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Better Nuclear Waste Storage Plans than Yucca Mountain

michael posted more than 9 years ago | from the moon-still-mostly-empty dept.

United States 466

NuclearRampage writes "Technology Review has an in-depth article about A New Vision for Nuclear Waste based on the premise that 'storing nuclear waste underground at Yucca Mountain for 100,000 years is a terrible idea.' The article looks at the current DOE plans for Yucca, its shortcomings and what temporary solutions we have to use while a better permanent plan is formulated."

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No, ignoring it won't make it go away (4, Insightful)

coupland (160334) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854788)

>"But here's the twist: with nuclear waste, procrastination may actually pay ... ... technological advances over the next century might yield better long-term storage methods.

Sorry, but this kind of stupidity really irks me. If the Yucca plan is flawed, then we should be working constructively to fix it, not criticizing it and offering no solutions. Certainly not assuming that in a hundred years we'll have genetically engineered winged monkeys who will fly all our nuclear waste into outer space. The problem is here now, so we've got to face it now, with today's technology. It's the height of irresponsibility to assume that our children will be smart enough to solve a problem a hundred years from now whose solution has completely eluded us.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854849)

>Certainly not assuming that in a hundred years we'll have genetically engineered winged monkeys who will fly all our nuclear waste into outer space.

Couldn't that be the solution? (no, not the part about winged monkeys). Why can't we simply send the damn crap into the sun? Isn't the sun a huge nuclear reactor already anyway?

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854938)

Why can't we simply send the damn crap into the sun?

That'd be really, really expensive. (Of course, building a safe storage facility ain't cheap!) As hard to understand as it might be, going "downhill" to the sun still requires enormous amounts of energy. I think we should just dump it in Venus like our Atlantean fore-fathers did!

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (3, Insightful)

iezhy (623955) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854965)

do you have any idea how much does it cost to lift a single pound of cargo into the orbit, not speaking about sending it to the sun? and how much nuclear power will cost, if this solution would be used?

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (4, Interesting)

david.given (6740) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854980)

Couldn't that be the solution? (no, not the part about winged monkeys). Why can't we simply send the damn crap into the sun? Isn't the sun a huge nuclear reactor already anyway?

Because orbital mechanics mean that it's harder to send stuff into the sun than it is to send it into interstellar space. Plus, the heavy-lift rockets you'd need to get it into orbit (let alone to cancel Earth's orbital velocity) are not designed to be reliable, which means they blow up now and again. Uh... no.

(Yes, you can build boxes designed to remain intact while rockets blow up around them; they're used for RTGs. There was an RTG that was in an exploding rocket. Once they found it, it got dusted off and used again for another satellite. I believe it's still out there somewhere... But they're bloody expensive and very heavy, and there's an awful lot of stuff to get rid of.)

Better, cheaper, simpler solutions:

  • Vitrify it in glass to make it biologically inert. Pile it in a big heap in the middle of some desert somewhere. Post guards to make sure nobody walks off with it.
  • Bore some very deep holes somewhere in a subduction zone. Put the stuff at the bottom. Forget about it. Over geological time it'll get sucked into the mantle and disperse.

Basically, radioactive waste is not a problem. It's just the politics around the waste that's the problem. Yucca Mountain is a really, really bad solution and everybody knew that from the start, but the project has now entered that strange, necromantic state where it'll suck up money until someone finally cuts its heart out and it will never, ever achieve anything worthwhile. Except lining someone's pockets.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855163)

Conspiracy theory -- maybe it's actually considered probable that it will all be useful material in the future, so they want to put it somewhere where they can get back later.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854862)

But you see, after they live with the radiation for a couple 100 years they will all develop super powers and be able to use those powered to take care of the problem.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (5, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854891)


we'll have genetically engineered winged monkeys who will fly all our nuclear waste into outer space.

Those won't work, the wings are useless in space. We have to wait for the genetically engineered monkeys with liquid oxygen and fuel tanks. That'll be another few hundred years.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (2, Funny)

Peldor (639336) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854892)

It's the height of irresponsibility to assume that our children will be smart enough to solve a problem a hundred years from now whose solution has completely eluded us.

But the extra radiation is sure to net us some mutated super geniuses!

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

Severious (826370) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854907)

"genetically engineered winged monkeys"

I'll take two.

Fear my flying evil monkey hords of radioactive doom... With lazers...

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

c.derby (574103) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854991)

friggin' lasers.. attached to their friggin' heads!

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (4, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854923)

"It's the height of irresponsibility to assume that our children will be smart enough to solve a problem a hundred years from now whose solution has completely eluded us."

Yeah, because history shows that the past two centuries have been nothing but *stagnation* in terms of technological development.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (0, Troll)

Saven Marek (739395) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855002)

Maybe we don't need to dispose of it in outer space as we didn't come it from there in the first place.

