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Same Ol' Nuclear Question

Posted May 07, 2014 8:47 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: Energy nuclear storage waste

I asked for uranium ore for my birthday this year.

It's not a joke. On United Nuclear, samples start at just $12.00 USD. I'm not planning on starting a weapons program or turning into a mutant, and while I don't have any true scientific applications for it per se, it would make a fun novelty item to keep on my desk or display for parties. You know, for nuclear parties!

United Nuclear has an entire page dedicated to assuring you it's safe to own and handle. Just don't sleep with it or eat it, and you'll be fine. There is no need for Geiger counters or radon alarms. But you should have seen the look on my girlfriend's face when I asked for uranium. It was a combination of "Is that legal/won't you die/how do I buy this?"

In many ways, this scenario is representative of how we've been storing nuclear waste on Earth for the past 50 years. It's a matrix of questions. "Is that legal?" "Is that safe?" "Can we even do this?" While humanity's nuclear future remains questionable, as many countries struggle to weigh the risks and rewards, our nuclear past is questioned: are we keeping future generations safe from radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years?

Many individuals see the high cost of storing nuclear waste as a reason for denouncing it as an energy source. But the cost of other energy byproducts, such as greenhouse gases, may ultimately be substantially higher. It certainly hasn't helped that some governments and businesses have illegally abandoned nuclear waste. For example, Italy's nuclear governing agency and several other Italian officials paid the mafia millions to liquidate nuclear waste in the 1980s and 1990s. This waste, originating from Swiss, American, French and German sources, ended up being buried in Somalia in exchange for guns, or illegally sunk in the middle of the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately there are no means to patrol illegal dumping. There are essentially three accepted ways to get rid of spent nuclear fuel, but beforehand it must be placed in a pool of water for it to lose its decay power. These pools are 40 feet deep with storage racks placed on the bottom. Fuel assemblies, once removed from a reactor, are lowered into the pool which insulates personnel from radioactive particles. Truth is, you could swim in the top 20 feet of the pool before attaining a measurable dose of radiation.

It's what comes after the one to 20 years in the pool that is in discussion, where the material's decay power has diminished to a state where it can be permanently moved. The waste remains highly toxic, so it therefore must be repackaged. Formerly, ocean disposal was the accepted means of eliminating radioactive waste, and until 1993 international treaty all nuclear powers utilized this method. The U.S. has 15 off-shore sites near its mainland, with the closest few located near the coastlines of San Francisco, Calif., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., but there are many more located around the world. Samples taken near these sites conclude that there is some leakage, and other studies show that marine life near the dump sites is contaminated with heavy elements. One Massachusetts fisherman had several catches that included nuclear containers. So now the U.S. is left wondering what to do with fresh nuclear waste, because sinking it to the ocean floor has proven to only delay the issue, and spent fuel pools are expected to hang "no vacancy" signs in the U.S. sometime next year.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is an underground nuclear waste repository located in a remote part of New Mexico that has been collecting transuranic radioactive waste since 1999. The facility features 56 waste storage rooms located a quarter-mile below sea level, and each room is 100 yards long. The plant is expected to be in operation until 2034 or so when it will no longer have room for nuclear waste. Despite several radiation leaks just this year, the facility is on track to reach capacity sometime in the next two decades. After this, the caverns will be entombed with 13 layers of concrete and soil. Salt and water will then fill cracks and fissures around the vessels, known as casks. On the surface layer, a granite structure will host more information about the waste buried below, which will be enclosed in a 33-foot-high stockade. Outside the stockade, 32 granite pillars will feature pictorial warnings, as well as text warnings in six languages. The WIPP is meant to last more than 10,000 years, and the hope is that it will last longer than humanity, and that its warnings can still be conveyed.

The final option is something not yet implemented, such as ejecting it into outer space or inserting it into the Earth's mantle, but these options haven't been tried for clear drawbacks. As such, we're still stuck with the same question that plagued nuclear engineers 70 years ago: what do we do with the waste?

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#1

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 9:28 AM

Isn't there a carpet somewhere under which it can be swept? - a prior label for the modern term "sequestration"?

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#2

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 11:08 AM

Uh, how about we use it for fuel?

We are against it because....

http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nwgs/reprocessing-and-nuclear.pdf

We must assume that technologies to neutralize nuclear waste will be developed in the future....The reprocessing and subsequent use of recovered fuel in fast reactors and and other Gen IV and V designs reduces high level waste but increases low level waste rather significantly...

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Fuel-Recycling/Processing-of-Used-Nuclear-Fuel/

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#3

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 7:44 PM

Just bury it all here:

When she blows, we're all gonna die anyway.

