Could we dispose of nuclear waste in an active volcano?

10 November 2015

Question

What would happen if you tried to get rid of nuclear spent fuel rods by disposing of them in an active volcano?

Answer

Frank asked "What would happen if you tried to get rid of spent nuclear fuel rods by just docking them into an active volcano? Would this work? Is this even a good idea?"

Hugh - Well, it's an interesting idea. I mean, I think we do need to find a safe place to keep nuclear waste for thousands of years really. Some of the materials in nuclear waste are man-made. They just don't exist in nature. So, one of the things we got to be very careful about is not putting really nasty materials in places which where they might end up affecting the biodiversity.

Kat - And also, where they're not going to come back out again and that seems to be the trouble with volcanoes.

Hugh - It is a bit of a trouble with volcanoes, but that's not entirely the case. If it's a volcano that's not going to erupt then maybe what you're doing is because of the natural circulation of the magma that can go in and out, up and down deep into the Earth, maybe it is a good place. But you have to have certainty in this. And certainly, one of the issues we would face is how would you transport these very dangerous materials from where they are in these safe stores, up the side of a mountain.

Kat - This sounds like kind of a James Bond thing, isn't it? he's going to fly a helicopter directly full of nuclear fuel into the volcano.

Hugh - But there is a serious side to this that it has been suggested that a really good place to put nuclear waste would be at the subduction zones of geological strata.

Kat - So, like down by the oceans or the sort of trenches and stuff like that.

Hugh - So that it means that actually, gradually over time, these nasty materials do get taken down into the Earth. But a lot of this is very politically charged. Could you ever get permission - whatever that means on a global scale - to do anything safe with nuclear fuels? I think that's one of the biggest challenges facing the nuclear industry.

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