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Nuclear waste to preserve food, sterilize medical gear

Posting in Energy

Recycling is going nuclear.

In today's environmentally do-good zeitgeist of recycling, why should nuclear waste go unused?  If we can find a purpose for everything from corn husks to old plastic bottles, can't we find something to do with all that troubling radioactive stuff left by the world's 435 commercial power producing reactors?

To borrow a phrase out of context from a certain well known world leader, yes we can.

An Oregon State University researcher has invented a way to use spent nuclear fuel to sterilize medical equipment and preserve food, News-Medical.Net reports.

The development would not only address the vexing question of what to do with nuclear waste. It would also open over $1 billion in economic opportunities. "The technology, if widely implemented, might allow each of the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States to create a revenue stream of $10 million a year while providing thousands of new jobs," according to the report.

If the same math applied to all of the world's reactors, then the revenue would exceed $4 billion globally.

Private company G-Demption LLC has received a provisional patent and is attempting to commercialize the technology developed by Russell Goff, an OSU masters student. Goff is harnessing reactors' short lived radioactive elements known as "fission products" that emit gamma rays.

Irradiation by gamma rays from other sources is already used for food and medical purposes. It's a growing business, but is restricted by limited availability of radioactive substances like cobalt 60, the story notes. Goff says his system would be a lot less expensive and would double the supply of gamma rays in the U.S.

If you also consider the possibility to use reactors' other waste - long-lived stuff like plutonium - as nuclear fuel, then political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama should indeed be saying "yes we can use it."

Or to make up my own phrase: Don't store it. More it.

Image from Greenpatentblog.com

More from SmartPlanet's nuclear circular:

— By on April 15, 2013, 8:52 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure