Ways of getting rid of nuclear waste

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Summary:

Have any physicists or anyone period tried to get rid of nuclear waste .

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Summary: Have any physicists or anyone period tried to get rid of nuclear waste .

Summary: Have any physicists or anyone period tried to get rid of nuclear waste .

There must be some way to keep it from emitting strontium-90 and the rest. At the quantum level isn't there something that can be done. What I would like to know more than anything is if anyone has tried.
 

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Andrew Mason
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Summary: Have any physicists or anyone period tried to get rid of nuclear waste .

Summary: Have any physicists or anyone period tried to get rid of nuclear waste .

There must be some way to keep it from emitting strontium-90 and the rest. At the quantum level isn't there something that can be done. What I would like to know more than anything is if anyone has tried.
The only way to "get rid" of short-lived fission products such as Strontium-90 would be to let them decay. They have half lives of less than 100 years so they just have to be kept out of the environment for a few hundred years.

The highly radioactive fission products are not the real problem with nuclear waste. The problem is the plutonium and other heavy elements whose radioactivity is due to U238 neutron absorption in the reactor. There are large quantities of these elements in the spent fuel and they have much longer half lives (Pu239 has a half life of about 24,000 years) so they present a challenging storage problem.

There is a way of "getting rid" of these long lived radioactive elements. One just has to chemically remove the short-lived fission products and put the reprocessed fuel back into the reactor. It can be used most effectively in fast neutron reactors as fuel. With successive reprocessing you would end up using up all the heavier elements leaving essentially short lived fission products that would have to be kept sequestered for a few hundred years.

AM
 
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Basically you cant get rid of it - with a few caveats. We have some modern reactor designs that actually use waste as fuel:
https://www.fastcompany.com/3043099/this-nuclear-reactor-eats-nuclear-waste
They tend to produce less nuclear waste as well and are inherently much safer- a double benefit

But modern reactor designs are not fully mature engineering wise. For example there is a design called a pebble reactor:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble-bed_reactor
Looks like it would be a good addition to the energy production mix of virtually any country. One problem - they build one for test purposes and found after a while the pepples clogged and they had to actually use a broom handle to unclog it. Some more work to iron out the kinks is obviously required.

However do not get too stressed out about the issue. Here in Australia its in fact very arid with mostly desert. Storing the waste in the middle of our dessert away from anybody would render it not of much concern until the real answer is fully developed - that is fusion power. In Britain they think its about 10 years away:
https://onezero.medium.com/finally-fusion-power-is-about-to-become-a-reality-c6b8b5915cf5
Unfortunately Fusion power has a history of being just 10 or 20 years away.

Thanks
Bill
 
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My thought when I was a little kid was that we should put that nasty stuff in the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench -- unfortunately. as I learned a few years later, the food chain could perhaps elevate some of it therefrom -- my current thought is that we should bury that of it which can't be 'burned' in reactors, deeply (kilometers or miles) underground, in arid inland desert land, with good and well-maintained warning signage (e.g. 'buried radioactive waste -- don't drill for oil here').
 
DEvens
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There are fundamental mistakes here. First, thinking of it as waste is a mistake. And thinking of getting rid of it is a mistake.

The very fact that this material is radioactive tells you there is energy available in it. Especially in the stuff like Pu. Just because, right now, we don't have a fuel cycle that uses it does not mean we will not develop one.

The thing to do is put it someplace it won't cause problems, but that we can get it back easily if we want it.

Yucca Mountain would be a very good choice.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_repository
Sadly, this is so mired in political in-fighting it seems unlikely it will ever get put into operation. When a thing such as this gets brought into the legislature and the courts it seldom emerges intact.

But the idea would be to put this material in a place that is suitably stable for about 100 years. You want someplace with little ground flow of water and some solid rock formations. You leave it there until the shorter lived stuff decays. This leaves you a much easier problem, regardless of the long-term plans.

Then if it is decided to give it a longer time scale disposal, you can make that choice. Or if there is some other plan like reprocessing, then that can be done with lower levels of radioactive material. Or if some other fuel cycle is developed you can feed it into that.

Yucca Mountain should be easily qualified to 1000 years. And with some minor adjustments, to 10,000. You could back fill with concrete and bentonite to reduce ground water flow. You do that to a depth of about 1km. Then anybody who is able to dig that deep will almost certainly have the technical ability to deal with something as minor as 1000-year-old nuclear waste.

