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What Fire and Leakage At WIPP Means For Nuclear Waste Disposal

samzenpus posted about 4 months ago | from the where-should-I-put-this? dept.

United States 154

Lasrick (2629253) writes "An underground fire and a separate plutonium leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) has left the US with no repository for transuranic (TRU) waste--that is, radioactive elements heavier than uranium on the periodic chart, such as plutonium, americium, curium and neptunium. WIPP is a bedded salt formation in New Mexico, chosen because of its presumed long-term stability and self-sealing properties, and it currently holds, among other things, 4.9 metric tons of plutonium. Despite assurances from the DOE that the plant would soon reopen, New Mexico has cancelled WIPP's disposal permit indefinitely. Robert Alvarez, who has served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department's secretary and as deputy assistant secretary for national security, explores what happened at WIPP, and what it means for defense nuclear waste storage."

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154 comments

Shoot it to the sun? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566633)

why not just put all this into a rocket, and off it goes directly into the sun. Problem solved?

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

wiggles (30088) | about 4 months ago | (#46566695)

Because it's not unlikely to have a rocket explode in the atmosphere, scattering plutonium all over the place. Not only that, but what you propose is **really** expensive.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

g0bshiTe (596213) | about 4 months ago | (#46566747)

How about dropping it into an active volcano?

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566775)

Active volcano's are active. They erupt. Eruptions fill the atmosphere with whatever is inside the volcano.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about 4 months ago | (#46566985)

Just what we need... airborne radioactive ash!

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (2)

bob_super (3391281) | about 4 months ago | (#46567375)

We already had that discussion...

1) Chose a subduction zone,
2) bury $Stuff_we_don't_want right next to it, a few km below the local ground surface.
3) wait for mother nature to push it down and dilute it in billions of tons of molten rock.
4) profit? nah, it's expensive... but at least don't worry about it.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 4 months ago | (#46569183)

Chose a subduction zone

That is the infeed for volcanoes. We need a giant catapult to launch it into the Sun without fear of exploding rockets.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

bob_super (3391281) | about 4 months ago | (#46569355)

1) mantle convection [wikipedia.org] simplified
2) The word "dilute" in step 3. If you have a thousand tons of U235 surrounded by 5km of rock and melt it all, how much U235 can find an updraft toward a volcano, since you were dumb enough to drill next to an active volcano?

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566867)

Assuming a price/kg to the sun about double the cost for ATLAS V to GSO, you are looking at, conservatively, $200b for certain individual reactor spent fuel pools.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

cbhacking (979169) | about 4 months ago | (#46568415)

Cost to get to the sun isn't too bad; you don't need the fuel to create a stable orbit, and you're "falling" into the biggest gravity well around. Still, you have a point about the cost of launching something with so much mass.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (2)

amorsen (7485) | about 4 months ago | (#46568671)

Cost to get to the Sun is worse than escaping the solar system. It would be cheaper to send the stuff to Alpha Centauri.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 4 months ago | (#46569197)

You might want to double-check your math... lol

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

amorsen (7485) | about 4 months ago | (#46569227)

Feel free to do so for me. I am right.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (1)

amorsen (7485) | about 4 months ago | (#46569289)

Hint: Earth orbit is ~100km/s. Solar escape velocity when starting at Earth is ~50km/s. So it is twice as expensive to hit the Sun rather than Alpha Centauri.

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46569847)

Key word being escape?

Surely if your trajectory involves an eventual decay into the gravity well in question you don't have to plan a prolonged burn? (I really don't know, this is an earnest question)

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (2)

sjames (1099) | about 4 months ago | (#46568111)

How about we blend it with DU and 'burn' it in a reactor?

Re:Shoot it to the sun? (4, Interesting)

tlambert (566799) | about 4 months ago | (#46568529)

How about we blend it with DU and 'burn' it in a reactor?

Heretic!

How dare you propose a solution which is both workable by examples in France and Japan, and fails to support the idea that wind and solar can provide all the power we need (ignore the Solyndra behind the curtain)?!?!?!

I'm pretty sure we burned Joan of Arc at the stake for less than that!

Oopsie! (5, Interesting)

Peter Simpson (112887) | about 4 months ago | (#46566657)

[sigh] Yet another contractor who seems to have been doing the minimum required to get paid. Fire suppression turned off, flammable materieals stored after repeated inspections required that they be removed. Outsource responsibility and this seems to be the result. Words cannot express how disappointed I am that "business" seems to be going on "as usual" even when managing something as hazardous as nuclear waste.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

afidel (530433) | about 4 months ago | (#46566895)

Turn it over to the Navy submarine command, they seem to be the only ones who give a damn about nuclear safety (the airforce certainly doesn't, between putting warheads on the wrong plane and the rampant cheating in the missile command that's pretty obvious).

Re:Oopsie! (2)

Frobnicator (565869) | about 4 months ago | (#46567257)

The problem is you need an organization that will care for the stuff for longer than than the recorded history of humanity.

We keep creating all this waste that we have no way to actually dispose of.

We can treat it, put it in a concrete cask, and store the casks somewhere, but we have no ways to actually dispose of it other than to wait for millions of years.

Nuclear waste is the most immediately dangerous after we create it. Highly toxic, easily misused, easily stolen and repurposed. (Not all nuclear waste is equal, most of it is fairly benign such as medical and industrial waste. Those little green "exit" signs will eventually classify as nuclear waste.) The really dangerous stuff, like the spent nuclear reactor fuel, we have no way to deal with. But as bad as it is, at least the planet can probably eventually filter through the stuff.

