Search for better ways to deal with nuclear waste

Lately, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has been open to all suggestions as to how to deal more effectively with nuclear waste. Small private companies have become involved in the research – since the market for a solution is incredibly vast, comprising not only U.S. sites, but sites in the former Soviet Union, and in Europe, Asia and Australia.

The most common procedure for waste disposal is called vitrification – transforming the worst of radioactive waste into glass – but that process is far from perfect.

Now a tiny group of scientists in San Diego – backed by some of the biggest guns on Wall Street – think they have developed a better way. Archimedes Technology Group Inc. has invented a machine to filter out the most toxic radioactive components – the ones that must be enveloped in glass – thereby shaving years and billions of dollars off cleanup procedures.

  • DOE expects to award nearly $50 million in grants in 2003 to companies with new and promising ideas.

  • But unlike many waste start-ups, Archimedes is using private funding to build a demonstration unit of its invention – called the Archimedes Plasma Mass Filter.

  • The filter will use heat and electromagnetic fields to draw the most radioactive elements out of the waste and shoot them into glass-making machines.

  • Then the radioactive elements are mixed with molten glass and poured into stainless-steel containers.

    The glass solidifies and traps the radioactivity in logs that can be buried or stored in vaults.

    The device might cut the volume of high-level waste that must be captured in glass by 75 percent.

    Source: Arlene Weintraub and Laura Cohn, A Thousand-Year Plan for Nuclear Waste, Business Week, May 6, 2002.

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