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By Charles Rhodes, P.Eng., Ph.D.

A significant fraction of the low level waste from CANDU reactors is tritium which in storage decays with a half life of 12.6 years into into stable helium-3 (He-3). Helium-3 is a valuable commodity which is absolutely essential for detection and prevention of illicit nuclear weapon transport. After 126 years in storage over 99.9% of the tritium has converted into He-3. If this waste is stored for 252 years, 99.9999% has converted to stable He-3. After 300 years in storage the conversion exceeds 99.99999%.

Much of the existing tritium is trapped in bulky ion exchange cartridges. On natural decay it releases inert He-3 gas which is valuable (~ $5000 gm) but must be trapped in a gas tight container. He-3 is readily separated from all other gases by cryogenic refrigeration. It is essential that this waste be future accessible for several reasons:

1) He-3 is economically very valuable;

2) He-3 is uniquely suitable for detecting neutrons emitted by illicit shipments of fissile materials. Detection of such shipments is essential for preventing illicit proliferation of nuclear weapons in a future world which will likely involve two orders of magnitude more nuclear power reactors;

3) He-3 has unique fluid properties at less that 4 degrees K which make it essential for a wide range of physical property research;

4) He-3 has unique properties for imaging certain human lung conditions;

5) He-3 has potential future application as a second stage fusion fuel with relatively low neutron emission. This characteristic is essential for making fusion power economic.

Hence the DGR should be accessible to allow recovery of He-3.

This web page last updated July 15, 2014

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