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NMR Shows That Nuclear Storage Degrades

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the quarter-million-years dept.

Power 385

eldavojohn writes to point out recent research using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) imagery that shows that certain nuclear waste storage containers may not be as safe as previously thought. From the article: "[R]adiation emitted from [plutonium] waste could transform one candidate storage material into less durable glass after just 1,400 years — much more quickly than thought... The problem is that the radioactive waste damages the matrix that contains it. Many of the waste substances, including plutonium-239, emit alpha radiation, which travels for only very short distances (barely a few hundredths of a millimeter) in the ceramic, but creates havoc along the way."

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1,400 years (2, Funny)

0racle (667029) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557404)

I'm only going to worry about this if the Weekly World News is right and death has been cured.

Re:1,400 years (2, Insightful)

eno2001 (527078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557584)

The humor of your comment is not lost. Sadly, there are people who really live with a mentality that doesn't extend beyond their own lifetime. I think people should all be planning for at least 10,000 years beyond their lives if we want to make civilization perfect. Take these people [longnow.org] for instance.

Re:1,400 years (2, Interesting)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558288)

It is not logical to live any other way, unless you believe you are coming back some way or another.

Re:1,400 years (4, Insightful)

eno2001 (527078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558514)

It's perfectly logical as you WILL be coming back genetically if you have offspring. Assuming you have a child or children, and they do the same, you will eventually have a LOT of people connected to you. It's completely logical to care for their well-being. It's completely ILLOGICAL to be oblivious to this fact. Now... if you plan on never having kids, then you are welcome to be short sighted. I think living without a care for the future while having your own children is essentially being a "deadbeat meta-parent".

Re:1,400 years (4, Funny)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557594)

you were probably a fan of storing dates as 2 characters in the 90s a well...

Re:1,400 years (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557720)

I assume all your programs store dates with at least 5- or 6-digit years, right? Since you're thinking that far ahead?

Re:1,400 years (1)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558002)

Our mainframe system stores dates as a binary accumulated value (number of days) since a base date stored in a system parameter table. It doesn't have a limit. :-)

Re:1,400 years (1)

Poltras (680608) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558014)

Oops, sorry, is that 64-bit timestamp going to last X**Y million years? Is it costing me a single line of code? If you answered yes and no, respectively, you may reconsider your statement.

I do not PLAN my software to live that long, but supporting it without even changing anything (when coding right), that's what libraries are for.

Re:1,400 years (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558290)

...you may reconsider your statement.

I didn't make a statement; I asked a question.

But I'm sure your users input dates using 64-bit timestamps, so there must be no problem. And no doubt your output routines are Y10K tested and ready.

Re:1,400 years (-1, Troll)

Poltras (680608) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558518)

...you may reconsider your statement.

I didn't make a statement; I asked a question.

Oh sorry. Is your mother a whore? Just asking. Would people who pay to have sex with her would disagree with this?

But I'm sure your users input dates using 64-bit timestamps, so there must be no problem. And no doubt your output routines are Y10K tested and ready.

Don't be such a prick; UIs can be changed way before the problem comes. Maybe you should learn to separate interface, logic and data (search MVC in wikipedia, instruct yourself), then you'd see why Y2K would have been a 1000 time less problematic without the data storing dates as 2 numbers and logic treating it as such.

Bottom line, UI change: 2 lines, 3 mouse clicks, Logic or Data change: thousands of lines, scripts and testing, and you suck? (see the question mark)

Re:1,400 years (1, Offtopic)

skoaldipper (752281) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558064)

I assume all your programs store dates with at least 5- or 6-digit years, right? Since you're thinking that far ahead?
All my dates are virtual programs anyways, so I store them by hooter sizes not years. And by naming my dates like '44dd.avi' and '36c.mpeg', I really do think that far ahead for our next taudry encounter.

So we have 1,400 years to solve this problem? (1)

clay_buster (521703) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558494)

We've got plenty of other problems that need to be solved in less time than that. Lets park these things for a few hundred years and work on the stuff that will affect us in the next 20, pollution, overproduction of CO2, food production, disease, dutch elm disease...

Whiskey Tango Hotel (4, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557466)

Many of the waste substances, including plutonium-239, emit alpha radiation, which travels for only very short distances (barely a few hundredths of a millimeter) in the ceramic, but creates havoc along the way.

First of all, why is that stuff sitting in a nuclear waste container? It's good, fissile material that could supply much-needed energy to our power grid. Stop being a bunch of pansies and BURN IT IN A REACTOR! That will not only massively reduce the amount of waste, but it will turn much of the remaining material into extremely hot isotopes that will go inert (or nearly so) in a much shorter period of time.

Secondly, Pu-239 emits a very small amount of radiation. With a half-life of 24,000 years, it barely even raises the background levels. At a whopping 10 fissions per kilo per second, I doubt that much of the radiation is even escaping the material. I presume that the real safety problem is Pu-240 contaimination. A problem that wouldn't exist if they burned the materials instead of storing them.

