons.
Ms Lauvergeon said that the volume of high-level nuclear waste produced by all of France's 58 reactors over the past 40 years could fit in one Olympic-size swimming pool. "Of course, it would be better to have nothing, but this is fully managed and we have to view this issue in a balanced way compared to other solutions." Nuclear power produces more than 80 per cent of French electricity.
Britain's high-level waste is stored in a temporary facility at the Sellafield nuclear waste plant in Cumbria.
The concept of a hybrid fission-fusion reactor was first developed in the 1950s, but little research was conducted for several decades.
Voir aussi 2009: Un nouveau nucléaire "mangeur de déchets"?