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Thread: What if we transfer the nuclear contaminated wastes and debris to the Moon?

  1. #31
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    In my opinion, we will never come to a sensible conclusion without civil discourse. Poor journalism (nuclear waste may be radioactive for 250,000 years, but omitting that many current industrial chemicals -- like mercury -- remain toxic forever) doesn't improve the information base people have to use to generate that reasoned discourse. The newspapers seem to think this as not a problem, as they keep laying off their science reporters.
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  2. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    In my opinion, we will never come to a sensible conclusion without civil discourse. Poor journalism (nuclear waste may be radioactive for 250,000 years, but omitting that many current industrial chemicals -- like mercury -- remain toxic forever) doesn't improve the information base people have to use to generate that reasoned discourse. The newspapers seem to think this as not a problem, as they keep laying off their science reporters.
    They don't even get the time scale right, those are half-life numbers. Uranium 238 is radioactive for billions and billions and billions of years, until it's not uranium anymore, but ends up as an isotope of lead.

    The thing about radioactivity is the longer the half-life is, the lower the radioactivity is--conservation of mass-energy. I'd sleep on top of a sub-critical chunk of weapons grade Uranium 235 my whole life. I'd hold Plutonium 239 in my hands, so long as there was no possibility of dust.

    When you get less ionizing radiation from radioactive waste than you do going outside in the sunshine, it's safe. It's funny how radioactivity invokes superstitious dread in people.

  3. #33
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    The public's - and the media's - seeming inability or unwillingness to grasp the relationship between radioactivity and half-life has really frustrated me my entire career in the nuclear power industry. They think that something that is radioactive for a long time is much more dangerous than something radioactive for a short time period. Case in point is the transport of nuclear waste across country. People worried about a train or truck wreck will inevitably bring up how the stuff is radioactive for "hundreds of thousands of years!", or some such. Yeah, OK, but it will only be in your town long enough for us to pick it up and put it back on a train. Superstitious dread indeed.

  4. #34
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    I've always found the worry about "if the truck containing radioactive waste crashes, we'll get cancer" to be less than entirely sensible. If that truck carrying gasoline crashes, there's a good chance you'll die in the fire. People are, largely, very poor at evaluating the relative risks of rare events, or even of fairly common events.
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  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by SkepticJ View Post
    If you had a Stirling engine, you could burn that contaminated gasoline in a vessel, and drive the Stirling engine on the heat. You could burn trash--most trash is combustible. Garbage dumps are filled with perfectly good fuel.
    The problem is that I don't have one, and it isn't worth my while getting one. Nor is there even someone elses sufficiently near as to compensate me for the trouble of transporting it there. Constructing burners to burn trash or dirty fuel, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orimulsion, in a manner that is acceptable to the neighbours is costly and often politically difficult, especially in more crowded parts of the world. The reason we sadly don't have as many trash incinerators in Britain as we should is because they are politically very difficult to construct. First there is a difficult debate over what the acceptable emissions are. Then you have to build it consistent with that. Then you have to actually operate it like that. Unfortunately you can be more or less sure that such is human greed and incompetence that from time to time the emissions will be rather worse than they are supposed to be.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Rijn View Post
    The risk *to Earth* of firing it off in a rocket is higher than well understood methods of keeping it on the ground. It isn't worth it from a safety standpoint.

    Not to mention that the moon has very little water, no atmosphere and is routinely bathed in radiation from the sun and outer space. I don't see how it could possibly be less hospitable than that.


    I've know many environmentalists over the years (I was vice-chair and then chair of the local Sierra Club chapter for a time, for one thing). There are certainly environmentalists who oppose things over emotional arguments or because they have not looked at the logical counter-arguments, and not just on nuclear power. I've also know plenty of non-environmentalists who oppose things for similar reasons.
    We saw a lot of political interference with science during the Bush administration, and after Obama promised to knock it off it's frustrating to see him doing exactly that. This kind of politicization is exactly why we don't have a realistic energy policy, let alone viable plans to use nuclear power to its fullest potential in space.