Lastly, can someone please inform the press that the 1980's called? They want their "one of the most deadly by-products" scare-mongering back. There are far more deadly materials in this world than a bit of plutonium. Caffeine being a prime example. We dillute caffeine so much that we don't realize that too a few grams is actually quite deadly. (Find out how much of your favorite caffinated product would be needed to kill you here [energyfiend.com] .) So maybe we can start reporting these things for what they are (engineering and safety issues) rather than what they're not (mini-Chernobyl levels of contamination). Maybe? *sigh* I suppose not.

Someone should setup a lobby group who's job would be to convince the government to let us use our nuclear fuels instead of declaring everything as waste in a mostly useless gesture to stop the mythical nuclear terrorist of the month.

It's an economic problem in the US. (4, Interesting)

ciscoguy01 (635963) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557550)

The trouble with spent nuclear reactor waste is the quantity of the stuff.
In France they reprocess the used fuel, which results in about an 80% conversion to new useable nuclear fuel. So rather than having 100 tons of nuclear waste, they have 20 tons that have to be stored indefinitely.
Here in the US we don't reprocess our spent fuel, because it costs more to reprocess that to just make new.
This is an economic problem that results in us having to stockpile the whole amount of spent fuel, forever.
If it cost less to reprocess, or if reprocessing were required to reduce the amount of spent fuel for storage, we would have and 80% smaller problem.
But we don't.
Personally, I think that would be worthwhile just to reduce the storage requirement.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (5, Interesting)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557772)

Here in the US we don't reprocess our spent fuel, because it costs more to reprocess that to just make new.

Only because the government is subsidizing the eventual building of a storage facility. Also, have we considered the risks of the current state of things - which is that the highly-radioactive spent fuel elements are lying around (under guard, but still...) in dry casks or reactor water pools.

Besides, environmental costs also have to be considered. It's not just the storage of a large mass of fuel. The environmental toll also includes damage due to uranium mining and extraction, enrichment of the uranium - both of which involve some pretty evil chemicals (UF6, yummmmmmm).

-b.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (4, Interesting)

cperciva (102828) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557800)

In France they reprocess the used fuel, which results in about an 80% conversion to new useable nuclear fuel. So rather than having 100 tons of nuclear waste, they have 20 tons that have to be stored indefinitely.

In fact, it's even better than that: Those 20 tons which remain as waste are considerably "hotter" than the useful fuel, and thus degrade faster. Instead of keeping 100 tons of waste for 240,000 years, they need to keep 20 tons of waste for 100 years.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

srpatterson (515721) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557920)

The last 3 make me wish I had mod points

mod parents up!

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (3, Funny)

skoaldipper (752281) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558190)

mod parents down!

I didn't get a Wii for Christmas, so who needs them anyways.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (4, Insightful)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557816)

I don't know whether it's economical or not to reprocess the fuel, but in the US, the point is moot because the US has a ban on reprocessing.

The benefits of reprocessing aren't just limited to the physical amount of waste. Reprocessing also removes the actinides that are responsible for the oft-referenced 10,000-year storage. Without the actinides, the waste is safe after only about 300 years.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

realisticradical (969181) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558542)

Ok, so why does the US have a ban on reprocessing then?

Jimmy Carter screw us, that's why (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558618)

Because Jimmy and crew, at the time, felt SO DAMN BAD about how scary nuclear anything was that the best they could do was ban doing something useful with the waste.

http://www.ncpa.org/iss/bud/pd112801b.html [ncpa.org]

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

leonardluen (211265) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557832)

i thought the reason we couldn't reprocess the spent fuel was because of a treaty we have that restricts us from operating a certain type of reactor that is required in order to process the waste into new fuel because that type of reactor can also be used to make nuclear weapons.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (3, Funny)

chrish (4714) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558104)

The American government honours treaties now?

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558282)

i thought the reason we couldn't reprocess the spent fuel was because of a treaty we have that restricts us from operating a certain type of reactor that is required in order to process the waste into new fuel because that type of reactor can also be used to make nuclear weapons.

Nope, we're already a nuclear weapons state, so non-proliferation agreements don't apply. We can't ship weapons-grade plutonium to other countries by that treaty, but anything we do domestically is ok. There *is* a Federal law that prohibits commercial reprocessing, but chances are that Congress will see reason eventually and repeal it.

-b.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

Ham_belony (820906) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558360)

Do you mean the US have no nuclear weapons?

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

Timothy Brownawell (627747) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557898)

Here in the US we don't reprocess our spent fuel, because it costs more to reprocess that to just make new. .... Personally, I think that would be worthwhile just to reduce the storage requirement.

Do you know whether or not the "costs more" counts the money saved by not having to pay for eternal storage for what's wasted? (And are the people that use the fuel in the first place even the same people that have to pay for the storage, or is it a taxpayer thing?)