Plastic is less immediately toxic but we also have no way to realistically dispose of it. It doesn't biodegrade. We are ending up with sites like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch [wikipedia.org] that continue to grow.

Sadly we keep making more and more trash that we cannot dispose of. Like most of humanity's history we care more about our immediate survival and our immediate convenience than the long-term survival and long-term convenience.

Re:Oopsie! (2, Interesting)

BitZtream (692029) | about 4 months ago | (#46567315)

We keep creating all this waste that we have no way to actually dispose of.

Really? What waste is that? We can do all sorts of stuff to the waste we have to make it orders of magnitude safer ... AND get energy out of it in the process.

But wackos freak out because OMFG SOMETHING MIGHT GO WRONG ... even when we put it in someplace that if something does go wrong ... its okay ... like this particular incident.

There really isn't that much we can't reprocess, reuse and repeat until its not nearly as dangerous or there is a lot less of it.

And lets not be retarded, this stuff came out of the ground in the first place. Putting it back isn't going to be what kills us all.

Re:Oopsie! (0)

nblender (741424) | about 4 months ago | (#46568059)

And lets not be retarded, this stuff came out of the ground in the first place. Putting it back isn't going to be what kills us all.

I don't disagree with your basic point but are you really arguing it's ok if crude oil spills out of a tanker and pollutes an entire town, that "It's ok. Because the oil came out of the ground and it's just trying to make its way back there"?

Re:Oopsie! (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568299)

No. he is saying putting it into the ground isn't going to kill us. Not that dumping it on the ground is good ebcasue it will get undergraound eventually.

Re:Oopsie! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46568785)

Really? What waste is that? We can do all sorts of stuff to the waste we have to make it orders of magnitude safer ... AND get energy out of it in the process.

No, we can't. Half-life is half-life; there isn't a process we can use to change that -- because if there was, we wouldn't be burying it in salt pits and crossing our fingers. Unless you'd like to actually specify "all sorts of stuff" that'll prove me wrong?

And lets not be retarded, this stuff came out of the ground in the first place. Putting it back isn't going to be what kills us all.

Right; impeccable logic. It came out of the ground, we changed it at a subatomic level, turning it literally into something else, and therefore, we should be able to just shove it back from whence it came with no significant worries? What a moron. You've changed much, much less significantly since you came out of your mother; by your logic, putting you back isn't going to be what kills us all. Oh, hey -- it would only kill the two of you; I guess you're right after all!

Re:Oopsie! (4, Informative)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 4 months ago | (#46568849)

It's not "wackos" that are preventing the waste being used, it is the cost. What people like you don't understand is just because on paper you can build some cool piece of technology to deal with it doesn't mean it makes commercial sense to do so. No-one has been able to demonstrate a working commercial scale reactor of this type yet, and the smaller research/prototype ones have all had major issues.

If you can find someone willing to invest tens of billions in building one of these things and getting regulatory approval/certification, and taking on the risk of some problem developing during its lifetime that costs a fortune to fix or writes it off... Well, go ahead and build one. Until them stop whining and blaming imaginary boogiemen for not getting your cool toy.

And yeah, putting it in the ground is fine as long as you do it carefully so it doesn't get into the water table etc. You need to be sure that won't happen for tens or even hundreds of thousands of years, so it isn't a trivial thing to find a suitable spot and dig it out. Just like your first idea it looks easy on paper but in practice is somewhat more complex than you thought.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

Aighearach (97333) | about 4 months ago | (#46569245)

Yeah, you have to be French to not screw it up. Americans would surely screw it up. We don't know anything about nuclear technology. Derp!

Back to reality... maybe we should consider the face value... the nuclear industry is opposing those steps, because they're invested in particular technologies and the new technologies would enrich different companies than the ones already entrenched. Ah, now we have a reasonable explanation! And surprise surprise, it is also the standard explanation that "everyone" already knew about.

Re:Oopsie! (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 4 months ago | (#46567515)

but we have no ways to actually dispose of it other than to wait for millions of years.

If it has a half-life long enough that it will be around for "millions of years", then it's pretty much harmless.

Note that Pu-239 has a half-life of 24100 years (making it not very radioactive at the best of times), and in a million years 99.99999999997% of it will be gone (in other words, 100,000 tons of it (more than is to be had in the world today by a large margin) will be reduced to 32 micrograms).

Re:Oopsie! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567565)

Go hug a tree.

With the new reactors, that very few countries build because of propaganda, it would be possible to re-use the "spent" fuel far more, rendering it virtually harmless in comparison to the waste produced by the ancient reactors from the 60's and 70's. That is also why it is important to store the waste in a way that makes it retreivable so that we can bring it up, drain it, and then bury it for a much shorter period of time.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

towermac (752159) | about 4 months ago | (#46567767)

BitZtream has it right.

The only real thing to do with this waste is to burn it up in nuclear reactors.

Re:Oopsie! (2)

sjames (1099) | about 4 months ago | (#46568157)

The materials they are talking about are also known as nuclear fuel. We should be running reactors with it.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568269)

"We keep creating all this waste that we have no way to actually dispose of."
1) Most of the waste isn't really radioactive.
2) The waste the is radioactive can be reused
3) We have perfectly good ways of storing it, but politics gets in the way.

