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Power Science

NMR Shows That Nuclear Storage Degrades 385

Posted by kdawson
from the quarter-million-years dept.
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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NMR Shows That Nuclear Storage Degrades

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  • 1,400 years (Score:2, Funny)

    by 0racle (667029)
    I'm only going to worry about this if the Weekly World News is right and death has been cured.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eno2001 (527078)
      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: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Dog-Cow (21281)
        It is not logical to live any other way, unless you believe you are coming back some way or another.
        • Re:1,400 years (Score:5, Insightful)

          by eno2001 (527078) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @01:19PM (#17558514) Homepage Journal
          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: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Amouth (879122)
            humm you are saying this on slashdot.. what are the odds that people here will reproduce????
          • Re:1,400 years (Score:4, Insightful)

            by inviolet (797804) <slashdot@ideasma ... g minus caffeine> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @01:37PM (#17558814) Journal
            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.

            Why?

            I myself am not coming back; only my genes will be, and then in a diluted form. I am not my genes; on the contrary, I am just a vehicle for my genes. They grew me in order to help them spread.

            Don't worry, I agree with you about long-term planning. Indeed I have two sons and my thoughts are bent on their long-term wellbeing. All this gives me the euphoric glow of feeling virtuous. But that doesn't mean it's logical such that all parents who disagree are automatically in error.

          • by RicktheBrick (588466) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @04:22PM (#17562302)
            We do not need 1400 years to find a much better way to dispose of this material. What will happen when we invent the technology(rail gun) to accelerate the material faster than escape velocity and than just launch the material into the sun. Future generations will be so bored that they will welcome this problem just to have something to do.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Fweeky (41046)
          Maybe if you're a psychopath. Of course assuming much about your expected lifespan while our technological development is accelerating with no end in sight is perhaps not very logical either.
    • by jimstapleton (999106) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:26PM (#17557594) Journal
      you were probably a fan of storing dates as 2 characters in the 90s a well...
      • by Gospodin (547743)

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

        • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by GeckoX (259575)
            No limit? Are you absolutely sure about that? Without further information on how that data is represented and stored internal to that system I'd have to guess that you do indeed have a limit. This is a well known problem that has bitten a number of systems in the butt in the past.
        • by Poltras (680608)
          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.

          • by Gospodin (547743)
            ...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.

  • Whiskey Tango Hotel (Score:4, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:19PM (#17557466) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • by ciscoguy01 (635963) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:23PM (#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.
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:36PM (#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.

      • by cperciva (102828) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:38PM (#17557800) Homepage
        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.
      • by LehiNephi (695428) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:40PM (#17557816) Journal
        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.
      • 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.
        • by chrish (4714) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:56PM (#17558104) Homepage
          The American government honours treaties now?
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Binestar (28861)
            The American government honours treaties now?

            Yes, and we haven't "not-honored" any that we've signed on to, we've used clauses in treaties to pull out of the treaty itself, but we did it in the way agreed upon by that treaty, thus honoring the treaty. (We're idiots for doing so in most cases, but that doesn't mean we didn't honor the treaty.)
        • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
          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 t

      • by WED Fan (911325) <akahige@@@trashmail...net> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:51PM (#17558010) Homepage Journal

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Qzukk (229616)
          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.
        • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @01:46PM (#17558936) Homepage
          Three Mile Island is an example of how the system actually works to protect.

          Fun Three Mile Island fact: The TMI reactor suffered a form of worst-case failure -- a runaway reaction when all of the control rods were removed and could not be reinserted -- and as a result released less radiation into the atmosphere than a coal plant does in a single day of normal operation.

          Reactor designs have only improved since then.

          There are political forces at work against nuclear power, and they have galvanized a large portion of the populace with fear of the nuclear boogeyman. There is no rational reason to fear nuclear power any more. If we can work on that issue, then maybe we can start to work on the political issues. With people still screaming in terror at the thought of nuclear power, we can never build the momentum to take on the special interests.

      • by Tim C (15259)
        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?
      • by Metex (302736)
        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
      • if I understand correctly, conventional waste works quite well as Candu fuel, with little processing.
      • So it's another "can't look past the quarterly profit reports" problem.

        Scenario A will cost us $100 million up front with a $100,000 annual upkeep.
        Scenario B will cost us $10 million up front with a $1 million annual upkeep.

