Thanks to Krish for sending a link to an article posted on the Extremetech website hereherehere which discusses the idea of Nobel laureate Gérard Mourou to use lasers to make nuclear waste safe. Mourou shared the 2018 Nobel Prize for physics with Donna Stickland for their work on “chirped pulse amplification” (CPA), a technique for producing high energy laser pulses which do not destroy the surroundings of lasers.
According to the Extremetech article CPA can pulse at a rate of one attosecond (a billionth of a billionth of a second), and in order to transmute nuclear waste into a safe state you would need to increase that rate by around 10,000 times.
Morou talked about his ideas for developing CPA to a degree where it would be able to transmute materials and thus be able to make nuclear waste safe. Here is a quote from him posted on the French online website The Conversation:
“Take the nucleus of an atom. It is made up of protons and neutrons. If we add or take away a neutron, it changes absolutely everything. It is no longer the same atom, and its properties will completely change. The lifespan of nuclear waste is fundamentally changed, and we could cut this from a million years to 30 minutes!
“We are already able to irradiate large quantities of material in one go with a high-power laser, so the technique is perfectly applicable and, in theory, nothing prevents us from scaling it up to an industrial level. This is the project that I am launching in partnership with the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, or CEA, in France. We think that in 10 or 15 years’ time we will have something we can demonstrate. This is what really allows me to dream, thinking of all the future applications of our invention.”