A Modest Proposal for Nuclear Waste Disposal

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

For many people the sticking point for nuclear power is, what do we do with the waste? We can “vitrify” the waste, but what do we do with it after that?

 Figure 1. The process of “vitrification”. Liquid nuclear waste (solid fuel rods dissolved in acid) is converted into a solid glass like substance. Image Source

Unfortunately, the people in almost every country of the world have not been able to make up their minds what to do with the solidified nuclear waste. As a result, in almost every country it’s just sitting around. And nuclear material sitting around is dangerous. So here’s my brilliant plan. Nuclear lawn darts.

We have a pretty good idea what was happening on the bottom of the ocean millions of years ago. This is because there are places in the ocean where what you might think of as the local underwater climate never changes. It’s always cold. It’s always dark. There’s not much current. There is a continuous rain of very fine particles from the upper ocean. And it’s been like that for the last X million years.

We know that this has been the case for millions of years because we can take a core sample of the top layers of the thousands of feet of silt up at the top, and we can see that it has been undisturbed for that time. The conditions have not changed much year after year for millions of years. Every year a tiny amount is added to the thickness of the primordial ooze at the ocean floor.

Those spots in the mud at the ocean bottom seem to me to be ideally suited for the storage of nuclear waste. We know these areas are geologically stable on the multi-million year scale. It also gives us multiple layers of protection both from human interference, as well as from accidental release.

It is isolated from humans for the most obvious of reasons—it is way down at the bottom of the ocean.

It isolates any leak through the use of several redundant mechanisms. First the nuclear waste is already solidified. So in order for it to escape it would have to leach out of the solid glass. At that point it finds itself inside a sealed welded stainless steel container. However even the best of steels may develop some chemical corrosion. At that point it is encased in concrete. Suppose it gets through the concrete. Then it is still contained by the stainless steel outer container. Again, perhaps the outer container cracks. At that point the leaking radioactivity  finds itself buried under 50 feet of silt and mud. And if somehow it manages to make it to the environment, it comes out in the best spot, the spot where radioactivity will do the least damage. That spot is the bottom of the ocean. Here’s why.

On land there are a number of scarce elements that are necessary for life. One of them is calcium. We needed for our bones and our teeth. So the bodies of land animals have developed special mechanisms that gather up these various scarce elements like calcium and concentrate them so we can use them in our bodies.

This makes for trouble. When radioactive elements enter the environment, our bodies avidly seek them out. We concentrate these radioactive elements, and they then damage our bodies.

The ocean, on the other hand, is a veritable stew of all kinds of chemical compounds. Take iodine as an example. Radioactive iodine on land is concentrated by our bodies and stored in our thyroid glands. And since there is so little iodine around on land, any radioactive iodine in the environment stands a good chance of being picked up by some living animal. Thus, it is dangerous.

In the ocean, however, iodine is quite common. It’s responsible for the “medicinal” smell of seaweed. There’s lots and lots of iodine in the ocean.

So where will a spill of radioactive iodine cause more damage? Obviously, the answer is on land. In the ocean, at the very bottom of the ocean, that radioactive iodine will be immediately diluted among millions and millions of atoms of iodine which are already there. This has two effects. First, the sea creatures use iodine as well—but they have no special mechanisms to pick it up and concentrate it because it exists all around them. Second, because of the large amount of natural iodine in the ocean, the concentration of radioactive iodine in the ocean is very low compared to natural abundance. So between the animals not concentrating the iodine, and the low and well-diluted levels of radioactive iodine within the reservoir of natural iodine, any release is much less dangerous in the ocean than on land. And for the obvious reasons of dilution and separation from the larger surface biosphere, a release is much less dangerous at the bottom of the ocean than at the top.

Now, how to get the nuclear waste down to the ocean bottom and bury it there? I propose a very low-tech method, using nuclear lawn darts. The plan is to seal two or three of the canisters of vitrified nuclear waste into what is in essence a giant stainless steel tuna fish. This tuna would be loaded aboard a large vessel. At a predetermined spot in the ocean it would be dropped over the side. If sophisticated steering is desired, that can be achieved through the use of steerable vanes. With proper hydrodynamic design, they should be capable of reaching reasonable speeds. This should be enough to bury them entirely in the mud at depth. (Naturally, a suitable site with appropriately soft silt, will need to be chosen.)

Figure 2 shows a cross-section drawing of what such a disposal system might look like. It is modeled after the shape of an oceanic tuna, which are capable of speeds up to 45 miles an hour (70 km/h).  This should give it plenty of speed to be able to bury itself deeply in the ocean floor.

Figure 2. Cross section of a Nuclear Lawn Dart.  The illustration shows the outer stainless steel shell, the inner concrete, and the stainless steel casks containing vitrified nuclear waste. Three individual containers are shown inside the dart. Background Graphic.

This design gives great strength and durability, and provides redundant levels of containment for the nuclear waste.

Figure 3. The process of dropping a nuclear dart. 

Each nuclear dart will have a buoy to mark the location, attached to a short length of cable which will deploy automatically when the nuclear tuna strikes the ocean bottom. Each buoy will contain a transponder that can report back the condition (temperature, pressure) of the dart. These will allow that particular nuclear tuna to be located, identified, and retrieved as necessary. This would allow all nuclear darts to be retrieved quite simply by hooking onto the cable. That cable is connected to a lifting ring at the stern of the nuclear dart and which would serve to hoist directly up out of its resting place. If there were to be any radioactive leakage, it could be detected and the leaking and nuclear dart could be retrieved and fixed. Anyhow, that’s my bozo solution for how to deal with nuclear waste. Put it into a streamlined projectile, drop it over the side of a ship, and let it bury itself in the bottom of the ocean. What could be simpler?

Possible objections? One I can think of is the issue of heat. Radioactive decay gives off heat. How well this will be dispersed by the surrounding mud is an interesting question. However it doesn’t seem to be an unsolvable question. Simple experimentation will bring that to a quick resolution. That will give us the limitations on the number and amount and density of these kind of disposal units that the ocean floor can sustain. In addition, since each dart will be (relatively) cheap, we can reduce the concentration of the fuel in each dart and increase the number of darts. This will reduce the heat generated in each dart.

Another is the deceleration when the dart hits the ocean floor. Again, this can be measured (it will differ for each site) and the darts suitably engineered to resist the forces involved.

So. What are the possible objections to this scheme? All submissions gratefully accepted.

My best to all,

w.

[UPDATE] A number of people have said in comments that if I can retrieve them, someone else can too … a valid point. Scratch the retrieval cable, bury them and forget about them.

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166 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal for Nuclear Waste Disposal

  1. Actually, my preferred target areas are the subduction trenches. Add a few 10s of millions of years recycling through the mantle.

  2. No immediate objections. Alternatively you could play darts in outback South Australia with just as much success.

    Also, the development of new nuclear technologies and processes like the Thorium cycle will end up producing far less (~1%) stuff that has to be stored in the first place, as well as generating more energy to start with.

  3. Willis – check out Synroc. About 30 year ago it was invented and has a far better ability to resist leaching compared to vitrified glass.

    The biggest problem you will have is the wailers who cry “oooh but its in the ocean and will spread everywhere”.

    You also don’t really need to worry about the iodine very much, its half-life is too short. Its the strontium and caesium you need to be concerned about. Provided your proposal can lock stuff up for about 4 to 10 half-lives its probably got some legs.

  4. An ingenious but appealingly simple solution.

    But the biggest objection to this solution, without a doubt?

    The fact that neither the politicians, nor their green activist chums, want a solution. They see it as more useful to have the nuclear waste sitting about, so they can point to it and scare people about how dangerous it is.

  5. Excellent article. This is exactly (to a spooky level of detail!) what I have been saying for years.
    In 1988 I was involved in an oceanography expedition off New Guinea and we took core samples from depths of 10km. The boffin on board told me all about the subbottom layers of sludge and how much time passes with nothing happening down there.
    I think that this is such a perfect solution.
    I can imagine the knee jerk reaction but have yet to hear a serious criticism of the idea.

    Point out also that every cubic kilometre of sea water already contains 200 tons of Uranium…

  6. This is an excellent, redundantly safe, economic and rational solution to nuclear disposal.

    Sadly, it is certain to be rejected because nuclear-phobia is a state religion, not a rational belief system. Anti-nuclear superstitious dread is so strong among the majority population of most industrial countries that reason will not be listened to. Concerning science and public opinion, we are in an absolute dark age with no light at the end of the tunnel.

    Great article, do your best to avoid being burned at the stake!

  7. A simple concept, simply communicated. Seems OK to this non-scientist. In my view, too much stuff is way too complicated and makes my head hurt thinking about it. Never any brain pain from Willis’ ideas!

  8. What’s wrong with a cave in Nevada? That way we can retrieve it for reprocessing once we get over our pc horror of clean green nuke power.

  9. Aside from being totally brilliant, no objections. Why do I appear to object to the brilliance? You be the judge. The panicking juggernaut of bureaucracy surrounding nuclear waste is incapable of comprehending simplicity.
    The transponder & grapple? Omit it. We want this stuff to be gone. No means of getting it back. If dropped in a subduction zone, it will either get swallowed up in the trench or buried in the scraped-off accretionary wedge on the overlying plate. Either way, it’s gone. By the time it gets digested to the point of being shot out of an andesitic stratovolcano, it will have decayed to nothing.
    Either way, it can’t be used as a dirty bomb…even if it DID get hot and metamorphose some adjacent ooze, in 35,000 feet of water the cold and crushing pressure would keep it safe.
    But good luck getting the whole brilliant, simple, elegant, and ultimately achievable idea past the usual screeching herd of dissenters who want us to get quickly back to the dark ages.

  10. Interesting solution. But building thorium reactors capable of burning highly active nuclear waste still sounds more like a win-win solution to me!

  11. Appealing idea, but on first sight it would seem to breach Marpol 73/78 (disposal at sea of harmful substances in packaged form) – see

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Convention_for_the_Prevention_of_Pollution_from_Ships

    I think the concept (and the target areas for the dumping) would need further international agreement before it is lawful in international waters – and some governments may well object simply on principle, so it may not be feasible whatever the merits.

  12. Nice idea. I’d rather keep the stuff on land where we could get the usable fuel back out of it, though. (Most reactors today leave most of the fuel unused. The “waste” is largely usable uranium fuel…)

    But if folks are determined to dump the stuff, this seems like a reasonable way. I’d suggest using waters deeper than any fishing trawl will ever go…

    BTW, we lost a nuclear bomb of the Carolina coast. It is believed to have self buried into the mud and folks have never been able to find it.

    There are somewhere over 4 Billion Tons of Uranium disolved in the ocean. It’s a very big place. If one of these things (or all of them, even) did leak, I suspect it would be of no consequence at all…

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2007/11/two-proposals-for-mining-ocean-for-720.html

    There is 4 to 4.6 billion tons of Uranium in seawater. At the $160/kg price, this would be equal to $720 trillion for 4.5 billion tons.

    So it would take one heck of a lot of ‘waste’ to have an impact on the radioactive levels… Or you could drop them into a subducting trench. In a few hundred million years they would be recycled into new mineral deposits on the new mountains formed. At least that way the resource would eventually be recycled ;-)

  13. An interesting possible solution. Somtimes the simplist ideas are the most practical and once a practical way of completly getting rid of waste is found then the darts could be retrived. I am sure there will be the usual ‘instant’ objections to the idea, but it could be a good place to start, after all, most other solutions seem to be more dngerous.

  14. Just feeding the craziness. Nuclear waste is toxic waste, but toxic waste that happens to “get better” after some number of half lifes. Carcinogenic, mutagenic heavy metal poisons like mercury *never* “get better” when buried away, yet somehow no one plan perpetual vigils for the disposal sites. Not only that, but the portions are immensely larger.

    The whole nuclear waste controversy is an absurd crock.

  15. Add an aluminum accordion style or telescopic style extension on to the tip that will act as a crumple zone, then you will then have a known maximum deceleration.

