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Warning Future Generations About Nuclear Waste 616

Posted by kdawson
from the opportunists-we-will-have-always-with-us dept.
Smivs writes "How do we warn people 10,000 years in the future about our nuclear waste dumps? There is a thought-provoking essay in the The Guardian newspaper (UK) by Ulrich Beck concerning this problem. Professor Beck also questions whether green issues are overly influencing politicians and clouding our judgement regarding the dangers of nuclear power."
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Warning Future Generations About Nuclear Waste

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:04AM (#24240761)

    Everybody knows that people in the future are afraid of Zeus.

  • by Call Me Black Cloud (616282) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:04AM (#24240765)

    I would think the increasing number of skeletal remains as one approaches the dump would be sufficient.
  • We don't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rah'Dick (976472) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:05AM (#24240769)
    Simple: we don't. Future generations of 10.000 years will probably have the means to detect radioactive sites from the other end of the galaxy. And mabye they'll even have the means to dispose of them quickly and safely. So why warn them? We should be more concerned about how to warn people in the more near future, like 200-500 years...
    • Re:We don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by silentrob (115677) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:15AM (#24240921)

      Simple: we don't. Future generations of 10.000 years will probably have the means to detect radioactive sites from the other end of the galaxy. And mabye they'll even have the means to dispose of them quickly and safely. So why warn them? We should be more concerned about how to warn people in the more near future, like 200-500 years...

      Try answering the question without assuming that we managed to avoid having to go back to the stone age due to war, plague, famine, etc.

      Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

      • Re:We don't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by grep_rocks (1182831) on Friday July 18, 2008 @10:04AM (#24241621)
        Nuclear waste is a resource, it is radioactive! which means it has stored energy... it is not something to be squirreled away for eternity - it is an energy source for the future - currently it can be burned in breeder reactors in CANDU reactors - the whole concept of storing nuclear waste for ever is ill concieved, it will be used, we should treat it as such.
        • Re:We don't (Score:5, Interesting)

          by DShard (159067) on Friday July 18, 2008 @10:40AM (#24242209)

          I can't agree more. People don't realize that we already have technology which can utilize 95% of what we consider nuclear waste to produce more electricity. Even better is what is left won't be dangerous after a few decades. The mentality behind this effort is simple FUD to keep us from creating more nuclear power. It's shameful neo-Ludditism.

      • Re:We don't (Score:5, Insightful)

        by pla (258480) on Friday July 18, 2008 @10:07AM (#24241677) Journal
        Try answering the question without assuming that we managed to avoid having to go back to the stone age due to war, plague, famine, etc.

        In that case, who cares?

        They won't have the ability to get 500ft underground, to penetrate 10ft thick steel/concrete walls, or to open the individual containment vessels (designed to withstand a cargo aircraft crash).

        You don't need to worry about both ends of the question. Either future people will know what they've found, or won't have the ability to find or access it.

        And even if they could - If we end up reverting to a stone age culture, we really don't deserve to share this planet, so let 'em all die of radiation poisoning from playing with the pretty glowy powder.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Chris Burke (6130)

          In that case, who cares?

          They won't have the ability to get 500ft underground, to penetrate 10ft thick steel/concrete walls, or to open the individual containment vessels (designed to withstand a cargo aircraft crash).

          They probably will eventually. If we're asking what will happen if we blow ourselves back to the Stone Age, well then that assumes we have survived, and humanity goes on. Humanity will learn, just as it always has. Humanity will progress from its new Stone Age to its new Bronze Age. They wi

    • Re:We don't (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EastCoastSurfer (310758) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:16AM (#24240945)

      You're assuming that progress continues and that we somehow don't blow ourselves up and have to start over.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Captain Hook (923766)

      actually I see it the opposite way round.

      In the short term (200-500 years), there is less chance of a industrial breakdown which might hamper our ability to detect radiation, and even if it does, I think our language will still be close enough to catch the gist of a warning sign (which should also still be intact if not exposed to the weather).

