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Sea Water Could Cause Uranium Pollution From Nuclear Fuel Rods

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the small-drop-big-bucket dept.

Earth 97

New submitter Required Snark writes "UC Davis researchers have found a mechanism where the sodium in sea water can cause uranium nano-particles to be released from nuclear reactor fuel rods. Normally the uranium oxide compounds composing the rods are very resistant to leaching into water. This could have serious consequences for the Fukushima disaster, since sea water was used for emergency cooling."

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97 comments

Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow. (0)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38847865)

COULD have ? we are STILL at that level of acknowledgement ? what happened to the millions of tonnes of seawater which was pumped in to cool exposed radioactive rods and evaporated into high flying atmosphere streams ?

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38847881)

It's gradually diluting itself to harmless concentrations as it spreads over the rest of the world.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848101)

Yes, the poison is gradually becoming less poisonous, at rate no one can measure.
 
Nothing to see here, move along.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848755)

The poison in this case would be completely benign (as in "less radioactive than background radiation from the sky") less than 6 hours after introduction to the Pacific. Any claims to the contrary are absolute media lunacy run amok for the sake of advertising dollars. In effect, yes, the poison is becoming less poisonous, but the rate at which it is doing so is not only measurable, but has already been measured. If you want citations, you'll have to go to the trouble of looking them up yourself. This should prove a useful exercise for someone who couldn't bother to do such research before posting.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#38848791)

It's a little disconcerting that so many of these "nothing to see here citizen, move along" posts are made by anonymous cowards.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848849)

That's nice. How about actually attempting to refute anything in the GP? Some people post AC for good reason, and it has nothing to do with conspiracy theories you might be concocting your head. How about folks who've been on the net long enough to care about valuing their damned privacy for starters? My original /. UID was < 50K.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38849211)

Loser. Nobody cares. You're just pissing into the wind posting as a coward, because you ARE a coward.

P.S. - you're absolutely right about the substance.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38849593)

I always post as AC. Not because I'm a coward but because I'm an anti-social fire-and-forget type of person... you know, a programmer.

Signed, a different AC than above

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

camperslo (704715) | about 2 years ago | (#38849587)

It's a little disconcerting that so many of these "nothing to see here citizen, move along" posts are made by anonymous cowards.

Well maybe some think they're protecting you from the negative health effects of anxiety (even if what brings it on is all or partly true), or trying to mitigate the economic / environmental consequences that opting to use more fossil fuel brings.

My take is that we all should know the whole story, and make fully informed choices. Democracy can't function properly if people aren't well educated and informed.
If what turns out to be a better path turns out to have a downside too (isn't there always one?) we should be able to accept that. If there isn't full transparency more doubt is planted, as that setting is also the cloak that masks greed and corruption.

A problem with using "background" as a reference is that it gives the illusion that those levels are natural and harmless when generally neither is true. The "background" in many areas of the U.S. was left higher than it would have otherwise would have been by the era of above ground testing. Half the levels are seen in places like Australia. It's an odd coincidence that some the parts of the U.S. said to have the highest background from "altitude" also happen to include the regions that historically had the greatest mining for offending materials. (see the government publication from 1951 "Prospecting for Uranium". The average individual risks of health consequences from our elevated background are generally small, but out of a large population the added disease and death is certainly real. There's reason to care, but not reason to panic. While there is dispersion after large releases, air and rain patterns can lead to localized hotspots even at great distance and some of the materials are a long term problem. That means the impact from exposure may differ greatly with location to a degree few are informed enough to expect.

Maybe some of the uncomfortable truths can be used positively. If people in areas with high radon in the water levels in the water knew that their greatest exposure was from what they inhale while taking a shower, they might actually take shorter showers cutting fossil fuel use. If fracking or other operations increase what's in the water, people should know to reduce exposure through usage patterns and to make sure that any added treatment needed is implemented.

Transparency and understanding is needed to foster making the best choices both in terms of consumption and what/how-much we consume. It's not hard to see how wrong things could go if we blinded ourselves (or others do it for us) to the full story. Striking the best balance between current economic/lifestyle and long term concerns isn't easy. We need to stay level-headed and be using our heads.

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Gasbuggy [wikimedia.org]

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38850045)

Maybe some of the uncomfortable truths can be used positively. If people in areas with high radon in the water levels in the water knew that their greatest exposure was from what they inhale while taking a shower, they might actually take shorter showers cutting fossil fuel use.

I can see the research now.. teenage shower masturbation linked to lung cancer

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38851321)

There's reason to care, but not reason to panic.

That's the deal right there. Far too many ignorantly want to use any and every report as an excuse to both incite panic and create an anti-nuclear posture. This is EXACTLY why you see so many, "nothing to see here" posts. And in reflection, is pretty fair response to the "sky is falling" trolls which are very abundant in the anti-nuclear internet. Meaning, in comparison, "nothing to see here", is an adpt and accurate response.

The sad thing is, far too many of these trolls are trolls specifically because they have no ability to critically review and evaluate the information available. And so their gut reaction to anything nuclear is its bad and its my job to scare the shit of out anyone who doesn't know otherwise. And since they almost enver want to have a real conversation which precludes, "the sky is falling", the only sane response is more or less, "nothing to see here", simply because they are incapable of reasonable, dispassionate, discourse. In fact, their illogical and all too frequently irratioanl disposition is exactly why nuclear is both far more expensive and far more dangerous than need be. They literally create a world of self-fulfilling prophecy. And it is in this way, a most anti-nuckers have radiation on their hands from the likes of Fukushima.

