Heavy-Metal Nuclear Power
Could an unconventional coolant enable reactors to burn radioactive waste and produce both electric power and hydrogen?
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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