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We cannot wish Britain’s nuclear waste away via The Guardian

Opponents of nuclear power who shout down suggestions of how to use spent waste as fuel will not make the problem disappear

Duncan Clark’s article in the Guardian today should cause even the most determined anti-nuclear campaigner to think long and hard about the choices that confront us. He reveals that Prof David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to the UK government’s energy department and author of Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air, has endorsed a remarkable estimate. The UK’s stockpile of nuclear waste could be used to generate enough low-carbon energy to run this country for 500 years.

If the material we have seen until now as waste is instead seen as fuel, it has the potential to solve three problems at once: the UK’s contribution to climate change, possible future energy shortfalls and a significant component of the massive bill – and massive headache – associated with cleaning up the current nuclear mess.

The technology with the potential to solve these problems is the fast reactor, ideally the integral fast reactor (IFR), which I wrote about in December. It exploits the fact that conventional nuclear power plants use just 0.6% of the energy contained in the uranium that fuels them. IFRs, once loaded with nuclear waste, can, in principle, keep recycling it until only a small fraction remains, producing energy as they do so.

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