Easy to see why so many simply and smartly say, "nothing to see here."

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

sjames (1099) | about 2 years ago | (#38851377)

The uranium was mined out of the environment and now it has been returned to the environment. In fact, it's less concentrated now than it was before it was mined.

I wouldn't consider moving it from a mine to the ocean ideal by any means, but it's not such a big deal in this one-off case.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (3, Interesting)

ErikInterlude (784049) | about 2 years ago | (#38848127)

I remember when the Fukushima event was still making headlines people were freaking out because radiation was making it's way to the U.S. I was a little worried myself, but since I work for an air purification company one of the data-crunchers there was able to explain now negligible the impact actually was.

If it's the same for this seawater issue, then no big deal, I guess. Still, I can't help but be a little disturbed at the idea of radioactive particles from a power plant being spread into the ocean. I wonder how nuclear subs handle this sort of thing.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (3, Informative)

parens (632808) | about 2 years ago | (#38848389)

Nuclear submarine reactors aren't cooled with seawater.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

camperslo (704715) | about 2 years ago | (#38851197)

Nuclear submarine reactors aren't cooled with seawater.

Power plants aren't either, not directly. There's a heat exchanger in-between. The actual reactor coolant has to be ultra-pure not only to reduce corrosion, but to avoid buildup of isotopes that would develop from the impurities and form deposits in the pipes at locations that would increase exposure to plant workers. Of course buildup is also a problem for things like pumps and valves.

One of the very disturbing things found in Japan when other reactors got a closer look was a plant where a significant amount of seawater did get into the reactor coolant. It's shocking that such a thing had previously been undetected and has serious safety implications as it points to hidden corrosion or other damage. If a heat exchanger was rusted through or something they should have known about the corrosion long before it caused leakage of tons of water.

As for sodium in solution being quick to absorb and transport dangerous material, other questions come to mind. How severe are the implications for underground waste storage in ancient salt beds/caves? With global climate change can we count on those places remaining dry for 10,000 years???

https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant [wikimedia.org]

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876561)

10,000 years wouldn't be an issue if we reprocessed the ore and just dumped the useless parts into Yucca mountain.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (3, Informative)

pingbak (33924) | about 2 years ago | (#38848409)

Closed loop system. Never exposed to outside water sources.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (2, Informative)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#38848799)

Under normal operating conditions. If the boat sinks all bets are off.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38850457)

Submarines sometimes tend to sink, or "submerge".

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 2 years ago | (#38851311)

Under normal operating conditions. If the boat sinks all bets are off.

A naval nuclear reactor will have somewhere between 100 Kg and 250 kg of uranium.

Sealed inside non-corrosive alloys, which are further incorporated into inconel fuel rods.

Which, in turn, are inside a reactor vessel designed to handle several thousand psi differential pressure.

Which is inside a reactor room which is designed to handle rather more than another 500 psi differential pressure.

Which will then be sitting on the bottom of the ocean.

Good luck with any meaningful contamination being measured at any distance from the sunken boat.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (3, Insightful)

treeves (963993) | more than 2 years ago | (#38855043)

All that's true, but occasionally we (I was a submariner back in the late 1980s-early 1990s) will intentionally discharge a small amount of primary coolant into the ocean, e.g. to correct a chemistry imbalance.
It does not contain fuel or fission products, but it is somewhat radioactive (e.g. activated corrosion products), and some of the radioactivity is moderately long-lived (e.g. Co-60, half-life=5.27 yrs.)
Again, even a small part of the ocean is really big compared to amount of stuff discharged.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38851331)

Let's talk about your extensive experience with nuclear submarines and their reactor compartments, along with your vast experience with oceanography, nuclear physics, and chemistry. I served on an Ohio class boat. What have you served on? Here you are once again, spouting off about things you have absolutely no fucking clue about. It's truly pathetic.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

pingbak (33924) | more than 2 years ago | (#38866679)

Even if the sub reaches crush depth, the reactor itself is very heavily protected. Note that I'm not saying that exposing the reactor core to seawater is impossible, but given all of the safeguards, it's highly unlikely.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

camperslo (704715) | about 2 years ago | (#38850669)

I remember when the Fukushima event was still making headlines people were freaking out because radiation was making it's way to the U.S. I was a little worried myself, but since I work for an air purification company one of the data-crunchers there was able to explain now negligible the impact actually was.

I think your friend was half right. Ground-level exposure in the U.S. from inhaling air was low. But when water vapor condenses around particles in the atmosphere, the levels in rainfall can be quite high. The dispersion isn't uniform. Depending on where the higher concentration air currents were and when/where rain fell, overall average can be low while some areas become hot spots. The rain falls on the grass, the cows eat, and then we eat or drink. Most of the significant exposure that people in Sweden got from Chernobyl was found to have been through rainfall that fell in a single day. I knew people that died later (one more reached his end just this month). Some other places had it much worse.
The primary exposure pathway here was not through breathing the air.

