The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists Forum

Author Topic: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?  (Read 5376 times)

Offline thedoc

  • Forum Admin
  • Administrator
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 511
  • Thanked: 12 times
    • View Profile
I have wondered if the geological, tectonic subduction of nuclear waste materials might be a practical way to permanently remove these dangerous substances from the earth's surface and at the same time to feed the Earth's magnetic field. Is anyone working on the development of such notions?

Thank you.


Asked by John Brockman


                                        Visit the webpage for the podcast in which this question is answered.

 ...or Listen to the Answer or [download as MP3]

« Last Edit: 05/08/2013 13:21:15 by _system »


 

Offline MarkPawelek

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 32
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #1 on: 14/11/2013 12:34:28 »
I don't think it's a practical because we can't get political agreement on where to put it.

We could get rid of it by burning it in nuclear reactors. We can process the waste and use plutonium (and other actinides) to power Gen IV breeder reactors. Such reactors are designed to breed their own fuel yet leave no significant long term nuclear waste. Gen IV reactors are fundamentally safer than today's pressurised reactors which use water as a coolant. For example: Well designed Gen IV
  • have passive systems designed to shutdown the reactor in an emergency.
  • will under no circumstances release radioactive caesium or iodine into the wider environment (as happened at Chernobyl)
  • will not melt down
  • because they don't use water coolant :
    • will not generate hydrogen explosions (as seen at Fukushima)
    • will not operate under pressure, with the consequent threat of loss of pressure leading to loss of cooling and release of steam
« Last Edit: 14/11/2013 12:38:28 by MarkPawelek »
 

Offline dlorde

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 1441
  • Thanked: 9 times
  • ex human-biologist & software developer
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #2 on: 14/11/2013 12:58:27 »
Deep boreholes (5 km or more) are one suggested solution. One elegant idea for high-level waste is to seal it in half-metre tungsten containers, put it at the bottom of a deep borehole so that the heat it generates will melt the rock below it, and it will sink into the depths, with the rock cooling and setting above it.
 

Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 11978
  • Thanked: 4 times
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #3 on: 15/11/2013 14:11:04 »
Ahh, just love this reply Chris. That's exacly what was being tried in the States, and found failing. There are no known containers that will contain radioactive waste from nuclear over longer time periods, as I know.

"Chris - A lot of people say, “Well, we’ll just embed it in concrete or glass or something” but then there was this paper which was published by Ian Farnan who’s a researcher at Cambridge University about 7 or 8 years ago. He found that if you look at the ceramics that you put these radioactive chemicals into, because of the radioactive decay, when a uranium atom decays, it fires almost like a recoil as it fires out a radioactive particle. It’s like a gun recoiling into your shoulder when you fire a shotgun for example. This has the effect of knocking all of the other atoms off kilter in the substance. The result of that is that over time, with all these atoms being knocked off kilter, you end up with the material becoming amorphous as it’s called and it’s basically riddled with holes. It’s leaky. So, after just 5,000 years, you'd go from something which was a solid concrete or piece of glass which would be something analogous to a sieve. "

Well done.
 

Offline alancalverd

  • Global Moderator
  • Neilep Level Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4699
  • Thanked: 153 times
  • life is too short to drink instant coffee
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #4 on: 15/11/2013 17:10:24 »
Ian Farnan was only about 50 years late in publishing his work. Radiation damage effects in structural ceramics have been extensively studied since about 1950 and indeed form the basis for archaeological dating of ceramic artefacts - though admittedly most of that work was done in Oxford in the 1960's so the news wouldn't have reached Cambridge just yet.

The good news is of course that everyone concerned (except possibly Ian Farnan) can calculate the future damage to a given container from a given source, and design the container accordingly. 

The real problem of nuclear waste, oddly, isn't the high level stuff. That can be concentrated and deposited deep in rocks or burned in another reactor. The real bugbear is thousands of tonnes of structural metal and concrete from decommisioned installations which is too active to recycle and too expensive to dismantle, move and bury. Plus the millions of tons of lowlevel garbage like test tubes, lab coats, radioactive Kleenex, and soiled bedlinen, from hospitals and industry.
 

Offline dlorde

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 1441
  • Thanked: 9 times
  • ex human-biologist & software developer
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #5 on: 15/11/2013 20:58:47 »
The real problem of nuclear waste, oddly, isn't the high level stuff. That can be concentrated and deposited deep in rocks or burned in another reactor. The real bugbear is thousands of tonnes of structural metal and concrete from decommisioned installations which is too active to recycle and too expensive to dismantle, move and bury. Plus the millions of tons of lowlevel garbage like test tubes, lab coats, radioactive Kleenex, and soiled bedlinen, from hospitals and industry.
Use it to fill the next deepest sub-oceanic canyon to the Marianas Trench (which is a National Wildlife Refuge).

