We've heard murmurs from various investors about novel ways to process nuclear fuel and waste that have been floating around in search of funding. (See link for more background info; more detail can be found in our report on new nuclear.)
These rumors may have stemmed from a recent research discovery. Northwestern University chemists have come up with a compound of gallium, indium and antimony that can effectively swallow radioactive cesium ions. Even better, it won't swallow things like potassium. Co-author of the study Mercouri Kanatzidis likens the substance to a Venus fly trap.
If it works, this approach could be far more attractive than sticking depleted radioactive materials in underground barrels for millions of years.
A few other novel ideas for getting rid of nuclear waste have been percolating in the research community. Lawrence Livermore National Labs has been working on hybrid fusion technology. In this approach, neutrons from fusion reactions would be targeted at blankets of nuclear waste to create fission energy and destroy the waste at the same time. Others, such as TerraPower, have proposed building reactors that could be filled with fuel reprocessed from nuclear waste and sealed up for decades.
Georgia Tech scientists, meanwhile, have experimented with microbes that can serve as early warning systems for leaks at depositories.
In some ways, a nuclear waste company centered on a novel technology could be more attractive than, say, a start-up focused on modular reactors, such as those offered by TerraPower or NuScale Power. Regulatory and testing hurdles would abound, but at least a pool of potential customers would already exist. And again, the VCs we've spoken to seem less alarmed by the prospect of a waste elimination company than that of a reactor-based start-up.
Nuclear remains the topic of one of the most significant, and most vigorous, debates in the energy world. Elliott Negin from the Union of Concerned Scientists recently contributed an article to this site and we've published a number of other invigorating takes on the issue in the past, as well. If you have an opinion, please chime in.