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (5, Insightful)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558010)

Here in the US we don't reprocess our spent fuel, because it costs more to reprocess that to just make new.

Actually, we don't reprocess it because there are some very serious special interest groups that have been very vocal and have blocked almost every attempt to build updated, new reactors and processing plants. Leaving us in a much more dangerous position than if they hadn't sounded off.

There are certain political movements that end up causing more harm, in the end, than the particular topic they are protesting. The no-nuclear-power crowd is one of them.

Three Mile Island is an example of how the system actually works to protect.

Chern...churn...that Ukraine power plant is an example of how the system fails.

The U.S. has exactly 0 old-Soviet designed power plants in operation.

Question: How many modern nuclear power plants are in France and Japan?

Question: Who leads the world in modern nuclear power plants?

It ain't the U.S. The U.S. has exactly 0 modern power plants in production. The U.S. has some of the most polluting oil and coal burning plants because the vocal nut jobs won't let us build modern plants of any kind.

Question: What major, technological leading power in the world has the most at-risk power production scheme?

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (2, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558478)

won't let us build modern plants of any kind.

I'll give you vocal nuts blocking nuclear plants, but every excuse that I've heard about new plants of other kinds is simply that the new modern plants are simply too expensive, and vocal nuts are keeping people from building stinky old plants via the EPA.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558088)

Wrong. We don't reprocess fuel because it has been banned since the 1970's, an executive order signed by Jimmy Carter. Good old Jimmy Carter, he will be remembered because he felt so bad for everything that ever happened. Felt so bad.

http://www.ncpa.org/iss/bud/pd112801b.html [ncpa.org]
http://www.ananuclear.org/CarterHLW.html [ananuclear.org]

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558352)

Luckily we don't have that problem with bold tags because somebody is reprocessing them from our stockpile.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

Tim C (15259) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558426)

Now that's what I call a false economy - spend a little bit less money now, to spend a whole fuckload more later.

Of course, by the time it's a problem the people making the decisions will be long dead, so what do they care?

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558482)

"Here in the US we don't reprocess our spent fuel, because it costs more to reprocess that to just make new."

Who the fuck cares? You've got a dangerous byproduct sitting there with a solution to reduce its harmful effects AND get utility out of it.

You'd reduce the byproduct, make it safer, maybe make nuclear energy more acceptable NOT have these byproducts around, reduce the stupid national debate over storage, and increase national security not having storage facilities strewn across the country or having to ship these if and when we have a central storage facility.

"This is an economic problem that results in us having to stockpile the whole amount of spent fuel, forever."

If farmers can learn to deal with shit for fertilizer, I'm sure the nuclear industry can learn to process fuel to recycle it to make it safer and reduce the amount.

Aluminum is the opposite of nuclear fuel; it costs less to recycle. We still process bauxite to make new aluminum, and it's not only because of demand, but what the market determines--some suppliers prefer bauxite because they are set up for it. We are set up for nuclear recycling, but choose not to, simple as that.

The WHOLE of nuclear expense should include proper processing, that being new and burning the old. Other industries have managed this--plastics industries, paper/wood pulp, sawdust (burning as well as other products like MDF), etc. Many of them, the initial cost was more but ended up being a good industry to get rid of waste products from the same industry that produced it.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

Metex (302736) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558486)

We have about 50,000-60,000 tons of nuclear waste in america right now. Sounds like an extreamly LARGE number that should produce large associated problems with it. The problem is how the hell do I picture 50,000 tons of nuclear waste. Then I remebered the Japaneses Super-Kamiokande http://www-sk.icrr.u-tokyo.ac.jp/sk/index-e.html [u-tokyo.ac.jp] a tank that holds 50,000 tons of ultra pure water. Sadly it is not anywhere near as large as what I thought 50,000 tons would look like. But this is just water. Nuclear waste is a minimum of 10x more dense then water. So it would take just 1/10th of this modestly sized tank to hold all the nuclear waste of america? So what about 100 tons? How large is that? http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/celynog/Brittany/kerloa s.htm [tiscali.co.uk] 100 ton rock. lets assume that nuclear waste is 2x more dense then the rock so slice it in 2 and that is the size of our waste after 1 year. it would saddly fit in my appartment room. The problem is not that we have alot of nuclear waste seeing as how it fits into a releativly small space. It is the fact that it wont go away while our goverment is still running and will harm humans/nature 10,000 years down the road.

Re:It's an economic problem in the US. (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558610)

Actually, if we would change our reactor design we wouldn't need to reprocess most of the fuel at all.

Re:Whiskey Tango Hotel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558046)

There are far more deadly materials in this world than a bit of plutonium. Caffeine being a prime example.

You're confusing acute poisoning with long-term risks. A few micrograms of inhaled plutonium dust could significantly increase your risk of lung cancer. That's not the case with a can of Folger's crystals.

Moreover, the "most deadly material" label for plutonium is usually associated with the Pu238 used in RTGs. This is a totally different isotope from the waste you're discussing, and with a half-life measured in a few decades rather than thousands of years, it is extremely deadly.

Re:Whiskey Tango Hotel (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558252)

Please cite a source for your claim about the non-risks of inhaling Folger's crystals. Your second comment appears to agree with the parent.

Re:Whiskey Tango Hotel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558406)

Please cite a source for your claim about the non-risks of inhaling Folger's crystals.

The label Folger's crystals can: It lacks a hazmat warning.

Your second comment appears to agree with the parent.

No, he accuses the media of exaggerating the dangers of power reactor waste, but he's referencing the different issue of RTG fuel.

Re:Whiskey Tango Hotel (1)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558148)

This is really not meant as a troll, but with the recent change of power in congress, don't expect anything relating to nuclear to happen. Just as the Republicans are supposedly pwned by big corporations, the Democrats supposedly pwned by environmental groups who seem to be opposed to all forms of energy production, especially nuclear (or nucular as Carter and Bush call it)

We... (4, Funny)

TransEurope (889206) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557486)

...should store the waste at the dark side of the moon.
I suggest to build a moon base near the dump yard to for
observing. Since there is a lot of radiactive waste, there should be
more than one yard, so the first one should be named Alpha-1.

Re:We... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17557618)

This would have been a good idea 8 years ago.

Re:We... (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558446)

1999 called; they want their moon back.

KFG

So why not sink it? (2, Interesting)

Dr Reducto (665121) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557496)

I have heard that sinking the waste to the bottom of the atlantic right at the fault lines (where it will be sucked into the earth) was a good idea. Why don't we do that?

But then again, I forgot that while environmentalists scream at us to pay attention to science when it comes to global warming, when it comes to anything nuclear, most of the same environmentalists have been known to completely ignore science and act completely irrational (although slashdot readers tend to think rationally about nuclear)

Re:So why not sink it? (1)

TransEurope (889206) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557602)

Maybe because there are a lot of volcanoes at the other continental plate directly next to the fault line spitting lava made of the the molten plate including the in-sucked waste-containers?

Re:So why not sink it? (5, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557678)

So why not sink it?

Or better yet, why not use it? There are hundreds (perhaps thousands!) of industrial uses for nearly every nuclear material imaginable. Everything from illumination products to smoke detection to electronic level detectors to medical imaging and therapy to decade-long batteries use nuclear materals. Not to mention that the Pu-239 mentioned in the article is an excellent source of nuclear fission for power production.

If we actually put the stuff to good use, we wouldn't have to bury, sink, or launch much of anything. Instead, we sit around and worry that terrorists are going to steal plutonium to make a very complicated implosion bomb rather than stealing the supposedly "safer" Uranium we currently use. Nevermind that the Uranium could be used to make a super-simple gun-type nuclear bomb that could be constructed without massive computational resources, dozens of nuclear scientists, and actual test sites that would show up on a seismograph. No, it's much better to worry about Plutonium.

Sorry for the rant. This is something of a hot button issue for me. It's just stupid that we're not putting all this *good* material to use rather than trying to find a place to bury it. It doesn't make a lick of sense to anyone except politicians.

Re:So why not sink it? (1)

powerlord (28156) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557798)

Nah, you just have to think "long term".

Once China brings its new Westinghouse reactors on-line, we'll just start sending them our plutonium for them to use.

See? Solves the trade deficit. We can still export something ... nuclear waste.

Re:So why not sink it? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558588)

If we actually put the stuff to good use, we wouldn't have to bury, sink, or launch much of anything. Instead, we sit around and worry that terrorists are going to steal plutonium to make a very complicated implosion bomb rather than stealing the supposedly "safer" Uranium we currently use. Nevermind that the Uranium could be used to make a super-simple gun-type nuclear bomb that could be constructed without massive computational resources, dozens of nuclear scientists, and actual test sites that would show up on a seismograph. No, it's much better to worry about Plutonium.

If I'm not mistaken, the uranium used in normal reactors does not contain enough U-235 to make a gun-type bomb. So our hypothetical uranium-snatching terrorists would at least need centrifuges or some other enrichment process. Breeder reactors, however, generate weapons grade plutonium, which is why they are considered more of a proliferation risk.

However I still think it's a ridiculous concern. We're seriously counting on terrorists who could rob our reactors and assemble a nuclear bomb to not also be able to do enrichment? They may not even need to do that, really. While North Korea's test may be considered a dud for a nation-state that wants to enable MAD-style politics, for a terrorist group a sub-kiloton explosion from only partially enriched uranium would be just peachy so long as the headlines juxtapose the words "nucular" and "kaboom".

And in the meantime we're throwing away a vast amount of energy potential in the form of hazardous and hard to handle waste when we could just re-use it until it is both less plentiful and shorter lived. It's silly. Sorry Jimmy Carter, love ya man, but I'm against you on this one.

Re:So why not sink it? (4, Informative)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557722)

Burying waste at sea is a violation of international law.

