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Plans for a new nuclear reactor in Idaho

New nuclear reactor design
Oregon State University
Wikimedia Commons
New nuclear reactor design

New, smaller designs for nuclear reactors have been touted as vital for the clean energy future, but new research finds they could generate more radioactive waste than conventional ones. The study from Stanford University and the University of British Columbia says small reactors could produce two to 30 times the amount of waste in need of management and disposal compared with typical reactors. NuScale Power plans to build a small modular reactor near Idaho Falls. Don Safer with the Sierra Club Nuclear Free Campaign says this is one of the first investigations into waste problems for these new designs.

"You can find a lot of information about all the wonderful things that they're supposed to do but you can't find hardly any information about the waste they will create. And it's hard to get any of the technical details about the downsides of these reactors," said Safer.

Because nuclear power produces little carbon dioxide, many climate experts see it as crucial for cleaner electricity. Nuclear reactors provide about one-fifth of the country's energy. Commercial plants in the U-S have produced about 88-thousand tons of spent nuclear fuel, with the most radioactive waste to be stored underground for hundreds of thousands of years. However, study authors note the U-S doesn't have a program to develop its own underground repository.

"It should be required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that before they license any of these designs, they have a full understanding of where this waste is going to go, how it's going to be stored and what the realities that we're going to be placing onto future generations are."

Safer adds the report should send a message to potential host communities of new reactor technologies, such as Idaho Falls and the nearby NuScale project.

"The takeaway is to ask questions about the fuel cycle, and what the waste will be and what the coolant will be, and how they're going to deal with the physical and chemical realities that those choices make."