A California university, not far from the coast (hilly area that got some significant spring rainfall) has pasture-fed dairy cows that had both i-131 and cesium in the milk. The i-131 dropped off, but at the time they stopped (publicly at least) with monthly testing, there was cesium showing. Those results were not among those I could find on the EPA site. The levels were also above that allowed by drinking water standards, but are allowed for milk. The looser standard for milk is apparently based on exposure for a shorter time and on lower consumption. It wasn't comforting to realize that my consumption was eight times the amount they based the exposure estimates on. It's not something to panic over, but statistics over decades will no-doubt reveal some impact. I'm more concerned about any impact on women and children than myself (being an old fossil at this point).

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (2)

pitterpatter (1397479) | about 2 years ago | (#38851281)

It's gradually diluting itself to harmless concentrations as it spreads over the rest of the world.

No, it's becoming more and more potentized as a homeopathic remedy.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (5, Informative)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 2 years ago | (#38847905)

what happened to the millions of tonnes of seawater which was pumped in to cool exposed radioactive rods and evaporated into high flying atmosphere streams ?

Well, if it evaporated, then it certainly didn't take any uranium with it.

And if it flooded into the sea, it carried some dilute amount of uranium with it. Uranium is mostly harmless. TFA says it will settle onto the sea floor.

oh yeah. (-1)

unity100 (970058) | about 2 years ago | (#38847975)

that should be why the sea life around the place is dying.

https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=sea+life+dying+around+fukushima [google.com]

Re:oh yeah. (2)

errandum (2014454) | about 2 years ago | (#38847997)

There was a nuclear disaster right next to them, so obviously they'll die, especially because the uranium won't settle instantly. But that kind of news disproves absolutely nothing about what he said. The long term effects won't be know (obviously) for a long long time.

Re:oh yeah. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38847999)

Your Google search turns up no relevant results.

Just speculation.

Re:oh yeah. (3, Informative)

poly_pusher (1004145) | about 2 years ago | (#38848009)

"that should be why the sea life around the place is dying."

For some reason I bothered to click your link to a google search. So where was the substantial article supporting your point? I saw a blog or two, an article from the examiner and some youtube nuclear experts.

While this is something that needs to be researched over the coming decades making poorly informed assumptions doesn't help anyone.

Re:oh yeah. (5, Informative)

Hadlock (143607) | about 2 years ago | (#38848011)

That and, oh, I don't know, the tsunami washed about 100,000 people's lives in to the sea? When you dump that much crap in to the ocean all at once of course it's going to seriously destabilize the ecosystem. All you need to do is knock out 2-3 trophic species (particularly photosynthesizing species) for a couple of weeks and the food scarcity travels up the food chain like a shockwave. It probably didn't help that the food scarcity event happened right as most species were coming out of hibernation mode and entering a feeding/reproduction cycle.
 
This kind of dead zone due to agricultural runoff has been well researched and described [wikipedia.org] in the past, and there's no known radiation in those areas.
 
Stop scaremongering.

More likely due to runoff from scoured land. (4, Informative)

xmark (177899) | about 2 years ago | (#38848015)

My money is on the exfoliation of a huge strip of coastal land followed by massive runoff as the culprit. There's still 20 million tons of debris floating. Imagine how much more either dissolved or sank.

https://www.google.com/search?q=japanese+tsunami+ocean+debris&hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=23L&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&prmd=imvns&source=lnms&tbm=isch&ei=g38jT9K2II74gAf_tvzxCA&sa=X&oi=mode_link&ct=mode&cd=2&ved=0CBYQ_AUoAQ&biw=1343&bih=891 [google.com]

Re:oh yeah. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848063)

Care to narrow it down a bit?
None of the results on the first page of results mentions the death of sea life.

The "best" I could find is this. [yahoo.com]
But even that reports: Water tests have not picked up any evidence of elevated radiation in U.S. Pacific waters since the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (2)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#38848809)

Steam can and does carry particulates even though the water vapor itself is benign. An exploding nuclear reactor is not a distillery.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#38849925)

Given that uranium weighs a lot and the reactor didn't explode and that water doesn't stay as "steam" very long once you remove the pressure, I don't think much uranium "evaporated into high flying atmosphere streams".

The only explosion was a hydrogen gas explosion above containment that did not involve steam, if that is where you were going next.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848793)

Do you honestly have any fucking idea how big the Pacific is, or how big the planet as a whole is? Not trolling here, just honest questions. Do you know anything at all about ocean currents or dilution rates expressed not in parts per million, but parts per quintillion over time spans measured not in years or even months, but in days? How about decay rates? How about statistically significant exposure thresholds for even remote potential for damage to cellular structures? For fuck's sake, do you have any idea whatsoever about anything you're commenting on, or was your post just for "the lulz?" You are part of the problem, and congratulations on feeding Yet Another Media Earnings Frenzy Over Absolutely Nothing At All. Yes I know what I'm talking about, and no I don't give a flying fuck about being modded down here. Take it or leave it. My advice to you is simply this: find something else to do with your spare time aside from feeding the beast of rampant stupidity. I recommend a formal education beyond the community college level on the aforementioned topics for starters. Have a nice day.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1, Offtopic)

TheLink (130905) | about 2 years ago | (#38849085)

The Pacific is big but while I'm not so worried about this uranium thing I'm a bit worried about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch [wikipedia.org]

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

MrKaos (858439) | about 2 years ago | (#38849379)

Do you honestly have any fucking idea how big the Pacific is, or how big the planet as a whole is? Not trolling here, just honest questions. Do you know anything at all about ocean currents or dilution rates expressed not in parts per million, but parts per quintillion over time spans measured not in years or even months, but in days? How about decay rates? How about statistically significant exposure thresholds for even remote potential for damage to cellular structures? For fuck's sake, do you have any idea whatsoever about anything you're commenting on, or was your post just for "the lulz?"