But notions of disposing of it by dropping it in a deep ocean trench, or some other difficult-to-retrieve option, are mistaken. You can't monitor it in that trench. You can't get it back and fix the containers if they start to corrode. You can't extract some isotope that suddenly becomes valuable. And you can't feed it into some new fuel cycle.

Plus, such long-term disposal options are likely to be at least as expensive as Yucca Mountain.
 
DEvens
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By the way, regarding fusion power relative to waste. The reaction that is most often talked about for achieving fusion is D-T. Scroll down in the wiki article to Energy Capture.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power
That reaction produces a very energetic neutron, which in turn can activate just about anything it hits. It is expected to hit a Lithium blanket to produce the required Tritium.

But it means that you will have buckets of Tritium, and the structure of the device will get a constant flux of neutrons. So you will have radioactive material produced in fusion. Not nearly the mass produced in fission. But some slippery stuff in the form of Tritium. Being an isotope of Hydrogen, it's gnarly to contain it without leakage. And the structures will get activated.

And eventually this is one limit on the life of a facility, meaning eventually the structure become so damaged by the neutron flux that they can't support operation any longer. And then you have to dispose of the entire device as radioactive waste.

It's a solvable problem, but one that does come along with fusion. Maybe you want Yucca Mountain for disposal of fusion reactors after their useful life.
 
DEvens
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Vanadium 50
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Tritium has a very low energy beta (endpoint is 18 keV). It's biologically active, which is not very nice, but it is quickly eliminated from the body. Half-time is ~10 days. Compare that to, say Sr-90, which has endpoints at 546 keV and 2.2 MeV (for the Y-90 daughter) and collects in bones - which makes it (per gram) about 2500x as dangerous.

(Edited: meant "days" and wrote "hours")
 
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The only advantage to "underground" is it's easy to politically pretend it doesn't exist.

Antarctic mountain (or dry valley).
 
DEvens
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Tritium has a very low energy beta (endpoint is 18 keV). It's biologically active, which is not very nice, but it is quickly eliminated from the body. Half-time is ~10 days. Compare that to, say Sr-90, which has endpoints at 546 keV and 2.2 MeV (for the Y-90 daughter) and collects in bones - which makes it (per gram) about 2500x as dangerous.

(Edited: meant "days" and wrote "hours")
Yes, but... If you are producing 10's of kg of Tritium per year, you are going to be releasing a steady stream of it out of your plant. Especially as there would need to be a processing facility to get it pure enough to introduce it into the reactor. That's just how Tritium works. It's slippery damn stuff that requires really unusual methods, even heroic methods, to keep it from escaping. The neighbors will talk.

Where in a fission station, the Sr-90 is contained in the fuel. The amount that gets out is quite small, as long as you don't have any accidents.

I'm not saying these are insoluble problems. Just that they are problems that need to be considered. The way to deal with these things is based on objective facts and careful science and engineering. My read is, if we could get a fusion reactor working then the result would be a much reduced problem with rad waste. Not zero, but drastically reduced. So fusion would definitely be preferable if it could be made to work.
 
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It's slippery damn stuff
Only, if you want to keep it in 'pure' form, as Hydrogen. As water... It is just a bottle with a scary sticker.

And if you pump that water down to some steady enough underground water reserve, then by the time it gets to the surface it is long safe, indistinguishable from any other water.
 
DEvens
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Only, if you want to keep it in 'pure' form, as Hydrogen. As water... It is just a bottle with a scary sticker.

And if you pump that water down to some steady enough underground water reserve, then by the time it gets to the surface it is long safe, indistinguishable from any other water.
This is about Tritium.

To reduce dose, you want it in gaseous form. Water is massively more easily absorbed. The dose factor increases catastrophically if the T2 is turned into T2O. It's one of the gnarly sides of safety at a Tritium storage facility. If you were storing regular old Hydrogen you would have various things to convert the Hydrogen to water if it ever leaked. Catalytic devices can do so without a flame, very neat and tidy. But for Tritium the goal is to disperse it without letting it convert to Tritiated water.

Deliberately pumping rad material into ground water would produce a truly nasty political reaction. You'd be lucky to stay out of prison.