    You will also need active steering and a gyro (inertial guidance) to maintain the 90 degree impact angle through the unknown currents and eddies of decent.

    Make it nose heavy, steering fins at the front.

    Design the delivery vessel such that the launch is from the bottom of the hull through a tube that extends to above the water line inside the ship, inside the ship. That thing looks heavy and would likely drag a Zodiac full of Greenpeace people to the bottom of the sea.

    I will make a very boring video if you can not actually see anything enter the water. Boring is good.

  16. The idea of ‘mining’ sea water is a bit ‘theoretical’ -it will still be more economical to simply dig it up for a while yet.

  17. Willis,

    Technically, the ‘problem’ of nuclear waste is a solved problem, and has been for decades. The only problem that exists is a political problem, and is as intractable as all such are.

    Firstly, the amounts involved are tiny, and as E.M. Smith notes above, for the transuranic and similar stuff, reprocess it to remove anything useful, and shove the rest into an undersea subduction zone – send it back to where it came from. Or just dump it unprocessed. With the atomic weights involved, it’s not going to float to the surface.
    Remember also that much of the supposed nuclear waste is ‘low level waste’, and is absolutely anything used at the nuclear facility – used paper towels and the like. The NRC on their ‘low level waste’ page says – ‘This waste typically consists of contaminated protective shoe covers and clothing, wiping rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipments and tools, luminous dials, medical tubes, swabs, injection needles, syringes, and laboratory animal carcasses and tissues.’
    I suspect that ‘contaminated’ here means ‘used in a nuclear facility’ regardless of any actual exposure to nuclear material?

  18. One other thing, you will need to have a set of hard plate sonar reflectors or controllable active sonar transmitter(s) on the seabed in the target area to make certain that there are no whales in the area during delivery. If one blue whale bobs to the surface or washes up on a beach somewhere with that thing stuck in it your investment is lost. You would also need to publish well in advance when and where you are going to deliver so that there is no chance of sinking a submarine.

  19. Thanks again Willis for A Great Thought!

    If we have to have Uranium reactors then this is the best solution for waste disposal I have heard of yet. However, Thorium sounds like a better, longer term solution to me – I’m with Espen here. Please look it up and let us have your thoughts on it!

    As ever, Stu.

  20. Perhaps we should sink these darts in the North Arabian Sea where the heat generated will remind Osama Bin Laden that that he has not gone to the place where there are 72 virgins.

  21. Willis – you are straying out of your competence field. Radioactive iodine is not a problem – by the time you get to vitrify the waste, it is long decayed away. Most liquid nuclear waste is old and the long-lived nuclides dominate – like caesium-137 and the actinides (plutonium, etc). Neptunium is interestingly, given its name, the most problematic, with a long half-life and great solubility – also an alpha emitter.

    In the UK we have a plant that vitrifies liquid waste – and it has had no end of engineering problems (I know because I was actively engaged in pressing the British authorities to vitrify the waste – by the Irish government – because the storage of the liquid is such a high risk). But you would not want to go through the whole reprocessing of solid spent fuel and turning it into liquid in the first place – the contamination problems are immense, and it is not economic to recover the unused uranium nor use the plutonium in mixed-oxide fuel – apart from the higher risks of accidents, discharges and worker exposure. The ‘best’ solution is to do what most non-weapon countries have done – store the spent fuel.

    The oceans are a global commons (treated badly I know) – and there are many people – simple fishermen, who regard it as a sacred place. They are not easy to convince (nor should they be) that what technocratic experts tell them is a safe dumping operation that solves a lot of rich-country energy-supply problems (apparently) is actually safe. And safety may not be their main concern – but then sanctity is not something westerners much understand, especially where the Earth (or Ocean) is concerned.

    I spent 15 years on this case – from being on the editorial board of the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity to the Research Advisory Group at the UK’s department of Environment, plus a seat on a government commission that eventually banned low-level dumping operations – advising also the governments of Spain and Ireland and several oil-companies who developed drilling technologies for territorial waters (the free-falling penetrators into international mud are an old idea from the 1980s that was not preferred). I also acted as Greenpeace’s chief advocate at the UN.

    So I have seen all of this from both sides of the argument. You are wasting your intellect on this one. There is no ‘solution’ to nuclear waste – anymore than there is a fail-safe reactor in current usage or a reprocessing plant that does not present enormous risks (far greater than Chernobyl or Fukushima – and on the latter, there would have been far more severe problems if the wind had not been out-to-sea for the larger releases).

  22. What’s the terminal velocity likely to be in water? Will it be going fast enough to penetrate very far?

    Also, what happens if one dart rams into the previous one?

  23. There’s a very interesting book out, Nuclear Transmutation of Stable and Radioactive Isotopes in Biological Systems, by Vladimir Vysotskii and Alla Kornilova. Prof Vysotskii is Head of Department of Theoretical Radiophysics at Kiev National Shevchenko University, Ukraine. I suspect that this is is one of the important ways forward, eventually. Russians are far less coy than Westerners about investigating unusual scientific matters – thank goodness.

    Reminds me I need to do a review for Amazon.

  24. But it’s not waste! Bottom of the ocean? Do you know how much project Azorian cost?

  25. As TimC mentions there are treaties trying to prevent pollution of the oceans. In itself this method is probably safe, but it sets a dangerous precedent. Our current mechanisms for protection of the oceans are so fragile that you have to be careful about weakening them at all.

    I imagine that you could find some rather unsavory people going on fishing expeditions for these canisters too. I don’t know if “dirty bombs” are very practical, but someone might be inclined to try. It would probably be a good idea to make the range of that transponder rather short so only someone who knows exactly where to look can find it.

  26. My brother explained this concept to me almost 30 years ago. I’ve mentioned it now and then on the blogs, to almost complete silence. I’ve wondered why such a simple idea simply had no legs.
    ===========

  27. Kasmir says:
    May 6, 2011 at 1:05 am
    Just feeding the craziness. Nuclear waste is toxic waste, but toxic waste that happens to “get better” after some number of half lifes.

    So nuclear waste is a waste of time!

  28. It would seem that these ‘lawn darts’ with a convenient lifting eye would be an ideal target fot terrorists to get hold of nuclear material. This would supply material for a Dirty Bomb to contaminate a city for thousands of years.

    Not a well thought out solution I am afraid.

  29. Not a bad idea. You don’t want to use stainless steel for the canisters though, because it corrodes in an anoxic environment.

  30. I figure, better the ‘waste’ sitting many km beneath the sea – and in metres of ooze – is preferable to it sitting in something not much bigger than an Olympic swimming pool.

    One (solvable) problem with the ‘Willis’ Uranium Waste Tuna’ (hmmm….a familiar acronym…) would be the tremendous water pressure on the tuna casing. But, would that we had the people to make these things work instead of telling us why they won’t.

  31. Dear Mr Eschenbach,
    as someone professionally involved in the nuclear back end business, let me state first that most everybody I know will agree that deep ocean disposal would be one of the cleanest and most elegant way to get rid of highly active nuclear waste, if you never wanted to see the stuff again. Two caveats, however. You state in your second paragraph:

    “Unfortunately, the people in almost every country of the world have not been able to make up their minds what to do with the solidified nuclear waste. As a result, in almost every country it’s just sitting around. And nuclear material sitting around is dangerous.”

    First, and as others have already stated, nuclear waste storage is not a technical problem, but a political one. And in a political discussion, deep ocean disposal is a hard sell because it looks careless, irresponsive and sloppy. And won’t somebody think of the dolphins? Furthermore, the attempt to move the discussion forward by offering yet another technical solution is, in my opinion, just participation in a game that the anti-nuclear interest groups have thoroughly rigged in their favor by falsely calling nuclear waste disposal as an unsolved problem.

    That you might have fallen for their trap is indicated by your flat statement “And nuclear material sitting around is dangerous”. My flat answer would be “No, it’s not” or, maybe, “Dangerous compared to what?”. A more involved answer is that the body count from the production, handling, transport and storage of vitrified nuclear waste is zero, to the best of my knowledge. How is this dangerous?

    This ties to my second caveat, which is purely technical: retrieval of vitrified waste might be desirable even though it does not contain any uranium or other fissile material, contrary to what some of the comments indicate (vitrified waste is what you get after the spent fuel is recycled – all the uranium and plutonium is processed into MOX fuel to be reused in a normal reactor). The reason is this: among the fission products that get created during power production, there are a lot of stable elements that are otherwise very hard to find anywhere. Some of them, like rubidium, already have technical applications, others might have some in the future.

    So potentially, today’s waste is tomorrow’s treasure lode, and it would be a shame if you had to hunt for that treasure on the ocean bottom when you could have stowed it away in a more accessible place where, and this is the kicker, it would have done just as little harm to anybody.

    Hope this helps, and please let me use this occasion to humbly thank you for the incredible work you’ve done in your many articles here, which are always intriguing, and often astoundingly brilliant.

  32. Just make sure that the darts are retrievable. You never know when we might need them to fuel thorium reactors once we’ve mined out all the available uranium and used it up.
    Then again, some nations would actively do just that: steal your stored UO2 rods that you are counting on for a reserve. You put that stuff down there, and somebody will go get it.

  33. Because I think the decay of the radioactive material will pulverize the glass and over time the stainless steal will fail and radioactive material *will* be release.

  34. Now where did I read that the waste can be recycled in the Thorium process?
    Obviously the best solution if it is feasible.

  35. I like it. Nice design. And the retrieval cable can also be used as a handy attachment point for greenpeace activists who might want to chain themselves to it and accompany it on its journey.

  36. Unfissioned uranium and tranuranic elements are valuable enough to be separated and put back into the fission process. This is a lot of uranium/thorium ore that wont have to be mined. Its also the long-lived isotopes that will be burned up with neutrons.

    Fission products are much shorter lived. They could be sequestered in ocean trenches or probably far more easily in surface geological formations. Iodine-131 does not matter much because its half life is only 8 days. Cesium-137 and strontium-90 are the nucleatides that must isolated from the biosphere. They are potassium and calcium chemical analogs and can do immense damage.

  37. I think any attempt to concentrate the waste and then dispose of it out of reach is doomed to failure. By definition there is a danger that some of these darts will not bury themselves in the mud, may then be damaged and release waste into the ocean such that it can be detected. Then its game over for that plan – fears over contamination of the food chain and possible terrorist activity related to getting hold of the waste darts would take hold and bring the plan to a halt.

    I favour vitrifying the waste in particles as fine as ball-bearings, then spreading the waste “ball-bearings” very thinly over the mid-Atlantic ridge. Lots of volcanoes in the mid-Atlantic ridge which are already radioactive, so if you spread the waste very thinly you won’t even notice it, and retrieval of the waste by terrorists and rogue states would be impossible.

    Generally speaking it isn’t really the radioactivity that is the problem – the uranium was itself radioactive before being mined, just not so concentrated. The problem is the spent fuel rods are 1% Plutonium which is highly toxic as well as being radioactive. That needs to be kept well away from the human food chain and a volcano at the bottom of the deep ocean sounds like a great place.

  38. E.M.Smith 0052 hrs,

    Thanks. I never realised how much uranium is disolved in sea water. I’ll bet Helen Caldicott, resident Australian anti-nuclear campaigner, doesn’t know that. Otherwise she would be trying to ban surfing. Then again, how many ardent surfers have suffered from radiation poisoning? The Greens must be really cheezed with mother nature. Everything they come up with is eventually nullified by Gaia herself.

    It does go to show that the only way these green ideas get legs is as a result of the profound ignorance of the public and their politicians. The failure of education systems to teach history and science has lead to the current malaise. No wonder older people are more likely to reject AGW. Most had a decent education.