As radionuclides are analogues of micro nutrients to living organisms dilution does not apply. What applies is bio-concentration and in nature, due to those properties of the radionuclides, they will be absorbed by the smallest of sea creatures and plants facilitating their entry into the food chain as they are eaten.

Plutonium is a analogue of iron and iron is a sort after micro nutrient in the ocean, consequently most of it will find it's way into the food chain. At least, thats how the science tells us how bio-concentration works. Of course there are other ways for radionuclides to end up in our food chain but this is specific to your points which are often made by those who think "dilution is part of the solution". The fact is the opposite is what is occurring.

You are part of the problem, and congratulations on feeding Yet Another Media Earnings Frenzy Over Absolutely Nothing At All. Yes I know what I'm talking about, and no I don't give a flying fuck about being modded down here. Take it or leave it. My advice to you is simply this: find something else to do with your spare time aside from feeding the beast of rampant stupidity. I recommend a formal education beyond the community college level on the aforementioned topics for starters. Have a nice day.

No, you don't know what you are talking about and you should take you own advice. The process of bio-concentration and radionuclide micro nutrient analogue has been studied, peer reviewed and has an ever growing body of science to refer to. The article Radionuclide Bioconcentration Factors and Sediment Partition Coefficients in Arctic Seas Subject to Contamination from Dumped Nuclear Wastes [acs.org] would be a good place to start if the science is an adequate refutation of your assumptions.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38851603)

You appear to have completely missed the core point in the GP. While nothing you wrote here is false on its own, it does ignore the sheer size of the ocean; the phrase "drop in a bucket" is an understatement here. The food chain is going to experience far more damaging effects purely from radiation from space on a daily basis than it will ever experience from this. Your post appears to be a case of applying encyclopedic recall of facts without performing any critical analysis of actual effects in this specific case.

Re:Haha "This could have serious consequences" wow (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 2 years ago | (#38853407)

You appear to have completely missed the core point in the GP. While nothing you wrote here is false on its own, it does ignore the sheer size of the ocean; the phrase "drop in a bucket" is an understatement here.

I don't know what you think the GP's point is but it carries the question of how many fatal doses of radionuclides were carried into the ocean around Japan, a country that depends heavily on its fishing industry. One microgram of plutonium is a fatal dose to a human, so one kilo of plutonium is one million fatal human doses. Fukushima has several hundred tons of plutonium in storage and considering plutonium has been detected around the environs we know it was released in the accident. How much is the critical question.

The size of the ocean is only relevant to this discussion if diluting the radionuclides was occurring. As the science demonstrates that bio-concentration is a work the "sheer size of the ocean" is only relevant to the assumptions you are making about the process.

The food chain is going to experience far more damaging effects purely from radiation from space on a daily basis than it will ever experience from this.

We are talking about particulate radionuclide contamination that is a (alpha, beta, gamma) radiation emitter in the ocean absorbed by metabolic processes into the food chain. What you say demonstrates a clear mis-understanding of the processes at work.

You seem to be missing that we are talking about the corrosion of physically heavy particulate matter in an area known to be so abundant in sea life that Japan built a fishing industry around it. As a consequence I'd expect to see pronounced local effects on sea life, the ocean carrying the particulate matter (reports I've read tell us significantly measurable amounts as far as the Marshal islands) and effects on migratory species that feed in the area like whales and sea birds.

The food chain will suffer serious contamination, at least in Japan and people will die when they eat that food.

Your post appears to be a case of applying encyclopedic recall of facts without performing any critical analysis of actual effects in this specific case.

On the contrary communicating analysis was not necessary to refute that your point about dilution was incorrect and that the opposite process, bio-concentration, is occurring. Your assumptive analysis is also a moot point because you assume that everything will be diluted into the vast ocean when instead it will be absorbed and concentrated into the food chain.

But if non specific broad analysis is what you want then I expect to see an increase in cancer rates starting roughly 2017-2020 as the particulate matter is distributed throughout the food chain and eaten. Prawns and squid first, then larger fish. After the gestation period of cancer expect a requisite increase in the death rates from various cancers in Japan.

This sea water sounds like dangerous stuff (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38847887)

Perhaps we should find a way to keep this dangerous poison away from contaminating the fuel rods.

Re: (5, Informative)

AWeishaupt (917501) | more than 2 years ago | (#38847889)

Uranium release from the UO2 fuel? So what? Uranium is harmless, it's hardly radioactive at all, it's abundant throughout nature, and it's naturally present in seawater. Surely any such analysis of the radiochemistry consequences of adding seawater to the BWR's coolant should focus on the fission products and their radiochemical mobility and transport, not on harmless, insignificant, uranium.

Re: (1)

quenda (644621) | about 2 years ago | (#38847961)

I think we may have a new record for the most trivial, inconsequential piece of "news" that made it to /. merely by being possibly related to Fukushima.

Re: (1)

MrKaos (858439) | about 2 years ago | (#38849517)

I think we may have a new record for the most trivial, inconsequential piece of "news" that made it to /. merely by being possibly related to Fukushima.