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#23
In reply to #3

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/09/2014 10:35 AM

Looking at that image, and taking in all the info there, I came up with what appears to be a good analogy of the Yellowstone caldera:

"That's one heck of a zit!"

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#24
In reply to #23

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/09/2014 10:37 AM

We're all in trouble if it ever pops!

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#25
In reply to #3

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/09/2014 10:56 AM

Popped over to Google maps to look at the caldera from above, and I couldn't find it, I could find the geysers, but not the mountainous areas at the rim.

So I zoomed out.

And out.

And out.

Then I saw it, and only one word game to my mind, a word I'm not comfortable repeating in a public forum. Rhymes with "Luuuuuuuuuuuuuck."

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#26
In reply to #25

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/09/2014 11:04 AM

Indeed, It is freaking huge. It covers parts of four states....

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#27
In reply to #26

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/09/2014 11:46 AM

I knew the PARK was huge, never realized that the caldera alone could hold Chicago and New York, with room left over for Houston.

You know how some people describe looking down the barrel of a loaded gun, where even something as small as a 9mm barrel suddenly seems large enough to stick your whole head into. It's not even an optical illusion, just a side effect of having 100% or more of your attention focused on one thing (the 'or more' is because you're paying more attention than you thought you could muster on a good day). Looking at that caldera felt just like that, only ... my analogies are breaking down, every 'overblown gun barrel image is still tiny compared to the real thing. ... It felt like looking at the 'big dimple' on the Death star, seeing the 'guiding lasers' starting up, and realizing that you're standing within two feet of Ground Zero.

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#28
In reply to #27

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/09/2014 12:44 PM

That's why whenever we start arguing about the reality of global warming, which many here refuse to admit, I say Yellowstone will kill us all before global warming and rising seas do anyway, so don't worry, be happy.

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#4

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 8:25 PM

My solution is to just put a little in every hotdog.

Lord knows everything else is in there.

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#5

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 8:52 PM

"....The WIPP is meant to last more than 10,000 years, and the hope is that it will last longer than humanity....."

.

The hope? Who's hope is that exactly? I don't put a lot of stock in hope, but if you are going to do it, why not do it well? Outlasting humanity doesn't necessarily mean lasting a long time.

.

A better hope would be that the WIPP lasts until a time when either the waste becomes valuable and is therefor transformed into an asset, or until such time as activity levels have fallen to levels it presents only a minimal problem.

.

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#6
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 9:06 PM

Everyone is smoking hope in Colorado now that it is legal.

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#11
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 3:53 AM

About a year ago, we went to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. They had a really nice display on global warming and the effects on our coast line. In so many words, if they're correct, we won't be around in 10,000 years - or for that matter by the end of this century.

It was very disturbing to see what the melting of the polar ice caps will do to the planet, along with the raised temperature. Maybe we got a preview of the crazy weather this year???

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#18
In reply to #11

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 12:44 PM

"....if they're correct, we won't be around in 10,000 years - or for that matter by the end of this century....."

.

Do you believe the extinction of the human race due to rising sea levels and increased temperatures due to greenhouse gas release by the end of the century has a non-negligible probability of occurring?

.

I realize that you are relating a position you saw on a display at the Aquarium of the Pacific, but relating something like that usually means you puut some credence in the idea unless noted otherwise.

.

I can see that worst case scenarios for rising sea levels and rising temperatures could result in a reduction of worldwide human population. I have trouble finding likely scenarios in which the temperature increases and sea level rising would cause the extinction of the human race.

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#19
In reply to #18

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 1:00 PM

As much as I hate to do 'me too' posts, I feel I should chime in.

If you stop and think about it, humanity is descended from a long string of 'survivors,' we can trace our lineage through an unbroken line (barring gaps in the fossil record) all the way back to the first fish that crawled out onto the beach and didn't suffocate. Look at every mas extinction event in prehistory, and our ancestors made it through alive, sometimes barely, sometimes with just an insanely small population, but they made it through when bigger, badder, more awesome 'lords of the earth' perished. With a resume like that, don't you think that we'll end up surviving the next global extinction event when it comes by. I don't know about you specifically, or even myself, but as a species we are likely to survive and adapt, just as our ancestors did in the so-long-ago-it-might-as-well-be-myth-and-legends time.

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#30
In reply to #18

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/12/2014 3:37 PM

Nobody knows if we (as a race) will be around in 10,000 years or by 2100. What I do believe is that this planet cannot sustain our continued growth, pollution and damage to the environment.

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#31
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/12/2014 4:25 PM

The planet will still be here, long after we have annihilated ourselves.

