Every time we check in with [Hyperspace Pirate] he’s trying to make things cold. Really cold. His recent two-part video shows a propane vapor compression system that can go down to -37° C as well as a two-stage system using homemade ethylene that can get to -83° C. He’s trying to get to -100°, so he’s close, and we have no doubt he’ll get there.
The video explains that using two different refrigerants makes the design more practical. At the low temperatures involved, you have to deal with compressor oil freezing. There is a lot of theory required to design an efficient cooler and a lot of know-how required to make gas-tight connections with all the different materials involved.
Using propane in both stages did provide a little additional cooling. But using ethylene in the second stage didn’t work as expected. There were two issues to work through. Part of it was the average temperature of the system, and also, the homemade ethylene needed purification. The ethylene purification setup was almost as complex as the main system and also reminded us, for some reason, of the movie Darkstar. It didn’t work as well as he wanted, which means we have to wait for part two to see it all actually working.
Nuclear power is great if you want to generate a lot of electricity without releasing lots of CO2 and other harmful pollutants. However, the major bugbear of the technology has always been the problem of waste. Many of the byproducts from the operation of nuclear plants are radioactive, and remain so for thousands of years. Storing this waste in a safe and economical fashion continues to be a problem.
Alternative methods to deal with this waste stream continue to be an active area of research. So what are some of the ways this waste can be diverted or reused?
Fast Breeders Want To Close The Fuel Cycle
One of the primary forms of waste from a typical nuclear light water reactor (LWR) is the spent fuel from the fission reaction. These consist of roughly 3% waste isotopes, 1% plutonium isotopes, and 96% uranium isotopes. This waste is high in transuranic elements, which have half-lives measured in many thousands of years. These pose the biggest problems for storage, as they must be securely kept in a safe location for lengths of time far exceeding the life of any one human society.
The proposed solution to this problem is to instead use fast-neutron reactors, which “breed” non-fissile uranium-238 into plutonium-239 and plutonium-240, which can then be used as fresh fuel. Advanced designs also have the ability to process out other actinides, also using them as fuel in the fission process. These reactors have the benefit of being able to use almost all the energy content in uranium fuel, reducing fuel use by 60 to 100 times compared to conventional methods.