No it's not insignificant. It's either very good news and it means that the radionuclides become less like micro-nutrients to living systems or it's very bad news and this effect make the radionuclides more readily absorbed by living systems, it remains to be seen.

Re: (2)

KonoWatakushi (910213) | about 2 years ago | (#38848143)

Precisely. As an aside, the Uranium and Thorium present in seawater can be extracted for use in nuclear reactors. Not that we would run out of land-based resources for many thousands of years, but it is interesting that nuclear fuel is so energy dense that this is even economically viable. It could also be economically recovered from coal ash, and there is no shortage of that either.

Why pretend it's magic - try reality (3, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | about 2 years ago | (#38848281)

As an aside, the Uranium and Thorium present in seawater can be extracted for use in nuclear reactors

Yes, just as I could marry rich supermodel twins on the day I turn 90 while legally keeping another three wives. Possible, but incredibly difficult to do and entirely pointless. In other words your "can" doesn't match what is in the dictionary but instead has a definition of "somebody somewhere thought one step might be possible so I'm building an enormous fucking house of cards on it and pretending it's a solid pyramid".
Going from that to pretending that anybody has even roughly worked out costs, and then suggesting it's "economically viable" is an incredible audacious lie. If you are an adult you should be ashamed of what you have written to try to trick people into thinking your pet cause is magic instead of reality. As for the ash thing, if you've actually fallen for that one instead of just trying another even more incredibly stupid lie try googling for Alex Gabbard to find that was yet another one of his works of fiction. If terrorists could easily build nuclear bombs out of coal then one would have been used by now.

Here's a clue people - if we don't have a process devised that is in any way similar to what is going to be attempted there is no way to work out costs within an order of magnitude let alone work out if something is "economically viable". That's why private funding for leading edge technologies of any kind usually sucks because nobody knows how much things will cost and how much can be gained. "How much will it cost" is a question that can only really be answered reliably after a prototype or pilot plant.

I should add why I think it's stupid (3, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | about 2 years ago | (#38848325)

There are many Uranium mines already in operation and a lot of accessable Thorium deposits. Getting the stuff from seawater is a hell of a lot more difficult and will be far more energy intensive and then you've still got the same sort of material that you get from digging up and gravity separating the ore.
The "Uranium is running out" problem was a 1960s thing, partly real due to some reactor designs of the time being very fussy about the isotopes in the fuel, and partly political/military to provide an excuse to build expensive Plutonium fast breeders. Also many other Uranium deposits have been found and exploited since then.
If nothing else we'll get a hell of a lot of Uranium as a side product from mining Copper in a few places so it makes no sense at all to go after the tiny concentrations in seawater.

Re:Why pretend it's magic - try reality (2, Interesting)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#38848581)

In fact, it's so incredibly difficult and expensive, that it had to be done by Japanese who figured out that it would cost $300 per kg - about 4-5 times of current market prices.

So, you mean extrapolation of prices is a difficult and error prone process and they could easily be off by a factor of 10? You're right! But does it matter? No!

1kg of Thorium/Uranium/Plutonium (it really doesn't matter much in breeding reactors) is sufficient to produce 1MW of electricity for one year. That's almost 9 million kWh. Even if the cost estimate was off by a factor of 1000 and a kg of Uranium extracted from sea water cost $300,000 - the cost of extraction would add no more than $0.03 per kWh to the cost of electricity.

Re:Why pretend it's magic - try reality (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 2 years ago | (#38848777)

It's not even that - "it had to be done" didn't happen. Nobody extracted anything they just suggested it might be possible in a paper about the concentration of elements (not compounds, just elements) in seawater. It's a bit of a step from there to determine what form the Uranium is in AND THEN determine how you extract it as a metal. That makes any cost estimates an exercise in wishful thinking since they don't have a clue what is needed. Of course the original poster probably thinks it's in little nuggets like gold.

Re:Why pretend it's magic - try reality (1, Flamebait)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#38848801)

Wrong. [google.com]

Read the title of the paper (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 2 years ago | (#38848851)

"Artificial Seawater"

Read the stuff above this (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#38848853)

"Results 1 - 10 of about 28,500"

Re:Read the stuff above this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38849461)

"©2012 Google"

Wait, what were we doing again?

Misdirection and sleight of hand (0)

dbIII (701233) | about 2 years ago | (#38848929)

Instead of providing a source for your $300 per kilo you've put up a distraction. Shouldn't you be a bit disgusted with yourself?
Back onto topic, the paper I saw years ago was some Japanese economist making a pile of wild guesses based on elemental content alone. If you have anything better (and the source for your $300 per kilo claim) then please put it up without demeaning yourself any furthur with petty little schoolboy tricks.

Re:Misdirection and sleight of hand (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38850115)

While I'm not the OP I've read on the exact same topic a couple of days ago and the $300 number has been mentioned there as well.

