Massive lasers could cut half-life of high-level nuclear waste

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A laser project for high energy particle acceleration that could transmute nuclear waste into safer hazardous material has begun, and it involves massive arrays of thousands of fibre lasers.

The International Coherent Amplification Network (ICAN) project, which has €500,000 of funding from the European Union, is to develop a laser for high energy particle acceleration. Massive fibre laser arrays are expected to enable faster acceleration of particles without the need for larger particle accelerators, which are typically kilometres-long, such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). ICAN’s team members include experts in optical science, technology and industry, astronomy and manufacturing.

The project is led by laser expert Professor Gérard Mourou from the École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France. Mourou said: 'ICAN is a watershed project because it unifies laser and high-energy physics communities. I believe that ICAN is a bold and ambitious project.'

As well as particle physics, the ability to bombard materials with high energy particles could enable scientists to transmute nuclear waste. The waste products of nuclear reactors, which at present have half-lives of hundreds of thousands of years, could be turned into materials with half lives of less than a century.

ICAN’s partners include, the University of Southampton, UK; École Polytechnique, France; The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering in Germany; and CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland and home to the LHC.