Podcast: How nuclear 'waste' can save lives (and power spacecraft)

01 April 2024

Professor Tim Tinsley outlines how material extracted from the UK's legacy nuclear material is being used in pioneering cancer treatments and for powering future space missions - and considers whether long-term disposal plans now need to take into account the current and potential future value in the material.


Tinsley, Professor of Space Nuclear Power at the University of Leicester and Account Director for Space and Radioisotopes at the National Nuclear Laboratory in the UK, prefers not to use the label of nuclear waste, instead referring to "legacy material" - and given the life-saving qualities of what's being extracted, it's not surprising.

The medical and the space uses are very different applications, but they are, says Tinsley, "fundamentally the same in that you're extracting something that has occurred in a legacy material. You're doing that with some form of chemistry, radiochemical processing, and you're turning something that would probably end up in a hole in the ground at some point in the future into something that offers considerable value in another sector".

With the promising early stage clinical trials, and the plans to provide power for a mission to Mars in 2028, the newly-discovered value in the legacy material means there are now discussions taking place in the UK about how this might be recognised in the proposed long-term disposal plans.

Another factor is that there could yet be future discoveries that mean more of the material becomes valuable in the years ahead, so, suggests Tinsley, being able to dispose of the material in a form that it is retrievable at minimal cost might be a good idea.

Also in this edition, there is a report on the gathering of leaders and senior government representatives at the first-of-its-kind Nuclear Energy Summit in Brussels, including snippets of what the International Atomic Energy Agency's Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and co-host Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo had to say. Plus Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, French President Emmanuel Macron and COP29 host Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov.

Episode credit:  Presenter Alex Hunt. Co-produced and mixed by Pixelkisser Production

Researched and written by World Nuclear News