Quick Wikipedia check reveals the $300 for seawater extraction come from the OECD.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium_mining#Recovery_from_seawater

One method of extracting uranium from seawater is using a uranium-specific nonwoven fabric as an absorbent. The total amount of uranium recovered from three collection boxes containing 350 kg of fabric was >1 kg of yellowcake after 240 days of submersion in the ocean.[8] According to the OECD, uranium may be extracted from seawater using this method for about $300/kg-U.[9] The experiment by Seko et al. was repeated by Tamada et al. in 2006. They found that the cost varied from ¥15,000 to ¥88,000 (Yen) depending on assumptions and "The lowest cost attainable now is ¥25,000 with 4g-U/kg-adsorbent used in the sea area of Okinawa, with 18 repetitionuses [sic]." With the May, 2008 exchange rate, this was about $240/kg-U.[10]

Re:Misdirection and sleight of hand (1)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#38850227)

Well, there is, for example a three year old paper by Tamada [harvard.edu] describing the process in some detail. And besides, there was a paper published 48 years ago [umanitoba.ca] on the 8th place of the search result that I've shown before that described several methods for uranium extraction, including the predecessors of the approach pursued it Tamada's paper.

This casts some doubt on your ability to research the claims your are making. E.g.: "Nobody extracted anything they just suggested it might be possible", "That makes any cost estimates an exercise in wishful thinking since they don't have a clue what is needed"

Shifted goalposts to oxide instead of metal? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38853817)

OK that's new but those dollar costs are for the oxide (not the metal) and the collection stage only which is still going to be a lot more expensive than digging it out of the ground. It's turned into one of those "would you believe" jokes as usual for nuclear fanboys stuck in the 1960s where the evidence given turns out to be for a far lesser claim than the fanboy pretends.
For those interested in truth instead of magic I'm going to point out that it's a hell of an expensive and energy intensive process to produce Uranium from the oxide, and then it's difficult to produce fuel from that since you only want specific isotopes. Reality is vastly different from the implied $300 per kilo fuel production cost proposed by people that want you to take their word that nuclear is just white mans magic instead of an expensive industrial process - and now there's idiots like those above that imply it doesn't matter if you add an order of magnitude or two to the cost of digging it up because it's magic.
WTF is it with you guys and incredibly blatant lies? You are hoping that nobody here knows the difference between an element and an oxide - was your education so bad that you think others would fall for that?

Also learn your subject matter (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#38853897)

Yellowcake prices have spiked so it's selling at around $100 per kilo which is a lot more than usual. Mining and extraction costs are of course lower than that. Consider things like that before going on about how wonderful it is to have an optimistic sea water extraction cost three times that.
Of course the thing that really pisses me off is the implication that the $300 per kilo is the price for the fuel and pulling a bit of sleight of hand interchanging the element and the hard to reduce oxide. You guys should be ashamed of yourself for misrepresenting somebodies serious research as a blatant lie.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848577)

hey moron, hexavalent uranium started dissolving in water at the same time as iron started precipitating out when bacteria decided to drastically alter the chemistry by dumping their waste oxygen into their environment.

thorium is right next to uranium as an actinide, but uranium can form a soluble +6 ion because it has two more electrons which happen to be in just the right place (due to relativistic corrections to energy levels). so uranium dissolves out of rocks and ends up in seawater and can end up precipitating out last in phosphate deposits.

while thorium stays where uranium and thorium came from: in rare earth ores, because thorium, uranium, and rare earth elements aren't very soluble in iron or silica.

in conclusion, shut the fuck up when you don't know what you're talking about, so as not to be an embarrassment to more scientifically-inclined advocates for atomic energy.

Re: (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#38848411)

Uranium is harmless, it's hardly radioactive at all, it's abundant throughout nature

U-238 yes, U-235 no. And nuclear fuel rods are enriched with a fair amount of the latter.

Re: (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#38848541)

U-235 is not all that radioactive either and it's already a significant amount (several percent) of the uranium present in sea water.

Re: (1)

burne (686114) | about 2 years ago | (#38849061)

3-5% U-235 is typical ready-to-burn nuclear fuel. Raw ore contains 0.7% U-235. 'Enriching' uranium is quite hard and energy-wise very expensive.

Re: (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#38879561)

My apologies. I'm still within a factor of ten which is good enough for this argument.

Re: (1)

mrmeval (662166) | about 2 years ago | (#38848429)

Prof Navrotsky and crew are the red headed step children of US Davis, studying ways to make nuclear energy more efficient because that's mandated by DOE to get fed grants, this allows the important scientists to study all the fluffy bunny green science. I'm not surprised.

Re: (4, Informative)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#38849079)

Uranium certainly isn't harmless as many people who inhaled or ingested it have found out. While it is mostly harmless outside your body because the skin blocks alpha radiation the problems begin when it gets inside and settles in your lungs or accumulates in your bones and organs. It will sit there for decades and case damage to bone, liver, kidney, and reproductive tissues.

Uranium is a toxic metal and has been shown to produce birth defects and immune system damage in animals. Although it is hard to pin any particular cases of cancer on uranium there are very well known and understood health problems stemming from exposure to it and its decay products like radon. Obviously any creature living in the sea is at risk, as is anyone who eats them or drinks the water.

Wikipedia has plenty of references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium#Human_exposure [wikipedia.org]

Re: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38849315)

So what you're saying is, the Uranium that may have leached into the sea is so dangerous, all you have to do is drink a couple of million gallons of sea water and it'll kill you?

Re: (1)

Killall -9 Bash (622952) | about 2 years ago | (#38849717)

No, he's saying uranium isn't harmless.

What you're saying is that low concentrations make it harmless in seawater.

What I'm saying is "do you ever eat fish?". If you eat fish, you're eating whatever the fish ate, and whatever that ate, etc etc all the way down the food chain. At the bottom of the food chain is where the millions of gallons of sea water are drank.

