Can Nuclear Fuel Waste Be Used For Good?

Nuclear engineering student Russell Goff thinks so...and he's just formed a company to turn spent fuel rods into components to be used in a safe sterilization facility.

What's the Latest Development?

Last month, Russell Goff, a graduate student in nuclear engineering at Oregon State University, incorporated a company that will offer safe sterilization of food and medical supplies using gamma rays emitted from used nuclear fuel rods. Each rod is enclosed in a special tube that keeps the dangerous radiation inside while letting the gamma rays escape. These contained rods would be stored in a building where items needing sterilization would be exposed via an overhead conveyance system.

What's the Big Idea?

Irradiating medical instruments and certain types of food using gamma rays is already a common practice, but the isotope most often used -- cobalt-60 -- has a limited supply. Meanwhile, each of the US' 104 nuclear reactors has a growing stockpile of spent fuel rods that are just sitting around. Goff says that those rods could generate at least $10 million but "the only thing people sitting in nuclear plants are thinking about is making electricity." Recovering gamma rays from the rods "could be a game changer when it comes to nuclear waste management." Fittingly, his company is called G-Demption.

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