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#7

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 9:07 PM

United Nuclear has all kinds of scientific neat toys for us 'older' boys!

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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/07/2014 9:49 PM
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#32
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/15/2014 9:03 AM

"Great product, poor packaging" HAHA!

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#9

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 3:22 AM

Power the Flux Capacitor with it!

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#14
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 9:29 AM

Didn't think Uranium waste was powerful enough to produce the 1.2 Gigawatts, that's why Doc Brown had to 'borrow' fresh Plutonium from the Libyans.

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#10

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 3:31 AM

what do we do with the waste?

No clue here...check with Elon Musk.

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#12

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 7:51 AM

Waste is VALUABLE! Throwing it away is worse than stupid, it is criminal! We have spent millions to mine it and refine it, and there is only so much uranium available, reprocess it! The long lived isotopes can be reused as fuel, (about 98% of the original fuel is still there, highly enriched, and waiting to be put back in a reactor. waste is really not waste, it is mostly still usable fuel that has become contaminated with neutron absorbing fission products that reduce the number of neutrons available to sustain the reaction. aka neutron poisons) and the remainder is chock full of useful isotopes for medicine and industry. The neutron poison (they absorb neutrons and do not contribute to the chain reaction) dregs can be vitrified and dumped in geological subduction zones in the deep ocean to be sucked into the mantle. Reprocessing is the only economically sound option. Those dregs are the least radioactive and the shortest lived isotopes anyway, they will be dangerous for only hundreds of years, not thousands.

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#13
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 9:28 AM

Yeas, and if memory serves, many of the Thorium-based reactors tested can also 'eat' the waste material from the uranium plants, significantly reducing the amount of long-half-life elements during the 'second burn.'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium_fuel_cycle#Fission_product_wastes

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#15
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 9:37 AM

I'll buy it, but thousands won't!

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#16

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 10:39 AM

The simple way is to put it where it came from- 1st law of nature -nothing is lost or enlarges just changes form ( or something like that) so when some energy has been removed it is less toxic than before- mix it with sand or other waste and put it back in its original mine stopes- It will emit less radiation than it did before being mined

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#17
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 11:01 AM

That's good, if the mine has been 'played out,' but it it's still active, there's a bit of a logistics problem, trying to put the 'waste' in while trying to drag the fresh ore out as fast as it can be mined. (and mines love speed, based on the standard Production side thinking of 'more faster = more gooder')

The current 'vault' ideas are doing what you suggest, only using a central(ish) location so all the danger is in one place, instead of spread all around. Dead is dead, so one spot that will kill you three times over is better overall than three places that will each kill you exactly once; less' forbidden zones' to secure and guard.

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#29
In reply to #17

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/12/2014 11:51 AM

There are hundreds of "Dead mines" here in Canada- does not have to be one that mined uranium so finding one would not be a problem- and working underground in an active mine still would expose you to more radiation than to stuff stored in exhausted stopes-

I worked in the Elliot Lake and Gunnar region in my younger days and am at this point 87 years young- such afflictions that I have are not U2 Exposure related so I do not see it is going to kill us- old age and other conditions will beat it by a century or two.

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#33
In reply to #17

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/15/2014 9:51 AM

It's like the Safety slogan says...."YOU WILL ONLY EVER HAVE ONE FATAL ACCIDENT"

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#20
In reply to #16

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 1:12 PM

"....so when some energy has been removed it is less toxic than before...."

.

This is wrong. There is overriding correlation between nuclear energy potential and toxicity. Furthermore, the products of a nuclear reaction (fission or fusion) use for energy, although at a lower energy level from a nuclear binding aspect, may be far more reactive chemically.

.

It's a neat idea, it just lacks a decent foothold in reality.

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#21

Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/08/2014 6:26 PM

I best like Solar Eagles first line: "How about we use it for fuel?"

Others have mentioned the fast nuclear reactor, and that's the way to go. Using metallic fuel, as in the PRISM and IFR, implies that something called pyroprocessing will be used; this reprocessing method cannot separate plutonium from the other fissionable isotopes. Thus you can say bye-bye to proliferation. Along the way it will use as fuel the current "waste" getting around 100 times more energy from it and leaving a waste much less in both volume and radioactivity.

But a lot of us know that, and the other advantages, already. How can we get it implemented?

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#22
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Re: Same Ol' Nuclear Question

05/09/2014 10:30 AM

Someone I can proudly stand beside and say, "This guy is saying what I've been trying to say, but he says it a lot better. Listen to him, listen hard."

Lehman, we need more people like you up in the decision-making levels of this country's nuclear agencies.

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