        Scenario B it is, because we must make our quarterly profit projections.
    • by ArcherB (796902) *
      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... (Score:4, Funny)

    by TransEurope (889206) <(ed.znelbok-inu) (ta) (caine)> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:20PM (#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.
    • until a meteor strikes the facility (likely, considering we're talking about the moon) and launches several tonnelades of radioactive dust into space, a large part of which will eventually make it's way to earth.

      much better, since we're talking about launching stuff to space, would be to drop it on the sun. even if the star ends up blowing it back to space, it will blow it on several directions, making the ammount that travels back to earth much smaller.
      • by geekoid (135745)
        A) IT would be more radioactive the then stuff that hits the earth every day.

        b) He was making a Space:1999 reference.

        C) It's no more likly to be hit then the earth is. LEss likely, infact. Yes it has a lot of crators, but f you strip away all the bio matter from the earth, you would see that it is also pot marked all over the place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sponge Bath (413667)
      From what I saw of 'Space 1999' that kind of radiation hazard causes excessive side burns.
  • So why not sink it? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr Reducto (665121) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:20PM (#17557496) Journal
    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)
    • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:31PM (#17557678) Homepage Journal
      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.
      • by powerlord (28156)
        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.
      • by Chris Burke (6130)
        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 sho
      • by b0s0z0ku (752509)
        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.

        To be pedantic:
        Actually, plutonium can be used for a gun-type bomb, too, provided that it's free of almost all of the Pu-240 impurities. The problem is that this usually isn't the case in real life, and the mass differen

    • by Short Circuit (52384) * <mikemol@gmail.com> on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:33PM (#17557722) Homepage Journal
      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.
    • 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.

      • by AndersOSU (873247)
        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?
        • by mangu (126918)
          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.
          • by AndersOSU (873247)
            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?
          • by GeckoX (259575)
            There's still a large potential for leakage.

            This is why the running theory is to drop it at fault points, hopefully in such a way as to allow it to be subducted back into the earths core...IE: No storage at all.

        • by jandrese (485)
          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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by the phantom (107624) *
      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.
    • Because, contrary to your Grade 6 "Earth Sciences Unit" animated filmstrip, subduction zones aren't neat little escalator-like places where material goes into some sort of geological garbage disposal system like you might have attached to your sink.

      Instead they're messy places where continental blocks are crashing into each other in tremendously slow motion, riding up over, breaking off, dissolving, melting, all that good stuff. Material dropped on one of these places is could just lay there for the longer then we've been a species. However there is a strong possibility this material won't always just lie there but instead break up, on it's own or under subduction-related volcanic or seismic activity, and spread into the larger ecosystem (garbage in is indeed garbage out!)

      While this breakdown & distribution could be a slow process it would be a chaotic environment and 'bad things' could just as well happen 'fast', with disastrous consequences. Keep in mind that while out of sight and generally low energy places the deep ocean beds are not disconnected from the rest of the planet and are also subject to disturbances; subduction zones hugely so.

      So you're talking about essentially land-mining a significant chunk of the planet, some of the most unstable parts of the planet, with the possibility that still-lethal material could suddenly, randomly, re-enter our parts of the environment, with catastrophic results.

      Yeah. No. Not a good idea.

      Better to minimize the amount of material. Convert it into the least reactive forms economically & technically practical. Then using reliable systems (and that pretty much rules out 'under several thousand meters of water' with our current skills) isolate it as much as practicable in long-term stable places, and hope that future generations don't fuck with it in a bad way.

      Finally, regarding the majority of your posting:

      While there are indeed alarmist/ignorant/self-serving 'environmentalists', as there are boobs and headline-graspers in every part of human endeavor, there are also arrogant self-righteous techno-weenies with equally poor understanding of the topics on which they opine. As much as you look down on those you deem ignorant, those who are informed can look down on your ignorance, which to a self-aware person would suggest an attitude-check would be in order. (Frankly you come off not much different then the stereotyped asshats you rail against.)

      • by cartman (18204) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @03:05PM (#17560530)
        So you're talking about essentially land-mining a significant chunk of the planet, some of the most unstable parts of the planet, with the possibility that still-lethal material could suddenly, randomly, re-enter our parts of the environment, with catastrophic results.

        It seems extremely unlikely that waste from a subduction zone could re-enter "our parts of the environment." Uranium and transuranic actinides are extremely heavy elements and they would be stored as enormous 1-ton+ spent fuel assemblies in synrock or passivated glass at the bottom of the ocean. They are heavier than water. Even if earthquakes fractured the fuel assemblies, they still would not rise to the top of the ocean somehow, then somehow heat up to 5000+ degrees celcius, then vaporize and spread through the air. In fact, recovering one of the sunk fuel assemblies would be very difficult.