      In the long term, chance of a complete technological break down is increased (although I suppose the chance of a recovery and relearning the necessary skills is incre

      • Re:We don't (Score:5, Informative)

        by Tacvek (948259) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:53AM (#24241425) Journal

        Of course, there is little reason to worry about the long term if we use an intelegent reactor design.

        The Integral Fast Reactor design's only waste products have a half life of 90 years or less, or 211,100 years or more. The latter components clearly give off very little radiation per unit time, so they can basically be ignored. It is the other components that give off significant radiation. However, within 200 years the waste radiation levels are no greater than that of natural ores. This means that it is reasonably safe to just bury it.

        The design has other advantages too:

        1. Fuel does not need to be precisely shaped, but can be cast into the correct shape
        2. It is easier to make weapons-grade fuel from natural uranium than from the fuel. The waste contains no actinides so is worthless for creation of nuclear weapons. This means the reactor is really not a proliferation concern.
        3. Because spent fuel is reprocessed in site to extract the non-spent components from it, the total amount of waste produced is tiny compared to the more common reactor designs

        Of course, there are a few downsides, the most notable is the fact that the plant would have higher construction costs than most, and would have higher cost per kilowatt than most.
        See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integral_Fast_Reactor [wikipedia.org] for more information on this reactor design.

    • Re:We don't (Score:5, Interesting)

      by njfuzzy (734116) <(moc.x-nai) (ta) (nai)> on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:28AM (#24241085) Homepage

      I was thinking something similar, though I suspect it's about slightly more sophisticated logic. Something like this...

      If our ancestors are sufficiently technologically advanced, they are overwhelmingly likely to have technology to detect and/or dispose of nuclear waste far more efficiently than we are. In this case, we don't need to warn them.

      On the other hand, if our ancestors aren't sufficiently technologically advanced (to do the steps above) then they are also overwhelmingly likely not to have survived 10,000 years on a planet with global warming and 10,050 years of nuclear waste. In that case, we don't need to warn then.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by postbigbang (761081)

      Satellites can do this now. How do you think we detect who's developing nuclear power? It can't be the bunglers at the CIA. It's a bit of a non-issue, a conjecture better discussed in pubs.

  • Orr we could (Score:5, Informative)

    by clonan (64380) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:07AM (#24240797)

    Reprocess the waste, and then "burn" the long term waste off in breeder type reactors.

    We can get 10,000 year hazardous waste to 100 year hazardous waste....

    • Re:Orr we could (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hektor_Troy (262592) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:11AM (#24240865)

      Which we could then encase in leak proof containers and dump them in a subduction zone.

      Plenty of those around, so just dump it back in the Earth without having to guard it against earthquakes - in fact we'd like those to happen.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by VdG (633317)

        I agree that it seems the best way of getting rid of it. It'll even be recycled eventually. The biggest stumblinng block for that at the moment is international treaties restricting disposal of hazardous waste at sea.

      • by mangu (126918) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:36AM (#24241187)

        In subduction zones part of the material keeps getting pushed around the edge for a long time before being dragged under. In 10000 years a lot of the material would still be sitting there.

        But there are some parts of the ocean bottom that have remained stable for at least a billion years. We could enclose the material in glass or ceramic cylinders and bury them in the bottom of the sea. If anyone has the technology and the motive to dig 100 meters in mud that's under 5000 meters of water, one can assume they will have knowledge of the dangers of radioactive material.

        Besides, that's a good way to keep it away from terrorists, too. Even if they could locate the exact spots where to dig, they wouldn't want to go to so much effort, there are easier ways to accomplish their ends.

    • by PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:12AM (#24240881) Journal
      Rather than bury them, why not use them to make more energy in a fission reactor?
    • Re:Orr we could (Score:5, Interesting)

      by damburger (981828) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:17AM (#24240951)
      We could. In fact, we could do that right now using the Integral Fast Reactor, except that its apparently a proliferation risk. We are willing to give up probably the cleanest source of nuclear energy developed so far, just because we are afraid of petty despots and terrorists getting their hands on a nuke. We are letting a tiny, tiny minority of small minded psychopaths determine the technological evolution of the human race, simply because we are scared.
      • Re:Orr we could (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Tacvek (948259) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:57AM (#24241519) Journal

