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

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus14 min read
WeChat Is Watching: Living in China with the app that knows everything about me.
It’s 9 a.m. on a typical morning in Chengdu and I’m awakened by the sound of my phone alarm. The phone is in my study, connected to my bedroom by sliding doors. I turn off the alarm, pick up my phone, and, like millions of people in China, the first
Nautilus10 min read
The Thrill of Defeat: What Francis Crick and Sydney Brenner taught me about being scooped.
I once knew a scientist who worked in the lab all of her waking hours for weeks on end. Indeed I’ve known a few. When a big discovery appears within reach, research can become an obsession. Imagine, then, what it must feel like to lose the race to be
Nautilus13 min readSociety
Why We Keep Playing the Lottery: Blind to the mathematical odds, we fall to the marketing gods.
To grasp how unlikely it was for Gloria C. MacKenzie, an 84-year-old Florida widow, to have won the $590 million Powerball lottery in 2013, Robert Williams, a professor of health sciences at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, offers this scenar