Intellectual Ventures says they have developed a nuclear reactor design, called a wave reactor. This wave reactor is intended to use depleted-uranium as a fuel source. The reactor is reliant on a wave passing through the material to breed plutonium from the uranium. This allows for the use of spent nuclear fuel, without many of the worries of proliferation and contamination. Though the intent of this wave reactor is to run on spent nuclear fuel, theoretically wave reactors could also run using raw fuel as well.
The wave inside the reactor moves about one centimeter per year. According to the designers of this reactor, these wave reactors should be able to run for up to 60 years, without ever being opened. This also limits the amount of risk and cost that is involved with typical reactor designs, which require to be refilled with new fuel every 12-24 months.
Here are some questions that I have regarding this reactor:
- What type of byproduct (waste) is there?
- How radioactive is the material?
- How much energy can be generated?
Unfortunately, these questions don’t seem to be answered, at least not with this initial information. I’m sure there will be more information available as time passes.
A very interesting video that gives a visual idea of how this reactor works: TR10: Traveling Wave Reactor Video
To read a more detailed article on the Wave Reactor visit Technology Review.