The great pacific garbage patch is largely a myth.

A pit I mile to a side can hold all out garbage for the next 500 years. Our trash problems largely comes form putting dump that are two small just a few miles from the edge of an expanding city, and the fact that it is all local.
We could put a pit in Texas, and rail our garbage there.
If we ant to be reasonably proactive, we can split it up into garbage, recyclables, and 'organics'

I chose Texas because there are large flat expanse that will seldom be shut down due to weather.

Again, politics.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 4 months ago | (#46568293)

We can treat it, put it in a concrete cask, and store the casks somewhere, but we have no ways to actually dispose of it other than to wait for millions of years.

Not really true its more a political problem than anything. The casks are in some senses better than burring the stuff because we can get to them. If we could get over the political hurtles around breeder reactors not only would we stop producing almost all the spent fuel waste we could actually start using the existing spent fuel in the casks as new fuel. That would leave us with a very tiny amount of spent fuel in terms of sq feet of storage required. It would also leave us retired reactors and plant component materials which don't remain especially hazardous for very long.

As for the plastic, actually that could be reprocessed in to useful hydrocarbons to for the most part we just don't because its not quite economical yet, so its easier to pitch it in the Ocean. The good news there though is it might not be to hard to scoop back up and bring back to shore to process if humanity ever gets its act together.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 4 months ago | (#46568165)

Well the Navy guys have a lot of incentive to do things right, they are in many cases forced to live in small metal can right along side their reactors. I would not want to cut corners either.

Ask them to manage a situation where they can get out of Dodge so to speak if things get really hairy and I suspect they will gradually get as sloppy as everyone else.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

afidel (530433) | about 4 months ago | (#46568195)

Rotate the guys from sub duty to land duty, they need to get out of the tin can every once in a while anyways for their own sanity =)

Re:Oopsie! (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568197)

The navy has had it's issue regarding nuclear safety as well. I would put any of the US's military organizations over any contractor for this issue.

Cheating in missile command test isn't rampant, regardless of what the media has spoon fed you.
That said, the whole nuclear program needs to be removed from civilian management.

SL-1, Thresher, Scorpion ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46569225)

NONE of the military-industrial complex contractors are operated by people with anything but avarice as the central component of their emotional and intellectual construction. Been there, done that, end the crapitalism and privatize using commercial consensus industrial standards and procedures.
The most arrogant [expletive deleted] on the planet is an ex-military ring-banger from Canoe-U who can not pass the NCEES exam after the third try - again, been there, done making any attempt to have anything to do with any of 'them' ever again.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 4 months ago | (#46569817)

Re submarine command around the world?
'Vacuum causes $400M damage to nuclear submarine" from USA
http://security.blogs.cnn.com/... [cnn.com]
"Fire breaks out on Russian nuclear submarine" from Russia
http://www.reuters.com/article... [reuters.com]
"Navy warship accidentally fires torpedo at nuclear dockyard" from UK
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fin... [telegraph.co.uk]
They seem to be having they own dock related issues?

Re:Oopsie! (4, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 4 months ago | (#46567497)

Yet another contractor who seems to have been doing the minimum required to get paid. Fire suppression turned off, flammable materials stored after repeated inspections required that they be removed. Outsource responsibility and this seems to be the result.

At what point do we stop blaming the contractors and start blaming a lax regulatory environment (which the contractors probably lobbied for)?

I expect the free market to behave like a 5 year old on a sugar rush.
What I can't accept is the adults' repeated refusal to punish bad behavior.
We have a regulatory framework. Enforce it.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568315)

Remove the market form it and all these issue go away.

and kids don't actually get sugar rushes, just so you know.

Re:Oopsie! (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 4 months ago | (#46567621)

True enough. If only nuclear waste facilities were held to the same regulatory standards as, say, fertiliser plants in Texas [slashdot.org] which are totally innocuous since they don't store any nuclear waste on their premises.

easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566669)

do what they have allways done and store pollution where the 1% dont live.

Re: easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566725)

Well, more precisely where much less than 1% of the USA population live, making it a sensible location really.

Get a job, hippy!

Re: easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46568781)

Personally I dont care if they make you merkins bath in the stuff , so store it in your schools

Long story made short - (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566687)

The elevator caught fire because maintenance was chronically deferred.

There is apparently a big difference between funding for the nuclear waste handling itself and the operations of the mine it's being put into.

Fucking NIMBYs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566705)

New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona should just admit that their states are mostly worthless desert and GET OVER IT. The nuclear waste has to go somewhere and a desert is pretty much the safest and most remote location possible.

Re:Fucking NIMBYs (4, Insightful)

Frobnicator (565869) | about 4 months ago | (#46566951)

Desert? yes. Worthless? No.

Deserts are usually less exploitable by humans, but they are extremely valuable to the planet. Through sorry experience we have learned that desert ecosystems are easily damaged. Vehicles driving across the surface can crack and break the crust of micro-organisms ("desert pavement") where the damage can last for centuries.

The thought process of "Humans cannot immediately exploit the resources, therefore it is worthless" is extremely foolish.

Just look at what humans have done to resources we consider valuable. Deforestation of entire contents, fishing out oceans to possibly the point of exhaustion. Desert regions are one of the few resources left mostly intact from human destruction.

