Researchers awarded patent for tokamak device, would turn nuclear waste into fuel

September 13, 2012

University of Texas at Austin physicists have been awarded a U.S. patent for an invention that could someday be used to turn nuclear waste into fuel, thus removing the most dangerous forms of waste from the fuel cycle.

The researchers—Mike Kotschenreuther, Prashant Valanju and Swadesh Mahajan of the College of Natural Sciences—have patented the concept for a novel fusion-fission hybrid that would use nuclear fusion and fission together to incinerate . Fusion produces energy by fusing , and fission produces energy by splitting atomic nuclei.

The process of burning the waste would also produce energy. The researchers' goal is to eliminate 99 percent of the most toxic transuranic waste from .

"The potential for this kind of technology is enormous," said Mahajan, professor of physics. "Now that we have the patent, we hope this will open up opportunities to engage with the research and development community to further this potentially world-changing technology."

The researchers' patent covers a tokamak device, which uses magnetic fields to produce fusion reactions. The patented tokamak is surrounded by an area that would house a nuclear waste and waste by-products of the nuclear fuel cycle. The device is driven by a transformational technology called the Super X Divertor.

The Super X Divertor is a crucial technology that has the capacity to safely divert the enormous amounts of heat out of the to keep the reactor producing energy.

Toxic nuclear waste is stored at sites around the U.S., and the need to store nuclear waste is widely considered to be a major disadvantage associated with nuclear energy.

The physicists' invention could someday drastically decrease the need for any additional or expanded geological repositories, making nuclear power cleaner and more viable.

The patented hybrid reactor is currently in a conceptual phase.

The Super X Divertor, however, is being installed as the centerpiece of a $40 million upgrade of the MAST tokamak in the United Kingdom. This installation is a critical step forward in testing the Super X Divertor experimentally. It is not covered by the U.S. patent but is the technology invented by the University of Texas at Austin physicists.

For more information on the fusion-fission hybrid reactor, read "Nuclear Fusion-Fission Hybrid Could Destroy Nuclear Waste And Contribute to Carbon-Free Energy Future."

Explore further: Radiation studies key to nuclear reactor life, recycling spent fuel

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Osiris1
3.3 / 5 (3) Sep 13, 2012
I had an idea like that over forty years ago. Presented it to the head of the physics department at Calfornia State University in my city...that will give idea thieves a lot of candidates to talk to....
Anyway, he told me that the idea of 'hazardous nuke waste' is a red herring used as a bogeyman by hostile terrorist or totalitarian state actors to scare the ignorant to pressure governments. There is little to no truth to it, but regrettably, masses of people propagandized otherwise refuse to open their eyes to see this. The plain fact is half lives, most are amazingly short, on the order of less than 15 seconds. Typical waste item is an ordinary work glove. Most 'waste' is of this nature. An amazingly tiny amount is actually long lived, rendering most reclamation schemes uneconomical. It this one is better, DO IT! Take away the tool that our enemies have used to create armies of luddite societal saboteurs out of ignorant, stupid, yet 'suggestable once' masses.

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