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Heavy-Metal Nuclear Power

Could an unconventional coolant enable reactors to burn radioactive waste and produce both electric power and hydrogen?

Eric Loewen

Spent reactor fuel componentsClick to Enlarge Image

It's been decades since a nuclear power plant was commissioned in the United States, but nuclear engineers mindful of problems with reliance on fossil fuels for long-term power generation continue to look at novel reactor designs. Loewen and his colleagues have evaluated one of the technologies under consideration for the next generation of reactors. It would exploit the physical and safety characteristics of lead—chiefly, a high boiling point—as a coolant in place of water. Such a reactor could use fast neutrons and operate at high temperature, making it capable of burning many of the radioactive isotopes in the spent nuclear fuel produced by the nation's 103 light-water reactors.


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