It seems like an audacious claim, but Uranium-238 might just be the solution the world needs to solve the energy crisis. As many of the intellectual thinkers, serial entrepreneurs and research stalwarts all over the world combine their efforts to solve the energy crisis, Uranium 238 seems to pop up more often than not.
Before dismissing this as yet another pipe dream or a media publicity stunt, consider this – the best minds of the scientific and research community are already involved in this project. Bill Gates has recently classified this as an ‘Energy Miracle’ if successful. This is a total revolution and not an incremental improvement of existing technologies. This is why, if successful, it can redefine the way we look at all forms of energy and indeed the entire geo-politics and socio-economics of the world.
Terrapower is one such company that has had considerable success in this field with the use of high technology simulations using supercomputers and employing a passionate and expert research team.
The idea behind this concept is simple. Usual nuclear reactors that burn Uranium can only use the isotope Uranium-235 for the fission reaction that produces the energy. Natural Uranium contains less than 1% (0.71% average) of Uranium-235, which means we cannot use most of the Uranium that we find in the Earth’s crust. The fuel used in nuclear reactors is enriched to about 3.5% U-235 to sustain the reaction. Now what if there was a method to use the remaining 99% of U-238 that has been left unused?
The idea of using the spent fuel rich in U-238 is not new, but no one had actually shown that such an idea is feasible and will work out in real case scenarios. However, new research is showing promise that it might be technologically feasible and there are computer simulations of reactors that just might work. If true, then we might see a lot more of uranium nuclear energy than we see today.
Uranium nuclear energy is used by a number of reactors all over the world, using the fission of U-235. These face the problem of safe disposal of the nuclear waste. There are today tens of thousands of tons of spent nuclear waste, and all of this can be used for electricity generation. Simultaneously, we can also get rid of all the nuclear waste that would otherwise take billions of years to decay on its own. This idea, if made feasible, can power the US for hundreds of years to come.
The implications of this technology can be huge and beyond the imagination of any single person. Perhaps we would no longer be dependent on foreign oil if the government decides to invest heavily in this idea to solve the energy crisis. Perhaps we can go oil free and thus carbon-dioxide free in our energy generation. It is good to remember that uranium nuclear energy doesn’t produce any direct emissions and therefore is a clean technology. Unfortunately it is not renewable, so we will still need to harness wind and solar energy, but at least this would be a wonderful substitute for oil.
Photo: Argonne National Laboratory