Decommissioning Fusion Power Plants

One of the major problems for the fission power industry is the disposal of the highly radioactive waste remaining when an old reactor is decommissioned. When the fission industry started, reactor decommissioning was largely ignored. Little effort was made to develop the necessary technology to protect the environment from exposure to used fuel elements, containment vessels and other radioactive materials resulting from the disassembly of a worn out reactor. Today the fission power industry is confronted with an enormous task of waste disposal with no clearly satisfactory method of performing the job.

It will be wise to draw detailed plans for decommissioning fusion reactors at the beginning of their development. This will avoid the wretched waste disposal problems that plague the fission reactor industry. The fusion reactors will contain far less radioactive material than a fission reactor. Whatever the amount, one hundredth to one millionth, proper disposal will be required.

Unlike the waste from fission reactors, none of the radioactive materials present in the decommissioned fusion reactor can be used to make bombs. The expended fusion reactor parts will hold no interest for terrorist groups. The materials are only radioactive isotopes formed in the structural elements of the reactor caused by the neutrons from the fusion reaction. There are no fertile elements or isotopes. No dangerous fission products are produced by the fusion reaction. Disposal of worn out fusion reactors will be safe and simple as compared to the disposal of waste and structures of decommissioned fission reactors.

Even though the challenge posed by decommissioning and disposal of fusion reactors is small, none of the current schemes for the disposal of radioactive materials is satisfying. The current schemes provide short-term protection and storage, but the waste can pose a hazard for 25,000 years. It is difficult to imagine a place on earth where it can be stored with total assurance no future problem can occur. Whether buried in stable rock formations on land or buried under the floor of the ocean, one can always postulate a natural disaster capable of causing the release of some of the radioactive waste products. There is always a potential for recovery by terrorists. None of the current earth based schemes can provide the level of protection desired.

At this time, only space disposal can provide absolute protection for humanity, its descendants and the planet earth. New methods may be discovered in the future, but current planning should include the accounting for disposal of decommissioned reactor materials in space. Whatever method is selected, good initial planning will make the disposal of the old fusion reactors a safe, relatively easy, and cost effective process.

The potential for the CBFR reactor is for a reactor that has no radioactivity associated with its use or decommissioning. If feasible, this type of reactor should be given first priority in the development effort described in Chapter 6.

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