    And there are environmentalists who oppose nuclear power for well considered, logical reasons;
    Honestly I've never seen one. Feel free to invite he/she/they over and we'll be more than happy to politely demolish his/her/their arguements.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Viehoff View Post
    The problem is that I don't have one, and it isn't worth my while getting one. Nor is there even someone elses sufficiently near as to compensate me for the trouble of transporting it there.
    So then use it for something else. Do you have a wood-burning fireplace? Save that dirty gas to help you get stubborn wood alight. There's a way to gel gasoline using a certain type of trash, which makes a great firelighter for camping trips.

    Ever hear the saying, "someone's trash is another person's treasure,"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Ivan Viehoff View Post
    Constructing burners to burn trash or dirty fuel, eg http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orimulsion, in a manner that is acceptable to the neighbours is costly and often politically difficult, especially in more crowded parts of the world. The reason we sadly don't have as many trash incinerators in Britain as we should is because they are politically very difficult to construct. First there is a difficult debate over what the acceptable emissions are. Then you have to build it consistent with that. Then you have to actually operate it like that. Unfortunately you can be more or less sure that such is human greed and incompetence that from time to time the emissions will be rather worse than they are supposed to be.
    People problems, not technical issues.

  8. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    I've always found the worry about "if the truck containing radioactive waste crashes, we'll get cancer" to be less than entirely sensible. If that truck carrying gasoline crashes, there's a good chance you'll die in the fire. People are, largely, very poor at evaluating the relative risks of rare events, or even of fairly common events.
    And the fact that a release of waste in a crash is most improbable. It's transported in containers that have been tested to resist the worst accidents that could reasonably happen to them--like being hit by a locomotive at full speed. Sure, an asteroid strike could rupture a waste cask, but if that happens, the nuclear waste is the least of your problems.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aquitaine View Post
    We saw a lot of political interference with science during the Bush administration, and after Obama promised to knock it off it's frustrating to see him doing exactly that. This kind of politicization is exactly why we don't have a realistic energy policy, let alone viable plans to use nuclear power to its fullest potential in space.
    Don't go there. We have an exception to our no politics rule for space exploration, but not energy policy. If you want to talk about the politics of nuclear energy in space exploration, that is getting rather off the topic of this thread, and I would suggest you start a new thread in Space Exploration.
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  10. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Romanus View Post
    1.) There's too much of it.
    2.) Once you got through with shielding, the amounts lofted per launch would be negligible.
    3.) Far too expensive with current launch costs.
    4.) No country would allow it.
    Would you even bother with shielding? It occurs to me that once you are at a safe distance from the rocket exhaust and any possible malfunction, you should be safe from radiation.

    On second thought, that image is even more alarming than having waste in my backyard.
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  11. #41
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    Based on some of the things I hear from people...
    Quote Originally Posted by geonuc View Post
    They think that something that is radioactive for a long time is much more dangerous than something radioactive for a short time period.
    I think that comes from relating things like spilling something toxic (or even doggie-doo) will break down and disappear in short order.

    Quote Originally Posted by geonuc View Post
    Yeah, OK, but it will only be in your town long enough for us to pick it up and put it back on a train. Superstitious dread indeed.
    They hear "contaminate" and think that even if it was picked up, it will leave anything near it as radioactive.

    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    If that truck carrying gasoline crashes, there's a good chance you'll die in the fire.
    But; you can see the fire; you can't see if somethings emitting radiation.

    Of course, those aren't my opinions, just arguments that I hear. We need a better push for science education.

  12. #42
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    Of course, those aren't my opinions, just arguments that I hear. We need a better push for science education.

    20% of Americans think the Sun revolves around the Earth. I'd say our work is cut out for us......

  13. #43
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    For lower grade wastes, place it in a subduction zone, not in a volcano. I'd like to mine uranium to depletion where there isn't much left in easy rach, and place standard power plants on the moon. They melt regolith into reflectors, for solar power.