Think about it logically. We have a few hundred tons of nuclear waste. This was all radioactive before we got it and will be after we got it. So what has it been doing all this time? Being radioactive. If its puts back into the ground like it was found (from everywhere?) then I dont see a problem. Low level radioactivity is always been there and always will be. If this waste were ground into incredibly fine particulates and released into the atmosphere slowly from a hundred places on the globe it would not be noticed. within years it would all be in the ground again and there are no problems. Nuclear waste problem solved by putting it back where it came from, how it came from.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (3, Informative)

rnws (554280) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855193)

Actually grinding it into fine particulates and releasing it into the atmosphere would be a very bad thing as inhaling fine radioactive dusts (or gases) is, apart from extreme rad exposure, one of the fastest ways to get killed by radiation.

Not to mention the fact that the stuff would settle on cropping regions and build up in the surface soil and the oceans, thus contaminating food sources (living cells have a tendancy to accumulate heavy metals). Essentially what you would create is fallout.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855197)

I'm astounded to realize that this actually makes more sense than anything I've thought about... and it's obvious in hindsight only. You should file a patent! (That last is only half tongue-in-cheek).

I don't know about the cost of this, but when you think about it you're absolutely right. The problem isn't that it's radioactive, it's that it's radioactive all in one place. I think you're on to something here!

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

Kyani (566689) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855213)

Unfortunately you wouldn't be putting back what was taken out in the first place. The uranium is enriched, plutonium exists in the waste, etc, etc. The uranium is extracted from rock and at that time isn't concentrated. Grinding the waste and releasing it in the atmosphere would just spread concentrated radioactive material across the globe and pretty much destroy us all ;)

See this link for a good intro to the nuclear cycle: http://www.uic.com.au/nfc.htm [uic.com.au]

Simple solutions for simple minds... (3, Insightful)

chaboud (231590) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855247)

It's not that these materials are radioactive, but that these materials are composed of isotopes and elements that are *very* rarely found in nature.

Strontium-90, cesium-137, and plutonium are not materials that one can regularly dig up in anything greater than trace amounts, but we have manufactured at least several hundred thousand kilograms of each. To suggest putting these low-half-life materials into populated regions or atomizing them for atmospheric delivery is humorous folly at best.

If we can actually revert the materials in question to their originals (without costing us *more* energy than we originally received from fission; a task that, just to be clear, is impossible) before burial, then I'm all for it. In actuality, your naive suggestions merely show a lack of understanding of the fundamental problem, but this lack of understanding is not unique. That very thinking likely led to the hatching of the Yucca mountain plan in the first place.

As we depart the steel age and forge into the composite-ceramic age, we stand a very good chance of improving existing technologies that show promise in solving this problem completely.

Before we decide to package these materials as a dangerous slurry in a mountain about which we intend to forget, we should seriously consider investing in technological advances that have been before us for over a decade.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

mordors9 (665662) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855036)

This is like all technology issues. You have to make a decision at some point and stop chasing the next breakthrough. It's like buying a new PC. There is always a better soemthing in the pipe line. If you keep waiting for the next best thing, you would never buy one.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

zx75 (304335) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855106)

That's it! I'm going to being lobbying for government funding for my genetically engineered winged monkey experiment. Thanks for the pep talk!

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

thechao (466986) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855126)

er... I believe you mean `genetically engineered pigs'.

Re:No, ignoring it won't make it go away (1)

a man named bob (623932) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855169)

I think we should take our cues from the Futurama [wikipedia.org] "Big Piece of Garbage" episode.

Leela: Should we really be celebrating? I mean, what if the second ball of garbage returns to Earth like the first one did?
Fry: Who cares? That won't be for hundreds of years
Professor Farnsworth: Exactly. It's none of our concern.
Fry: That's the 20th century spirit!

Monster Island (2, Funny)

clinko (232501) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854810)

As long as we keep it away from a remote, unwatched island. The Japanese already learned this lesson the hard way.

And for the software industry to celebrate this disaster with a name like "MoZILLA" is insulting.

Everyone is so negative (3, Interesting)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854815)

I don't see this as such a big problem as say having thousands of coal power plants churning out millions of tons of poison into the atmosphere.

Isn't it possible that within a few hundred years there will be a method found to actually use these stored materials for further energy extraction? Not impossible. So let it lay there for a while.

Re:Everyone is so negative (4, Informative)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854908)

We already have the technology. We shove them into a breeder reactor to get nuclear material that we can use. The problem is that Carter put a ban on breeder reactors in the US.

