Monday, March 21, 2011

A Renewed Interest in Pool-Type Reactors?

One man's trash is another man's treasure. Pool-type reactors are used in training and in rare cases, hot water production. Spent Fuel Storage Pools (SFSP) are not pool-type reactors because the storage racks and boric acid added to the water are used to prevent reaction. The Chinese are looking to use SFSP's as a solution to their nuclear waste storage issues.

Light water reactors create neutron poisons, isotopes that capture neutrons limiting the chain reaction in the reactor. This one of the safety factors of LWR technology and one of the problems with LWR technology, it generates more waste that has to be reprocessed or stored. Nuclear non-proliferation places limits on reprocessing in the United States that helps increase the waste storage problem. Most nuclear wast is not really waste it is wasted energy because of political issues.

Spent fuel still generate decay heat and can still sustain a less efficient chain reaction. The Chinese idea is to use the energy in the spent fuel as it decays for producing heating hot water for use in district heating and desalination plants. Spent fuel ponds can also be used for hydrogen production.

The boric acid added to the SFSP increases the production of hydrogen from near zero for pure water to usable quantities as the percentage of boric acid increases. Different impurities can be added to the water to increase hydrogen production.

Eventually, spent fuel will either be reprocessed into new fuel or added to Generation IV reactors for more complete burn up. Until then, spent fuel trash may be a treasure.

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