Do we really have viable storage facilities for nuclear waste?

Question
Mudassir Ali 9 months 1 Answer 78 views

Answer ( 1 )

  1. Low level waste is not that radioactive and in some cases can be dumped in sites not to different from the sites for dumping some of the more common toxic but not too toxic chemicals.

    The high level waste is of course different. It is part of the propaganda of at least some anti nuclear people that 1. it is difficult to dispose of because among other things it has a very long half life and 2. disposal is the only option. They also falsely claim that radiation is insta-kill super death cooties. Radiation is dangerous yes but not that dangerous. But thats another topic.

    Disposal is not only option. You can transmute long half life isotopes in fast neutron reactors, accelerator driven reactors or hybrid fission fusion reactors producing energy in the process. Although only the first one is a viable tech at this time. So called spent fuel from a PWR has 90+% of its energy still left inside. Store it for a few years and you end up with a much smaller volume of material that is much more radioactive. Wait, if its more radioactive then thats bad right? Well not always. It is more radioactive so it is much harder to steal for use in dirty bombs. And as the saying goes, the candle that burns twice as bright lasts half as long. The more radioactive isotopes left are medium half life isotopes with much much shorter half lives.

    Spent fuel is dangerous for many tens of thousands of years. If you had to dispose of it without transmutation (you can, see below) then any disposal site would need to be geologically stable and prevent theft or discovery by humans for tens of thousands of years. That is a very high bar and at least some anti nuclear people try to set the bar as high as possible in order to make nuclear power as expensive as possible.

    Critical Masses

    Lots of effort and money were wasted on studies on how to warn future people. Such as scattering many small rocks with carved warning glyphs in the area. You use local rocks that are abundant and you make the size and shape irregular to reduce the chance that people would reuse them for building or collect them. And lots of thought was put into making glyphs that would be still be understood. GE cacti that turn blue when absorbing radiation was another zany idea. But that might not be necessary

    If you only have to dispose of medium half life isotopes, then finding a geological disposal site that is secure for a few hundred years is much easier, making your list of potential sites much longer.

    And now that brings me to the second point. Yes we can easily and relatively cheaply dispose of waste in a way that can be used in a wide number of locations, is very safe, and relatively cheap. If you seal it down a multi km borehole, it is NOT coming back up. This is called deep borehole disposal. It uses the same equipment oil drilling and fracking uses.

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