Re: (1)

greg_barton (5551) | about 2 years ago | (#38850835)

There's already uranium in seawater, from entirely natural sources, so your fish argument is silly.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38852995)

What I'm saying is "do you ever eat fish?". If you eat fish, you're eating whatever the fish ate

As the other AC above me so correctly points out, seawater already contains several billion tonnes of Uranium. I'll worry more about Mercury contamination, thanks anyway.

However, if you wish to continue to panic while waving your arms in the air, please do. Just do us all a favour and occasionally post an amusing video of yourself on YouTube.

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38849385)

The problem is that the uranium is also what keeps teh OTHER radioactive material from being released. The fission products and actinides are mixed inside the uranium dioxide ceramic , but if the uranium dioxide starts leaching off you will get the fission products with it.

Re: (1)

MrKaos (858439) | about 2 years ago | (#38849493)

Uranium release from the UO2 fuel? So what? Uranium is harmless, it's hardly radioactive at all, it's abundant throughout nature, and it's naturally present in seawater. Surely any such analysis of the radiochemistry consequences of adding seawater to the BWR's coolant should focus on the fission products and their radiochemical mobility and transport, not on harmless, insignificant, uranium.

Indeed, uranium isn't the only radionuclide that Fukushima ejected. Plutonium-239, strontium-90 and cesium-137 (amongst others) were likely candidates. If you seek out my other posts in this thread you'll find I've linked to the science already. [slashdot.org]

Re: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38854827)

Yes, because advice about nuclear fission is always right from someone who chooses Adam Weishaupt as an avatar name... /snark

From the link. (3, Funny)

sjwt (161428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38847923)

"Uranium in nuclear fuel rods is in a chemical form that is “pretty insoluble” in water, Navrotsky said, unless the uranium is oxidized to uranium-VI — a process that can be facilitated when radiation converts water into peroxide, a powerful oxidizing agent"

So the real issue is when you first use a supply of emergency bleach to hold out until your supply of emergency seawater arrives, or god forbid you forget to tell the overnight cleaning crew not to open up the reactor and give a good bleaching?

Re:From the link. (1)

Guppy (12314) | about 2 years ago | (#38848045)

"Uranium in nuclear fuel rods is in a chemical form that is “pretty insoluble” in water, Navrotsky said, unless the uranium is oxidized to uranium-VI — a process that can be facilitated when radiation converts water into peroxide, a powerful oxidizing agent"

Hmm... is there any way that the peroxide (or related free-radical products) could react with the chloride in sea-water to yield hypochlorites?

Re:From the link. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38850165)

think that you got peroxide and hypoclorite mixed up there...

Re:From the link. (1)

sjwt (161428) | more than 2 years ago | (#38939103)

not at all.. from the Wiki..

"Household chlorine bleach (a solution of approximately 3–6% sodium hypochlorite, NaClO), lye, oxygen bleach (which contains either hydrogen peroxide or a peroxide-releasing compound)"

It isn't yellow journalism... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38847943)

It isn't yellow journalism if you truly have no idea what you are talking about.

You know what's a greater danger to sea life? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38847967)

Other sea life! I know, who knew? Apparently fish like to eat each other! We need to find a solution where fish stop murderously cannibalizing each other. Maybe if start jailing fish that kill other fish, the problem of crime in the fish world will end.

Re:You know what's a greater danger to sea life? (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#38848833)

And so it goes that the cesium is absorbed by seaweed which is eaten by the mites which are eaten by the minnows that are eaten by the fish that are eaten by the tuna that is the chicken of the sea.

Interesting (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848301)

This could actually be a potential problem for the spread of contamination. Haven't seen Burn's paper yet, but the general theory seems sound.

Water radiolysis yield these common products
H2O ---> e-(aq), H*, H2, *OH, H2O2, HO2, H+
with it's primary products being the H* and *OH radicals which then react with each other to form H2 and H2O2. So peroxide is easily produced.

In the Fukishima accident, they were concerned with spent fuel rods (extremely radioactive with several trans-uranic elements) in the uncovered spent fuel bays.It's known the cladding (Zirc-4 I believe) melted exposing the fuel to the sea water itself. With no roof on the pools, it's entirely conceivable that spread of nano-radioactive particles is possible.

You mean in addition to the 4.5bn tons of Uranium (3, Insightful)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#38848379)

You mean minute quantities in addition to the 4.5 billion tons of Uranium already in the oceans? Exactly what does it take to make people realize that Uranium is a perfectly natural part of the Earth?

Re:You mean in addition to the 4.5bn tons of Urani (2)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#38848447)

Exactly what does it take to make people realize that Uranium is a perfectly natural part of the Earth?

Exactly what does it take to make people realize that artificially high local concentrations may have different effects than natural background levels?

Re:You mean in addition to the 4.5bn tons of Urani (3, Informative)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#38848487)

Their existence, while not sufficient, would go a long way. To quote the article: "there is no evidence of long-distance uranium contamination from the plant."

Why is the existence not sufficient? The radioactivity in Uranium ores, that is indeed problematic in the (comparably) extremely high concentrations that can be found in sub-surface mines, is *not* caused by the Uranium itself. This is exactly the paradox that made Marie Curie investigate what does make this stuff so radioactive. Because the Uranium sure wasn't enough. And the answer turned out to answer to names like radium, radon, polonium, lead-214, lead-210 and a bunch of other elements and isotopes building up over tens of thousands to millions of years or so, with the decay of Uranium to Radium being the crucial step that is just not going to occur in Fukushima Daiichi in historical time periods.