Re:Everyone is so negative (3, Interesting)

Art Deco (529557) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855263)

We have been having a heck of a time getting breeder reactors to work right. The few breeder reactors that have been built have produced electricity so expensive that their operation had to be subsidised and they are very inefficent at producing more fuel. Running a breeder reactor makes more waste disposal problems instead of fewer. Breader reactors produce more high level waste than conventional light water reactors. President Carter was knowledgable about nuclear energy having studied at the Navy nuclear school. There is the problem of pruducing plutonium but the main problem with breeder reactors are that they are too expensive and don't work well at the current state of the art. Currently there is plenty of uranium so breeder reactors remain an interesting technology for the future if uranium prices increase.

Re:Everyone is so negative (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854943)

Isn't it possible that within a few hundred years there will be a method found to actually use these stored materials for further energy extraction?

You mean, such as using a breeder reactor to turn low-energy waste to high-energy fuel? Why, yes, theoretically, we could do that--if by "theoretically" you mean "as a requirement of making world-destroying nuclear weapons", that is.

We stopped using breeder reactors simply to keep from making plutonium. Which would take care of the worst of the nuclear waste, and only leave irradiated scrap from aroud decomissoned reactors.

Wait a minute (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854832)

I thought it was spelled NUCULAR? -- G.W. Bush

What happens at the Yucca Mountain . . . (-1, Redundant)

pete-classic (75983) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854836)

Stays at Yucca Mountain.

As recently reported in The Onion [theonion.com] .

-Peter

So much energy (4, Interesting)

DrWho520 (655973) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854839)

If the waster is radioactive, it is inherently releasing energy. I have never understood why no one has tried to take advantage of this with some kind of "dirty" reactor. Alteast, I have never heard of this. It would obviously not be as efficient as the fision process, but there must be some way to capture that energy and redirect it somehow. Even if you put it in a big bunker and have a thermocouple set up, atleast that is something. Beats tossing it into space.

Re:So much...typo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854880)

That must be the most typo ridden, grammar sucking post I have ever written. Bleh!

Go for Heavy Metal (3, Interesting)

Tim the Gecko (745081) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855055)

American Scientist magazine has an article [americanscientist.org] on "heavy metal" reactors that transform some of the nastiest components of spent fuel into a more acceptable range of isotopes.

Re:So much energy (4, Informative)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855142)

If the waster is radioactive, it is inherently releasing energy. I have never understood why no one has tried to take advantage of this with some kind of "dirty" reactor.

The problem is that the fuel has been "poisoned" by decay products from previous reactions. Enough of these absorb neutrons that you can't sustain a critical fission reaction, and so you're left with sub-critical decay. This gives off energy, but far, far more slowly than a nuclear plant's active fuel bundles do. So you can't put them in a conventional reactor, and you can't get useful amounts of heat off them outside of one.

There are some types of reactor - actinide-burning fast-breeders - that have less trouble with these decay products than conventional slow-neutron reactors. These are widely viewed as one method of disposing of or at least reducing the amount of spent fuel waste. You can also chemically reprocess the fuel to remove the decay products (which are then disposed of as waste, but the majority of your "spent" fuel is reused). Neither of these solutions is allowed in the US, due to proliferation risks and handling concerns.

Re:So much energy (1)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855190)

I think there was some plans for whats called a breeder reactor, which basically revitalizes spent uranium. Believe it or not it was cut for fear of the waste getting into the hands of terrorist. (this was in the 90's not post 9/11) shrugs.

Re:So much energy (1)

psifishdot (699920) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855245)

Nuclear Reaction produces heat
Heat produces steam
Steam turns turbines
Turbines make power
PROFIT!!!

Nasty alphas/betas/gammas/neutrons from radioactive waste
????
Steam turns turbines
Turbines make power
PROFIT!!!

If you can fill in the ????, then you have it made. Radiation such as that from nuclear waste does a much better job of shredding your tissues than it does boiling water.

One thing is certain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854841)

Any new vision for nuclear waste will have a slightly blue color due to the neutron emissions. If things start looking too much like a print of Saving Pvt Ryan, you're probably standing too close.

Easiest solution (1)

Saven Marek (739395) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854843)

Fire it into the sun.

It won't hurt the sun. No, really.

Re:Easiest solution (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854913)

Does your comment scream "I have no idea how much it costs to haul stuff in space" or what?

Re:Easiest solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854969)

Obviously you don't know how much waste is generated each year. According to Regan, it can all fit under his desk:
http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a1_229.html [straightdope.com]

Re:Easiest solution (1)

lucabrasi999 (585141) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855100)

Does your comment scream "I have no idea how much it costs to haul stuff in space" or what?

When I read his comment, I didn't think of costs. Instead, I had a vision of the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger exploding [about.com] in our own atmosphere.

Then, I thought to myself, "Good thing the Challenger wasn't filled with twenty individual rods of radioactive waste when it exploded."

