# How long is nuclear power plant waste really dangerous?

1. ### that_guy

11
I know that some of the isotopes have extremely long half-lifes. However, isn't it true that generally speaking, a longer half life correlates to a lower rate of radioactivity? So wouldn't the most dangerous elements be those with short half-lifes? Isn't most of the danger from waste therefore gone after the first few 100 or 1000 years?

### Staff: Mentor

Yes, yes, and yes.

However even with "most" of the radiation gone, its still going to be pretty dangerous. For our purposes, radioactive waste is radioactive forever - its so far above human timescales. But really, we're probably talking on the order of 10,000-100,000 years.

3. ### that_guy

11
You mean it would result in several times our usual annual dose even after 1,000 years? Is it orders of magnitude higher?

What I was trying to determine is if the 10,000 year goal for places like Yucca Mountain are very conservative and that even if a problem occurred after 1000 years the radiation would be so diminished that it wouldn't be much of a problem.

Seems to me that even if we did screw up badly and something leaked after only 100 or 200 years, our technology would be so advanced by then that we should be able to handle it without too much problem.

Last edited: Dec 6, 2003

### Staff: Mentor

Yes, it would still be dangerous after 1,000 years. I think the point of the 10,000 year goal is that its longer than all of recorded human history, not that the site will be safe by then.

And yes, I think technology will change the equation within the next 100 years as well. But they are being conservative in thinking longer term than that.

7,521
Staff Emeritus
There is already technology known - a version of the Integral Fast Reactor - that could "eat" high-rad waste and turn it into much milder radioactive material whose danger would be gone in a few hundred years. All that is required is the political will to fund it.

6. ### theroyprocess

141
Scientific Impossibility

High level nuclear waste has already leaked into our precious
ground water at Hanford..and exploded at the Russian Ural
mountain nuclear dump. In the first 55 years of the atomic age!
----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Activists protest Hanford dump through initiative

by Rachel Fomon
December 04, 2003 December 05, 2003

http://www.westernfrontonline.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2003/12/04/3fd0eb2b2c788

The U.S. Department of Energy plans to ship 70,000 truckloads of
radioactive waste to unlined soil landfills at the Hanford Site, without
cleaning the 54-million gallons of dangerous, high-level radioactive
waste that already is there, said Eliza Johnson, field director of
Initiative-297.

Johnson and Katie McClendon, of Heart of America Northwest, a nonprofit
organization based in Seattle, spoke at Western Dec. 2 about
Initiative-297 and the effects more radioactive waste would have on the
environment and community.

"I think that, in general, people don't want nuclear waste being dumped
in their state," McClendon said.

The Hanford Site, located along the Columbia River in southeastern
Washington state, once was used as a plutonium production complex that
assisted in the nation's defense for more than 40 years, according to
the Hanford Web site.

The Department of Energy is involved in the world's largest
environmental cleanup at Hanford. The site has more than 50 million
gallons of liquid waste in 177 storage tanks, 12 tons of plutonium, 25
million cubic feet of buried waste and 270 billion gallons of
contaminated groundwater, according to the Hanford Web site.

"If we don't clean up the Columbia River, we are at danger of losing it,
and now they want to bring in more," Johnson said.

Initiative-297 would require the Department of Energy to clean
contaminated sites such as Hanford before it adds more waste. If voters
approve the initiative, it would forbid Hanford from being the nation's

It also would force the government to stop dumping waste into unlined
ditches, require it to clean burial grounds and stop contaminated
groundwater from spreading to the Columbia River.

Moreover, the initiative would require the Department of Energy to
remove the waste from tanks at Hanford that leak into the ground,
according to the Protect Washington Web site.

Heart of America Northwest and its volunteers have collected 180,000
signatures in four-and-a-half months, but they still need 10,000
signatures on petitions by Dec. 31 to place the initiative on the
November 2004 ballot, McClendon said.

"I think, obviously, the environment will be threatened, and we can
expedite the Columbia River as a water source and be faced with doubling
the waste already at the site," McClendon said.

One of the main concerns is the contamination of the Columbia River,
Johnson said.

Employees at Hanford are doing their part in cleaning up the site,
Hanford spokeswoman Andrea Powell said.

"Everyone is focused on the cleanup right now," Powell said. "It's no
secret that there are some contaminants in the Columbia River."

The Department of Health routinely tests the river to make sure it is
safe. The agency considers the river to be Class A, which means it is
suitable for all water activities, she said.

"This is an issue at Western because it is something that affects
everyone in Washington state," Environmental Center Co-coordinator Sarah
Young said. "It's important for all of us to be educated about it and do

--

Posted for educational and research purposes only,
~ in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 ~

7. ### that_guy

11
Is this reprocessing or a different process entirely? And it would be suitable for generating electricity while it is using high-rad waste?

7,521
Staff Emeritus
The integrl fast reactor is a design that produces low-level radioactive waste that is less dangerous, decays much faster, and is much easier and safer to store (but of course somebody with theroyprocess's philosophy that any radiation at all is too much radiation wouldn't be persuaded by these considerations).

The people who designed the IFR also designed a version of it optimized for converting existing high-rad waste from current light water reactors. It would use the high-rad as fuel, I think, and produce its usual low-rad output. I am not really up on the details of this.

The IFR program was cancelled by the Clinton administration.