Re:Fucking NIMBYs (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567571)

Deserts are usually less exploitable by humans, but they are extremely valuable to the planet. Through sorry experience we have learned that desert ecosystems are easily damaged. Vehicles driving across the surface can crack and break the crust of micro-organisms ("desert pavement") where the damage can last for centuries.

I'm going riding on my KTM 950 Super Enduro in the desert this weekend.

It has 100 horsepower and rips trenches in the desert you could hide a body in.

I'll rip a few new holes in the desert just for you, and I will laugh while I do it.

Re:Fucking NIMBYs (2)

Toad-san (64810) | about 4 months ago | (#46568021)

Depends on what you consider damage. I submit that the tank and vehicle tracks left in desert areas during WW II exercises 70 bloody years ago might still be visible .. but I hardly consider them damage. You'll have to prove the value of "desert pavement" to me first. And your claim that deserts are "extremely valuable to the planet" is questionable too. I submit that the Gobi Desert was a lot more useful to the dinosaurs fossilized there when it was green and lovely than it's been for the past dozens of millions of years.

Re:Fucking NIMBYs (1)

amorsen (7485) | about 4 months ago | (#46568729)

There is plenty of desert, and deserts are growing. Set aside a few million hectares, and use the rest.

Besides, if you want to conserve the deserts, putting nuclear storage facilities there would be just the thing. Otherwise a good portion is getting covered with solar panels within a decade.

Par for the Course (1)

The Cat (19816) | about 4 months ago | (#46566709)

America is no longer able to conduct basic business. Our national capacity for common sense and rational action is so diminished by now that the simple act of taking out the trash is beyond us.

There are various causes for this but I place the blame squarely on our complete lack of leadership. There are no leaders in this country any more. Oh sure, there are people grabbing for the microphone so they can hog the limelight long enough to fill their pockets, but beyond that, we simply have no leaders left.

We've got ten years, if that. It ends in civil war, dictatorship or mass secession. The only good news is America will serve as historical proof that humanity is too childish and primitive to be trusted with liberty.

Re:Par for the Course (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567105)

Everything is proceeding according to plan.... Who coulda known! Who is John Galt?

Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (2)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about 4 months ago | (#46566745)

Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste.

*Impossible because the rules in the US are as such that you are not allowed to do anything that could result in threatening the revenue stream to current nuclear energy giants. Guess who helped write them?

Technological solutions exists but China will have a solution within 10-20years and we will buy from them because of these "Super Important" laws.

When that happens, the US will rightfully become the banana republic it so desperately want to become.

Re:Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566919)

China has 40%.
Do the math ... you're completely ignorant on nuclear fuel cycle issues.

Re:Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567005)

China has 40% of what? What math?
I'm sure that in your mind your post makes complete logical sense, but it really doesn't.

Re:Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567033)

Woops.

China holds 40%.
Do the math ... you're completely ignorant on nuclear fuel cycle issues.
Reprocessing was banned because it was unnecessary and not congruent with our demands that non-nuclear states not conduct reprocessing.

not so unnecessary if it costs this much to store (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567125)

reprocessing plutonium coming from a power reactor is a retarded way to build a bomb. Molecular lasers doing AVLIS on uranium is the best way to get a bomb in 2014.

Re:Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (1)

macpacheco (1764378) | about 4 months ago | (#46567273)

Nuclear waste from once through (no reprocessing) is 99,3% fissionable material for light water reactors, about 98,7% from heavy water reactors.
There are reactors designed to take this fuel in and fission it completely, Molten Salt reactors and Sodium cooled fast reactors.
There is no commercially operational molten salt reactors and sodium cooled reactors in commercial operation only in Russia sphere of influence.
But there is a solution. The real problem is after Three Mile Island nuclear is seen as an evil technology that must be avoided at all costs and should get near zero public research investment.
The problem isn't it can't be done, is republicans are okay with nuclear, but are more okay with natural gas and coal, while democrats are against anything that says nuclear anywhere.

Re:Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568407)

"while democrats are against anything that says nuclear anywhere."
you're pretty vapid, aren't you?

Re:Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (2, Insightful)

macpacheco (1764378) | about 4 months ago | (#46569917)

I believe we need an all of the above solution (nuclear, solar, wind, biomass, ...). In reality, nuclear is just lip service, it's not really an all of the above solution. So I'm very loud when I sense the lip servicing, in the direction of exposing the lie (the lip service BS).

Nuclear is the only solution that could provide electricity to 100% of the world needs. The ONLY solution. Solar and Wind require huge technological breakthroughs in energy storage that are still in the future.

Re:Too bad it's impossible* to reuse nuclear waste (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568355)

"Impossible because the rules in the US are as such that you are not allowed to do anything that could result in threatening the revenue stream to current nuclear energy giants"
that makes no sense since it's those same companies that would profit from reuse of nuclear waste.

Please, try new conspiracy theory.

New Mexico (1, Insightful)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about 4 months ago | (#46566755)

It's New Mexico. You don't need a bedded salt formation. Just throw that shit anywhere, the whole state is a scrap heap (based on driving around the strech of wasteland between El Paso, White Sands Missile Range, and Carlsbad Cavern).

On a more serious note, why are we burying highly radioactive material instead of using it to generate electricity? If it's too hot to throw away, surely it's hot enough to spin turbines.