My own idea was to bury the waste in a subduction zone, so that the waste would be drawn back into the Earth's mantle. Turns out, however, that that's also considered burial at sea.

No, I don't remember where I read the above info. Some site dedicated to discussion of the disposal of nuclear waste, IIRC.

Starter for 10 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558590)

Burying waste at sea is a violation of international law. My own idea was to bury the waste in a subduction zone, so that the waste would be drawn back into the Earth's mantle. Turns out, however, that that's also considered burial at sea.

The Laws of Nature and the Laws of Man are fundamentally different. Discuss (10 marks).

Not at the fault lines (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557776)

Sinking the waste would be a good idea, but not at the fault lines. There are regions in the bottom of the ocean that have been stable for at least a billion years and there is no reason to believe that this situation will change in the next billion. Burying the waste in a hole dug in the mud at the bottom of the ocean under five thousand meters of water is probably the best solution.


The only problem is political, there are treaties that prohibit the use of the oceans to dispose radioactive waste.

Re:Not at the fault lines (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558102)

Except for the small technical problem that sea water dissolves practically everything given enough time, and we want these things to be down there for a good long time.

Oh and the other technical problem that we don't know what kind of plants or animals might find the warm rocks at the bottom of the ocean good nesting sites and burrow holes into the containers, eat or otherwise absorb some radiation, do you really want to have to worry about the mercury and fissile material content of your tuna?

Re:Not at the fault lines (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558404)

The proposal wasn't for just dropping the containers into the sea, but to bury them at the bottom of the sea. Under a hundred meters of mud, the containers would be effectively protected from sea water and there wouldn't be any discernible rise in water temperature.

Re:Not at the fault lines (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558510)

Do you know how much water is in the mud and how quickly anything that dissolves will migrate to the ocean? Do you know what plants or animals live in the mud? How are you going to dig a hole a couple of hundred meters deep under a couple of thousand meters of ocean?

Re:Not at the fault lines (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558470)

That would be some seriously deep sea tuna. I'd think most of these heavy metals would tend to stay on the bottom of the ocean simply because they're considerably denser than the surrounding water. That said, there is some life down there (not much), and there is a chance we'd kill it with nuclear waste down there. Actually, there isn't a lot of life outside of the geologically active areas, but even a little life is worth saving.

Re:So why not sink it? (2, Interesting)

the phantom (107624) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558144)

  1. International treaties forbid it.
  2. The faults at the bottom of the Atlantic are in rift zones where new oceanic crust is being produced. The material would not be subsumed into the mantle, but would be forced away from the fault. If you want it to be "sucked" into the mantle, you would need to drop it into a subduction zone, say, off the coast of Japan.

Re:So why not sink it? (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558496)

. . .environmentalists scream at us to pay attention to science when it comes to global warming

The hell they do.

KFG

Why not Send it to the sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17557514)

Rather than trying to bury / hide nuclear waste on the earth, we should be shipping it off into space, or directly into the sun. As there is already alot of radiation in space, so the effects to the earth would be greatly reduced.

Just my 2 cents worth

Re:Why not Send it to the sun (2, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557586)

Unless the rocket taking it there happens to blow up on launch and spreads radiaoactive waste over a few thousands square miles.

Re:Why not Send it to the sun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558280)

Actually, spreading the waste over a few thousand square miles would be a pretty good idea. A rocketload of nuclear fuel won't make much difference to the levels of background radioactivity that are already present. You'd probably want to do it in a better way than a NASA firework though.

Re:Why not Send it to the sun (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557836)

spent waste is about 25-30 tonnes [world-nuclear.org] per reactor per year... There are 104 [doe.gov] licensed reactors in the US alone...

so, minimum of 2500 tonnes per year. and a maximum of 3120 tonnes per year. And that's /just/ the US.

Assuming recovery of useful material mentiond in a another post, that's still 500 to 624 tonnes of nuclear garbage per year.

Any one have stats on
(A) Cost per weight of lift (some sites said 10k/lb is a myth, and another mentioned a reuseable boost that could to 1.4k/lb, I'd like a decent verifiable source.
(B) Does anyone know how much cargo we have lifted into space at this point total (mass), or how much we can lift per year?

Thanks.

Regardless, the numbers *don't* look feasable for this kind of operation.

Re:Why not Send it to the sun (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558214)

(A) Cost per weight of lift (some sites said 10k/lb is a myth, and another mentioned a reuseable boost that could to 1.4k/lb, I'd like a decent verifiable source

For purposes of argument, $10,000/kg (NOT pound!) is a reasonable figure to use. $1,400/kg *is* a myth for the time being.

Sooo... best case:

500 tonnes = 500,000 kilograms
500,000kg * $10,000 = $5 billion

$5 billion is nearly a quarter of NASA's budget. So no, it's not that feasible. Of course, there is a gotcha in there. The reason why the $10,000/kg price refuses to drop by much is that space access lacks the economics of scale. Launching nuclear waste would provide those economics, and cause the price to drop over the long term. So it could be feasible to launch the materials if you could convince the government to fund such a program for a long enough period of time.

