If nuclear waste is so radio-active, why not use its energy to generate more power?


I just dont get why throw away something that still gives away energy, i mean it just needs to boil some water, right?

In: 3494

When it’s considered a waste product, it has relatively low but long-lasting radioactivity. It’s the kind of thing you need to keep away from people but it is hard to make good use of. We use highly enriched fuel for reactors because it’s susceptible to a chain reaction that makes each piece output energy much more quickly due to the neutron radiation it receives from its neighbors. In a reactor that’s a carefully limited process, but you might think of a how nuclear bomb works–it contains a radioactive core that’s a little dangerous, but what it’s really about is that chain reaction which releases all of the stored energy at once.

It is possible to do recycling of nuclear waste, though. In a [breeder reactor](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breeder_reactor), the reaction is designed so that the fuel breaks down into other isotopes that are still radioactive enough to be useful as fuel. It gradually lets you use up practically all of the available energy and produces less radioactive waste when it’s spent.

>I just dont get why throw away something that still gives away energy, i mean it just needs to boil some water, right?

No, it needs to boil water without anyone coming to harm in the process.

Nuclear waste is radioactive enough to cause serious health- and environmental issues if handled improperly but not radioactive enough to make any more elaborate and expensive attempts of harnessing its decay **worthwhile**. That’s why it’s “waste” and not “fuel”.


Nuclear waste gives away radiations (we can’t harvest them) and heat. Both in low grade levels.

Let’s say a barrel of waste is self heating itself to 30-40 Celsius, that’s a lot of energy to get rid of, if your store too many on top of eachother and you have to prevent overheating. But at the same time it’s too low to run a steam turbine. Plus if you run water in it to capture the heat you have to treat that water as radioactive. To be fair, most waste doesn’t even heat a fraction of what I said.

Theoretically you can use a stirling engine, that works on very low temperatures, but the cost and power output… I don’t se it working. For the same power you can put a water panel on your house roof and connect a stirling engine to make electricity. It will give the same power but without the radioactive water issue. And I don’t see many solar powered stirling engines so I bet the engine costs far more than the energy you can harvest.

But higher grade waste is recycled to make new nuclear fuel. It is done in many nuclear plants.

Kurzgesagt has a 3 part [video](https://youtu.be/rcOFV4y5z8c) explaining, simply, how nuclear power works. As well as, the pros and cons to using Nuclear Energy.