Tritium is typically stored as metal-hydrides. Or Emergency Exit signs. :^)

https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/fs-tritium.htmlhttps://www.exitlightco.com/Tritium-Exit-Sign-FAQs.html
 
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To reduce dose, you want it in gaseous form.
I understand that concern but once it is no longer handling but long term (final) storage of excess amount the least thing you want is to keep it in the form of the most notorious escape champion for anything longer than absolutely necessary.

Deliberately pumping rad material into ground water would produce a truly nasty political reaction.
I've given up on finding science in politics long ago.
 
Vanadium 50
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If I had my choice, it'd be trititaed paraffin. Stable, solid, unlikely to be ingested, impossible to be inhaled, and glow-in-the-dark crayons would be cool.
 
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I've given up on finding science in politics long ago.
You are not the only one.

The worst one I recently heard is this:
https://abcnews.go.com/International/11000-scientists-sign-declaration-global-climate-emergency/story?id=66774137
But, the climate skeptics pounced:
https://globalnews.ca/news/6138812/mickey-mouse-global-climate-emergency-letter/
No wonder the public is generally confused about the whole issue and politicians often make hay on that confusion for their own political ends.

What I don't understand is the journalists didn't even do this most basic of checking - it makes you wonder - it really does.

BTW knowing how politically charged this issue is please do not, as some climate skeptics have concluded, think it's all hooey - that would be equally as bad as not investigating the story properly.

Another example is a state here in Australia had a bad power black out that the anti renewable people claim shows it's not fit for purpose, and its being taken to court:
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-07/sa-blackout-explained-as-regulator-launches-legal-action/11390760
I posted it here, and the consensus was it was simple human error. Yet politically its a giant hot potato with renewable advocates being challenged by the anti renewable group.

Even in my area of computing the politics is abysmal. We had a new health computer system outsourced to IBM. When it was released it went belly up, and even now they are still having to do some things manually. Howls went up from the public IBM needed to be taken to court. But from my contacts in the government IT area I found out the real cause. Faults found during testing were grouped into three categories - red (must be fixed before release), orange (can be released but needs to be fixed as a priority) and green (fine to release, but eventually should be fixed) . Now the public service project head was under severe pressure to get it released, it was way over budget, and decided to simply change all red errors to yellow. He was sacked, but they still, because of public pressure, took IBM to court. They lost, and it was simply a further waste of public money. The government never did disclose the real reason for failure.

Why does Feynman's experience with the Challenger disaster come to mind? I believe his findings, only allowed to be an attachment to the report, should be compulsory reading for all school students.

Thanks
Bill
 
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Orodruin
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Unfortunately Fusion power has a history of being just 10 or 20 years away.
The typical figure has been 30-50 years. We had a talk by an emeritus in our group that works on JET last week. She quoted 30 years to industrial fusion power plants with that being a realistic goal rather than a figure taken from the air.

However, plans may be delayed due to Brexit as this is directly affecting JET funding and availability of personel.

She also claimed that if we had spent a minor fraction of the US defence budget on fusion research over the last decades we would have fusion powerplants by now.
 
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Even in my area of computing the politics is abysmal. We had a new health computer system outsourced to IBM. When it was released it went belly up, and even now they are still having to do some things manually. Howls went up from the public IBM needed to be taken to court. But from my contacts in the government IT area I found out the real cause. Faults found during testing were grouped into three categories - red (must be fixed before release), orange (can be released but needs to be fixed as a priority) and green (fine to release, but eventually should be fixed) . Now the public service project head was under severe pressure to get it released, it was way over budget, and decided to simply change all red errors to yellow. He was sacked, but they still, because of public pressure, took IBM to court. They lost, and it was simply a further waste of public money. The government never did disclose the real reason for failure.
Trade ya
 
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They never learn. Even more disgusting is the FULL story:
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/business-spectator/news-story/learning-from-the-qld-health-payroll-fiasco-/174743f09e91d9550521b04d45d43ac3
My comment only was concerned with 'Under the pressures of a time imperative, substantial corners were cut and according to Dr Manfield’s report, the state government intentionally lowered the bar for testing and knowingly allowed a flawed system to go live.' As the article above details it was a fiasco from beginning to end. I have seen all aspects of what happened in various projects during my 30 years working as a programmer. But that is really for the computer science forum about managing IT projects, and what actually works in practice.