The amusing part about such a plan, however, is that you'd probably do more environmental damage with so many launches than you'd do by just leaving the materials in an underground container. Whoops. :P

Re:Why not Send it to the sun (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558620)

but since we are talking about the US, where we *dont* recycle our waste due to cost, it's actually 5x that number, or $25 billion

Space is the solution (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557520)

The solution to nuclear waste storage is to haul this waste into space. Such a journey can be planned such that it is perpetual - it never ends! With enormous distances from earth, there is no way this waste can affect us over here. What about that?

And if we had 100% success rate with rocket launch (2, Insightful)

tpjunkie (911544) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557638)

That would be a good idea. However, every so often (1 in 100? 1 in 50?) a rocket launch doesn't go right...a self desctruct option on a rocket carrying payload of nuclear waste isn't a very good idea, neither is letting a rocket that won't make escape velocity burn out...that leaves engineering black-box type of containers to contain the waste (which is already pretty damned heavy), causing your launch weight to go up, necessitating bigger more complex rockets...(and back to the beginning agan)

Re:Space is the solution (1)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557724)

Using current technology, hauling waste into space is way too expensive. The cost to orbit are currently thousands of dollars per pound. Putting waste into solar orbit or on a solar collision course would be even more expensive. And, of course, any mishap on the way to orbit would be catastrophic for the environment. Interestingly enough, I think that once we have the technology to make space travel cheap, we'll probably have come up with some better solution to the waste problem than dumping it in space.

Re:Space is the solution (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557752)

Plutonium is heavy. I strongly suspect that the amount of energy needed to launch the stuff into space would far exceed the amount of energy we extracted from it in the first place.

Re:Space is the solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558126)

Without any real facts or numbers of course, consider e = mc^2, with e being in Joules (kg * m/s^2) and m in (kg). Depending on what fraction of energy we obtain from this atomic equation, there may be a good chance that we extract quite a bit of energy in relation to mass consumed. Assuming that the ratio of mass consumed to original mass is much less than c^2, then we hopefully extract a lot of energy compared to the mass of plutonium involved. Perhaps enough energy to launch it all into space with a massive railgun.

"Tagging Beta" (0, Offtopic)

flibuste (523578) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557522)

This post should have a "Doh" tag IMO.

Waste? (3, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557530)

A couple questions for anyone who knows more than me:

1) If this stuff is still hot, doesn't it mean there's still energy there we could use?

2) This stuff came from the ground, why can't we put it back there?

Re:Waste? (1, Offtopic)

FooAtWFU (699187) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557718)

1) If this stuff is still hot, doesn't it mean there's still energy there we could use?
How hot is it? Your body is hot. 98.6 degrees F. Doesn't mean it's practical to hook it up to some thermal generator (even if you're not busy doing other things with your life). If you want even a vaguely efficient energy-extraction process, you're going to need more than a few degrees of temperature differential.
2) This stuff came from the ground, why can't we put it back there?
That's what they want to do at Yucca Mountain [wikipedia.org] , but a lot of people keep complaining about it for one reason or another. We'll see what happens... regardless of their complaints, it's still a heck of a lot more secure and stable in the long term than where they're typically storing things now.

Re:Waste? (1)

twoshortplanks (124523) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557744)

1) We can. It's just not necessarly economic to pull it out.

2) Plutonium is a by-product of a uranium nuclear reactor. It doesn't really occur naturally.

Re:Waste? (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557904)

1) We can. It's just not necessarly economic to pull it out.

Should read:

1) We can. It's just that the technology to do so is the same as the technology to make bombs, so it is politically unpopular to do it.

Re:Waste? (2, Informative)

djdavetrouble (442175) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557806)

1) If this stuff is still hot, doesn't it mean there's still energy there we could use?

nuclear waste [wikipedia.org]

2) This stuff came from the ground, why can't we put it back there?

Geological Disposal [wikipedia.org]

Sincerely,
Teh Wikipedia whore

Re:Waste? (2, Insightful)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557868)

1) If this stuff is still hot, doesn't it mean there's still energy there we could use?

Yes, but the absolutely daft US regulations forbid extracting plutonium from spent fuel. After all, it might make it easier for terrists to get holda some and make a nukular bomb.

-b.

Re:Waste? (2, Interesting)

archen (447353) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557936)

I could be wrong, but my answer to your questions:

It is still "hot" but we don't get energy here on earth through the radiation (we could probably get more from the sun), instead we get it from fission. As someone else mentioned we could reprocess the "waste" to get the stuff that is still useful back out. Getting energy from radioactive materials isn't practical in terms of power generation unless you're under unusual circumstances like space probes.