  39. In the 1970s my then boss, John Elliston, proposed encased burial in soft sediments at places like the mouth of the Mississippi or Ganges. His idea and yours are so similar that one would think you had discussed it.
    By using a sedimentary pile, the penetration of the “darts” would be deeper. There would be less exposure to water and hence a lower possibility of spreading if corrosion reached the core. The sedimants, being softer, would also exert less physical force on the container during movement – and of course, they accumulate to far greater thicknesses than open sea floor in the same geological time.
    It does not really matter much where you put the waste. Depending on prior reactor management and the dilution factor in glassification or Synroc, the waste has about the same radioactivity as the original ore in something like 100 to 1,000 years. We live very safely with ore in the mine and processing plants. There is no reason why we cannot live safely with Synroc 1,000 years old. It does not require human management for 25,000 or 250,000 years as the common Green mantra chants.
    The other factor is distance. As we note about Australia’s poisonous snakes, more people are bitten by trying to kill the snake than by calmly walking away from it. It’s sound advice to keep a small distance away from nuclear waste as well. A mile or so is a rule of thumb for a strong source among the public.

  40. Usual Willis standard – excellent and well written.
    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors are the way to go – visit “Energy from Thorium”.
    The reporting of the recent Japanese disaster was remarkable in that there was almost no mention of ‘units’ of radioactivity nor the relevant 1/2 lives and dangers of released products.

  41. 50 years ago the idea of even just simply re-processing spent fuel rods was unimagined. Nowadays in France they use re-processing on their spent fuel rods all the time. People today can’t imagine the idea of de-radioactivating radioactive materials – but I can imagine it -and it’s really just a matter of time before some Genius Physicist discovers some property of some sub-atomic particle which can be used to de-radioactivate stuff …. then we won’t have any problems with Nuclear Power because the stuff coming out will be fully neutralised …. and we already know how to make stuff radioactive …. so we have a fully renewable cycle :)

  42. Infallible thinking. Brilliant! You’re a genius! You might need to reinforce the outer shell at potential imapct sensitive points though. What about fitting an auger head to it so it self-drills into the sea floor?

    However, me thinks you’ll never get it off the drawing board old fruit, as the anti-nuclear brigade, who have correctly predicted every disaster that has occurred (not, as with everything else!) will never permit it, after all, they know best what’s good for Gaia. Besides, Willis, think of what the Silurians will do once they realise that we humans have taken over the planet above them poisoning their sub-terranean world beneath us, I know what they’re like, I’ve watched every episode of Dr Who. Oh, must go there are some fellas in white coats at my door beckoning me to come with them & one has a very strange jacket & the other a large syringe!!!! Sarc off:-))

  43. Actually, ol’ bean, I hate to break the news to you, but this basic idea has been around for a while. You havent heard of it, of course, because it has one basic flaw, it works, and it’s cheap and easy. it is important to the anti nuclear crowd, who pretty much control the press, that nuclear waste be around and dangerous, so as to prevent the creation of nuclear plants. This idea would pretty much remove the last reason for nuclear plants, therefore, it must be censored.

    The idea of lawn darts however may be new. The old idea, which I understand works just as well, is just make the big glass bricks, and drop it in a suduction trench. Only problem with that is, if you later want it back, you can’t have it.

    Or you could just use a Canadian reactor which can actually use nuclear waste as feul, and can even use raw urainium as feul, why waste it?

  44. A brilliant idea, and probably no serious research/design needed as the engineering solution has already been produced… Just model the darts on Barnes Wallis’s “Tallboy” or “Grand Slam” earthquake bombs.

  45. Silly idea – his Gore-ness has stated that the temperature below the mantle is millions of degrees so the steel dart would instantly melt and (even more) catastrophe would ensue.

    /sarc off

  46. So you want to take our radioactive nuclear material, put in the bottom of the ocean with a tracking beacon on it so any state or group can come along and get and do what they like with it. All because “nuclear material sitting around is dangerous” yet tossing it in the ocean and forgetting about it isn’t.

    Not sure it’ll catch on myself.

  47. Great post, Willis! Here’s my modest proposal.

    Sandwich a small amount of silicates of cesium and strontium radioisotopes between circular lead sheets, and enclose the whole enchilada in a durable ceramic, such that each plate is approximately 10 inches (25.4 cm) in diameter. Then sell them to rich people. For the half-lives of the isotopes (approximately 30 years give or take), the plates would be guaranteed to keep the food warm, no matter how leisurely you eat! :-)

  48. Good idea EXCEPT that when Generation IV reactors come on line (which we would probably have had 20 years sooner if the idiotic hysterics of the Green movement hadn’t halted its development) we would be using this “waste” to produce electricity, and at the same time eliminating 99% of this material, the remaining 1% having a half life of a few hundred years.

    So we should not be thinking of it as nuclear waste, but as future fuel.

  49. How would our ancestors have solved a hazardous waste disposal problem 200 years ago? How will our progeny solve a hazardous waste disposal problem 200 years from now? Seems like your idea would work fine. Probably an overkill with an abundance of caution.

  50. There is the matter of thorium-based traveling wave technology. Provided it offers the advantages it is said to, excess fuel from uranium-based nuclear plants may be consumed rather than stored if that is our preference.

    Could this become the more suitable approach: elimination by consumption of hazardous material rather than robust storage techniques?

  51. Yeah well I’d rather see this old, filthy technology completely abandoned, it’s time to pour money into future technology.

    I think a good place to store this toxic crap is in the backyards of the nuclear power industry shill’s.

    Starting with your backyard Anthony.

    How about developing a means to completely deactivate it ?

    OH, SORRY, THAT WOULD COST MONEY !!!

    SO WHY NOT JUST HIDE IT ?

    DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB DUMB

  52. Brian H says:
    May 6, 2011 at 12:15 am
    Actually, my preferred target areas are the subduction trenches. Add a few 10s of millions of years recycling through the mantle.

    Huh, that is exactly what I was thinking. Why not drop them into the Mariana Trench and just let them get sucked into the mantel? Seems simple enough to me.

  53. Harry the Hacker says:
    May 6, 2011 at 12:17 am

    The biggest problem you will have is the wailers who cry “oooh but its in the ocean and will spread everywhere”.

    I agree. That is the biggest problem you will face: the wailers (apologies to the late great Bob Marley). The reason they are the biggest problem is because that is exactly what you want. The stuff should be dispersed as far and wide as possible, just as it was before we found it (mostly). As I understand it, for example, the average back yard has a higher concentration of uranium than most gold mines have of gold. It does not harm anyone because it is spread out. It is only ever dangerous in concentration.

    Down there is a fair place, and cheap. I would consider old oil wells and coal mines too, but I do not know enough about it.

  54. It could be retrieved by someone other than the owner and used for nefarious purposes. Just finish Yucca Mountain. That’s the solution. The waste will be easily retrievable there when we find a use for it, which we will.

  55. Is there just too little mass to make a sealed block that stays at a constant temperature, with enough heat output to, say, heat my house?

  56. An objection would be that we don’t have to dispose off the nuclear waste at all, as it is no “waste” but still an energy source for future generations of hopefully smarter people not scared of their own ingenuity. The ideas of how to convert “waste” to fuel are already there.
    From Wikipedia on Integral Fast Reactors:

    Or

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveling_wave_reactor

    and after Generation 4 comes 5 and burns the “waste” of Generation 4 reactors… and so on… until there is no more redioactive waste but only Lead.

  57. Willis. As I am a Warmist, nay a Hottist, I think your global warming ideas are mostly reckless but this idea seems brilliant. The subduction zone location suggestion makes the expensive multiple redundancies of glass, SS, concrete, SS possibly overkill.

    Gen IV reactors of course are supposed to be able to use much of the high level waste as fuel so we should remember this before we end up going nuclear big style.

    Personally, I think Big Nuke as a total solution still needs resisting for sustainability reasons because it is a method which would again, like OPEC/Big Oil/Big Coal, concentrate too much power in too few hands.

  58. Thorium again. How you can deal with existing waste.

    Yes, here it is on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZR0UKxNPh8
    About 38 minutes in. The whole thing needs about 90 minutes, well worth it, all parliamentarians, congressmen/women should be forced to watch this and then answer an examination after, to prove they watched it.

    It really is the future.

  59. Somehow my last commet missed a part.

    An objection would be that we don’t have to dispose of the nuclear waste at all as it is no “waste” but still an energy source for future generations of hopefully smarter people not scared of their own ingenuity. The ideas of how to convert “waste” to fuel to non radioactive waste are already there
    From Wikipedia on Integral Fast Reactors:
    “Breeder reactors can “burn” some nuclear waste components (actinides: reactor-grade plutonium and minor actinides), which could turn a liability into an asset. Another major waste component, fission products, would stabilize at a lower level of radioactivity in a few centuries, rather than tens of thousands of years. The fact that 4th generation reactors are being designed to use the waste from 3rd generation plants could change the nuclear story fundamentally—potentially making the combination of 3rd and 4th generation plants a more attractive energy option than 3rd generation by itself would have been, both from the perspective of waste management and energy security.”
    Or

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveling_wave_reactor

    and after Generation 4 comes 5 and burns the “waste” of Generation 4 reactors… and so on… until there is no more redioactive waste but only Lead.

  60. It is interesting, but why waste all that fuel? How about getting George Monboit to explain to the EPA why 15 mrem per year is ridiculously conservative and the NRC’s 100 mrem/yr is just fine, then we can store the fuel at Yucca Mountain.

  61. As I recall from grade school at the beginning of the 60’s, we were shown a film on nuclear energy. In that film they talked about waste. They showed disposal AT SEA. It appeared to be an aircraft carrier (most likly waste generated from weapons manufacture) and the men on the deck of the ship were rolling 55 gallon drums off its edge into the depths of the ocean. You might want to investigate what the military did back in the 50’s and 60’s. Makes perfect sense.

    At one time in my life (25 years ago) I renovated the AEC’s Environmental Measurements Lab space which is located in Lower Manhatten ( A remnent of the Manhatten Project). They had samples (soil, etc.) from every Nuclear blast that the US had performed, stored in the basement of the building. They performed experiments on the effects of nuclear exposure. They had very sensitive equipment, so sensitive that when we drilled a hole in some concrete ofr block wall the Radon equipment would go bananas.

    They also told me stories about contamination of labs at Columbia University (another Manhatten Project location). What I took away from all this is there are good and bad ways of handling the Waste. I think your Idea is on the good side.

  62. I have a major objection – sufficient to stop the proposal in its tracks.

    The problem is that it will work.

    In fact, there’s nothing especially clever about this proposal, and many others, working. There are no great engineering problems with nuclear waste storage, disposal or re-use. The problems are political.

    Nuclear Waste is the major political argument which is used by the anti brigade to stop nuclear power stations. So it is critical to their political existence that the ‘problem’ of waste is unanswerable. You will find that if you advance this proposal it will be shouted down by technically incompetent arguments, as has happened so often before to all the earlier proposals. All kinds of blocking techniques will be used to prevent any consideration of the proposal, let alone any testing or funding.

    Apart from that, the proposal is fine…

  63. One particular problem comes to mind: Greenpeaze terrorists. They don’t wont to store anything, nor recycle anything.

    I think they prefer the soviet method, which was pretty much the same it seems as you propose but with a cheaper twist: Bury the crap in a backyard country and run like hell.

  64. Glen of Aus says: “it’s really just a matter of time before some Genius Physicist discovers some property of some sub-atomic particle which can be used to de-radioactivate stuff …. then we won’t have any problems with Nuclear Power”

    This would be true if we spent most of the research money on nukes instead of the widely proven failures of the greens.

    Take the ‘gazillion’ dollars the world spends each year on researching inefficient land hogs like solar panels and windmills and spend it on the safe and most viable future energy …… nuclear power.

    When we do this I will believe the pols and eco nuts want a clean planet AND energy in the future.

    to sunspot: you need to wake up…nuclear power is the best way to go if we are to have the energy necessary for an expanding population and economy.

    People live longer with electricity and the things it provides.

  65. Research on this idea was done thirty years ago. It’s all very workable so the real problems are a variety of political concerns and overcoming fear due to ignorance.