Re:Easiest solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854932)

no it won't hurt the sun, but the 1 in 100 chance of the rocket exploding would sure suck

Re:Easiest solution (2, Interesting)

mogrify (828588) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854955)

The problem with shooting it into space (other than the ethical issues with space littering) is that
1) It's really expensive to lift chunks of metal into space, and
2) The pollution associated with burning untold seas of rocket fuel is perhaps worse than the dangers of leaving the stuff where it is.

Re:Easiest solution (1)

dead sun (104217) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854957)

Fire it into the sun.

Because Uranium and Plutonium are so light it'd be easy to fire them into the sun. It certainly wouldn't take, I don't know, a massive amount of energy to do that, would it?

Launching a relatively light satelite is hideously expensive. I don't want to know the cost of getting nuclear waste off the planet. I think your easy solution is completely ignoring the hard part of your solution.

Re:Easiest solution (1)

DigitalRaptor (815681) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854976)

Once we have a working space elevator this is a great idea. Unfortunately, until then...

NIMBY (1)

NardofDoom (821951) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854844)

I wonder how my neighbors will feel when they find out nuclear waste from TMI (which I see on my way to and from work every day) will be stored nearby!

Nuclear waste disposal the US military way (1)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854848)

Re:Nuclear waste disposal the US military way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854897)

Sorry, that won't work. Not all radioactive waste can be made into depleted uranium.

Re:Nuclear waste disposal the US military way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854948)

Don't worry though. Your tinfoil hat will protect you from the dangers of DU.

Why not store it in france? (1)

murraythegreat (780556) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854852)

You could flavour it with garlic

Or better yet, store it in America: (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855043)

Pile it under NASCAR racetracks and Wal-Marts. It's not like the under-educated, cross burning, morbidly obese (due to eating McDonalds all the time), Bible misquoting, Rush Limbaugh luvin' redneck crowd is going to notice their already inbred gene pool get even more corrupted.

WWFD? (3, Interesting)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854886)

France must be on the leading edge of dealing with nuclear waste - what are they doing about it? France gets a very high percentage of electric power from nukes. I for one admire their dedication to being free from dependance on foreign turmoil.

Re:WWFD? (4, Informative)

radixvir (659331) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854992)

France also has a great reprocessing system [world-nuclear.org] , which would be a great idea for this nuclear waste problem.

Re:WWFD? (1)

TykeClone (668449) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855003)

They depend upon foreign oil - just in the form of money under the table.

Re:WWFD? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855039)

They're not pussies about it like we are. They burn as much of it as they can, they don't worry about Osama hiring a crack team of nuclear chemists to spirit out the plutonium.

Re:WWFD? Link provided. (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855131)

http://www.ocrwm.doe.gov/factsheets/doeymp0411.sht ml

Essentially they break it down and then find method to store it in the future. In other words, they don't have a long long term solution yet.

Of course some people have taken to shipping the stuff to Russia and who knows where they are putting it.

Here's a solution. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854895)

The citicenz of Nevada can put up or shut up. If they want to get rid of Yucca mountain, because giving into irrational hysteria is fun, and a good way to run a government, they can buy it. I think a compounded 20% return on the investment isn't unreasonable, and the states with outstanding nuclear problems can use the money to pay for increased security, vitrification, and reprocessing, setting up the reactors to burn some plutonium, and the construction of thermo-electric generators for suitable leftovers.

Refine It (4, Interesting)

dead sun (104217) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854905)

How about we refine the waste, make it further useful, and save on the amount of waste we create?

Really, if this waste is so awful, why don't we try to create as little waste as possible by using everything we reasonably can? You'd think people would be clammoring to cut down the number of times waste (and live fuel) needs to be shipped, and cut down the quantities that need to be stored away for extended periods of time. Though it isn't like there's that much volume of waste. If I remember correctly, one of WI's biggest, Point Beach, produces something like a quarter of a phone booth's worth of waste in volume per year and provides a heck of a lot of power.

Re:Refine It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854993)

because the UN says we cant use breeder reactors :)

Re:Refine It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855130)

When has the US ever listened to the UN?

Re:Refine It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855024)

a quarter of a phone booth's worth of waste in volume

How much energy in burning Libraries of Congress could a phone booth of nuclear waste produce?

Re:Refine It (1)

dead sun (104217) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855096)

Sadly, Google doesn't seem to convert units of "phone booths of nuclear waste" into "burning Libraries of Congress", so I'm not certain.

Re:Refine It (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855252)

If it helps, I've estimated that one phone booth is approximately 0.3 VW beetles.

Re:Refine It (1)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855208)

How about we refine the waste, make it further useful, and save on the amount of waste we create?

The US decided not to do this, as it presented a proliferation risk (the spent fuel contains significant amounts of plutonium, which was deemed a security problem after reprocessing stripped out the decay products poisoning it).