Stuff came from the ground true, but what we're looking at is basically concentration. If you say dug up a mountain then put it back with the radioactive waste distributed evenly then it probably would qualify as basically harmless. However that again isn't too practical. Stuffing it underground I don't think is a real issue if it's deep enough, and you're absolutely sure it's clear of the water table and will no longer interact with the surface. Displacement from earthquakes could be an issue there however.

True, but what about the upside? (4, Funny)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557540)

Yes, yes, we know the problems with this. But what about the benefits? While there may be some negative health benefits, the super hero population is only bound to grow with this recent discovery.

You can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, and you can't make super mutants with laser vision without cracking some radioactive material storage facilities. Let's take a balanced look at this.

Re:True, but what about the upside? (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557840)

you can't make super mutants with laser vision without cracking some radioactive material storage facilities.

Darn right. Who else is going to save us in 2048 when all of our Robotron creations rise against us and try to kill the last family?

Re:True, but what about the upside? (1)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557892)

$#%#@! s/2048/2084/g

Re:True, but what about the upside? (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558086)

You can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, and you can't make super mutants with laser vision without cracking some radioactive material storage facilities. Let's take a balanced look at this.

Yes, we'd all like more super heros like Captain Laser Eyes. Personally though I'm not sure it's worth the increase in the number of not-so-super heroes, like Skin Sloughing Off Man, Riddled With Tumors Woman, and that sad excuse for a hero Admiral Impotent.

Wow! A modern super hero! (3, Funny)

ChePibe (882378) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558636)

Hyper-sensitive man! Able to look through an obvious joke with his penetrating sarcasm ignoring vision! No internet joke is safe!

I kid, I kid...

1,400 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17557554)

That's no problem, it will act as air conditioning for us if global warming continues. perfect!

hmm (1)

SuperStretchy (1018064) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557574)

If the life of the containers was just a little bit shorter, it'd be a perfect gift for an ex- or inlaws.

"Whats inside?"
"Oh, just wait a little while and you'll find out"

Two things... (0, Flamebait)

Noryungi (70322) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557592)

  • This proves that, overall, nuclear energy is probably not the best solution to Peak Oil and Global Warming.
  • Would it be possible to counter the effects of Plutonium radiation by inserting lead rods around the plutonium core?

Re:Two things... (1)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558070)

This proves that, overall, nuclear energy is probably not the best solution to Peak Oil and Global Warming.

It proves no such thing. It only demonstrates that burying it in the back yard doesn't count as the best way to deal with nuclear waste. The Best solution, the French have used for decades... Turn it back into more useable fuel, since most commercial reactors use less than one percent of the U235 present in their fuel.


Would it be possible to counter the effects of Plutonium radiation by inserting lead rods around the plutonium core?

Don't think of thes as some type of containers encasing whole spent fuel rods (which consist of approximately 95% U238 - Only tiny amounts of plutonium appear after use) in glass... They basically powder the rods and add the powder to a ceramic mixture, which after baking, turns into what amounts to a nice solid rock (think somewhere between glass and pottery).

The problem discussed in TFA, alpha particles act like tiny little hammers slowly reducing that rock to dust from the inside out. You can't shield the matrix from the radiation because the radiation comes from the matrix (or more accurately, from the bits of powdered fuel rod embedded therein).

Now, I do have to wonder if that really presents so much of a danger... Although it certainly increases the risk of contamination if someone stumbles on one of these in 10k years, I had the understanding that we embed the waste in these ceramic blocks mostly for the convenience of transporting them. Rather than one-touch-and-you-die levels of radiation, you can move these around with standard construction equipment and even survive direct contact with them. Once we have them in their final resting place, it shouldn't matter if they break down, because we don't intend to go playing with them ever again.

Re:Two things... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558192)

* This factoid has convinced me that a complicated issue is in reality terribly simple and already "proven".
* On the other hand, I have no idea what I'm talking about.

I know that wasn't nice, but I laughed anyway.

In 1400 years time... (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557640)

... if man hasn't found out a way to deal with this problem by then , then its a fair bet theres been a major collapse of civilisation already taking technology, healthcare etc with it, so there probably won't be very many people around to worry about it and those that are will probably have more important things to worry about than buried nuclear waste - such as finding food and not dying from [insert common medieval cause of death here] for example.

Why was thought a good material in the first place (1)

monkeyboythom (796957) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557644)

Farnan and colleagues have investigated one candidate material hoped to do the job, called zircon (zirconium silicate). The plan is that this ceramic material will hold on fast to the radioactive atoms and stop them from finding their way into the environment -- for example by being dissolved and dispersed in ground water.

Why zircon? Because it is a readily produced crystalline structure? I know the lattice structure bears out certain containment theories, but the ceramic expression of this type would introduce error vectors inherent in the silicate. So basically this article says a zircon container might be okay, even after it degrades into a silicate [glassy] structure, except that it will totally degrade if wet or, as I assume, moved.

Not to be quite flippant, but if my girlfriend won't except a zirconium from me thinking I'm a cheap bastard, shouldn't they either?