Thanks
Bill
 
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She also claimed that if we had spent a minor fraction of the US defence budget on fusion research over the last decades we would have fusion powerplants by now.
I sort of figured that. Considering the mess we now have with emissions etc, and how easily it could be foreseen, all I can do is go - sigh. It's exasperated by, at least here in Australia, it is only recently people were even willing to talk about nuclear, so politicians had no interest or incentive in spending more money doing basic research in it.

Thanks
Bill
 
Lord Jestocost
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Basically you cant get rid of it - with a few caveats.
There is the concept of nuclear transmutation:
"Transmutation can offer another solution, in addition to deep disposal, for high-level radioactive waste. Transmutation is a process in which the long-lived radioactive elements in waste are converted by fission to shorter-lived particles that produce radiation for a much shorter period and are less radiotoxic."
https://www.sckcen.be/en/Technology_future/Radioactive_waste/Transmutation
 
russ_watters
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The typical figure has been 30-50 years. We had a talk by an emeritus in our group that works on JET last week. She quoted 30 years to industrial fusion power plants with that being a realistic goal rather than a figure taken from the air....

She also claimed that if we had spent a minor fraction of the US defence budget on fusion research over the last decades we would have fusion powerplants by now.
In my opinion a scientist must always exhude at least twice the confidence as is warranted/realistic. But the fusion track record is considerably worse than that.
 
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I've given up on finding science in politics long ago.
Yup, they, and by they I mean people on both sides of the spectrum, only like science when it agrees with them.

I bet a lot of the people that "believe" in climate change, are vehemently opposed to GMO or think vaccines cause autism, quite a few probably firmly believe the earth is flat, or that there is something in them there chem trails.
 
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Yup, they, and by they I mean people on both sides of the spectrum, only like science when it agrees with them.
You hit it in one. IMHO anti vaxers are the worst of the lot - they simply will not listen to reason. Although often heated, climate change has points on both sides. I find the pro side more convincing - but that's just me. The thing is in the final analysis what is done about it has nothing to do with the science, its an economic/democracy issue. If you ask virtually anyone should the government do more about climate change the answer is invariably yes. But if you express it another way - how much more are you willing to pay for electricity to reduce emissions, then the answer depends on your how economically affluent you are. If you are doing it tough then the answer is zero - everything is too expensive already. If you go to highly affluent areas the you get something like 25%. Here in Australia though it has risen 117% in ten years - way above what even affluent people want to pay. When the rubber hits the road at election time and one side hammers the cost issue, its more immediate impact cuts through the electorate better. Here in Australia one side made vague promises of reducing emissions by 50% with no detailed costings. Polls showed they were a shoe in - the election was unlooseable. The other side hammered the lack of detailed costings as their only hope of winning, but even they thought they were gone. Guess what - to everyone's surprise, except for a few people, they won. I knew the favorites were in trouble when a journalist, doing his job correctly, pressed hard for the costings and all they got was basically evasion. The public might strongly believe in tackling climate change, but when its their money and/or lifestyle at risk, their conviction is found to be not as strong. To me its no surprise, just basic human nature, or psychology if you want to be scientific.

Do I think think we are doomed? No - we have the technology to tackle it even now - its the expense that is the issue. But as technology advances, the cost become more affordable. It will eventually reach the point people will be willing to pay for it.

Thanks
Bill
 
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OCR
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I am blown away, not one person who answered this post remotely suggested that using Nuclear power period needs to stop. Strontium-90 is not really a problem because it only lasts for 100 years? It enters bones and causes cancer of the bone and blood. L.A. has an extremely high incident of thyroid cancer , it is the number one type of cancer of children here, and cancer is the number one killer of children. Small exposure to strontium-90 makes people susceptible to many different diseases. I think something better then bury it until they can recycle it back in nuclear plants, which would still produce radioactive wastes is needed. Susana Labs-Nasa, Rockadyne, JP propulsion created nuclear power there in the fiftys. 1958 they had a huge meltdown with only aluminum siding. Everyone working there that day died. The reason they were working on it is the plutonium waste can be used for bombs. There is nothing safe or clean about nuclear energy. And all it does is run the turbines-which actually produce the energy. I was hoping in a forum of physics I might hear how they are working on getting it to somehow decay faster?? Nobody here seems to grasp what a serious problem this is. People didn't have power plants at all 120 years ago and were just fine.
 

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