  14. #44
    RE Solfe:
    Would you even bother with shielding?
    Definitely. It's not the transport of the waste that's the problem, so much as putting it into a package that could survive a--ahem--hard landing. That is the only way it could be done, because invariably a day will come when the rocket blows up on the pad, or veers off course and must be destroyed, or worse, fails translunar injection and is sentenced to a death spiral down to an unknown location; should that happen, the container will have to be rated to survive reentry and impact. No matter what we make it out of, we're looking at a lot of added weight which will cut into the amount of real waste we could launch.

    It's worth noting that even the best boosters typically have a failure rate of a few percent; with the thousands of launches necessary, we'd be looking at dozens of failures.

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    Nuclear fuel would be even beter protected than a black box or that container of worms that survived the Columbia break up due to density. Perhaps just launching fuel rods by themselves, or launching tankage and fuel on one LV, and just the engine on the other with an escape tower.

    As for what to do with warheads--they are surrounded with high explosives for the purposes of implosion, and sitting on the same rocket that lost us OCO and GLORY. What to do with it? Separate the fissile material with neutron moderation rods, enclose the waste in strong containers--and cool with water....oh, wait...I've just described 90% of a nuclear power installation. Just add the turbines and get something out of it.

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    Separate the fissile material and reuse it as fuel.
    Anything else is just plain stupid.

    Yes, I know current US policy doesn't allow that, This doesn't make it less stupid.
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    Ok, let's return to the topic: how to properly manage the nuclear contaminated debris in the 2011 tsunami? Since porting it to the Moon is non-practical,
    a more practical (tangible) method must be used. States on earth aren't willing to accept them anyway.

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    OK, back on topic. The soil, debris and other stuff contaminated by the Fukushima plant probably can be contained (after a great collection effort) in a fairly simple facility. The isotopes of concern from that release are mostly relatively short-lived and do not require thousands or even hundreds of years to decay to safe levels. Plutonium might be an exception. If significant amount of Pu-141 are in the soil, then I think the containment strategy might be more difficult.

    I found a report on Fukushima plutonium release here, if anyone is interested.

  19. #49
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    At 12,000 metric tons of high-level waste produced annually, I see lugging it to the Moon as both ridiculously and prohibitively expensive.

    Meanwhile, using vitrification and some other technologies, as well as long-term, stable geological storage, provide us with exceptionally reliable means of disposal for but a tiny fraction of the cost. That is, it would if we could have actually used our national storage facility at Yucca Mountain (the GAO said it was not closed for technical or safety reasons (click here for more)). We still have WIPP, but it's not a long-term solution. At least the waste isn't being stored above-ground.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DoggerDan View Post
    Meanwhile, using vitrification and some other technologies, as well as long-term, stable geological storage, provide us with exceptionally reliable means of disposal for but a tiny fraction of the cost.
    And it seems to be happening. Unfortunately the media is not giving us the information that needs to be said.

    From a story I saw today:
    Five Million Tons Of Uranium Tailing Disposed

    They talk about this waste, but don't give an indication about how radioactive it is or how it is being contained.
    (worse yet, CNN titled it as 5 million tons of uranium)

    I had to look up exactly what "tailings" were, although I already did see the connection with mining leftovers. On wiki, they say...
    ...500 lung cancer deaths per century, if no countermeasures are taken.
    Compared to a lot of other radiation or cancer sources, this sounds like it would be rather low on the priority list.

    We need the education so people know when it's time to panic, rather than panic at the very mention of the subject.

  21. #51
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    ...500 lung cancer deaths per century, if no countermeasures are taken.
    That's less than Denmark alone has per year from smoking. About twice what Denmark has per year from passive smoking.
    Just to put it in a bit of perspective.
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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    From a story I saw today:
    Five Million Tons Of Uranium Tailing Disposed

    They talk about this waste, but don't give an indication about how radioactive it is or how it is being contained.
    (worse yet, CNN titled it as 5 million tons of uranium)

    I had to look up exactly what "tailings" were, although I already did see the connection with mining leftovers. On wiki, they say...

    Compared to a lot of other radiation or cancer sources, this sounds like it would be rather low on the priority list.
    I did some research a few years back for a law school paper on uranium mining. That, and my long experience in the nuclear power industry, has me convinced that uranium tailings are definitely a bit of a problem. I don't have any facts at hand, but I'm sure it's a lot more than a few hundred deaths per century. Still, unless you work in a uranium mine, or are in a heavily mined area (think Rifle, Colorado, although there are no active mines at present I don't think), it isn't nearly the hazard that some other environmental toxins pose.