Re:Why was thought a good material in the first pl (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557778)

I am not sure what this has to do with alpha radiation but zirconium has been proposed as a material in fusion reactors as it is resistant to neutron embrittlement.

Encapsulation... (1)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557818)

If the glass matrix with plutonium and other alpha-emitters degrades, put a layer of "clean" glass around the matrix as a final protection. The alphas won't be able to penetrate into that, and since it isn't producing them...

-b.

NMR "Imagery" (1)

DrLudicrous (607375) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557822)

Quick note- the Nature synopsis contains a graphic that is NOT in the original article. This experiment was a straight-up NMR spectroscopy/relaxation time experiment, not an imaging experiment. NMR Imaging is more commonly known as MRI. Basically, they looked at how Silicon-29 nuclei's magnetic moments precessed in an external magnetic field. Usually this should happen only within a narrow range of frequencies; in the article, their data shows a broadening of the frequencies at which the nuclei precess, implying a breakdown in the crystal structure of the material. This results from a lack of periodicity, which normally would lead to a very specific distribution of local magnetic fields (and thus precessional frequencies). The amorphous silicon has a wider range of local magnetic fields that the nuclei experience, and thus a wider band of precessional frequencies.

This is an interesting experiment- I had heard of NMR being used to analyze containment materials in a talk just a couple of months ago, but this is a different group and a different experiment. Good to see that basic NMR is still alive and well.

We'll find a solution before it becomes a problem (1)

UPZ (947916) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557852)

Technology is expanding exponentially, I believe we'll find a solution before it becomes a problem. Just 1000 years ago Europe was still crossing from Early Middle Ages into High Middle Ages, continuing the Viking Age. China had just invented the gunpowder.

Re:We'll find a solution before it becomes a probl (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17557978)

Right, during the medieval warm period.

Use radiation to make fuel? (1)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557878)

I wonder what happens to other things when exposed to the radiation from nuclear waste? Like, say, water? I wonder if you could use that radiation to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, or convert other things into useful fuels?

Re:Use radiation to make fuel? (1)

phoenixwade (997892) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558412)

You had to mention it, didn't you....

Now we need to circulate the "Ban Dihydrousoxide" petition again......

1400 years huh? (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557882)

In 1400 years we could probably use the radioactive waste to dump into our Mr Fusion engines and go to the Mars base for the day. But Alpha radiation can be stopped by holding up tin foil so if the container eventually breaches, the dirt around the place will stop it real fast. I guess the container would leak the material itself into the ground and that's no good but don't they use a landfill like thing where they put a thick plastic or concrete layer around the whole area to stop any leakage.

Re:1400 years huh? (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558258)

Any plastic liner will be long gone before the container matrix degrades to such an extent that this will be a problem. So yes the issue is ground contamination, but no the don't put in plastic liners, because there is no point with all the effort they already go to to contain the stuff.

Oh, and currently there aren't any long term waste sites, they are sitting in the yard around the plant that creates the waste to begin with, or in pools at the same site.

Why is a fraction of a mm of weakening bad? (2, Interesting)

Gertlex (722812) | more than 7 years ago | (#17557926)

What is so horrid about these plutonium particles if they only penetrate the container "a few hundredths of a millimeter"?

Ok, so you've got an almost microscopic layer of weak stuff... Surrounded by otherwise resilent ceramics. The article says nothing about if these particle continue to penetrate past the weak glass.

All this disrupts the crystalline structure of the ceramic matrix, jumbling it up and turning it into a glass. That can make the material swell and become a less secure trap. Farnan says that some zircons that have been heavily damaged in this way by radiation have been found to dissolve hundreds of times faster than undamaged ones. So if the ceramic gets wet, there could be trouble.


Again, how is water going to get to it unless the whole thing cracks? If that happens, your container has failed, regardless.

Man, am I disappointed. (1)

Zorque (894011) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558118)

I glanced at the headline and saw something about nuclear grenades.

Two words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17558124)

Breeder reactors

Well (1)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558168)

No shit. Nuclear "waste" isn't that : it's highly energetic nuclear fuel with at least 99% of it's energy un-released. The problem is that fear of nuclear proliferation and crude technology prevents us from using the rest of that energy except in the rare breeder reactor.

Of course, just how radioactive will nuclear waste be in even 1000 years, anyway? Most of the hot stuff, by definition, has a relatively short half life. By the time 1000 years have passed, it should be relatively safe. Just don't eat any of it, or spend too much time in the mines...no more dangerous than radon deposits that occur naturally.

I am a fan of the Singularity, however, even though I think due to technical problems it may take a century or 2 to happen rather than just 30 years. I think worrying about nuclear waste disposal is stupid. Once we can create beyond human intelligence, we'll quickly develop technology and resources so vast to make the issue a joke.

Magnetic radiation (1)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17558328)

Yeah and if you store too much of the stuff in one place
the resulting magnetic radiation will reach a critical
level causing a titanic explosion that will knock the
moon out of earth orbit!
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