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Cleaning up radioactive or mine waste

  1. Sep 18, 2014 #1
    I would hope it is not unsolvable but I know I will be dead long before this mess is cleaned up and I hope that it is resolved in my grandchildren's generation. They are in their twenties now and have children of their own.

    All of us anti nuke people talk about solar power and other alternative energy sources but disregard the damage done to mine the rare earth elements needed to build them.

    I have no idea what the solution is but I know we are on a horrible path.

    [Moderator note: Threads were spun off from the Japan Earthquake: nuclear plants part 2]
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 6, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 19, 2014 #2
    (1) Typical PV panels don't use rare earth elements. They use silicon. Rare earths go into small volume, very expensive and very efficient panels, mostly geared for spacecraft.

    (2) Mining can be done different ways. If regulations are in place (e.g. air pollution, effluent control...) and enforced, mining is not significantly damaging.

    You like to feel scared and/or guilty?
  4. Oct 3, 2014 #3
    I am neither scared nor feeling guilty. I died after having an operation for having cancerous tumors removed from my mouth in 2008, fortunately I was in the hospital at the time and they brought me back. Everything since then is bonus time!

    I know a thing or two about rare earth elements and their uses, years ago I was heavily invested in the mining sector, mainly gold and copper mines but I was looking to get into rare earth projects in North and South America so I researched the field extensively.

    Most of the rare earth elements at the time came from China and it was of great concern to industry in the west as China was cutting back exports every year as their needs were increasing. Also for strategic reasons.

    The amount that goes into space is miniscule compared to that used in terrestrial electronics. Now having said that I still oppose Nuclear Energy ever since Fukushima blew up and I was once a staunch supporter.

    You are correct however that little REE are used in the construction of the panels but the associated electronics and controls would use them.

    Here is an interesting link if you are interested. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_earth_element#Environmental_considerations
  5. Oct 5, 2014 #4
    I read it, and saw nothing unexpected there. It says the mining of REs produces mildly radioactive tailings with some thorium. This is not unique by a long shot. For example, mining of phosphates often produces uranium-enriched tailings. Because of this, there are environmental laws on mining, requiring mining company to treat its waste streams, rendering them safe.
  6. Oct 5, 2014 #5
    Did you not read how environmentally unsafe the mining practices in China are for the illegal mines and standards largely ignored by the larger ones. Never mind this is getting way to off topic for this forum.
  7. Oct 6, 2014 #6


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    Actually, this is very much on topic.
    The mining of rare earths, much like phosphate rock processing, mobilizes a large volume of radioactive residue material.
    Nobody has any coherent way to deal with this and the price of the end product is too low to pay for reasonable remediation.
    It sure reminds me of nuclear spent fuel and waste management, the cost of fixing it properly is daunting, so we ignore the problem, but eventually it forces itself onto center stage.
    The Chinese let the market fix the problem by imposing an export quota, which hugely raised the price. That made a cleanup affordable. Although the suppliers probably find it cheaper to bribe the local officials than to remedy the situation, at least the economic prerequisites are now met.
    A huge tax on uranium mining would probably do wonders for fuel reprocessing and nuclear waste management.
  8. Oct 6, 2014 #7


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    You make a good point, although to all appearances the ongoing lower level radiation leakage from the Fukushima site is a major issue.
    Cleaning up a large area of contamination is a missing skill in the nuclear world, as Fukushima among others illustrates, but better handled in a new thread as you suggest.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 7, 2014
  9. Oct 9, 2014 #8
    This is not a problem of mining REs per se. It is a problem of Chinese people lacking ways to affect their government and improve their laws. Discussing *that* problem would be off-topic here.
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