        However I have read one plausible scenario that small amounts of radioactive waste stored at the bottom of the ocean could re-enter our environment. Over long periods of time, it may break up, then small amounts of it could be consumed by ocean animals, then it could travel its way up the food chain and eventually be consumed by a human eating seafood. However, the chances of that are very small and the quantities consumed are very small, and it would be far off in the future when most of the radioactivity had already been lost. In other words it would not constitute "catastrophic results".

        There was also some concern about the health of ocean animals in the immediate vicinity of waste.

        Still, stable terrestrial storage would be more effective for various reasons, according to what I've read.

        Finally, regarding the majority of your posting: While there are indeed alarmist/ignorant/self-serving 'environmentalists', as there are boobs and headline-graspers in every part of human endeavor, there are also arrogant self-righteous techno-weenies with equally poor understanding of the topics on which they opine. As much as you look down on those you deem ignorant, those who are informed can look down on your ignorance, which to a self-aware person would suggest an attitude-check would be in order. (Frankly you come off not much different then the stereotyped asshats you rail against.)

        Strange. I found the tone of his post to be far more temperate than yours.

        As much as you look down on those you deem ignorant, those who are informed can look down on your ignorance, which to a self-aware person would suggest an attitude-check would be in order.

        Indeed, perhaps an attitude check is in order by a "self-aware" person.

  • 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?
    • 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)
    • by blueZhift (652272)
      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.
    • 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.
  • Waste? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:22PM (#17557530) Journal
    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: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by FooAtWFU (699187)

      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 Mo [wikipedia.org]

    • 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.
      • by ivan256 (17499)
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192)
        1) We can. It's just not necessarly economic to pull it out.

        Why not?

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

        It's either hotter than the stuff that comes out of the ground, in which case it should be better fuel and we should use it. Or it's not as hot, and it would be safer in the ground than the stuff we originally extracted from the ground.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by asuffield (111848)

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

          Why not?

          Because mining more fresh uranium is cheaper.

          Yeah, it's that fucked up. We aren't burying this stuff because we have to. We aren't doing it because continuing to use it as fuel wouldn't make money. We're doing it because burying the spent fuel and mining fresh fuel improves the bottom line of the power companies - the net cost is lower than reprocessing the spent fuel.

          At some point in the future (unknown, depends how many more uranium depos

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by djdavetrouble (442175)
      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by b0s0z0ku (752509)
      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: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dunbal (464142)
        After all, it might make it easier for terrists to get holda some and make a nukular bomb.

              Then perhaps the US would invade itself in search of WMD's and give the rest of the world a break?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by archen (447353)
      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
  • by ChePibe (882378) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @12:22PM (#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.
    • 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?
    • by Chris Burke (6130)
      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.
  • ... 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.
  • 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.

  • 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,
  • 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?
  • 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

  • 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
  • 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!
  • If humans in 3406 don't know how to repackage radioactive waste into new containers using 2006 or later technology, I think they have bigger problems than leaky plutonium containers.

    I'm not trying to be facetious or callous here, but we would have a problem if the MTBF was 1000 years, but this means that some time in the next 1000+ years someone needs to do something that's entirely possible and done every day with current technology. So where precisely is the problem? Just make sure to put a marker somewhe
    • by robertjw (728654)
      I agree, but we should make some accomodations. What happens if civilization falls apart and in 1400 years we are back in the bronze age? That would be a real kicker, wouldn't it? Mankind survives some kind of global catastrophe just to be wiped out by some decaying storage containers containing radioactive waste?
  • What effect does this have on nuclear weapons and their detonation and guidance systems?
  • Nuclear waste has always been the problem that advocates sweep under the rug by handwaving, or empty promises ("The Federal Government will be disposing all that waste by 1998.") In order for waste disposal to sound feasible, advocates are forced into the position of pretending to know things nobody knows and understand things nobody understands.

    We barely know how to build structures or institutions that last for a few hundred years. Nobody has a clue as to how to build a nuclear waste disposal facility tha
  • by dbIII (701233) on Thursday January 11, 2007 @06:47PM (#17565022)
    This problem was expected if not proven 30 years ago - which led to the very slow and poorly funded development of alternatives like synrock for waste incorporation (mixed in and chemically bonded) instead of just encapsulation (enclosed). Unfortunately idiots mainly in the US nuclear power lobby have been pushing nuclear waste as a solved problem ever since it was just being shoved in stainless steel drums and thrown into the sea. It would be useful if that industry spend as much on R&D as they currently spend on advertising - then things may get closer to the wild claims thay make.

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