My understanding is that there was a fuel reprocessing plant online in the US at one point, and I believe the French nuclear power program does reprocess spent fuel. If you're doing fuel reprocessing, you can turn U238 and also thorium 232 into materials usable as fuels (plutonium 239 and, through relatively favourable neutron absorptions and beta decays, uranium 235, respectively).

TO THE MOON ALICE! TO THE MOON! (2, Interesting)

scumbucket (680352) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854925)

How about we just ship the nuclear waste to the moon, ala Space:1999?

Re:TO THE MOON ALICE! TO THE MOON! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855031)

Dang, beat me to it.

Of course, that did lead to an explosion that ripped the moon from Earth orbit. ;)

Re:TO THE MOON ALICE! TO THE MOON! (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855232)

How about we just ship the nuclear waste to the moon, ala Space:1999?

Which would have an additional advantagous side effect on terrestrial maritime navigation, getting rid of all those nasty tides and shit.

KFG

Popular Science Poll - Yucca Mt. (1)

orrinrule (574863) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854940)

There is a poll in the November issue, results in the December issue. I don't remember the exact results but most people don't have a problem burying thousands of tons of nuclear waste under a mountain.

Re:Popular Science Poll - Yucca Mt. (1)

Scoria (264473) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854967)

Are those people radioactive ostriches, then?

Re:Popular Science Poll - Yucca Mt. (1)

lucabrasi999 (585141) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855175)

I don't remember the exact results but most people don't have a problem burying thousands of tons of nuclear waste under a mountain.

I'm sure you are coorect. However, if you narrow that question down to residents of the State of Nevada, my hunch is that the results would be slightly different.

Re:Popular Science Poll - Yucca Mt. (1)

lucabrasi999 (585141) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855200)

coorect.

Uh....'correct'.

burn it up, the right way... (1)

acroyear (5882) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854960)

send the crap into the sun. its the most efficient disposal system we have, and for heaven's sake, its only 93 million miles away.

(yes, i know the main concern out there is that suppose the rocket blows up before it leaves earth during launch? that's one giant dirty bomb dumping its load right into the atlantic...).

And hell, it was the sun's ancestor star that made all that junk in the first place, and deep in the core, our own sun is making more of the junk itself, so it won't notice.

Re:burn it up, the right way... (1)

Bodrius (191265) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855134)

I'm not sure about the numbers, but I have a very hard time believing the sun is "the most efficient disposal system we have".

There is a pretty high cost per ton in sending stuff "up there", even ignoring the risks (which imply extra costs).

Re:burn it up, the right way... (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855243)

Yep, at a cost many thousands of dollars per kilo this is a great way to dispose of many tons of material...NOT

IANANP (1)

Dragoon412 (648209) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854971)

Now, I'm no nuclear physicist...

That out of the way, is there some specific reason we don't start feeding this stuff to breeder reactors? That seems to solve two problems at once: what to do with nuclear waste, and possibly weaning us off our reliance on coal.

Re:IANANP (1)

hairykrishna (740240) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855118)

Nobody will build enough breeder reactors. There's still the non-proliferation treaty thingy (yeah i know, 2 seconds on google would remind me what it's really called but why should I do it when you can?) preventing it too. This is from back in the days when building breeder reactors basically meant that you wanted more, better nukes. But, hell yeah, that's what we should be doing with it. This won't get rid of it all though- we'll still have waste. But the "bury it deep" plan's working for know and there's all kinds of crazy research into polymerising it or getting weird ass bacteria to eat it or whatever. In other words, no problems here move along.

Re:IANANP (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855141)

Plutonium is the reason. It's a political minefield. Also, breeder reactors so far have used liquid metal as a coolant, rather than the water or heavy water which most other reactors use. This is believed to be a less safe design.

Why not use Yucca as the temporary solution then? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854973)

If the idea is that we can come up with more permanent solutions if we just wait, then why not use Yucca as the temporary solution?

The article predicts it will take 100 years for us to come up with a permanent storage solution, which is about how long these casks are good for. What if it takes 200 years? Or 300? Will the casks still be good?

Would Yucca? So what if it isn't a 100,000 year solution. If it's still a longer solution than anything else, that makes it the best solution.

Here's a idea. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10854983)

Wind generators and Solar pannels..

For all those. . . (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 9 years ago | (#10854985)

that say that there is no issue with global warming or those that say garbage isn't that big a deal, how about burying it in their backyards?

Best containment - SEP (2, Insightful)

vlad_petric (94134) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855013)

You only have to store it for the duration of your office (4-8-whatever years). After that, it becomes Someone Else's Problem.

blow it up (0)

wh173b0y (825454) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855033)

i say we nuke it

Re:blow it up (2, Funny)

Scoria (264473) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855102)

From orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

What I want to know (4, Funny)

Ricerocket63 (762497) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855069)

Is what are they going to do with all the Nucular waste. That's a much bigger problem than this...