  66. I have a modest proposal. This waste product still has enormous energy potential. Solar cells are designed to use the wavelengths from light to create electricity. If we could devise a radiation cell that reacts to the wavelengths coming off these waste products, we could capture this energy. The waste would need to be packaged in thin flat containers, to maximize surface area. Then these thin packages could be stacked up, alternating the radiation cells with the waste cells. We would end up with a power source that would last a very long time.

  67. Ryan@2:49a.m.

    ‘The problem is the spent fuel rods are 1% Plutonium which is highly toxic as well as being radioactive. That needs to be kept well away from the human food chain and a volcano at the bottom of the deep ocean sounds like a great place.’

    Your suggestion of spreading ball bearing size pellets across an area is a very interesting one, on a number of levels, but you may want to rethink your last para.

    Not highly toxic – if swallowed, it is poorly absorbed, if at all. Caffeine is more toxic. It is inhalation that is dangerous.
    It’s an alpha emitter, so a sheet of paper will shield it effectively, let alone 6000 feet of water. A household smoke detector has more radio-toxicity from it’s detector cell.

    I’m not sure how it would get into the food chain, as plutonium oxide is just about insoluble in water, and I doubt the fishies regard it as a desirable food source. Nuclear fishin’?

  68. I have to agree with E G Smith. In the future it will be viable to reprocess nuclear waste to extract useful material.
    In 1904-5 there were huge dumps of waste ore around Broken Hill, Australia. The invention of flotation (note flotation was only introduced in US around 1911 and Hoover had nothing to do with it) not only made the mines profitable with development of a new source of zinc but lead to a revolution in minerals processing, lower priced metals and a leap in metal resources (there is no peak copper or gold or any metal). Political barriers and subsidies lead to distortion of innovation, technical development and research. As with the development of flotation Governments should keep out of scientific and engineering activities.

  69. I hate all ideas where we intend to store the waste forever or throw away something that can still be useful. At best we can’t be trusted to keep track of the waste for more than a few hundred years. The waste could be and currently is in other countries reprocessed and reused. The best solution is a fast neutron reactor that will leave products which can be safe in as little as 100 years. Not only will we stop producing waste but we can burn what we already have reducing the stock pile instead of expanding it and reduce the long term risk of somebody recovering it and not knowing what it is.

  70. Willis, my thoughts about this are very similar.

    Simply find an ocean bottom where the sedimentation rate is very high (the deposit areas out from the Mississippi delta in the Gulf of Mexico are OK). The “torpedo” is quickly covered, and continues to get further covered as time goes by.

    Of course, radioactive “waste” is valuable & should be reprocessed & used in breeder reactors, but that’s a different issue.

  71. As far as I know the USS Scorpion and Thresher containment vessels are still on the bottom of the ocean so we have a “test” platform in place to evaluate some of the plan. I have not heard of any leak from them if they are down at the bottom.

  72. The best thing to do with nuclear power in its present state is to phase it out as soon as possible. That Fukushima has all but disappeared from the main news does not mean, unfortunately, that it has stopped doing what it will continue to do for who knows how long: relieving itself on the ocean, the ground and the air through all its unplugable orifices. An un-insurable industry that whenever things go badly wrong creates such long lived messess as Chernobyl and Fukushima cannot reasonably be called either cheap or safe.
    This site keeps pretty good track of what is going on there, with information you don’t get in any of the main media, which is supposed to be oh so “religiously” anti-nuclear:

    http://enenews.com/

  73. Willis, excellent discussion as usual. Plus, plus, plus an intelligent discussion from WUWT’s great commenters about all the problems and possibilities. I like the caution: if “we” can retrieve it, “others” can. I also like the fact that much of the usefulness of an energy resource remains, to be used again, and again, and again.

    I think we should not scoff too easily at: if-not-“politicized”, then-an-easy-solution argument. First, dumping anything at sea is a huge, huge (problem) issue; second, if we have any belief in representative democracy, then we must explain, educate, and persuade — not force. Here, because of great minds with magnificent technological know-how. (Try checking changes to the “theory” of plate tectonics; settled knowledge might be upended, no pun intended. Recycled to the depths? Maybe, maybe not.). Third and forth are above.

    Sometimes, the inaction caused by people mulling over possibilities and not being able to come toan easy consensus conclusions is not so bad. Afterall, that is supposed to be the pattern provided by the American Constitution. Finally, I view WUWT as one of the premiere examples of continuous “explain, educate, and persuade”. Willis, thanks.

  74. Does it have to be that complicated? Why not just mix the stuff with an immense amount of sand and then use electricity to turn the sand into glass and bury it? I heard someone make a proposal like this about 20 years ago and I still don’t see what is wrong with it.

  75. What if one of the nuclear darts falls on top of another one at high speed, and both of them break open?

    How about putting the waste on land and using it to heat water and glasshouses to grow crops in winter or to heat cities?

    How about putting the waste back near the uranium mines where it came from?

  76. I don’t get the fascination with millennial storage. Do people imagine that humanity will forget the stuff is there? Or that we’ll wipe ourselves out of existence and somehow still care where the radioactive waste is?

    Why not just assume that we’ll find either a use for the stuff or a way to destroy it in a hundred years or so?

    Then all you have to do is store it for a hundred years and fairly simple concrete encasement would be good enough for that.

    Sending it to the bottom of the ocean probably won’t happen because of marketing problems.

  77. To all the people promoting Thorium liquid sodium cycle reactors:

    Prove to me that a fire in the chemical plant that continuously reprocess the fuel salt has no chance to release concerning amount of radioactive isotopes into the environment. Fire and Radioactivity makes my palms sweat. Words like “Sodium salts” don’t make them any drier.

    I like the phyisics of the Thorium reactors. I’m not so sure about the chemistry

  78. I have to agree with Mike Bromley, forget retrieval. Bury it deep in a well defined area we can afford to write off.

  79. Janice says:
    May 6, 2011 at 5:55 am
    “I have a modest proposal. This waste product still has enormous energy potential. Solar cells are designed to use the wavelengths from light to create electricity. If we could devise a radiation cell that reacts to the wavelengths coming off these waste products, we could capture this energy.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_battery

  80. First read about this years ago in the book “Trashing the Planet”. It’s always seemed to me to be the best and simplest solution. Pretty hard for some terrorist to go down to the Challenger Deep to get it. And radiation after dilution in the immense volume of the ocean is hardly a problem. And I certainly wouldn’t worry about heat – geothermal vents don’t seem to be a problem. Of course, maybe the heat will attract sea critters and they will mutate and we might get giant squid or octopus or worms – oh, wait, we already have those.

  81. Better way . . .
    Split the waste into small portions. For each portion dig a big hole and cover it with a few hundred tons of concrete. Mark each burial with some sort of structure for retrieval purposes. In case of radioactive leakage into the atmosphere it might be wise to install a means of dispersal – a fan like structure of somekind. This would need to be quite tall for maximum dispersal – at least 400ft. Finally, for security purposes it would be a good idea to build say 10 dummie structures for each real one. That way, the nasty people will never find the real stuff.
    The only downside is of course, that we would be left with thousands of these very tall, fanlike structures dotted around, with most of them not actually doing anything . . .

    hang on a minute!

  82. My solution would be to toss the stuff into the Sun. But, until we have more foolproof methods of getting them into space, my idea wouldn’t be accepted.

  83. “Spent” fuel is not waste, nor is it spent. Irradiated fuel has undergone transformation, due to neutron absorption and build up of fission fragments. Most of these elements are neutron absorbers which kill the yeast of fission, by neutron starvation.

    While we may decide, irradiated fuel has no value (waste), future generations may desperately require these valuable resources. They should NOT be disposed, using methods, which make them absolutely irretrievably. It is not necessary. GK

  84. Janice says:

    “…We would end up with a power source that would last a very long time….”
    -.-.-.-.-.-
    And…It wouldn’t go out at night.

  85. Nick Palmer says:
    May 6, 2011 at 4:43 am


    Personally, I think Big Nuke as a total solution still needs resisting for sustainability reasons because it is a method which would again, like OPEC/Big Oil/Big Coal, concentrate too much power in too few hands.

    I am also pro a nuclear solution, its rationale is inescapable as even George Monbiot concedes; however it is ideally a provider of baseline power, not peak. As the Chernobyl operators discovered, nuclear power plants dont like having their power output changed rapidly. A nuke plant likes to be left alone to churn out power at a constant level. So even enthusiastic pro-nukers like me do not propose nuclear generation as a total provision of electricity, only of baseline. This is unfortunate economically since baseline is cheaper than peak. But peak provision needs other solutions.

  86. John Marshall says:
    May 6, 2011 at 2:15 am
    It would seem that these ‘lawn darts’ with a convenient lifting eye would be an ideal target fot terrorists to get hold of nuclear material. This would supply material for a Dirty Bomb to contaminate a city for thousands of years.

    Not a well thought out solution I am afraid.

    At the depths we’re talking about here, & taking into account the equipment needed fro retrieval, they would be pretty conspicuous on the high seas or in the near shore seas. Also one must assume they have the means to drill into the casing, the concrete, & chip off enough vitrified spent fuel – no uranium or plutonium I am reliably told. It would be more economic for a terrorist to join a uranium mining company & steal some ore & refine it themselves!

  87. But what if the Glomar Challenger falls into the hands of Al Qaeda?

    ;-)

    Simple, elegant, just might work, except for the zealots who will claim it will damage the sea.

  88. There are many reasons for believing that humans can benefit from low level whole body radiation. The evidence comes from Hiroshima, Chernobyl and health studies on workers at Nuclear Power plant to list just a few. The benefits are longer lives and reduced incidence of various cancers. It is difficult to get the phenomenon of Radiation Hormesis (try Google) accepted and understood and I think it will take many years for the textbooks to be rewritten. Nevertheless there are reasons for saying that man is deficient in radiation and could benefit from having his background radiation dose supplemented. It is postulated that the DNA repair mechanisms are stimulated by the radiation.
    Does anyone have any ideas as to how nuclear waste could be “packaged” and used ?
    For instance could something be built into the foundations for a house??
    I understand that there are clinics in Japan using whole body low level radiation for the treatment of some cancers. But I know of no interest in this therapy in Europe or the US. Any information would be valuable in order to stimulate discussion.

  89. Espen said:

    … building thorium reactors capable of burning highly active nuclear waste still sounds more like a win-win solution to me!

    I second that motion. Discarding this valuable source of energy is a terrible waste of resources. Nor is the dart solution new and unique. It has even been proposed for use in salt domes.

  90. Last I heard, the simplest long-term storage solution is “big-billet” vitrification. You take the current relatively-small billets, and embed each of them inside a much larger billet of leaded glass. For the sake of argument, let’s say that “much larger” means about the size of a standard shipping container (boxcar-sized, roughly).

    The resulting billets are physically robust, exceedingly stable, and are large and heavy enough that they require *serious* heavy equipment to move around. After that, just bury them in a field, just about anywhere. Leaching isn’t a problem — cube-square law is your friend. Radioactivity isn’t a problem, for the same reason. And security is no big deal, either. No need for barbed wire, armed guards, etc.! The equipment required to move one of these suckers is really *really* hard to miss, so all you need is to be sure that someone would *notice* and call the cops. You’d have *days* to respond in.

    It’s also very very safe. No need for security of geologic time. Careful studies of very old glass (Egyptian glass that’s over 3K years old, for example) show that the big billets are plenty robust. Radiation and toxicity are incredibly low. You could just stick one under the foundation of each new federal building, or each newly built grade school — really! I’m not kidding. Heck — put one in (actually, under) *my* back yard. As long as you pay me for the disruption and inconvenience of putting it there, I’d be fine with it. There’s really no sound cause for concern.

    After writing the above, I feel compelled to note that although it’s simple and effective, it remains the wrong solution. High level radioactive “waste” isn’t a *problem*, it’s a valuable resource! Don’t dump it in the ocean… we’re going to want that stuff in the future!

    And low-level waste isn’t a problem either — most of it is less radioactive and less toxic than the bricks my house is built from. Alternatively, you could view it as being *far* less radioactive than the granite facade of your local bank/courthouse/library/museum/whatever.

    The real problem isn’t the radioactive material! The real problem is the *nucular* *paranoia* exhibited by most of the public. (Misspelling of ‘nuclear’ entirely intentional!). Most of the waste is far less dangerous than the popular view. And the high-level, possibly dangerous stuff is a vastly smaller volume than most folks think. We don’t need new engineering solutions — plenty of sufficient solutions have been known for decades. What we need is education and rational thinking from the voting public. (Sigh. I can only wish…)

  91. This is exactly what was done with nuclear waste from Sellafield in the UK until Greenpeace kicked up a fuss and stopped it. So now the same containers (steel barrels with concrete -encased solid waste) have been stored for 30 years in underground storage areas on land and have been leaking as the ground water go to them (as they were designed to do underwater) causing plumes of waste in the ground which Greenpeace are now complaining about!

    [Sorry of this was mentioned above - have only just had chance to read this article and haven't waded through the comments yet.]

    Radioactivity is dangerous in high doses so the solution is dilution. Do it slowly in a large volume of water. All we have done is remove it from the ground (mining) and concentrated it, extracted energy from it, before returning it to the ocean. A nice cycle if you ask me.

  92. don’t know about the rest of the world. But here in the good ole US of A, the left needs these nuclear stuff sitting close to where people can go see, to get the “stupid” vote. so, sorry, this is not going to happen. neither will any other really good idea

  93. Green Peace/Earth First = logic , never happen.

    Question to ask why this under 1% of all of U.S. rule U.S..

    When your correct act like it.

  94. I have no objections to this for getting rid of true nuclear waste, but I am in favor of reprocessing spent fuel so it can be used again and again until it is well and truly used up. Then get rid of it.

  95. Elegant! Go ahead, drop them darts in the Mariana trench.

    There is another solution; Use all the super duper climate-computer money, and build a space-elevator.

    When the space elevator is in place, we can just lob them darts into the sun.

  96. Willis, please go to the web site below and look up Parlee, Norman and read the memorial. Norman Parlee did a great deal of early work in vitrification of nuclear fuel elements. If you are interested, you should be able to get my contact info from Anthony or one of the other mods. I can discuss some of his work in general terms and point you in the direction of a former grad student of his who worked with him for a number of years.

    RayG

    histsoc.stanford.edu/alpha_list.shtml#pp

    [When posting a link, please cut and paste the entire link from your address bar, with at least one space before and after the link. ~dbs, mod.]

  97. Willis,

    See above: Brian H says; Legatus says: (sort of); Squidly says;

    I support the motion for the amendment suggested for your
    “darts” to be embedded in the ocean ooze in the Marinanas trench
    at a point where they will be subducted and folded into the crust:

    http://mineralsciences.si.edu/tdpmap/pdfs/subduction.pdf

    Alternatively, as a disposal method, bundle your darts at an
    assembly point in space and guide the whole container toward
    the sun, see above:

    MichaelEdits says: May 6, 2011 at 2:00 am:
    “Set the controls for the heart of the sun” (in homage to
    Pink Floyd) with Jeff Alberts says; in concurrance.

    But, the true solution is FUSION, not fission ! Again there
    seem to be no supporters of nuclear power who want
    a non-radioactive fusion reactor to ever be developed.

    What’s up with that ?

  98. Good idea. Just a comment concerning Calcium. It is in fact one of the most abundant elements both on land and in the sea. Roughly 5th in the league table on land: O, Si, Al, Fe, Ca.
    In the Sea it’s 7th: O, H, Cl, Na, Mg, S, Ca. So on AV would it come 2nd ?!

  99. John Marshall says:
    May 6, 2011 at 2:15 am
    It would seem that these ‘lawn darts’ with a convenient lifting eye would be an ideal target fot terrorists to get hold of nuclear material. This would supply material for a Dirty Bomb to contaminate a city for thousands of years.

    Not a well thought out solution I am afraid.

    Think much, before you type? Deep-sea retrieval equipment is not exactly on sale at Home Depot. I’d love to see the terrorist group with the resources to recover anything from 10km below sea level, let alone a multi-ton steel and concrete “lawn dart”. Once it smacks into the sea bed at 70+ mph and buries itself, you’ll be hard-pressed to lever it out again by any means, lifting rings or no. Ever walked out of a boot crossing a particularly muddy stretch in a field? The forces on any attachment point are going to be immense trying to haul it back out of the mud. Not happening with anything the US government is likey to have at hand, let alone some disaffected bad boy wannabes with delusions of grandeur.

  100. There’s something “fishy” about your proposal, Willis! ;-)

    Like Mike Bromley (5/6 1246AM), I’d be concerned that someone making a dirty bomb might use the tethers you propose to recover the “tunas.” Ryan’s proposal (5/6, 249 AM) of making them both untagged and small would make this impossible, though perhaps “sardines” or “minnows” would be more aqua-dynamic and therefore self-burying than his ball-bearings!

    Likewise, I would go for a deep subduction trench, rather than a coastal alluvial deposit or mid-Atlantic ridge, in order to put them as far out of the food chain as possible.

  101. At the published elemental concentration ratios, a cubic kilometer of ordinary seawater already contains thousands of tons of radioactive elements (uranium, thorium, etc.) and about 1 gram of radium. There are an awful lot of cubic kilometers out there.

    It could be worse. I had some friends at work seriously engaged in a study of rocketing radioactive “waste” into the sun (a more difficult task than sending it into interstellar space). I told them it would make more sense to just dump it into the oceans (see above comment).

    Remind me again why we’re worried about radioactive “waste”—when we all aspire to granite countertops? (Granite is composed of quartz, feldspar, and…yes…pitchblende.) I am beginning to think a Geiger counter could make a very provocative cocktail party toy. Who is the most radioactive partygoer…?

  102. Important to know .

    Who is paying for the storage of the current nuke waste here in the U.S. now.

    The waste stored at the Power Company Nuke plants .

    Once you understand that and the why of it you will better understand the power of money and how that power is greater than the power of the nuke plants and the fear of the waste itself.

  103. The radioactive stuff came out of the ground in the first place, so it makes sense to return it there.
    However, as an alternative to Willis’ darts how about using Tectonic Plate Power.
    The surface of the globe consists of tectonic plates, continuously moving either together or apart.
    So, we find some remote place where the plates are sliding together, one sliding beneath the other, and we place Willis’ darts there so that they are gradually absorbed into the layers between the two plates.
    That’s that.
    What is the next problem?

  104. Willis,

    This idea was seriously considered in the 1980s. see for example, Ove Arup and Parners report for the European Commission – ‘Ocean Disposal of Radioactive Waste by Penetrator Emplacement (ISBN 0 86010 812 0) published in 1985.

    The idea really fell foul of the IMO’s London Dumping Convention drawn up in 1972. The latter was ‘translated’ into a Protocol in 1996 which currently has 40 signatories. These include most European Countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand but not the US.

    Thus whilst the basic idea is probably very sound the political problems that would have to be overcome to make it a reality are likely insurmountable.

  105. From phlogiston on May 6, 2011 at 8:22 am:

    (…) A nuke plant likes to be left alone to churn out power at a constant level. So even enthusiastic pro-nukers like me do not propose nuclear generation as a total provision of electricity, only of baseline. This is unfortunate economically since baseline is cheaper than peak. But peak provision needs other solutions.

    We have heard before about using pumped storage to smooth out wind and solar, store the peaks for when the supplies are low. Invert the problem. Run the nuke plants flat out, when demand is low you send the excess to the pumped storage, which will then be tapped when demand is high. Pumped storage can respond rather quickly to demand, more than fast enough for grid stability.

    So nuclear plants and pumped storage should be all that’s needed. Although they can use a sensible pumped storage scheme like a hydroelectric dam with a two-level reservoir (pump from lower to upper, electricity generation by flow from upper to lower or lower to riverbed) and pick up some “free renewable” energy as well.

  106. Excellent idea. I don’t see the need for making the ‘darts’ retrievable, though. It’s not likely that that terrorists will spend megabucks on a deep sea retrieval mission. Mass murder is a low-tech operation: it’s much simpler to strap explosives to a 16 year old boy, promise him houris in heaven, and send him down to a church or coffee shop for his eternal reward. I should think the ‘dart’ technique could have applications for disposal of other than nuclear waste. True, managing nuclear waste is a political rather than a technical problem. Hence, another advantage of your proposal is that even the most rabid greenies will find it difficult to stage a protest at the disposal site. Out of sight, out of mind. Some day, the tide will turn — I suspect our crop of ageing activists will soon pass their use-by date, and that the next generation will develop some measure of immunity to the ‘sanctimony’ and ‘apocalypse’ parasites. The more good ideas like this that we’ve scraped together, the sooner it’ll happen. Well done, sirrah!

  107. Peter Taylor started out on the wrong foot by saying:
    May 6, 2011 at 1:33 am
    Willis – you are straying out of your competence field. …

    I fear I read no further than that, although you might have very valid points. The problem is that you are straying out of the politeness field.

    Peter, when you start out your initial input into a discussion with an insult and an assumption that you know the limits of my “competence field”, I stop reading right there. A man who acts like that is not welcome in my world. I have plenty of polite folks with whom I can discuss these issues.

    I have no “competence field”. I have imagination and an absurdly wide-ranging fund of experience and knowledge in a host of fields. I have worked as a construction manager, a psychotherapist, a silver refiner, a shipyard manager, a jeweler, a Chief Financial Officer, a commercial artist, an automobile mechanic, a musician, a commercial fisherman, and many more occupations … and you somehow are the arbiter of the bounds on my “competence field”?

    I put my ideas out in the world for people to shoot down. I make them public so that both non-experts as well as experts in the various specialties can tell me where I’m wrong. I make no claims about my competence field or my right to propose the ideas, that’s immaterial. The question is, are my ideas right or wrong?

    I’m not going back to read what you wrote. Next time, if you want a discussion, start by discussing the issues rather than by insulting me.

    w.

  108. Thomas says:
    May 6, 2011 at 1:54 am

    As TimC mentions there are treaties trying to prevent pollution of the oceans. In itself this method is probably safe, but it sets a dangerous precedent. Our current mechanisms for protection of the oceans are so fragile that you have to be careful about weakening them at all.

    I agree in theory, of course. The ocean has been used as a dumping ground for centuries, and it’s not a good thing.

    I would distinguish, however, between oceanic dumping and suboceanic burial. As such, I’m not sure how or which treaties would apply.

    I imagine that you could find some rather unsavory people going on fishing expeditions for these canisters too. I don’t know if “dirty bombs” are very practical, but someone might be inclined to try. It would probably be a good idea to make the range of that transponder rather short so only someone who knows exactly where to look can find it.

    Yeah, could be. Maybe it’s best to just bury it in the oceanic mud and forget it.

    w.

  109. John Marshall says:
    May 6, 2011 at 2:15 am

    It would seem that these ‘lawn darts’ with a convenient lifting eye would be an ideal target fot terrorists to get hold of nuclear material. This would supply material for a Dirty Bomb to contaminate a city for thousands of years.

    Not a well thought out solution I am afraid.

    What is it with the insults? I put out an idea and ask for ways to improve it or things that are wrong with it, and you want to insult me? Your ugliness is not appreciated.

    w.

  110. Paul says:
    May 6, 2011 at 2:17 am

    Not a bad idea. You don’t want to use stainless steel for the canisters though, because it corrodes in an anoxic environment.

    You need to pick your material carefully. You are correct that stainless is subject to what we boatbuilders call “crevice corrosion”, which occurs in anoxic conditions. However, crevice corrosion doesn’t occur much at temperatures below about 10°C, and the temperature at the bottom of the ocean is well below that. Also, the resistance to crevice corrosion varies widely among different types of stainless steel. It’s a solvable engineering issue.

    w.

  111. Maik H says:
    May 6, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Dear Mr Eschenbach,
    as someone professionally involved in the nuclear back end business, let me state first that most everybody I know will agree that deep ocean disposal would be one of the cleanest and most elegant way to get rid of highly active nuclear waste, if you never wanted to see the stuff again. Two caveats, however. You state in your second paragraph:

    “Unfortunately, the people in almost every country of the world have not been able to make up their minds what to do with the solidified nuclear waste. As a result, in almost every country it’s just sitting around. And nuclear material sitting around is dangerous.”

    First, and as others have already stated, nuclear waste storage is not a technical problem, but a political one. And in a political discussion, deep ocean disposal is a hard sell because it looks careless, irresponsive and sloppy. And won’t somebody think of the dolphins? Furthermore, the attempt to move the discussion forward by offering yet another technical solution is, in my opinion, just participation in a game that the anti-nuclear interest groups have thoroughly rigged in their favor by falsely calling nuclear waste disposal as an unsolved problem.

    Sad but very true, I fear. In part I brought up this idea to point out that very fact, that there are reasonable, practical storage solutions, and that the problem is political.

    That you might have fallen for their trap is indicated by your flat statement “And nuclear material sitting around is dangerous”. My flat answer would be “No, it’s not” or, maybe, “Dangerous compared to what?”. A more involved answer is that the body count from the production, handling, transport and storage of vitrified nuclear waste is zero, to the best of my knowledge. How is this dangerous?

    I’m sorry for my lack of clarity. The problem is terrorism. I have no desire to see some vitrified waste mixed in with a truckload of ANFO …

    This ties to my second caveat, which is purely technical: retrieval of vitrified waste might be desirable even though it does not contain any uranium or other fissile material, contrary to what some of the comments indicate (vitrified waste is what you get after the spent fuel is recycled – all the uranium and plutonium is processed into MOX fuel to be reused in a normal reactor). The reason is this: among the fission products that get created during power production, there are a lot of stable elements that are otherwise very hard to find anywhere. Some of them, like rubidium, already have technical applications, others might have some in the future.

    So potentially, today’s waste is tomorrow’s treasure lode, and it would be a shame if you had to hunt for that treasure on the ocean bottom when you could have stowed it away in a more accessible place where, and this is the kicker, it would have done just as little harm to anybody.

    In a world without terrorists that would be lovely. But for right now, I don’t want it in a “more accessible place”, thanks.

    Hope this helps, and please let me use this occasion to humbly thank you for the incredible work you’ve done in your many articles here, which are always intriguing, and often astoundingly brilliant.

    Posting for WattsUpWithThat has been a rare opportunity for me. It’s a chance for me to collaborate with a host of people that I’ve never met, such as yourself. This tossing back and forth of ideas, and building and refining concepts in concert, can be extremely productive. My thanks to you as well.

    w.

  112. Willis Eschenbach says:
    May 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    You need to pick your material carefully. You are correct that stainless is subject to what we boatbuilders call “crevice corrosion”, which occurs in anoxic conditions. However, crevice corrosion doesn’t occur much at temperatures below about 10°C, and the temperature at the bottom of the ocean is well below that.

    But the radioactive material will probably be well above that. For long enough anyway.

  113. I’ve been touting that idea to people who don’t have the power to do anything about it for years. My only difference is to drop them in the Cascadia subduction zone and let Gaia stuff them under the bed (sea).

  114. Geoff Sherrington says:
    May 6, 2011 at 2:55 am

    In the 1970s my then boss, John Elliston, proposed encased burial in soft sediments at places like the mouth of the Mississippi or Ganges. His idea and yours are so similar that one would think you had discussed it.
    By using a sedimentary pile, the penetration of the “darts” would be deeper. There would be less exposure to water and hence a lower possibility of spreading if corrosion reached the core. The sedimants, being softer, would also exert less physical force on the container during movement – and of course, they accumulate to far greater thicknesses than open sea floor in the same geological time.

    Interesting, and all valid points. Works for me.

    w.

  115. Legatus says:
    May 6, 2011 at 3:13 am

    Actually, ol’ bean, I hate to break the news to you, but this basic idea has been around for a while. You havent heard of it, of course, because it has one basic flaw, it works, and it’s cheap and easy. it is important to the anti nuclear crowd, who pretty much control the press, that nuclear waste be around and dangerous, so as to prevent the creation of nuclear plants. This idea would pretty much remove the last reason for nuclear plants, therefore, it must be censored.

    Possibly so. It never bothers me if I find out that an idea I came up with independently has been thought of or even patented before. I actually like it, because it’s independent support for my idea. In any case … consider it uncensored.

    w.

  116. SteveE says:
    May 6, 2011 at 3:40 am

    So you want to take our radioactive nuclear material, put in the bottom of the ocean with a tracking beacon on it so any state or group can come along and get and do what they like with it. All because “nuclear material sitting around is dangerous” yet tossing it in the ocean and forgetting about it isn’t.

    Not sure it’ll catch on myself

    Yeah, you’re right. I forget about state sponsored terrorism. I’ve updated the head post, sink it and forget about it.

  117. Even with no cables, they will be easy to locate and dig out. If you can’t spot them by their high energy gamma, you’ll spot the heat signature on the seafloor. All is needed is a little ROV with a, infrared camera, a digging shovel/water jet digger, a robotic arm, and a lifting device (gas generator (chemical) and lifting bag). Can probably be improvised from existing oil well equipment. If they do it in the Mariana trench, it’ll be trickier, yes, but not impossible. With the new crop of high performance, long range pocket submarine being designed, don’t count on your little dart remaining there for a long time.

  118. If terrorism is your problem you need to keep an eye on the stuff. We have lots of GAFA in Australia. Some of it is already declared “contaminated” from British nuclear testing.
    Dig a hole, put it in there. Shouldn’t be too hard to organise surveillance. There aren’t exactly lots of people around. When you find a use for it, you can easily go and get it.

  119. Willis,
    any scheme that does not include reprocessing is virtually pointless and wasteful.

    1) reprocess the fuel to remove products of reaction and contaminants.
    2) the balance of the material can be re used as new fuel.
    3) any left over U238 can be used in reactors using the Canadian system which uses heavy water.
    4) use the products of reaction (plutonium et al) to make bomb grade material.
    5) the balance of the material is the prime candidate for your lawn dart scheme.

  120. Harry the Hacker is right – the problem with a glass based product is that over a relatively short period of time it de-vitrifies, and the contents are easily leached into the surroundings. This has been a major problem with the French waste disposal program.

    The Australian SYNROC product has the active radionuclides locked into silicate crystal lattices, which are extremely stable over the appropriate half-lives. SYNROC is basically inert for burial at sea, or on land such as in underground repositories.

  121. Willis, the idea of deep ocean disposal has been around for literally decades. Honestly it doesn’t make much sense however. High level nuclear waste is easty to deal with technologically – it’s only a problem politically.

    Plus, there really just isn’t very much of it by virtually any standard. For the USA, we’ve had roughly 20% of our electricity produced by nuclear power for many decades now, and have roughly 104 operating large commercial reactors. ALL of the spent fuel from the last 50+ years, if stacked together, would take up the space of one football field roughly 5 to 7 yards deep IIRC. Of course, that’s not how it would actually be stored, it would be spaced out more because of the waste heat issue, but that gives one the idea of the volume involved. All of that high level waste, plus all the high level waste from military uses, would easily fit into Yucca Mountain (which could also be expanded as needed). That spent fuel, if reprocessed, would be reduced in volume to about 1/100th the current amount.

    Meanwhile, the duration it needs to be stored isn’t an issue either – its exceedingly easy to monitor and then if necessary repackage. Even so, the design requirements for Yucca were/are absurd – originally it was for safe storage without any handling/repackaging for 10,000 years!!! Think about that for a moment, that’s longer than the written history of man! I believe they extended that by quite a bit (maybe to 1 million years?). Anyhow, the design was required to be such that if we all suddenly dissappeared or magically lost all recollection of the site, OR space aliens landed on the planet, there was no way it would be accidently dug or drilled into without recognizing the radiation risk. No joke, space aliens must be protected from drilling into the site that is some 1200 ft. below grade.

    Also – the whole iodine bit in your article is a really poor choice. Any radioactive iodine is quite literally GONE and no longer radioactive after roughly 60 days from when the fuel was last in an operating reactor. Iodine is quite simply a non-issue.

    I am very curious about your statement that land species have biological mechanisms to seek out iodine that ocean species don’t – that’s the first I’ve ever heard anything along those lines. Would you elaborate please?

    Also note that our bodies do NOT ‘seek’ out radioactive isotopes of any sort. The problem is that for the majority of isotopes, our bodies can’t tell the difference between a radioactive isotope and one that isn’t. So wherever the body uses a non-radioactive isotope, if a radioactive version of that same isotope is presented, the body uses it just as it would the non-radioactive version.

    That’s why we are all radioactive all the time as it is. That’s why sleeping next to your spouse every night gives you roughly the equivalent of a chest x-ray every year – from the naturally radioactive potassium that is in each of us. We all evolved in this environment (actually in far higher level radioactive environment for most of evolution), however, so it’s not a big deal – the body and every cell has repair mechanisms to cope with the damage. It only becomes an issue if we are exposed to very high levels/amounts of radiation, far greater than normal levels. But the point is that even then our bodies don’t seek out or accumulate radioisotopes specifically.

    So – the issue becomes just what value deep sea disposal has over land sites such as Yucca Mountain that can be controlled, accessed if desired (for reprocessing or ‘mining’ other valuable materials) and so on …. and frankly I suspect that deep sea disposal just isn’t the best option when the issues of valuable materials in the ‘waste,’ total costs, etc. are all considered.

    Again, however – the problem with high level waste isn’t a technical one at all – hasn’t been for decades. It is a political football, that has been played pretty disgustingly with taxpayers as usual getting the very very short end of the stick. Just look at Yucca for example – rate payers have already paid something like $7 to $13 billion to get it selected, then developed and licensed to the point that it was ready to finally be built – and a further ~$21+ billion or so sitting there already paid to actually build and operate it – only to have the Obama administration kill it for NO justifiable/real scientific or technical reason. (anyone wanting starter info on the $$ values I mention, see: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR_Double_attack_on_US_nuclear_waste_fees_1003111.html)

  122. Some commenters have made the point that low level radioactivity may be beneficial to health.

    Back in the 1930s a number of European spa towns specifically advertised the radioactivity of their spa water as a selling point.

    OK, thanks to Greenpiss and the rest, that’s not so fashionable today.

    But the basic idea is still around and being worked on. And one of the most famous radioactive spas at Hofgastein in Austria is even now advertising a symposium to be held next year:-

    http://www.nucmed-gastein.at/index.php?id=4

  123. Rational Debate says:
    May 6, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Willis, the idea of deep ocean disposal has been around for literally decades. Honestly it doesn’t make much sense however. High level nuclear waste is easy to deal with technologically – it’s only a problem politically.

    I know that. However, many people don’t believe it. I thought if I demonstrated a technologically simple way to put it out of the reach of most everyone, the political nature of the discussion might be highlighted. I think that I have been successful in that.

    … Even so, the design requirements for Yucca were/are absurd – originally it was for safe storage without any handling/repackaging for 10,000 years!!! Think about that for a moment, that’s longer than the written history of man! I believe they extended that by quite a bit (maybe to 1 million years?). Anyhow, the design was required to be such that if we all suddenly dissappeared or magically lost all recollection of the site, OR space aliens landed on the planet, there was no way it would be accidently dug or drilled into without recognizing the radiation risk. No joke, space aliens must be protected from drilling into the site that is some 1200 ft. below grade.

    I’m perfectly happy with Yucca Mountain, and have been for years.

    I am very curious about your statement that land species have biological mechanisms to seek out iodine that ocean species don’t – that’s the first I’ve ever heard anything along those lines. Would you elaborate please?

    My point is more general. When a chemical or element necessary for life is rare in the environment, organisms develop a whole host of mechanisms to locate, identify, and strain it out of the environment for their use.

    If a chemical or element is very common in the environment, on the other hand, organisms can get it as needed, and thus they do not need to develop exotic or specialized ways to obtain it. If it is extremely common, the organisms may need to develop mechanisms in the other direction, mechanisms to protect themselves from the element or chemical.

    In other words, the responses and mechanisms that the organisms develop are dependent on the concentration of the desirable (or undesirable) substance in the environment.

    The responses of salmon to the changes in sodium and chlorine concentrations, first in the fresh water they are born in, then in the oceanic environment, are instructive in this regard. In the first case they have developed mechanisms to collect and store the elements and prevent them from leaving their bodies.

    In the ocean they have the opposite problem, the concentration is too high, and so they also have mechanisms to prevent the elements from entering their bodies and excreting them when then come in.

    As I said, it’s a matter of concentrations. In the tropics water is common. In the desert, plants and animals develop special mechanisms and methods to extract water from the environment and store it in their bodies. Same principle.

    Also note that our bodies do NOT ‘seek’ out radioactive isotopes of any sort. The problem is that for the majority of isotopes, our bodies can’t tell the difference between a radioactive isotope and one that isn’t. So wherever the body uses a non-radioactive isotope, if a radioactive version of that same isotope is presented, the body uses it just as it would the non-radioactive version.

    Agreed.

    Thanks for the thoughts,

    w.

  124. Willis,

    A great idea! Another place to put nuclear waste is in very deep dry holes — where companies drill for oil, but don’t find any. Glassify the radioactive waste and wrap it in a stainless steel jacket.

    Create an assemblage (say, 20 feet long) and lower it to the bottom. Add 20-50 feet of concrete. Lower another assemblage of glassified waste into it, followed by 20-50 feet of concrete. Do that for 1/2 mile, and then fill the rest of the hole with concrete. With nuclear waste 17,000-20,000 feet below the surface, it would take seismic activity equivalent to the Rocky Mountain Overthrust to bring it to the surface — a surface, it should be noted, where nothing had survived the enormous upheaval.

  125. Old hat.

    This very idea was researched extensively in the 1980s by Rip Anderson, the same person who gave us WIPP. He assembled an international team, identified a 39000 square mile location centered at 32N164W to be used for this purpose, did all the required analysis even to the point of drawings for a double hulled transfer ship and disposal canister, deemed this approach to be orders of magnitude better than Yucca Mountain, and had the concurrence of the International Atomic Energy Agency but could not find the 200 million dollars necessary for a 20 year test of concept. Apparently the DOE much preferred to spend the 20 billion dollars required to develop Yucca Mountain for this purpose and we can now see where that got them.

    More information on nuclear waste disposal is available at http://dirigoenergy.org/spent-nuclear-fuel.

  126. Willis writes that “I’m perfectly happy with Yucca Mountain, and have been for years.”

    I’m NOT happy with Yucca Mountain… but only because it’s unbelievable overkill in terms of the actual safety issues. And because we’ve already spent more money on it than would have been needed to pay for a more rational storage scheme — and that’s before construction even begins.

    The nuclear utilities have already paid in several times the total amount of money needed to vitrify and store all the high-level waste they’ve ever created or will create with the currently operating plants. (Um… that’s a US-only statement, of course.) The paid-in money not yet spent would be more than enough to (a) license the entire design of the European reprocessing and vitrification plant (IP, plans, everything), (b) build our own copy of it, (c) operate it long enough to reprocess all the current spent fuel, (d) vitrify the leftover waste, and (e) either stick the small billets in dry storage (as in France) or produce big billets that can just be buried anywhere.

    Of course that won’t happen. Quite aside from public fears, the US Govt runs on cash accounting, so the expense of steps (a)-(e) above would be considered to be a current expense that increases the deficit rather than spending funds pre-paid by the operators of the nuclear plants (which would be a far more accurate description). Those funds weren’t “revenue” in the first place — they were a legally mandated pre-payment for services that have yet to be rendered by the Government. ::face-palm::

    Xenophon

  127. There have been proposed various different ways for getting rid of nuclear waste:

    -Putting it into depleted mines, in dry rock formations, which are separated from the biosphere by thick layers of water resistant sediments. This method is used for billions of tons of toxic wastes world wide. Many types of toxic waste stay dangerous for ever, so this method should be suitable for nuclear waste, as it stays dangerous for only a limited time. Furthermore, all the nuclear waste, that remains more radioactive than natural radiation of the standard environment, for longer than 800 years, is stored as chemically stable oxides. Non of these actinide-oxides are water-soluble.

    -Putting the nuclear waste into clay lined pits in a dry desert and covering it with several dozen feet of sand or dirt. There are already many theoretical uses for most of the nuclear waste, so this might become a valuable resource in the future.

    -reducing the amount of toxic waste by separating the water-soluble parts and solving them in large areas of the deep sea. Storing the non-water soluble parts in conventional toxic waste dumps. This has two safety features:
    First, the oceans contain literally quintillions of tons of nuclear isotopes, so diluted nuclear waste can not significantly increase the natural radioactivity of the seawater. Second, The deep sea currents don’t reach the surface within thousands of years, so the the soluble waste would have become LESS radioactive than the pure seawater by the time it reaches the surface.

    -Putting nuclear waste, including plutonium and other actinides, into barrels and placing them into a continental basin of Antarctica. The heat of the plutonium lets the barrels melt their way all the way down to the ground of the basin. The water freezes again in some distance behind the barrels, as soon the heat conductivity and area of ice is large enough.

  128. Can nuclear waste be dropped into an active volcano and sucked down into the volcano and burned up/melted?

  129. The major problem with the waste is the plutonium.

    A thorium reactor is the holy grail in nuclear power. As it turns out, a thorium reactor can also “eat” the plutonium waste.

    http://www.patentstorm.us/patents/6442226/description.html

    India and maybe Russia have an operating thorium reactor. China has announced they are pursuing them. The US? We’re funding windmills. (and the US has the second largest thorium reserves in the world.)

    For those not familiar with a thorium reactor, here are a few links:

    Thorium: Is It the Better Nuclear Fuel? It may turn out to be a quantum leap in the search for economy and safety.

    http://cavendishscience.org/bks/nuc/thrupdat.htm

    Cleaner Nuclear Power?

    http://www.thoriumpower.com/files/MIT_Cleaner_Nuclear_Power.pdf

    Accelerator-driven Nuclear Energy

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf35.html

    New age nuclear

    http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/348/

    The Thorium Reactor and possible tie to THOR is on the 4h page.

    Reintroducing Thorium
    A largely forgotten natural resource holds vast nuclear power potential

    http://pubs.acs.org/cen/science/87/8746sci2.html

    Is thorium the answer to our energy crisis?
    It could power the planet for thousands of years, the reactors would never blow up and the waste is relatively clean. So is thorium the nuclear fuel of the future?

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/is-thorium-the-answer-to-our-energy-crisis-428279.html

    A Nuclear Reactor in Every Home

    http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/2006/10/a-nuclear-reactor-in-every-home/

    “Thorium-based nuclear energy” Interview with Professor Egil Lillest

    http://www.divainternational.ch/spip.php?article161

    Plan for Nuclear Reactor Without Nuclear Waste

    http://www.nytimes.com/1995/05/16/news/16iht-atomen.ttt.html?pagewanted=1

    Thorium: Is It the Better Nuclear Fuel?
    It may turn out to be a quantum leap in the search for economy and safety.

    http://cavendishscience.org/bks/nuc/thrupdat.htm

    Will we run out of uranium?

    http://metalsplace.com/news/articles/32845/will-we-run-out-of-uranium/

    Thorium based fuel options for the generation of electricity: Developments in the 1990s
    IAEA-TECDOC-1155
    International Atomic Enerergy Agency

    http://www.iaea.org/inisnkm/nkm/aws/fnss/fulltext/31030535.pdf

    The Significant Thorium Deposits of the United States

    http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/other/uranium/u2009/Van%20Gosen%20abstract.pdf

    Thorium Energy Inc.: An economic overview of a pioneering company

    http://www.resourceinvestor.com/News/2009/3/Pages/Thorium-Energy-Inc—An-economic-overview-of-a.aspx

    S. 3680: Thorium Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008

    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s110-3680

    Thorium reactor

    http://everything2.com/title/thorium+reactor

    Thorium

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf62.html

    Thorium Energy Alliance

    http://www.thoriumenergyalliance.com/

    Indian Research Reactors

    http://www.barc.ernet.in/rcaindia/4_6.html

    China Takes Lead in Race for Clean Nuclear Power

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/02/china-thorium-power/

    China announces thorium reactor energy program, Obama still dwelling on “Sputnik moments”

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/01/30/china-announces-thorium-reactor-energy-program-obama-still-dwelling-on-sputnik-moments/

  130. Vitrify the waste. Then grind up the glass. Mix the ground glass with concrete to dilute it even further and then dump the concrete mixture into one of the many caverns created by the underground nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site. Most of these caverns are still “hot” and will require security and monitoring for the indeterminate future. This method will preclude any recovery of these high-level wastes without a huge industrial-size concentration process. We should have no cause for concern regarding future illicit use of these materials.

  131. willis:

    did you ever hear the saying “you gotta want what you got and got what you want.”

    well you can have your cake and eat it.

    some years ago some of the lads were irritated at various individuals that had killed a lot of americans.

    rumor was that these individuals had a habit of hiding in caves and in deeeeep holes in the ground.

    well the lads were eating lunch together one day and came up with a solution. they took some surplus army 8″ gunbarrels that were bent (army has lots of them) and cut them off about 15′ long. then they welded a hardened steel pointed insert into one end of the resulting tube (about a 4″ wall thickness) and attached a tail piece with a “smart bomb guidance system to the other end.

    they tested a few by dropping them from airplanes and with high speed rocket sleds and were encouraged by their results.

    then they packed a few with explosive and sent them off to iraq. worked quite well. only took 4 weeks from lunch to practical application.

    and so W your idea has merit. i would advise dropping from an aircraft at at least 30,000 feet. the free drop accelleration would add a considerable amount of energy to your effect and the greenies currently don’t have aircraft that can interfere with the project.

    besides the aircraft that are muscular enough to carry these things can also cause extreme heartburn to interfering aircraft. and if they can’t do it they have smallboy friends that can.

    C

  132. hang town bob:

    i don’t think that the caverns you refer to exist. there’s a youtube file that shows an aircraft flying over that area and it is a huge series of pot holes. this would indicate collapsed caverns.

    also the design of the acess to the small room that the explosion took place in was designed so that the explosion would close the corridor before the blast products could “get around the corner” and escape.

    exceedingly nice try but probably no cigar.

    C

  133. I believe there are a number of US patents going as far back as 1979 that propose disposing nuclear waste in tectonic subduction zones where the radioactivity may have millions of years to decay before that waste might return to the surface. Once subducted down to the asthenosphere one might expect the long-lived heavy-element isotopes to gravitate downward.

    Perhaps nuclear power generation facilities should all be sited in hardened, dry underground facilities that would prevent dispersal of radioactive isotopes in the event of worst-case natural or ‘man-made’ disasters.

  134. Leon Neihouse says:
    May 7, 2011 at 4:21 am

    Old hat.

    This very idea was researched extensively in the 1980s by Rip Anderson, the same person who gave us WIPP. He assembled an international team, identified a 39000 square mile location centered at 32N164W to be used for this purpose, did all the required analysis even to the point of drawings for a double hulled transfer ship and disposal canister, deemed this approach to be orders of magnitude better than Yucca Mountain, and had the concurrence of the International Atomic Energy Agency but could not find the 200 million dollars necessary for a 20 year test of concept.

    I love the web, I always learn so much. Many thanks.

    w.

  135. This idea was discussed by Bernard Cohen years ago, in his book called “Before It’s Too Late: A Scientist’s Case for Nuclear Energy”. This is an excellent book to counter a lot of the emotional arguments against nuclear energy.

  136. So………..problem still not solved !

    The sensible approach, would now be to ban all uranium mining and processing of these extremely radioactive, toxic & dangerous substances.

    When an appropriate solution to render radioactive substances harmless is found, and 100% safe ways of using it are found, then and only then should it be reconsidered as viable.