Re:New Mexico (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566913)

I've been wondering about this for a while.
Some documentaries claim that nuclear waste would boil the storage ponds if it wasn't continuously cooled.
Doesn't that mean they could use to create steam and still run turbines? Maybe at lower efficiency, but it must be better than just having it sit uselessly in a swimming pool.

Re:New Mexico (1)

kaiser423 (828989) | about 4 months ago | (#46567365)

Yea, the Southern portion of the state (particularly the area you cite) is baked pretty thoroughly, but so is Southern Arizona. Just North of White Sands there's still huge rivers of dried lava flows that geologists just love and some areas that people come from around the world to bird-watch. Southern NM has it's own charm that a lot of people like, but it is largely desert. Ruidoso isn't bad at all. High plains in the center of the state that house the VLA, etc are beautiful. Sunrises like you wouldn't believe and some great big country and forests. Up North with Taos, Chama, Santa Fe, Red River, etc there are some great areas that compete for scenery with the best of them. I go elk hunting in a nice watersheld/caldera in the Northern portion and down in the central watersheds and when I post pictures online of my hunts, most people mistake it for Colorado, Wyoming, etc. El Paso to Cruces can be pretty bad (as can Albuquerque to Farmington), but every state has uninteresting stretches.

Re:New Mexico (1)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about 4 months ago | (#46567737)

Honestly, I didn't really mind the landscape. A fascinating change of scenery compared to the eastern seaboard. I was mostly joking.

That being said, on route 54, somewhere roughly halfway between Alamogordo and El Paso, there's a little "Red Wagon Grill" food truck in a "town" called Orogrande. This guy makes awesome burgers. Worth the drive, especially if you have a radar detector.

Re:New Mexico (1)

gnick (1211984) | about 4 months ago | (#46567471)

...the whole state is a scrap heap...

You're right. What has New Mexico ever done? Except figure out friggin plutonium [wikipedia.org] ...

Re:New Mexico (1)

NoImNotNineVolt (832851) | about 4 months ago | (#46567613)

That's my point. It's a state composed almost entirely of barren desert wastelands, with occasional nuclear test sites sprinkled about. Dropping this transuranic waste there probably wouldn't have any measurable impact on the current background radiation levels.

Also, I'm joking. Lighten up and throw this stuff into a breeder reactor. One man's transuranic waste is another man's reactor fuel.

Re:New Mexico (2)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 months ago | (#46568929)

First off, you obviously know nothing about New Mexico. It is a beautiful state with a lot of interesting ppl (esp. the tribes). had I not responded here, I would have modded you down for this post
However, I fully agree with the rest. The idea of throwing away 'nuke waste' that is dangerous for 20K years, is insane, when it can be burned up and electricity is generated cheaply.

transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (2, Insightful)

Fned (43219) | about 4 months ago | (#46566887)

transuranic (TRU) waste--that is, radioactive elements heavier than uranium on the periodic chart, such as plutonium, americium, curium and neptunium.

Also known, in every country with a halfway-sensible nuclear policy, as "reactor fuel."

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46566989)

Quite. The 'waste' is in all of that potential energy still left in the material due to politics ruling over engineering.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (4, Informative)

macpacheco (1764378) | about 4 months ago | (#46567313)

Until its mandated that all nuclear operators must reprocess nuclear fuel at least twice this will continue, because it's cheaper to build nuclear fuel from freshly enriched uranium instead of doing reprocessing. Some will say "but reprocessing isn't legal". It is legal in the USA, it's just not done as it's more expensive than building fresh fuel.

This isn't politics, it's economics. Reprocessing of nuclear fuel was forbidden for a while late 70s/early 80s, but that prohibbition has been rescinded for decades.
Now it's very likely that should a nuclear reprocessing facility starts, it will attract thousands of crackpot anti nuclear protesters from all over the world to protest that reprocessing is _____ (insert your favorite bad word).

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567871)

It was politics, now it's economics.

Carter killed reprocessing with an executive order. Reagan lifted the order.

But, as you say, there wasn't enough financial incentive to restart reprocessing in the US, so we've just stuck with new fuel ever since.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

wronkiew (529338) | about 4 months ago | (#46568391)

Didn't know that. Thanks!

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 4 months ago | (#46568931)

This isn't politics, it's economics.

Exactly. Nuclear power is already expensive, so what do you think will happen if the operators are forced to invest in reprocessing as well? They will close down their plants instead because they can't make a profit, or just demand further government subsidy.

Now it's very likely that should a nuclear reprocessing facility starts, it will attract thousands of crackpot anti nuclear protesters from all over the world to protest that reprocessing is _____ (insert your favorite bad word).

Even if that were true, you said it yourself: it isn't a political problem, it's an economic one.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

macpacheco (1764378) | about 4 months ago | (#46569903)

But....... The main reason nuclear is expensive today is the result of a chicken egg problem caused since Three Mile Island:
Nuclear became expensive after nuclear operators backed off from installing new reactors after TMI, nuclear has no chance of becoming cheaper because it has low volume of nuclear reactor installations.
Nuclear could be at least 20% cheaper if there were scale/volume in the nuclear construction business and the NRC streamlined the regulatory process with a focus of providing a predictable model (if you comply with this rules new installations will get certified at an X maximum NRC regulation costs).