Just drop it in the ocean (1)

b-baggins (610215) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855071)

Just drop the stuff in an ocean trench and let it get subducted into the crust. It can come out in 100,000 years as part of a vocanic eruption like most other radioactive gases in the atmosphere.

What do you expect for only 9 Billion dollars? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855084)

SAIC and Blechtel can't really be expected to come up with a decent idea for that amount of money, when their friends are getting billions more for not supplying soldiers in Iraq.

Even Republicans should be complaining about those situations...

reprocessing and geologic storage (4, Informative)

kippy (416183) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855119)

Why not just press for reprocessing of spent fuel? All the 250,000 year stuff is from material that can be recovered back into the fuel cycle. If you remove the junk lower down on the periodic table (the real nuclear waste) it only will be dangerous for a few hundred years.

On a side note, has anyone heard of the natural reactor in Oklo [wikipedia.org] ? A naturally occurring nuclear reaction there produced all the same waste of a modern reactor and it all stayed in place in de-facto geologic storage.

yucca is ready to accept waste, vitrification [wikipedia.org] is mature. I really don't see why Yucca is still a controversy other than NIMBY and ignorance.

Never mind about 100,000 years time! (4, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855144)

The climate is changing NOW. We need to use an alternative to fossil fuels NOW. Wind power, solar power etc arn't up to the job , only nuclear is. Theres no point worrying about what will happen in milennia if we screw up the climate in this century since if that happens there might not be anyone around in 102,004 AD to have to worry about nuclear waste!

Re:Never mind about 100,000 years time! (1)

Megaweapon (25185) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855204)

there might not be anyone around in 102,004 AD to have to worry about nuclear waste!

Much earlier than that, I'm predicting a war was beginning in A.D. 2101...

Yucca is not PERFECT (3, Interesting)

SirLanse (625210) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855150)

But it is better than a bunch of casks all over creation. These are only good for 100yrs. Send them to Yucca. If a good idea for using the waste material comes up, we can pull it out of Yucca. This stuff came out of the ground. Rain water is percolating through uranium deposits all of the time. I would rather be down wind of TMI than a coal plant. Put wind mills on top of any building over 10 stories high. That would be a middle finger to the middle east.

A couple of things annoy me.. (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855155)

A couple of things about this story annoy me.

One, is storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain really a "terrible" idea? Storing nuclear waste in the middle of a major city would be a terrible idea. Storing nuclear waste in a volcano would be a terrible idea. Dumping nuclear waste in the ocean would be a terrible idea. Storing nuclear waste at Yucca mountain may not be the best idea, or a great idea, it may even be a bad idea, but is it really a "terrible" idea? Or is saying it's a "terrible" idea one of those little pieces of hyperbole designed to subconsiously sway an argument.

Second, after about a thousand years even high-level radioactive waste is only going to be about as radioactive as the ore it was mined from. Not that 1000 years is a trivial length of time, but is saying we can't protect this material for "100,000 years" really a valid argument, or is it another one of those bits of hyperbole?

But I forgot, this is Slashdot, where we're pro nuclear power, but anti nuclear waste.

I know, -1 troll, but I had to say it.

I have an idea... (4, Insightful)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855179)

If Yucca Mountain won't be safe for a million billion years, how about you just use *it* as the "temporary solution" before you come up with a permanent one? Say what you will about the long-term stability of Yucca Mountain, consider the pathetic short-term storage facilites and warehouses where the stuff is being stored now.

Outsource this job to Indian contractors (0, Flamebait)

$criptah (467422) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855180)

How about letting Indian contractors take care of that? We ship the waste to India and let them take care of it.

Send it to the core... (1, Funny)

DigitalRaptor (815681) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855185)

Too bad there isn't some way to send it to the core of the earth and let it burn up...

But drilling holes that release hot magma generally isn't a good idea.

Yucca now... (1)

dtjohnson (102237) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855203)

I don't like nuclear power. It is very expensive, creates highly toxic waste in large quantities, and contributes to global warming by releasing large quantities of heat into the environment. But nuclear power is here now and we need to deal with all of the waste that has already been produced or the waste will deal with us. Putting the waste in a large centralized cask farm as suggested by the author of the paper is not a safe solution to the problem for even the short term since there are innumerable ways that the containment could be breached by acts of man, acts of God, or by all sorts of accidental 'uh-ohs'.

No Yucca mountain is not perfect and perhaps its containment will not last for 200,000 years but it is a heck of lot better than anything else that has been dreamed up. No, the waste cannot be made safer by encapsulating it in ceramics, even if that were possible today. No, it wouldn't be a good thing if we extracted all of the plutonium out of the waste since the world is awash in plutonium now and the process of chemically extracting plutonium from waste has created additional massive quantities of highly toxic liquid waste for which the only current storage 'solution' is to put it in large underground tanks.