9. ### theroyprocess

141
Dr. Roy Knew from the Ground Up

Dr. Roy knew the nuclear industry from the ground up. He
designed the Roy Process on an industrial scale using
existing infrastructure, commercially available machinery
and current technology. It will generate electric power using
the existing generators at each nuclear power plant
where the waste is stored in cooling ponds.

Dr. Roy was the former director of the nuclear physics labs
at the Univeristy of Belgium, Penn State and designed the
buildings, nuclear instruments for students to study physics.
He was very aware that good science must be the most
cost effective.

You could shut down all the dangerously aging reactors and
use the heat from the transmutation of the spent fuel to power
the generators and ELIMINATE it forever. Other schemes
creates more nuclear waste and only perpetuates the problem
which is why the Roy Process is being ignored.

7,521
Staff Emeritus
Excellent! Have you got online technical details of the Roy Process? It seems there is so much tecnology that would alleviate or solve the waste problem, but nobody in the government wants to apply it.

11. ### theroyprocess

141
Roy Process Article

The patent application of some 100 pages, apparatus and theory, with
proprietary technical data for transmuting Pu239, Sr90 and Cs137 can
only be seen by scientists representing a company capable of realization
who contracts with us. The below article contains a brief description
which Dr. Roy released to the press. It is incomplete to protect patent
rights necessary for commercial realization.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Guest Article: Making Nuclear Waste Less Harmful
Friday, 29 August 2003, 12:36 pm
Opinion: Guest Opinion

A Process To Render Nuclear Weapons & Waste Less Harmful

By Dennis F. Nester,
special for NuclearNo.com,
Originally published 20 June 2003
- Recycling plutonium from warheads into MOX nuclear reactor fuel only perpetuates the security and environmental problems of bomb grade elements
- There is a better way which will completely transmute plutonium and other high level nuclear waste known as the Roy Process

It was the TMI partial meltdown that moved Dr. Roy to spend the summer school break proving calculations to see if it was possible to transmute high level nuclear waste cost effectively. He found it could be done with existing infrastructure, commercially available machinery and current supporting technology.

17. ### SpaceGuy

20
Recycle it. Problem solved. Oh yeah, I forgot, we can't. Because a bunch of peacenics caused it to become illegal. Now these same rednecks complain about the waste THEY caused to happen. Nice one GreenPeace.

18. ### Nigel

171
The discussion of P53 protein repair of chromosome breaks is suppressed in health physics, because it is obvious that low level radiation will at some dose be repaired. We see this in the fact that we get 0.2 rem or 2 millisieverts per year from background radiation, which is 0.02 millirem per hour on the earth's surface (compared to 1 millirem per hour on the moon in solar calm, and far more during solar storms).

In the 1950s there was a long argument between people setting "safe dose limits" for nuclear workers and the theorists who used studies from short lived mammals like mice which have less sophisticated DNA repair mechanisms. The theorists argued that men are mice and any dose is dangerous. Eventually the "safe limit" people were outnumbered and put on the defensive, renaming their safe doses as "acceptible doses".

So today it is heresy in physics to use the latest P53 protein research on the natural rate of repair of radiation damage to check if there really is a safe dose. The concept is heresy just like the ether is a heresy and electromagnetic theorists must pretend that the 377 ohm impedance of free space is some kind of geometry, not a physical characteristic of the ether.

In the same way, Copernicus' solar system was a heresy because Aristarchus of Samos had previously said the same thing and been ridiculed for it. The problems of scientific leaders having to eat humble pie are so great that physics always ends up getting bogged down in heresies, suppressions, humorous ridicule without checking scientific proofs and data, etc. In other words, science is dominated by big money politics. If ex-bookbinder Michael Faraday was alive today, doubtless his invention of the electric motor and generator would be dismissed ad hoc as cranky new ideas.

With radiation, the most penetrating types (neutrinos and gammas) are less easily stopped, interact less, and produce less ionisation and damage. The types which are stopped easiest like alphas from plutonium-239 cause the most damage if the atoms are inside the lung tissue, but they are harmless if they are kept out of the lungs. Sealing them in glass, as happens when you ground burst a nuclear bomb on silicate sand, prevents an inhalation danger because refractory elements like plutonium condense into molten sand before the sand solidifies (although you get some fractionation with elements of lower melting point like iodine-131 and similar ending up on the outside of already solidified glassy fallout particles).

All the radioactive waste on earth is trivial compared to the hazards from natural potassium-40 in the oceans and radon gas from the ground. Not to mention the natural radiation hazards in space. The nuclear industry made a mess of the whole publicity business by cheapskating on radiation research and using fragmented data instead of setting up an organised central radiation research project in the 1940s and 50s. However, the messy public relations propaganda and the incompetence in getting the facts straight in health physics and nuclear energy, is typical of many areas of science.

You can look at the cancer research industry, which has for a century been very good at spending money on research and has delivered results only slowly. Whenever you have bureaucracy, with its obsession on heresy suppression, ridiculing new work from Faraday type scientists, and so on, you can't expect anything but inertia and sleek, glossy self-promotion, because these are the only things committees all agree to do. Quite often, these committees decide where they want discoveries to be made, and subconsciously try to forge the discoveries by hyping up any hopeful result when they big progress doesn't come in the required highly funded area. We see the same thing with speculative superstring and quantum gravity. Proven work which gets somewhere is automatically heretical and sneeringly suppressed. Thus the business of science has become so commercialised that political decisions take precedence over all else. Money speaks.

http://members.lycos.co.uk/nigelbryancook/