Only partly joking ;)
 

Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 11978
  • Thanked: 4 times
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #6 on: 18/11/2013 01:57:22 »
I understand that we have amongst the best, stable old rock, in the world here in Sweden Alan, geologically speaking. and that we were thinking of trying to sink it into deep mines, 500 m down, filled with bentonit clay, radioactive waste clad in a copper and steel encasing. But we're still debating it, although waterfall (Vattenfall) in its infinite wisedom would love the project to go through. That's the same company now getting thrown out of Germany, more or less, as it bought up old nuclear facilities, now planned to getting dismantled, as well as 'brown coal power plants'. I really trust those guys :) and their approach to a greener world. The worst thing about them is that over fifty percent are owned by us all, aka 'the state'. Tells you something about our new political agenda, doesn't it :) A economical 'world power' in the making, well, at least Vattenfall thought so, until recently.

Anyway. I don't think it's so simple. If it was we would already have long term storage that worked.
 

Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 11978
  • Thanked: 4 times
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #7 on: 18/11/2013 02:03:41 »
by the way dlorde, check out the waters outside Africa for where some of that stuff gets illegally dumped, as outside Somalia.
 

Offline alancalverd

  • Global Moderator
  • Neilep Level Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 4699
  • Thanked: 153 times
  • life is too short to drink instant coffee
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #8 on: 18/11/2013 07:36:21 »
Anyway. I don't think it's so simple. If it was we would already have long term storage that worked.

"Working" is one thing, and quite easy to attain - it's just physics. The difficult adjectives are "affordable" (which is all about engineering) and "acceptable", which is all about sociology.

People seem quite happy to live on hurricane coasts, earthquake faults and active volcanoes, which unpredictably kill tens of thousands every year, but object to burying easily detectable materials that might  just begin to leach in a million years, a couple of miles underground in an uninhabitable desert.   
 

Offline dlorde

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 1441
  • Thanked: 9 times
  • ex human-biologist & software developer
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #9 on: 18/11/2013 10:23:26 »
"Working" is one thing, and quite easy to attain - it's just physics. The difficult adjectives are "affordable" (which is all about engineering) and "acceptable", which is all about sociology.

People seem quite happy to live on hurricane coasts, earthquake faults and active volcanoes, which unpredictably kill tens of thousands every year, but object to burying easily detectable materials that might  just begin to leach in a million years, a couple of miles underground in an uninhabitable desert. 
Yeah; just look what happened to the Yucca Mountain Repository, which was technically very good and well under way - except for the public - and more damaging, political - opposition.
 

Offline yor_on

  • Naked Science Forum GOD!
  • *******
  • Posts: 11978
  • Thanked: 4 times
  • (Ah, yes:) *a table is always good to hide under*
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #10 on: 18/11/2013 23:28:27 »
Wish I could be as sure as you guys, but I'm not. I know that the copper encasing is expected to leak in the Swedish idea for long term storage, one reason for the long term storage project being halted. Another is microscopic fractures even in this 'perfect old rock', as well as a question about the permeability of the clay surrounding those 'caskets'. The same problem as Yucca.

"The Department of Energy’s (DOE) own data as presented in the 1998 “Viability Assessment” shows that water moves quite rapidly through the rocks at Yucca Mountain. As soon as the containers begin to fail, radioactivity will also move rapidly – in centuries or less – to contaminate the ground water in the region. This is due to the same fractures in the rock that will allow the carbon-14 to escape.

Fingerprints demonstrating this fast flow pathway were left by fallout from the very industries that created the waste that would be sent to the site. Traces of chlorine-36 were found by DOE researchers deep in Yucca Mountain at the level where the waste would be dumped. This radionuclide is not found at these concentrations in nature. In fact, there is only one bulk source of chlorine-36: atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted in the Pacific. Salt in the seawater was activated, forming the radioactive chlorine isotope. This “fell out” all over the Northern Hemisphere; it is not unique to Yucca Mountain. But its presence at repository depth proves that water has traveled there within the past 50 years, and proves a “fast flow” path for ground water travel."

And then you have tectonic activity. We was going to another colder climate with a possible small ice age, coming about 5000 y, as I remember, and with it an expectation of earthquakes. Also it is so that this ice can press up mountain rocks from one km down, double the depth for our storage.

Actually I like it better when we can oversee it on a daily basis, the storage I mean.
 

D Jones

  • Guest
None
« Reply #11 on: 22/05/2014 11:51:17 »
Dave, it seems to me, a mere layman, that your first 2 paragraphs involve a difference in timescale of at least 5 orders of magnitude - that's a wide-open door that it should not be beyond the wit of man to walk through, especially for low-level bulk waste. A sub-oceanic active area of subduction, with a relatively high angle of flow, near to a relatively sparsely inhabited landmass of the most suitable geology would be ideal. D
 

Offline Dickison.Richard@GMail.co

  • First timers
  • *
  • Posts: 1
    • View Profile
Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #12 on: 22/11/2014 08:14:07 »
"...Actually, that's not quite how the geology works. Where a subduction plate gets pulled down under earth, it gets a huge amount of friction and that surface layer get very, very hot. That surface layer tends to melt and then come back up to the surface and form a volcano."

So, this means 100% of EVERY subduction zone has a corresponding volcano?  There are NO subduction zones without a volcano?  I find that hard to believe. 

If it is the case that there are subduction zones without volcanoes, what is the problem with dumping waste there?
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

Re: Is there a better way of desposing of nuclear waste?
« Reply #12 on: 22/11/2014 08:14:07 »

 

SMF 2.0.10 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
SMFAds for Free Forums