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    Quote Originally Posted by geonuc View Post
    I did some research a few years back for a law school paper on uranium mining...
    I'm assuming the statement infers that it's not the mining process, but what's left over after the mining is done. I get that from the "if no countermeasures are taken".
    I'm sure the mining process drastically increases the risk, along with other non-radioactive risks.

  24. #54
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    The energy used in transporting it to the moon probably exceeds the useful energy gained from it. Let alone the financial cost and the carbon footprint.

    Much of what is currently "waste" will eventually have to be retrieved and re-processed for use in a later generation of breeder reactors. The economics of this are not currently favourable, but once oil and gas are permanently several times more expensive than they are now, it will become viable again. At least it will be viable if the waste is not on the moon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    I'm assuming the statement infers that it's not the mining process, but what's left over after the mining is done. I get that from the "if no countermeasures are taken".
    I'm sure the mining process drastically increases the risk, along with other non-radioactive risks.
    Yes, the tailings are the leftovers from the extraction and ore separation process. What is left are small mountains of rock and gravel that contain a disproportionately high percentage of heavy metals and other environmental pollutants, including uranium. Countermeasures are used to keep this stuff from entering streams and groundwater.

  26. #56
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    Quote Originally Posted by Romanus View Post
    RE Solfe:

    Definitely. It's not the transport of the waste that's the problem, so much as putting it into a package that could survive a--ahem--hard landing. That is the only way it could be done, because invariably a day will come when the rocket blows up on the pad, or veers off course and must be destroyed, or worse, fails translunar injection and is sentenced to a death spiral down to an unknown location; should that happen, the container will have to be rated to survive reentry and impact. No matter what we make it out of, we're looking at a lot of added weight which will cut into the amount of real waste we could launch.

    It's worth noting that even the best boosters typically have a failure rate of a few percent; with the thousands of launches necessary, we'd be looking at dozens of failures.
    He-he-he. My idea was a lot like an Atom Potato Cannon wasn't it?

    I like the idea of recycling the stuff to be honest. That would be the best solution.

    Here is an odd tangent courtesy of David Brinn. He wrote about aliens who were using a subduction zone to dispose of all of their waste.

    Would canning up the radioactive waste into containment vessels and dropping them on a subduction zone in the ocean be an effective method of disposal? I suspect that the containers would have to be crush proof, 'quake proof and landslide proof just to get them down to a subduction zone. That sounds mighty challenging. At what depth in the crust would such a container be "safe" to break open? A kilometer or two?
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    Not that I subscribe to the idea, but the 'safe' depth for subduction disposal would be zero. If the canisters broke open on the sea floor, dilution and the depth of the ocean would be sufficient to prevent any measurable harm to humans.

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    Quote Originally Posted by geonuc View Post
    Not that I subscribe to the idea, but the 'safe' depth for subduction disposal would be zero. If the canisters broke open on the sea floor, dilution and the depth of the ocean would be sufficient to prevent any measurable harm to humans.
    To up the ante, what would the depth have to be to protect the life (if any) on the bottom of the ocean?

    For that matter, are all subduction zones at the bottom of the ocean?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    To up the ante, what would the depth have to be to protect the life (if any) on the bottom of the ocean?

    For that matter, are all subduction zones at the bottom of the ocean?
    1. Hard to say. What's down there and what does 'protect' mean? But the ocean is big and the dilution factor is very, very large.

    2. Pretty much. Subduction happens when two plates collide and one of them is significantly less dense than the other, such as when less dense continental crust collides with denser oceanic crust. The denser oceanic crust is naturally at lower elevation and thus overlain by ocean. Otherwise, you get transform faults (San Andreas) or very large mountain ranges (Himalaya) depending on the angle of collision, not subduction.

  30. #60
    I remember seeing a TNG episode about a ship leaking waste and they had to toe it to the sun I think the episode is Final Mission I guess this could happen if it goes wrong.

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