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Three University of Texas physicists awarded patent for nuclear waste invention.

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

Researchers Mike Kotschenreuther, Prashant Valanju and Swadesh Mahajan of the College of Natural Sciences have patented the concept for a fusion-fission hybrid nuclear reactor that would use nuclear fusion and fission together to incinerate nuclear waste.

Fusion produces energy by fusing atomic nuclei, while fission produces energy by splitting atomic nuclei, the researchers noted in an announcement.

The process of burning the waste also would produce energy, the researchers said.

The goal is to eliminate 99 percent of the most toxic transuranic waste from nuclear fission reactors.

The scientists propose destroying the waste using the fusion-fission hybrid reactor, the centerpiece of which is a high-power compact fusion neutron source (CFNS).

The CFNS would provide abundant neutrons through fusion to a surrounding fission blanket that uses transuranic waste as nuclear fuel.

The fusion-produced neutrons augment the fission reaction, providing efficiency and stability to the waste incineration process.

"The potential for this kind of technology is enormous," said Mahajan, a 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," Mahajan reported.

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 fuel source and waste byproducts of the nuclear fuel cycle.

The device is driven by a transformational technology called the Super X Divertor.

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

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

The patented hybrid reactor is currently in a conceptual phase.

However, the Super X Divertor, however, is being installed as the centerpiece of a $40 million upgrade of the MAST tokamak in the United Kingdom.

The 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.

The MAST (mega amp spherical tokamak) is the UK's fusion energy experiment, based at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.

Along with NSTX--a complementary experiment at Princeton University--MAST is one of the world's two leading spherical tokamaks (STs).

Source: University of Texas at Austin

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Publication:Nuclear Waste News
Date:Oct 11, 2012
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