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Spread it over a large surface area?

  1. Aug 12, 2009 #1
    I assume there is something wrong with my thinking, but couldn't you be able to speed up the decay of radioactive waste by spreading it over a large surface area so that it could disperse its energy much better? I understand half life refers to the majority bulk of a material, but if you were to spread the material into individual atoms, what happens then?
     
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  3. Aug 12, 2009 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    The atoms decay when they decay. The environment they are in makes no difference.
     
  4. Aug 12, 2009 #3
    Then individual uranium atoms are safe for about 4.7 billion years?
     
  5. Aug 12, 2009 #4

    vanesch

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    On average, yes :smile:
     
  6. Aug 12, 2009 #5
    All radioactive atoms (nuclei of atoms) remain radioactive and potentially harmful for a few or many half-lives until they decay. Sometimes they decay into other radioactive atoms. They normally emit alphas, betas (electrons or positrons), or gamm rays. I have read that some low-Z electron-capture decay half lives can be changed by maybe 0.1% by packing them in dense crystals. The best way to treat reactor wastes (other than Yucca Mountain) is to irradiate them with neutrons or "burn" them up in a subcritical reactor that is assisted by a proton accelerator. See
    http://www.wipp.energy.gov/science/adtf/ATW.pdf
     
  7. Aug 12, 2009 #6
    Well that's very interesting, but the answer to the OP is as stated above: No, it does not matter if you "spread it out over a larger surface area."
     
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