        The IFR is not actually a proliferation risk. The Wiki notes that it is easier to enrich natural uranium than to create weapons-grade material from the fuel. And the waste has no actinides at all, making it worthless for nuclear weapons. The only reason it was killed was because keeping it around would give the appearance of not doing enough to prevent proliferation, rather than it being a real risk. In other words, it was killed for political reasons, not technical.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by damburger (981828)
          Proliferation is a political issue not a technical issue. Its basically a position that first world nations should keep nuclear technology to themselves, and for me has always held a nasty undercurrent of racism, or at the very least 'white mans burden'
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mgblst (80109)

        We are letting a tiny, tiny minority of small minded psychopaths determine the technological evolution of the human race, simply because we are scared.

        This is the way it has been up to this point, on this old planet of ours.

    • Re:Orr we could (Score:5, Interesting)

      by confused one (671304) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:20AM (#24240979)
      Thank you. And another possibility is accelerator driven subcritical reactors. Not only does it burn all of the fuel, it is safer -- turn off the particle accelerator and the reactor shuts down.
      • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) * on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:47AM (#24241331) Journal
        while short, these two posts are spot on. We don't have to have "dangerous wastes" if we use the right reactors. IIRC, using an IFR, after 1400 years ,the waste has the same radioactivity as my kitchen countertop (granite). confused one is also correct - Subcrit reactors are another viable direction for low waste reactors, and - both run on thorium, and there's 10x as much thorium as there is uranium.

        We need THESE kind of technologies, NOW. Not 20 years from now.

        I would also note to damburger that the petty despots and terrorists only have power because of state sponsored nuclear terror was practiced live and in action on civilians by the USA (viz Nagasaki and Hiroshima) and held the world hostage in the fear mongering practice of the Cold War by the USA and CCCP. I agree with damburger that it is sad that a small group of asshats is making life exceptionally difficult for the rest of humanity. Remember when you could go to Mexico or Canada and use your Driver's License as ID? Remember a time before the DHS? I do.

        This is all a problem of risk assessment which humans largely suck at. 3000 people died on 9/11, and suddenly a multi-billion dollar dept is thrown together making everyone's travelling life difficult and illegal to take cosmetics or liquids on board and all manner of other over-reactive legal nonsense. Every year 50,000 people die on the highways, but I don't see them making cars illegal. How many people died at 3 mile island? Oh that's right - none. Did it shorten some people's lives? Yes. However, the proper response would have been to build IFRs and subcrits, not ban them altogether. Chernyobl is a different deal - that was people being stupid and destructive, so many people died there. IFRs and subcrits and pebblebeds - these are all VASTLY safer technologies, and Mister and Missus John Q Smith from Anytown USA need to pull their heads out of their asses NOW, and get with the program if they have ANY hope of keeping the lights on in 20 years.

        I don't fancy freezing in the dark, as it would result in the disappearance of the forests, and THAT would suck...

        RS

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Andy Dodd (701)

        This leads to something I've always wondered.

        We have yet to achieve nuclear fusion that can "break even" and produce more energy than it consumes.

        But we have achieved relatively simple devices that do a very good job of generating neutrons (such as the Farnsworth Fusor). They operate at a net loss - But what if you use such a device to bombard fissionable material with neutrons? The idea is similar - The fissionable material would normally be sub-critical, you would effectively "turn it on" by turning on

    • by JSBiff (87824) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:32AM (#24241141) Journal

      The parent is right. I don't know a whole lot about Nuclear Physics, but it's something I've been trying to read up on lately. The thing about 'spent' nuclear fuel, is that it still does have, as the parent points out, the potential to be reprocessed and burned again. I'm not entirely clear on this, but from what I've read, I think they can reprocess it quite a few times, until it's eventually at a fairly low energy and stable state to where, like the parent said, it's only dangerous for a short time.