Say no to building any more cask storage pads. Say yes to Yucca. If you don't want to do Yucca, you should have been out protesting against nuclear power plants 30 years ago. Saying no to Yucca now is like getting rid of your cat's litter box. Not very smart.

Yucca is a done deal (1)

Ars-Fartsica (166957) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855233)

There is opposition to Yucca. There are alternatives to Yucca. There are better techniques than those used at Yucca.

It doesn't matter, Yucca is a done deal. There hasn't been any indication the govt is backing off of the Yucca plan, any talk now is just pissing in the wind.

Sounds like a temporary Yucca to me (1)

A.Ichthys (611710) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855234)

The argument seems to be that Yucca won't keep it contained for 100,000 years, so it is useless. So instead, we should put it someplace that won't contain it more than 100 years.

Why not just stick it in Yucca for 100 years, then instead of sealing the mountain look at the available technology for reprocessing, better storage, or relocating. It is exactly the same plan but using the facility that's already being built! And it seems to me that temporary storage inside a mountain is more secure than temporary storage on the surface.

Nuclear Energy Belongs in the Technology Museum (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10855239)

Nuclear Energy Belongs in the Technology Museum
by Hermann Scheer

(This article originally appeared in DIE ZEIT, 32/2004 http://zeus.zeit.de/text/2004/32/Kernenergie and has been translated from German.)

Nuclear energy is still too expensive and too dangerous. Huge amounts of water are needed in a time of increasing water shortage. Uranium supplies are limited. In Europe $1 trillion was spent on nuclear research while renewable energy fell by the wayside.

The end of the fossil energy age approaches. Its ecological limits draw near as material resources are exhausted. The advocates of nuclear energy see a new day dawning. Even some of its critics have joined the appeal for new nuclear power plants. 442 nuclear reactors are now operating worldwide with a total capacity of 300,000 Megawatts. Two and a half times this number will be added by 2030 and four times as many by 2050, says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the bastion of the global nuclear community.
This pro-nuclear argument relies on twofold inhibition. Amid contrary facts, the economic advantages are praised. The risks are minimized or declared technically surmountable. At the same time, renewable energies are denounced as uneconomical, with their potential marginalized in order to underscore the indispensability of nuclear energy.

Trivializing the reactor catastrophe at Chernobyl is part of this strategy. In DIE ZEIT 31/2004, Gerd von Randow wrote that there have been only 40 deaths and 2000 registered cases of thyroid cancer. These figures have been provided by advocacy organizations. Independent studies, such as the report of the Munich Radiation Institute, have identified 70,000 casualties that include desperate suicides and the tens of thousands of long-term victims additionally projected.

Comparing these victims with the victims of coal mining and fossil energy emissions is an element of minimization. However, both the massive nuclear and fossil tragedies necessitate mobilizing renewable energy as the only prospect for lasting, emission-free, benign, and inexpensive supplies.

The deployment of nuclear energy is the result of gigantic mechanisms of subsidization and privilege. Before 1973, OECD governments spent over $150 billion (adjusted to current costs) in researching and developing nuclear energy, and practically nothing for renewable energy. Between 1974 and 1992, $168 billion was spent on nuclear energy and only $22 billion on renewables. The European Union's extravagant nuclear promotion efforts are not even included in this calculation. French statistics are still being kept secret. The total state support amounts to at least a trillion dollars, with mammoth assistance provided to market creation and to incentives for non-OECD countries, above all the former Soviet block.
Only $50 billion has been spent on renewable energy. Since 1957, the IAEA and Euratom have assisted governments in designing nuclear programs. By contrast, no international organizations exist today for renewable energy.

After the middle of the seventies, nuclear energy was largely burnt out, due more to enormously increased costs than to growing public resistance. The limitations on construction have become more severe. Uranium reserves estimated at a maximum 60 years refer to the number of plants currently in operation. With twice the number, the available time periods would inevitably be cut in half. The expansion calculated by the IAEA could not be realized without an immediate transition to the fast breeders for extending the uranium reserves!

The history of the breeder reactors is a history of fiascos. Like the Russian reactor, the British reactor achieved an operating capacity of 15 percent before its shutdown in 1992. The French Super Phoenix (1200 Megawatts) attained 7 percent and cost 10 billion euros. The much smaller Japanese breeder (300 Megawatts) cost 5 billion euros and experiences regular operating problems. Making these reactors fit for operation, if that were to prove possible, would require incalculably greater add-on costs. This path of development would be prohibitive without continued or increased public expenditures. The thousand-year nuclear waste question remains an unresolved problem with unforeseeable permanent costs.