Do you know the NRC bills nuclear operators US$ 300 / hr they spent certifying new nuclear reactors, and that every new nuclear plant demands like 20000 hours of regulatory work ? This adds up to tens of millions of regulatory costs, with zero certainty to the nuclear operator.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

hey! (33014) | about 4 months ago | (#46567339)

Also known, in every country with a halfway-sensible nuclear policy, as "reactor fuel."

... if by "reactor" you mean "radioisotope thermal generator". That's actually an intriguing variant on the silly "shoot it all into the Sun" idea. Build spacecraft to explore the out solar system, placing the material far away from mischief, and call the cost of the spacecraft a "disposal fee".

Unfortunately the real issue in this story isn't the inherent danger of the materials, but the doubts the story raises about whether we as a nation are responsible enough to handle such materials.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568441)

No, he doesn't. Reprocess and reuse.
The resulting product as substantial less waste with a half live measured in decades instead of millennia.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

hey! (33014) | about 4 months ago | (#46568727)

And who's going to do the reprocessing?

The problem is that America's political system is so dysfunctional it can't be trusted to regulate a process like waste disposal or reprocessing.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 4 months ago | (#46567521)

Ummm, no. That's a bit like saying the contents of a kebab shop's grease trap is organic so it will work perfectly well as fuel in your car engine, just pour it in and turn the key and away you go. The nuclear equivalent of the AAA is just a phonecall away after all.

Some transuranics aren't fertile, they produce less than one neutron per fission event on average so they damp out the chain reaction needed to keep a reactor operating. Some have a low cross-section, they're difficult to hit with a moderated neutron in the first place. Some eat neutrons and don't fission at all, so-called fission poisons. Most of them start off radioactive as hell with short half-lifes unlike regular enriched uranium which can be handled wearing gloves and a Tyvek overall so they're more difficult to use in fuel rods. There's also the radiochemistry and high-temperature performance of the materials, how do they expand as they heat up, do they disassociate from their oxide forms etc. etc.

Designing fuel elements using these materials, assuming you're willing to spend the billions needed to separate them out from one another and then reformulate them appropriately, is a complicated process which, given the currently ridiculously low cost of fresh enriched uranium fuel for power reactors, no-one is really interested in investigating. The only transuranic used in reactors anywhere today is plutonium in mixed-oxide fuel. It's being used only after years of experimental tests and commercial operation of such fuel elements. It's still a wash financially speaking given the pricetag for a reprocessing plant to make MOX -- the US has half-funded a plant to make MOX (probably to use up surplus military plutonium to begin with) but there are no customers signed up to use MOX fuel in the States, no guarantee the NRC would license its use in American reactors and Congress just zeroed the budget needed to continue construction of the MOX plant which is, needless to say, way over budget and behind schedule.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

towermac (752159) | about 4 months ago | (#46567953)

"... so they're more difficult to use in fuel rods ..."

You're right. The old style reactors pretty much can't use a lot of it (or it's a major pita), as you say.

We need new reactors specifically designed to burn this stuff.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (2)

nojayuk (567177) | about 4 months ago | (#46568281)

The problem is that any waste-burning reactors will still have to pay their way by generating electricity at an affordable price even with an offset for the value of destroying some waste. The BN-series reactors the Russians are building and operating and the Chinese are considering buying can burn waste but not a lot of it and they require highly-enriched uranium and plutonium to generate the neutron flux needed. The financial details of how much the existing BN-series reactors cost to run are not transparent.

There's a lot of Powerpoint Warriors in the waste-burning business, not many folks pouring concrete and bending metal. It's the same with proponents of small modular and thorium molten-salt reactors. The financial costs of licencing, building, operating and eventaully decommissioning such paper designs tend not to be emphasised in the flashy slide presentations.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

towermac (752159) | about 4 months ago | (#46568571)

"The problem is that any waste-burning reactors will still have to pay their way by generating electricity at an affordable price even with an offset for the value of destroying some waste."

I disagree. If they never make a dime we still need them; we have too much of this high level waste, and apparently nowhere to bury it. And I'm not sure that's such a bad thing. Not if it's going to be hot for 10,000 years. We have no choice now, but to burn this stuff up.

"not many folks pouring concrete and bending metal. It's the same with proponents of small modular and thorium molten-salt reactors. The financial costs of licencing, building, operating and eventaully decommissioning"

The actual costs; pouring concrete, bending metal, paying scientists to design it properly... they are not that much, and might have been cheaper than dealing with this stuff all this time. (how much was spent on Yucca Mt?) Most of the cost is due to the government, licensing, etc. Now obviously, a nuke license should be somewhat harder to get than a driver's license. But not as hard as it is now.

I will agree with you on the decommissioning part, by saying that we should never again build another reactor that creates waste products that are hot longer than a few hundred years. (A few hundred years is still pushing it, but it is conceivable that we could plant a caution sign that would last that long.)

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

nojayuk (567177) | about 4 months ago | (#46569097)

There are plenty of places to bury waste, even spent fuel if the owners don't want to reprocess it. The fact is there isn't really a lot of spent fuel or reprocessed fuel waste around at the moment to dispose of. France, which has run forty power reactors for thirty years and more has a few hundred cubic metres of vitrified high-level waste and that's all. It's not a Hollywood movie scenario where this waste will start roaming the countryside destroying everything in its path with its fiery breath or converting mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner into the Hulk, it just sits there in large blocks of glass. It doesn't even glow in the dark.