      What people don't realize is back in the 70's, the US was looking into the possibility of setting up breeder reactors to reprocess fuel. The Carter administration made the decision to, for the time being, defer re-processing the fuel, with the given reason that they were concerned about the ability to secure the Plutonium which is produced in the re-processing. That is, breeder reactors process 'spent' Uranium into a mixture of Uranium and Plutonium, I think (which can then be used as a fuel for a plutonium power reactor). The problem is, if someone diverted even *very small* amounts of the plutonium, which might be hard to detect because of how small an amount is missing, they could over time possibly accumulate enough material to build a small but powerful bomb, or at least a dirty bomb. Steal a few grams here, a few grams there, eventually you have a few kilograms.

      Plus, there was an economic argument against it at the time - Uranium was cheap and abundant, so it was simply cheaper to keep burning 'new' Uranium, than to reprocess the spent Uranium. My understanding is that, at least currently, some of the processing and enrichment necessary to turn it into Plutonium fuel, hasn't been figured out how to do very econically effectively. There have been various Breeder reactor's put up in other countries, I think I read there are some in Europe and Asia, but so far the current designs, I guess, haven't turned out to be very economically competitive against other energy sources.

            Personally, as I indicate in my subject for this post, I view Yucca Mountain not as a waste site, a dumping ground, but more like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We are saving the spent Uranium until the time we need it and and have figured out the technologies necessary to efficiently and cheaply reproccess it, and how to secure it better. Because it stays 'hot' for 10000 years, it means we have plenty of time in which to figure out how to reprocess it and make an economically viable energy source out of it. In that regard, the extremely long time spans might be quite to our advantage, as it means we aren't, really, losing significant potential energy each year it's sitting in storage. In the meantime, we just keep buying 'new' Uranium and building up our strategic reserve.

    • by u38cg (607297) <calum@callingthetune.co.uk> on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:40AM (#24241231) Homepage
      Personally, I think we should get a big impregnable pit, and then fill it with some sort of long-lasting lethal substance which will stop anyone from going in there. How's that for a plan?
  • by damburger (981828) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:07AM (#24240801)
    We simply wrap high grade nuclear waste in blocks of gold and help future generations by wiping out all the greedy fuckheads who ruin it for everyone else
  • Giger counters? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by objekt (232270) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:10AM (#24240837) Homepage

    We'll provide plans so the ignnorant people of the future can build one of these
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geiger_counter [wikipedia.org]

  • by damburger (981828) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:12AM (#24240885)

    Welcome our new sociologist overlords

    From the article:

    Ulrich Beck is author of World Risk Society and professor of sociology at Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians University and the London School of Economics

    I can't think of a better person to solve our energy crisis than a sociologist. They have insights that we scientists and engineers simply lack. They understand how to guide policies based on feelings and such, whilst we are just stuck with our equations and physical laws.

    I disagree with him, but that is probably due to my dogmatic, close minded acceptance of the laws of thermodynamics. Clearly, his subjective interpretation of mass human behaviour gives a much better insight into future energy policy.

    • by gunnk (463227) <<ude.cnu.gpf.liam> <ta> <knnug>> on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:27AM (#24241081) Homepage
      But... but... but... how can you POSSIBLY contest the opinion of a man that writes:

      Yet to disregard the "vestigial risk" of nuclear energy is to misunderstand the cultural and political dynamic of the "residual-risk-society".

      Really, don't you think that sums it up nicely?

    • Re:I for one... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Gnavpot (708731) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:29AM (#24241107)

      I can't think of a better person to solve our energy crisis than a sociologist. They have insights that we scientists and engineers simply lack.

      I know it was meant to be irony - but ironically, you were right.

      He is not solving our energy crisis or any other technical problem. He is looking for solution to a problem which is much more sociological than technical:
      How do we make sure that important information is passed on to our descendants for thousands of years?

      I am an engineer, and I would certainly consider the typical engineer unfit for solving this type of problems.

  • WARN them? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gatkinso (15975) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:15AM (#24240923)

    Hell, they are going to be actively seeking out these uber rich pockets of energy, that we have the gall (or stupidity) to call waste.

  • by mikael (484) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:20AM (#24240987)

    In ancient Egypt, in the time of the Pharoahs, medicine was stored in specially made clay pots which had a face moulded into the pot. In that way, the patients could differentiate between cooking herbs and medicinal products.