Four additional reasons speak against the future viability of nuclear power:

- Their enormous water requirements for steam processes and cooling conflicts with intensified water emergencies due to climate change and the water needs of the growing world population.
- The excess heat of nuclear power plants is poorly suited for combined heat and power generation because of the high financial burdens of district heating systems appropriate to central nuclear power blocks.
- The danger of nuclear terrorism, not only by missile attacks on reactors, continues to grow with the intensification of "asymmetrical conflicts".
- Full-load operation of capital-intensive nuclear reactors that is indispensable for their profitability can only be guaranteed if governments again deliberalize the electricity markets and obstruct alternatives. The nuclear economy remains a (concealed) state economy.

All this would have to be accepted given the finite nature of fossil fuel resources if the possible option of renewable energy did not exist with an energy supply potential for our planet that is 15,000 times as great as the annual consumption of nuclear and fossil energy. Scenarios depicting a full supply capability with available technologies have been compiled repeatedly by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the USA (1978), the International Institute for Applied System Analysis for Europe (1981) and the Enquete Commission of the German Bundestag (2002). While none of these analyses has ever been seriously refuted, all are ignored by conventional experts.

An electrical generation capacity of 16,000 Megawatts has evolved in Germany over the last twelve years in consequence of the renewable energy law. New facilities with 3000 Megawatts were realized in 2003 alone. If this initial rate were reproduced over the next 50 years, a total capacity of 166,000 Megawatts would result, equivalent to conventional capacities of 55,000 Megawatts. Nevertheless it is a very widespread fallacy to think in isolated substitution steps and ignore increasing efficiency potentials. Renewable Energy has unimagined advantages. Short energy chains replace long energy chains from the mines to the final consumer with losses of energy at every step of conversion and transformation. A relatively few highly centralized power plants will be superseded by many decentralized facilities. The need for wide-area infrastructure development declines dramatically.

This path will be blazed by new energy storage technologies soon to be introduced. Such technologies will remove the alleged permanent barriers of irregular wind and solar radiation patterns using electrostatic storage (super condensers), electro-mechanics (flywheels, compressed air), electrodynamics (supraconducting magnets) or thermal storage with the assistance of metal hydrides. Energetically self-sufficient residential subdivisions and businesses supplied continuously by photovoltaic current or wind power alone will no longer be utopian. Hybrid systems with alternating complementary power plants (like wind power and biomass generators) are other variations. The elimination of ongoing fuel costs (except for bio-energy) and the power transmission expenses that make up the greatest part of the present electricity price would constitute a milestone development. The entire energy system including current modes of Renewable Energy employment would thereby be revolutionized.
Fossil fuel and nuclear costs will inevitably rise while Renewable Energy becomes continuously cheaper due to series production and technological optimization. In the last ten years, wind power costs have fallen by 50 percent and photovoltaics around 30 percent. Today's higher costs are the cost savings of tomorrow.

Renewable Energy is also the answer to imminent crude oil and natural gas shortages affecting fuel and heating needs. Meanwhile, it is the official consensus at DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen and Ford that biosynthetic fuels or bio-ethanol, bio-diesel and bio-gas can be introduced more cheaply and quickly than hydrogen produced from nuclear power, for which a costly new infrastructure would be necessary. The available potential could satisfy the fuel needs of the world as declared at the world biomass conference in Rome in May 2004. Energy-efficient solar construction would supply complete houses with heating and cooling energy. In Germany, there are already 3000 houses that do not require external energy sources. The Reichstag in Berlin is supplied with 85 percent Renewable Energy.
The time has come to overcome structural-conservative blindness and faint-hearted technological pessimism toward Renewable Energy. Renewables must be ambitiously explored and promoted in politics, science and technology as nuclear power was once supported. The combined technological and economic optimization of Renewable Energy will be easier to realize than for nuclear power, while avoiding its incalculable risks. The future age of nuclear/fossil energy should - the sooner, the better - be relegated to technological museums.

The SPD delegate Hermann Scheer, winner of the Alternative Nobel prize, is honorary president of EUROSOLAR. Before his election to parliament, the SPD politician was a systems analyst at the German nuclear research center in Karlsruhe.

World Council for Renewable Energy, WCRE
c/o EUROSOLAR e.V.
Kaiser-Friedrich-Straße 11
D-53113 Bonn
Germany
Phone +49-(0)228 / 362373, 362375
Fax +49-(0)228 / 361279, 361213
info@wcre.org, inter_office@eurosolar.org
www.wcre.org, www.eurosolar.org

Earlier.. (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 9 years ago | (#10855268)

Like an earlier poster said. Glass it all into big lumps of glass. Now that its stable, put a bunch of thermocouples around them, or sink them in a big vat of water and use a similar method to the way they get geothermal energy. If you do it right, you can have a decent energy source that could probably actually profit over time.

Of course, anything 'dangerous' is likely wanted to be buried and forgotten about than used for the greater good of man.

The only problems I see with this are location, stable design, and makeup of whats being stored/exploited, and sorting it all out.
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