Re:You mean in addition to the 4.5bn tons of Urani (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#38848887)

The statement would be more convicing with evidence they had looked for evidence.

Re:You mean in addition to the 4.5bn tons of Urani (1)

Solandri (704621) | about 2 years ago | (#38850255)

The statement would be more convicing with evidence they had looked for evidence.

Why? The way science works, you assume the hypothesis which results in an observable result is false, then look for evidence that it is true. So the burden of proof is upon those trying to show that uranium has leached into the seawater and spread to distances in concentrations measurably above natural background levels.

Even if you're skeptical of their finding that the hypothesis is false, heck even if it turns out that the people making that finding are were corrupt and made the whole thing up, that does not constitute evidence that the hypothesis is true. The burden of proof is still upon those trying to show that there is long-distance uranium contamination from the plant. It's not up to anyone to prove that there isn't, because you can't. One could sample water from every part of the ocean from everywhere around the world, and find no trace of excess uranium. And those who believe in the hypothesis would just claim that it settled to the ocean floor, or had already been absorbed by organisms. You can't prove a negative. So the burden of proof is upon those trying to prove otherwise.

Lack of scientific literacy? (3, Insightful)

pingbak (33924) | about 2 years ago | (#38848399)

Sure, uranium could leach into the ocean. But at what concentration? And at what expected half life?

Uranium has a long half life, so the risk is tolerable. Estimates have been that more uranium is in sea water than will ever be mined. Good reason for some people to stay put of the water, More space for the rest of us to play, I guess.

I'm always surprised at the number of people who think that long lived isotopes are more dangerous than short lived ones.

Re:Lack of scientific literacy? (1)

ErikInterlude (784049) | about 2 years ago | (#38850265)

I'm always surprised at the number of people who think that long lived isotopes are more dangerous than short lived ones.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I lack a lot of knowledge on the science of these issues. Generally speaking, the only time I hear Uranium is in association with man-made nuclear projects. Rarely do I hear Uranium in association with micro-nutrients and naturally occurring sea particles. Until this article appeared, I had never read that there was so much of it in the planet's waters than could be mined on land.

With that in mind, the idea that Uranium was slipping into the ocean would be understandably disturbing, even given the size of the planet's water bodies and the relatively small amounts of Uranium. A few months ago when I read that the Japanese government was pumping sea water into the reactors to cool them, I was really worried that the sea water would become heavily irradiated, make it's way back into the waters surrounding Japan, and then back into the food chain reaching the Japanese people themselves. Basically, I thought Japan was in the process of becoming a radioactive set of islands.

If the science doesn't support that, then OK. The problem is getting that information out to the general public in an effective way. I remember articles claiming that California was going to basically become toxic due to radioactive particles coming across the air streams from Japan. I already knew California receives pollution from China, so I was a little concerned. I went to a colleague who explained that there was no problem. The average person can't always do that. Hence the fear of Uranium in the world's water supply.

Meh.... (1)

spikestabber (644578) | about 2 years ago | (#38848495)

Why is it that pretty much all nuclear disasters were from stupid mistakes?
I mean, whos bright idea was it to place the backup diesel gensets in the basement right next to the ocean?
That obvious design flaw should had been fixed at least 20 years ago.

Re:Meh.... (1)

Jayemji (1054886) | about 2 years ago | (#38848745)

Because it pretty much always takes a stupid mistake to generate a nuclear disaster. Reactors are generally quite safe unless you really screw the pooch.

Re:Meh.... (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38854389)

in fact, you have to screw more than one pooch to have a reactor disaster, they are pretty much proof against any single horrible fuck-up. congrats to TEPCO on screwing three (at least) pooches that made this disaster.

Re:Meh.... (1)

symbolset (646467) | about 2 years ago | (#38848889)

Well normally I'm on the other side of this one, but hindsight is 20:20.

Re:Meh.... (3, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | about 2 years ago | (#38850307)

They weren't right next to the ocean. They were about 8 meters above the previous highest recorded tsunami level in that area, so assumed to be safe from flooding. I mean, what are you going to do? The largest recorded tsunami was 524 metershigh [geology.com] . Are you going to require every nuclear plant to be relocated at least 525 meters above sea level because of this "obvious design flaw"?

The not-so-obvious design flaw was that the generators were all in the same location. So although they had multiple generators for redundancy in case some failed, that redundancy was made useless by a common failure mode. You want them in different locations, different makes, with different parts and connectors, and running off of different fuel tanks.

Which pollutes what? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#38848507)

"Sea Water Could Cause Uranium Pollution" sounds like the opposite of "Uranium Could Cause Sea Water Pollution". Bad, bad sea water, polluting our uranium!

Oh my! (1)

edrobinson (976396) | about 2 years ago | (#38850429)

The sky is falling. Again!

Seawater already has Uranium (1)

DanielRavenNest (107550) | about 2 years ago | (#38850563)

Look it up. Natural seawater contains 3 tons of Uranium per cubic kilometer (3 ppb). How much ocean is within 1 km of the Fukushima plant?

SF Bans Sea Water! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38858663)

In reaction to the revelation that Sea Water causes Uranium Pollution, the San Francisco board of representatives passed a resolution banning sea water within the city limits.

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