    Maybe a giant scary face would be one way. But there was an early slashot article where the solution was to have the area covered with black marble and have lots of sharp points triangles sticking up out of the ground.

    • by Floritard (1058660) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:47AM (#24241321)

      the solution was to have the area covered with black marble and have lots of sharp points triangles sticking up out of the ground.

      Terrible idea. Such an environment would just attract the goth kids from 12008. They would loiter around reciting bad poetry and drinking absynthe until the radioactivity conferred unto them superhuman powers, which they would then use to conquer the world and enslave us all.

      Fuck people, try to think about the long term consequences of your actions!

  • We don't have to. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuantumPion (805098) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:34AM (#24241167)

    How do we warn people 10,000 years in the future about our nuclear waste dumps? We don't because we don't have to because we don't have to store waste for 10,000 years.

    It is possible to reprocess [doe.gov] fuel to remove the actinides, which have a long decay time, and recycle them into new fuel. The remaining radioactive waste has a much shorter decay time, on the order of a few hundred years.

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:36AM (#24241189)

    There is no reason to make waste that's dangerous for 10,000 years. In advanced countries like France, which has the cleanest air and the cheapest power in Europe, the waste from its many reactors is separated and the heavy atoms (which are responsible for almost all long-term radioactivity of unprocessed waste) are fissile and are used to make more electricity.

    They thought about making dumping sites for what remains (and it's far less dangerous than the 10,000-year figure), but nobody liked that, so the waste is stored at the plant itself waiting to be used for something in the future.

    I'm pretty sure that we'll need that stuff for something, and it will be a pain to dig it up.

    With proper reprocessing, reactor waste can be made less radioactive than the mined ore in a span of 300 years, so nuclear power could potentially reduce the radioactivity in the world.

  • Deep time (Score:3, Informative)

    by Tony (765) on Friday July 18, 2008 @09:40AM (#24241239) Journal

    Wow. It's not like Gregory Benford addressed this same problem [amazon.com] back in 2000 or anything. Nope. This is a brand-new problem that nobody's thought about before.

  • breeder reactors use 10x the amount of fuel of regular reactors, produce 10x the amount of power, produce 1/10th the amount of waste, and what waste that is has a half life of only a century or two

    so how come we don't use breeder reactors?

    because they can be used to make plutonium

    however, given the choice between dramatic fuel and power reduction, dramatic waste increase and massive half life increase, i'd rather just deal with a little extra plutonium

    somebody in power ha sdecided otherwise

    i don't agree with them

    plus, we can thorium as a fuwel source in addition to uranium, like the indians do

    its not like this isn't being done outside the united states

  • by Ambiguous Puzuma (1134017) on Friday July 18, 2008 @10:11AM (#24241745)

    For the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [energy.gov], this is the solution that was developed:
    Permanent Markers Implementation Plan, United States Department of Energy, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [energy.gov] (PDF)

    Some brainstorming that led to the above document--this contains some of the more "exotic" ideas that were considered:
    Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant [sandia.gov] (PDF)
    Excerpts in HTML format [downlode.org]

    Overview of warnings for Yucca Mountain [doe.gov]

    Basically, the idea is to take a multi-layered approach, starting with simple "Danger" warnings (both symbolic and in current languages, large scale and small), and finishing with detailed scientific information about what we will have buried. There will be instructions to add new structures with translations into whatever languages will have arisen in future societies. Sturdy but low-value materials will be used. There are a lot of other considerations; the "Expert Judgement..." document is an interesting read.

    I agree with the other posters saying that reprocessing should make all of this moot, though.

  • by Carbon016 (1129067) on Friday July 18, 2008 @10:17AM (#24241847)

    A new one to add to the nuclear power fearmongering checklist: concerns about a span of future time over twice that of the beginning of recorded human history, coupled (as not to be too revolutionary: if 50-year-old technology is too newfangled for these guys, just think what'll happen when they start bringing out completely original arguments) with ignorance of basic knowledge about radioactivity.

    But what if in one hundred trillion thousand quadrillion years, insect aliens from the planet Poopazoid become sentient and discover hazardous left-over CT tracer fluid?!?! WILL THEIR SPACEFARING MINDS BE ABLE TO HANDLE THE DETECTION OF BASIC ELECTROMAGNETIC FORCES?