Finland of all places is actually in the process of digging a deep hole, 500 metres down into shield bedrock, to put their spent fuel into. They expect this deep repository to handle about 400 reactor-years worth of spent fuel in the end and it will cost about a billion dollars US over a century or so before they cap it off. They've already got the money to pay for building it in the bank from a levy on electricity generated by their existing reactors over the past couple of decades.

Dry storage of spent fuel on the surface will suffice for most places for a few more decades before actually digging pricey holes to bury the stuff in. If nothing else it allows for generating levies to make paying for the excavations more effective. In the intervening time there might be breakthroughs in affordable reprocessing, economical waste-burning reactor designs get built, winged monkeys might fly out of my butt, whatever.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567531)

Not at the concentrations this waste is at. It's mostly stuff like clothing and tools that were used around nuclear material. Too radioactive to put in regular trash, not radioactive enough to be a serious immediate threat. Heck, probably less radioactive than the countryside around Chernobyl.

Even the dangerous stuff is at concentrations too low to be worth using in the fuel stream. Often it's the stuff left over after making fuel or decommissioning nuclear hardware.

You're probably thinking of spent fuel. That's not what TRU is.

Re:transuranic (TRU) waste--that is: (1)

sjames (1099) | about 4 months ago | (#46568481)

Some of the waste is really waste. However, some of it is plutonium that was once part of a bomb or intended to be used in a bomb.

What this means for the nuclear-powered people: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567083)

Infinite and exponental rising costs and damages.

Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about 4 months ago | (#46567373)

Can someone explain to me why a reactor can overheat and meltdown like in Japan ... but not have the energy to spin the turbines to power cooling?

How can it get so hot that it boils the water way even under ridiculous pressures ... but that heat can't be used to power turbines?

Am I to believe that reactors actually generate more power when shutdown than when powered up?

I just can't fathom why a plant can SCRAM and then overheat ... but be unable to cool itself. Someones design is WAY fucked up me thinks. Its generating too much steam ... USE IT ...

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567639)

It did have the energy. The problem was that the pumps to circulate water to make the steam for the turbines (and cool the reactor) were shut down. They run off an independent source of power -- which was destroyed. They run off grid power as a safety measure, in case the power plant generation failed. Diesel backup is provided "just in case."

Yup, serious design error.

And no, they don't generator more power when shut down than powered up. Most of the fission stops when shut down, but the daughter products still decay and product massive energy. When cooling pumps shut off, heat transfer out out stops, but heat generation continues at a lower level. So temperature climbs.

Think of it like a runner running with light clothing on. He generates a lot of heat, but sheds it at the same rate to maintain acceptable body temp. If he stops running and immediately puts on heavy insulating clothing, there is still some residual metabolism, but no where for the heat to go. He gets HOT.

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (1)

QuantumPion (805098) | about 4 months ago | (#46567741)

Can someone explain to me why a reactor can overheat and meltdown like in Japan ... but not have the energy to spin the turbines to power cooling?

How can it get so hot that it boils the water way even under ridiculous pressures ... but that heat can't be used to power turbines?

Am I to believe that reactors actually generate more power when shutdown than when powered up?

I just can't fathom why a plant can SCRAM and then overheat ... but be unable to cool itself. Someones design is WAY fucked up me thinks. Its generating too much steam ... USE IT ...

It can. The main problem with this type of operation is that the main generator and turbine are not designed for very low power operation, there is not enough steam pressure to drive them below a minimum threshold (~5-10% power). The Chernobyl accident occurred during an attempted test to see for how long the reactor could run its cooling pumps on decay heat after shutdown (the accident was not caused by this test directly, but due to the inappropriate actions by the operators leading up to the test).

The problem is mostly engineering and the way plants are designed. While there are steam-driven and axillary cooling systems, on older plants they can only provide decay heat cooling for a limited time, and generally require at least some power to operate valves and monitor levels. They were not designed to cope with an extended loss of all electrical power. Some newer plant types are designed to be passively safe, such as the ESBWR [wikipedia.org] , which can remain safe with zero electrical power or operator actions due to its natural circulation design and enormous gravity-fed cooling pools.

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (1)

fishybell (516991) | about 4 months ago | (#46567771)

You can't design a system to use an infinite amount of steam, and the Fukushima distaster, you couldn't contain the steam because of damage to the facilities (which, of course, got much worse after the meltdown). The design of the reactor was old, and has been superceded by more fail-safe designs, but that is not the root cause of the disaster. The root cause is the failings fo Tepco install and manage the reactors in a safe manner (high enough from the sea, not have its backup generators in the basement, lack of continual safety enhancements with new technology, etc.) was the root cause. While initiated by a tsunami, the plant was specifically installed with the knowledge that it would get hit by large earthquakes and tsunamis. The Onagawa nuclear plant, located closer to the epicenter of the earthquake, remained wholly operational. The difference? the company in charge of management's safety culture was different, and has been different for decades.

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (2)

jafac (1449) | about 4 months ago | (#46567815)

Because the high temperature of the molten fuel, you can't design a container for it, and without a container, you can't pressurize the steam to spin a turbine.

