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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

TECHNOLOGY Challenges

TECHNOLOGY CHALLENGES for the 21st Century

The decline of the nuclear industry poses huge challenges –  nuclear experts need not fear unemployment.

RADIOACTIVE WASTE DISPOSAL.  If all nuclear reactors stopped today, and all nuclear weapons were “turned off”, the world would still be left with a massive unsolved problem of disposing of the wastes.

BURYING THE CORPSES of nuclear reactors – (they prefer that nice word “decommissioning”) – a huge part of the unsolved waste problem.

ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGIES

Renewable energy is taking over –  it is supposed to be “clean and green”. And digital communications are also taking over the world.

But at present, both of these require “rare earths”

RARE EARTHS     On the one hand, these play a  part in the renewable energy future, for example in making wind turbines, and in electric car batteries.  Rare earths are a group of 17 chemical elements ( yttrium and the 15 lanthanide elements (lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium, europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium)    Rare earth metals and alloys that contain them are used in many devices that people use every day such as: computer memory, DVD’s, rechargeable batteries, cell phones, car catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting and much more.  http://geology.com/articles/rare-earth-elements/

On the other hand, – the downside of rare earths  –  in the mining and processing of these rare earth minerals, radioactive wastes are produced.

DESIGNING not DIGGING

Here is where a revolutionary change of thought is beginning to take place.  The world’s mining companies might just have to shrink their activities. The 20th Century way of dig it up, use it, throw its toxic wastes away (on indigenous land, of course) ) has to give way to a more intelligent way – of design and re-use.

This presents a twofold challenge. – first, to deal responsibly with the environmental dangers in mining and reprocessing.   Australia, for example, should grow up, and stop thinking it can make money out of digging up minerals, selling them overseas, and forgetting all about the wastes problem.  Australian rare earths company Lynas is in the process of trying to do just that. Lynas mines its rare earths in Australa, but ntends to do the processing in Malaysia, leaving Malaysia with the radioactive waste problem.

DESIGN and RECYCLING

It is difficult now to retrieve these rare earths metals from mobile phones, computers, and wind turbines.

The answer is surely at the design stage –   design of all these technologies could be done so that the metals could be easily retrieved  – so that recycling can become the norm.  In this way,  there would be less need for mining and processing, and less impact on the environment. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/recycling-rare-earths/3586986

Already, some companies are developing recycling of rare earths. How much faster this could all proceed, if also recycling were to be factored in at the design stage.

Honda Motor to recycle rare earths materials to be green, Economic Times, AP Jun 20, 2012  
TOKYO: Honda Motor  Co. said on Wednesday it will start recycling rare earths and other key materials in hybrid auto batteries  this year- a key innovation in the Japanese automaker’s effort to be green.  http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-06-20/news/32336128_1_rare-earths-fukushima-honda-motor

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