Nautilus

Our Nuclear Waste Is a Goldmine

If America’s nuclear waste could be turned into electricity, it could power the country for the next century. More than 77,000 tons of plutonium, americium, and other radioactive leftovers of uranium fission have piled up at America’s atomic power plants, turning them into radioactive waste warehouses. Known as transuranics, these materials remain radioactive for thousands of years, and are stored in above-ground, concrete-encased water pools and steel casks, fueling endless political battles about where they should be buried. In August 2013, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the government to resume planning for the Yucca Mountain dump site, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it lacks the money.

But there is a better solution: Nuclear waste can be turned into electricity. A new generation of nuclear reactors, dubbed Gen-IV reactors, could do it with great efficiency. In the process, transuranics would be broken into elements that remain

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