  • by flattop100 (624647) on Friday July 18, 2008 @10:38AM (#24242183)
    If that sociologist had a done a little research, he'd find out that this stuff is already being looked at at the WIPP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant [wikipedia.org]
    • 1. Large Surface Markers - The conceptual design calls for 32 Large Surface Markers erected on the perimeter of the controlled area, and 16 markers erected on the perimeter of the repository footprint, within the Berm. Each marker will consist of two separate stone monoliths joined by a mortise-and-tenon joint; the lower member will be a truncated pyramid and the upper member will be a right prism.
    • 2. Small Subsurface Markers - The Small Subsurface Markers will be small buried disks warning of the presence of the repository. They will be buried throughout the repository footprint, within the Berm, and within the shaft seals. They will be randomly spaced and buried at depths ranging from two to six feet below the surface.
    • 3. Berm - The Berm will enclose an area that is 110 percent of the repository footprint. As currently planned, it will have a core base material of salt; the core will be protected by at least two other types of materials. Magnets and Radar Reflectors will be buried in the Berm. These will be buried at specified intervals in the Berm, producing distinctive anomalous magnetic and radar-reflective signatures. A Buried Storage Room will also be constructed at grade inside the Berm on its south side.
    • 4. Buried Storage Rooms - One Buried Storage Room will be buried within the Berm. This room will be constructed at grade level at the center of the southern section of the Berm. It will be completely covered by Berm material. A second Buried Storage Room will be buried in the controlled area outside of the Berm and the repository footprint. This room will be buried approximately 20 feet below the surface, north of the Berm on a line passing through the Information Center, the center of the northern and southern sections of the Berm and the Hot Cell.
    • 5. Hot Cell - This is an existing reinforced concrete 40-by-70 foot structure with walls 4.5 feet thick. Its foundation extends 30 feet below grade, and the roof is 60 feet above grade. The Hot Cell will remain after closure as an "archeological remnant," effectively serving the function of an additional permanent marker.
    • 6. Information Center - The Information Center will be an open structure having a rectangular design. It will be located on the land surface at the center of the repository footprint.
  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday July 18, 2008 @10:47AM (#24242327) Journal

    The "we'll have waste for 10k years!" is already nonsense.

    As previous posters have pointed out, we ALREADY have the technology to turn 10,000-year waste into 100-year waste with some intelligent choices. I'm quite confident that given another 50 to 100 years of technological advancement, even these will be trivialities by then.

    No, it's (again) simply the fear mongering by naive environmentalists who, unwilling to compromise on a least-worst choice instead of their impossibly utopian alternatives, have effectively prevented nuclear energy from developing in the US for 30+ years. That's the real Inconvenient Truth. Congratulations, I guess.

  • by Ethanol (176321) on Friday July 18, 2008 @12:00PM (#24243573)

    A friend of mine said recently, "The real problem with Yucca Mountain is figuring out how to make a sign that will, hundreds of thousands of years in the future, no matter what language or symbols will be in use by the cultures that come after ours, still be able to clearly and unambiguously convey the concept: 'WARNING: In twenty years there's going to be nuclear waste here.'"

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday July 18, 2008 @12:40PM (#24244179) Homepage

    First, Yucca Mountain is in an area where atmospheric nuclear blasts [doe.gov] used to be conducted without bothering anybody. You can still go there and see the craters. The site was chosen partly because it's very remote.

    Second, any future clueless explorers digging in that area would have to be well-equipped. They're going to have to bash their way through a considerable amount of steel and concrete, so they'll need some mining technology. Then when they get to the concrete casks enclosing stainless steel tubes of glass enclosing radioactive materials, they have to get those open. Then some of them die within a few days, and it finally dawns on the rest of them that they've found something that was buried because it was dangerous, not valuable.

    The problem is not going to spread. If you just had a nuclear fuel rod lying in the open, it wouldn't be dangerous fifty feet away. To get a large scale hazard, you have to grind it into powder and put it in food or water.

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