Your other question, about why a plant can SCRAM and still overheat; yes, someone's design IS way fucked up. These older-design reactors create a large amount of short-lived decay products, (basically, the leftover bits of atoms after the uranium nuclei split) - some of these are stable, and most are not, and they will also decay. When these decay products decay, they also create waste heat. (a lot). And while the reactor is designed to moderate and use that heat, the chemical makeup of the fuel is always being altered as those Uranium atoms split. When a reactor is SCRAMmed, the Uranium fissioning stops, but the decay products continue to fission. This stuff has to "burn off" and it can't be rushed, it simply takes time. The heat from this process is called "decay heat" and it is what makes these reactors dangerous even after shutdown. If this decay heat is not removed actively by pumping water, it will build up, and at about 2000 degrees C, the zirconium cladding of the fuel acts as a catalyst, and splits the cooling-water into H2, and O. Any source of ignition will cause a Hydrogen explosion. (which is what happened at TMI first - which is why plants must now have venting systems to get rid of excess Hydrogen - and Fukushima's failed). Zirconium also tends to burn pretty well at that temperature - especially when exposed to pure oxygen. The hydrogen explosion will often damage the cooling equipment, (and the rest of the building) and then you're really fucked, because at 2800 degrees C, the uranium dioxide (fuel) begins to melt down.

Yeah, it's a design flaw, but you know, economical choices must be made in order to provide electricity that's "too cheap to meter".

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 4 months ago | (#46568467)

Not what he was talking about:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (2)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 months ago | (#46568881)

The real problem is that these are antiquated system and they did NOT have diesel back-ups like they were required.
Instead, they need NEW reactors that have designs that will prevent anything like this from happening.
That is the advantage of the thorium design. ZERO chance of a meltdown unless laws of physic are broken, or the reactor is actually sabotaged from internally.

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 4 months ago | (#46569057)

They actually had emergency cooling available at the time. There were some news reports that the lack of cooling was due to a lack of power, but that wasn't actually the case. They had backup batteries to run the pumps, and when that didn't seem to be working they had fire engines to pump water into the system. It's true that they should have had more available, but what they did have would have been adequate if it were not for the damage done by the earthquake. Not the tsunami, that did damage too, but he fatal problems were due to the earthquake's lateral forces.

The exact problems are still a little unclear, but we do know that most of the water pumped in did not reach the reactors to cool them. Some of the pipework was damaged, and some of the valves were in the wrong position. The failure of monitoring equipment and the fact that people couldn't physically access the valves to check them meant that this problem was not discovered until after the meltdowns.

NHK has produced a number of documentaries about this, they are well worth checking out.

Re:Offtopic: Meltdowns that don't power generators (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46569799)

How can it get so hot that it boils the water way even under ridiculous pressures ... but that heat can't be used to power turbines?

Because they are not connected anymore. Electric turbines are designed for specific power ranges. You can't connect 1% steam and expect it to do anything! For car analogy, it is like putting 1% of fuel into your car engine's cylinders and expecting it to continue to function at reduced power output.

Am I to believe that reactors actually generate more power when shutdown than when powered up?

No, they don't

I just can't fathom why a plant can SCRAM and then overheat ... but be unable to cool itself. Someones design is WAY fucked up me thinks. Its generating too much steam ... USE IT ...

Because of secondary radioactive elements created in reactor

*and*

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

Reactor shutdown means you stop the first reaction in the chain. The rest are automatic, caused by nature, and take from seconds to days to cool (ie. arrive at isotopes with longer, century+ long half lives). You also have daughter elements like Sr, Ce, Xe, I, etc. all producing heat as they disintegrate. Hence when reactor shuts down, it produces 10% of energy immediately after. 1% after 1 day. etc. in a logarithmic decay curve. 1% of 5,000MW thermal reactor is 50MW of heat. Quite a lot. A week later, it could be 5MW.

That's why new reactors are designed (and not yet built) with passive safety.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... [wikipedia.org]

meaning that they don't require moving parts or power to function for them to have emergency cooling after shut down. They cool because of laws of physics, not because some pump keeps pumping water.

Anyway, in nuclear power stations, shutdown means you are no longer producing new power. But nothing but time will cool all the daughter elements that keep making heat. That must be taken away one way or another, or things will get so hot they will melt.

Yucca Mountain (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46567393)

Too bad the asshats that run my state are opposed to storing nuke waste in the middle of a wasteland and raking in all kinds of fed money.

What a perfect sense of timing! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#46568105)

https://www.nss2014.com/en

sounds like (1)

ozduo (2043408) | about 4 months ago | (#46568673)

a great target for a terrorist. what would it take to detonate?

Thorium reactors; Use this 'waste' (2)

WindBourne (631190) | about 4 months ago | (#46568767)

Seriously, we need small reactors that use thorium like we had a couple of decades ago. We can get this going again in less than 5 years. With these, we can either augment current sites, or even replace current reactors and then burn up the waste, while getting energy.

Considering that the west is dealing with issues from Russia because of reliance on Russian energy, AND we have AGW occuring AND we have 'waste' disposal issues, I would think that the west would be smart enough to burn up all of that energy, and then bury only 5% of what they were going to. Heck, WIPP would handle EVERYTHING that we had left, and everything would be safe within 200 years.

IFR? (1)

Gareth Iwan Fairclough (2831535) | about 4 months ago | (#46568867)

Why not just finish the integral fast reactor programme and use the spent fuel? Iirc, the project was almost finished when it was abruptly terminated back in the early 90's due to political interference.

Let DC take it. (1)

daedlanth (1658569) | about 4 months ago | (#46569151)

Fine with me as long as we can ship our nuclear waste to DC & let it pile up there instead of our neighborhoods.

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