    Of coarse this (future use) would never happen, as before the nuclear industry could find a way to accomplish this, a safe alternative would have already filled the void.

    In the 1970’s Mork suggested “nuke away”, so often fact follows fiction, sadly, not in this case.

    Fiction abounds about radioactive substances, you deluded people seriously need to do some homework on ionizing radiation, DNA, RNA, the food web and the associated mutations from this disgusting technology.

    Myth #1, radiation cures cancer

  137. As pointed out by a number of commenters, deep sea disposal has been a viable proposed solution to radioactive waste for a long time. And yes, it has been done in the past. The main objection to the concept is the “what if it leaks” meme. This notion needs to be disabused because the dilution of the ocean is so huge that the radioactive material would be rendered harmless as long as there is no reconcentration in a biological system.

    Dilution is a solution to radioactive materials. The reason for this is related to the concept of half-life. One atom of plutonium-239 has a 50/50 chance of emitting its radiation in within a 24,000 year period and it does so in a split second. What is this atom doing the rest of the 23,999.9999999 years? Answer: It certainly is not emitting radiation.

    Let’s say you put a kilogram of the Pu in the ocean. For you chemists and numbers folks, remember Avogadro’s number, and you can calculate the actual number of Pu atoms present in this kilogram. Now calculate the number of atoms of water in the ocean. Divide the number of atoms of Pu by the number of atoms of water. Then calculate how many atoms of the Pu would be in each pint or liter of ocean water. Presuming a uniform dilution of the Pu, I can guarantee that if you can find a single atom in any one pint, you will be lucky.

    Let’s presume that a fish drinks a liter of water with one atom of Pu in it and the atom stays in the fish (unlikely as biological systems do not have much use for the chemical form that this Pu would be in). What are the odds that this atom of Pu would happen to emit its radiation during the lifetime of the fish? Really, really, really small. Even if the fish got unlucky, it is only a one time hit from this Pu atom. Given that there are other naturally occurring nuclides (tritium, C-14, uranium, etc) in the fish and in sufficient quantities that they give off emissions by the millions every minute, does anyone really think that one extra potential hit is going to make a big difference to this biological system? One hit from radiation has a one in a quadrillion chance of causing harm such as cancer. That is not a million, not a billion, not a trillion, but a quadrillion chance.

    Deep sea disposal is very viable and the concern of leakage becomes laughable when one understands how radioactive atoms work, the half-life concept and the chemistry of the materials that would be disposed. However, Willis, I agree with a number of the obviously more knowledgeable posters that land disposal with decent security provides a means for future humans (hopefully better educated than today’s folks) to retrieve and use the energy still available in this waste. Land disposal can be as safe as sea disposal, but with this added benefit to future generations.

    Sunspot: I try to educate people about radioactive materials, how they work, their pros and cons, their biological risk and how to protect oneself from radiation. As a Health Physicist, I have a great deal of radiation knowledge. I see no delusional people in the postings above. You said radiation doesn’t cure cancer and you are technically correct. It doesn’t cure it, it kills it. My radiation oncologist brother would gladly explain this process in great detail and he might also tell you how many lives he has saved. I too can also give you a lot of details of the process. So far you have basically only ragged on the posters here. We like to discuss the science of things on this website. If you have specific examples of radiation risk that you would like to discuss, I might be game to discuss them with you. Generally I have found that there are some rabid, closed-minded anti-nuclear folks out there who are a waste of time to have a discussion with. Are you one of these? If not, I enjoy educating folks and would hope that you could bring something to the table that would educate me. Otherwise …

  138. Brian H, I thought of subduction zones, too. Then I though, why wait? Just dig a shaft down to the core and toss the stuff in.
    Should take a week or so. Perhaps less if we get two guys digging.

  139. How does plutonium change in the environment?

    All isotopes of plutonium undergo radioactive decay. As plutonium decays, it releases radiation and forms other radioactive isotopes. For example, Pu-238 emits an alpha particle and becomes uranium-234; Pu-239 emits an alpha particle and becomes uranium-235.

    This process happens slowly since the half-lives of plutonium isotopes tend to be relatively long: Pu-238 has a half-life of 87.7 years; Pu-239 has a half-life is 24,100 years, and Pu-240 has a half-life of 6,560 years. The decay process continues until a stable, non-radioactive element is formed.

    What does plutonium do once it gets into the body?

    The stomach does not absorb plutonium very well, and most plutonium swallowed with food or water passes from the body through the feces. When inhaled, plutonium can remain in the lungs depending upon its particle size and how well the particular chemical form dissolves. The chemical forms that dissolve less easily may lodge in the lungs or move out with phlegm, and either be swallowed or spit out. But, the lungs may absorb chemical forms that dissolve more easily and pass them into the bloodstream.

    Once in the bloodstream, plutonium moves throughout the body and into the bones, liver, or other body organs. Plutonium that reaches body organs generally stays in the body for decades and continues to expose the surrounding tissue to radiation.

    How can plutonium affect people’s health?

    External exposure to plutonium poses very little health risk, since plutonium isotopes emit alpha radiation, and almost no beta or gamma radiation. In contrast, internal exposure to plutonium is an extremely serious health hazard. It generally stays in the body for decades, exposing organs and tissues to radiation, and increasing the risk of cancer. Plutonium is also a toxic metal, and may cause damage to the kidneys.

    If anybody has had the displeasure of watching someone die from medically induced radiation poisoning, then they would know that these genocidal chemicals let loose in our environment would be detrimental to all creatures on the planet.

    It would be only a matter time before some of these invisible cancer bombs land, unnoticed on your own dinner plate/s !

  140. Actually, you don’t need to bury this stuff. Bring Integral Fast Reactors on line; they can use this stuff for fuel. Look up Internet references to Argonne National Laboratory’s IFR project. The Clinton administration killed it when it needed only three years to complete its research and engineering schedule. Clinton also forbade anyone on the project to even talk about the IFR or its cancellation. It almost seems as if the environmentalists want to make sure that nuclear energy cannot be used, at least in the U.S., by deliberately forcing the accumulation of toxic waste at current operation reactor sites; the public and its safety be damned.

  141. Ok, the first mistake that just about everyone makes when looking at spent nuclear fuel is to consider it “waste” because to waste it would really be the wasteful act.

    The fuel can be recycled a number of times (up to ten or so) to extract all but about 5% of the energy out of it. Since the fuel is being used in fission this has an added benefit of fissioning many of the most toxic of the radioactive substances thus reducing the overall radioactive half life down from 10,000-100,000 to something a little more manageable around 300-500 years. After this recycling process has extracted all but the last dregs of the potential energy it then really is spent fuel with technology within today’s reach. However, it may be possible yet in the future to extract even that last 5% or a good portion of it should we find that prudent or economic.

    There are other benefits too, three main benefits actually [1 - 3]:

    Fast-neutron reactors could [1] extract much more energy from recycled nuclear fuel, [2] minimize the risks of weapons proliferation and [3] markedly reduce the time nuclear waste must be isolated.” – Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste by William H. Hannum, Gerald E. Marsh and George S. Stanford, Scientific American, December 2005, http://www.nationalcenter.org/NuclearFastReactorsSA1205.pdf

    Burying nuclear waste or tossing it away is not practical and goes against every standard of environmental stewardship. Extracting all the energy from it that we possibly can is much more prudent and more responsible.

    As such “Modest Proposal for Nuclear Waste Disposal” is seriously flawed as the nuclear waste is NOT waste, it’s a resource that we are going to need to provide clean energy for our future. Only after all but the last bit of potential energy has been extracted from the nuclear fuel is it truly waste and by then it’s much safer to deal with with plans such as the “modest proposal” (but seriously don’t bury the stuff at sea).

  142. Nuclear waste is not waste.
    It is not trash.
    In my life I have seen newspapers go from trash to cardboard.
    I have seen aluminum cans become new aluminum cans.
    I have seen used glass bottles become new glass bottles.
    1) We need better mechanisms for isotopic separation. Chemically we can separate out elements, but isotopes require other techniques. Laser ionization? Centrifuges? Possibilities abound, but they will have to pay off.
    2) We need more brain power put behind the use of isotopes. For the most part, daughter particles are neutron-heavy and thus good neutron sources. But what can they be used for? Examples abound: sheet metal mills where the thickness of the metal is gauged by a radioactive source, for instance.
    3) Fire is dangerous. But we use fire in all sorts of ways. Just because a physical phenomenon like radioactivity can cause harm, we should not cease using the phenomenon for that reason. [Unless you are dead set against GM crops]
    4) Posters are in the main correct: the problem is political, not scientific. So long as people are not properly educated, scare-mongers will run wild.
    5) It is my understanding that the radio isotopes used in nuclear medicine are now in short supply. Can these be found in general nuclear “waste”?
    For the most part, we are still pretty dumb about the whole issue.

  143. Mathman;
    Don’t be too sanguine about the glass and paper. I gather that in most jurisdictions the only recycling efforts that break even, all costs and offsets considered, are those of metals. And some places, not even that; some have been hidden-camera-filmed mixing the “recycled” blue-box contents directly back into the landfill waste stream.

    “Things aren’t always what they seem; Skim milk masquerades as cream.” –G&S

  144. Mathman;
    For an interesting techy alternative, check out the plasma torch pilot at plascoenergygroup.com .

  145. mathman:

    the last time i saw neucleonic water level indicators for boiler waterlevels was in 1973. i have not followed their use since them but the fact that they are not on every boiler and water heater in the western world would indicate that there is some industrial reason that they are not used.

    measuring material thickness in sheets is more easily done with a roller and laser setup. the sheet moves over the roller (at whatever speed you want it to) and two lasers are focused on it in converging lines. when the images are a true circle the thickness is what you want. if the figure 8 is oversized then the material is to thin and if the image is undersized the material is to thick. accuracy with standard equipment is .0005″.

    this system has been in use since about 1985 in the machine tool industry.

    C

  146. Willis Eschenbach says:
    May 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    [...]

    “I’m sorry for my lack of clarity. The problem is terrorism. I have no desire to see some vitrified waste mixed in with a truckload of ANFO …”

    Okay, I see. I’m afraid I still have to disagree, though. When it comes to mixing ANFO with things that are extremely hard to procure, I guess that there is a wide range of biological or chemical options that I’d be more afraid of. So I’d go back to my flat counter of “Dangerous compared to what?”.

    I have to admit that I’ve not looked into the lore of dirty bombs in any great detail, but even without going into things like the dispersabilty of radionuclides encased in a glass matrix, there is one crucial and readily apparent characteristic of radioactive materials that other nasty stuff doesn’t share: it’s radioactive (well, duh) and thus easily detectable even in miniscule amounts, amounts that are orders of magnitude from posing an actual health risk. Therefore, a dirty bomb would be extremely hard to hide during construction and delivery to its target site, and decontamination after a successful attack would be comparatively easy to do. The biggest effect would be a potential panic, and that would be a short-term effect and would only work once. Well, it would probably work a couple of times more in nutjob countries like my own (Germany), but even we would eventually look around and notice that we’re still alive and well.

    My hunch (and I’d be happy if you could dismantle that hunch – I’m here to learn, after all) is that, assuming that a terrorist group has the means to park a truckload of ANFO in some inner city, we maybe should have the desire that they are dumb enough to try and put something on top that will increase their logistic headaches a hundredfold while not causing a lot of harm in and by itself.

    This is a bit similar to my fervent and probably misplaced hope that a terrorist group smart enough to manage another hijack of a big civilian aircraft could simultaneously be dumb enough to crash that aircraft into the strongest walls they can find (i.e. a nuclear reactor) instead of, say, a busy city centre, a sports stadium or a chemical plant.

  147. sunspot says:
    May 14, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Aside from the fact that your link is to an advertising site, and is hence spam, it’s not “800 km.” span, which suggest radius. It’s 800 sq. km., which is about 32 x 25 km equivalent, or 20 x 15 miles. A significant little patch, but hardly a “Chernobyl”.

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