Innovation That Matters

The NuCycle process utilises tri-vessel integrated modules | Photo source Curio

Nuclear fuel recycling

Agriculture & Energy

A startup is developing a facility that could recycle the US’s entire nuclear waste stockpile into useful materials

Spotted: A growing number of experts are convinced that the transition to net zero carbon needs to involve greater use of nuclear power. But one of the problems with nuclear is what to do with the additional nuclear waste. Ed McGinnis, who heads startup Curio, has called the need to find acceptable solutions to nuclear waste “the largest ball and chain on the ankle of the US nuclear energy sector.”

Curio has developed an innovative process for spent nuclear fuel recycling, called NuCycle. This would turn nuclear waste into usable products, including fuel for advanced nuclear reactors, and isotopes that can be used for other functions, such as making power sources for space missions and tiny batteries. The company envisions its NuCycle facility to be the size of a football stadium and capable of recycling all of the US’s nuclear waste.

The company points out that the fuel coming out of conventional reactors still contains around 96 per cent of its potential energy value. The problem is that this fuel is also extremely dangerous, containing enough radiation to harm humans for approximately a million years. The NuCycle process, instead, would reduce the amount of radioactive waste to less than four per cent of what it started with, and this would require only about 300 years of storage – a relatively short period in the context of nuclear waste disposal.

Earlier this year, McGinnis told CNBC that the company, “would take title of all 86,000 metric tonnes and the federal government and the public would never see that high-level radioactive material on their books again, we would take the burden of it. And we would take trash and turn it into products and treasures. That’s our business line.”

The drive to reduce carbon emissions is already resulting in a host of innovations aimed at making nuclear power safer and more efficient. Springwise has spotted a prototype nuclear plant that uses magnetised targeted fusion and seaborne nuclear power plants.

Written By: Lisa Magloff



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