Nuclear waste

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  • thelzdking 1 May 2011 16:17:11 4,326 posts
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    Recently I've become very interested in nuclear waste and its disposal after reading a captivating article on the subject in one of the Sunday Times' supplements a few weeks ago, and then seeing a rather good documentary on the construction of what they call a "deep geological repository" in Finland called Onkalo. Apparently these deep geological repositories are currently considered the best option for the permanent disposal of nuclear waste.

    As the name suggests it boils down to digging a very deep hole - over half a kilometre down in the case of Onkalo - and sticking the waste into it. They then backfill the tunnels and simply leave it in there to decay. This particular facility will open around 2020 and continue to take waste for at least a hundred years. The engineering of the thing is Herculean, not only due to its size, but because it has to last for at least 100,000 years, which is roughly the time that it will take for most of the most dangerous and long-lived nuclear waste to become safe. Most of the world's nuclear waste is currently stored above ground, something which is dangerous for obvious reasons, so the benefits of locking it away underground, safe from natural disasters and human interference are manifold.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary was the debate being had about whether or not to leave any indication that the facility was there. The argument was that if it was going to last for a hundred millennia it would probably outlive human civilization in its current form, and quite possibly outlive the human race full stop, and, as such, should they leave warnings to the future imparting the immense danger within the facility, or just demolish the above-ground structures and hope that it would be forgotten.

    The ideas that the people in the "leave a warning" camp were coming up with were fascinating. The major idea was to leave obelisks, or even a small "library" of sorts, carved with warnings not only in all of the world's languages but also in pictographic form, should those who discover it have regressed to stone-age illiteracy, or even not be human altogether. Some of the other ideas were much more abstract, like creating nightmarish architecture such as a landscape of thorns or huge, threatening monoliths, or even a depiction of Munch's The Scream to warn people to stay away. The other side of the argument stated that things such as these would just pique the interest of some, particularly if they had retained a folk memory of a huge underground cavity filled with something worth keeping secret, and that they should just eliminate all trace of the facility above ground.

    The main subject of the Sunday Times' article was the current push to build one of these things in the UK, although they are understandably having difficulty in finding a site. All of Britain's nuclear waste will be stored in it, and that doesn't just mean spent fuel and their by-products, but everything ever associated with nuclear power from the materials used to construct reactors to the protective clothes worn by workers at the plants.

    At the moment all of Britain's waste goes to Sellafield. Some of it is reprocessed, but a lot of it prepared for long-term storage. They do this by vitrifying it, which makes it very stable and is an apparently irreversible process. The article described the vitrification room as "the most dangerous enclosed space in Britain". The work is (obviously) done by robots controlled by scientists protected by many feet of lead glass and reinforced concrete walls. The article claimed that if there were even the tiniest crack in this wall anyone walking past it would die instantly.

    I don't really know what to make of it all really. I was tentatively pro-nuclear fission, at least in the short-term, but discovering exactly how gargantuan a task it is to deal with the waste has made me somewhat uneasy about building a new generation of nuclear power stations. Not that I have any answers as to how we are going to plug the energy gap otherwise.

    The documentary in question: Nuclear Eternity.

    A Guardian article on the documentary.

    Wikipedia entry on nuclear waste.

    Unfortunately I cannot link to the Sunday Times' article because of the paywall, which is a shame because it was highly informative, much more so than the Guardian article linked above.

    Apologies for the massive essay; I didn't realise I had written that much. I suppose it shows how intriguing I have been finding the subject.

  • thelzdking 1 May 2011 16:22:16 4,326 posts
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    Fucking hell, I really have written a lot.

    TL; DR: nuclear waste is very bad, let's stick it in a hole in the ground for 100,000 years.
  • Deleted user 1 May 2011 16:22:51
    A couple of years ago the US Congress established an expert commission to develop a language or symbolism capable of warning against the threats posed by American nuclear waste dumps 10,000 years from now. The problem to be solved was: how must concepts and symbols be designed in order to convey a message to future generations, millennia from now? The commission included physicists, anthropologists, linguists, neuroscientists, psychologists, molecular biologists, classical scholars, artists, and so on.

    The experts looked for models among the oldest symbols of humanity. They studied the construction of Stonehenge and the pyramids and examined the historical reception of Homer and the Bible. But these reached back at most a couple of thousand years, not 10,000. The anthropologists recommended the symbol of the skull and crossbones. However, a historian reminded the commission that the skull and crossbones symbolised resurrection for the alchemists, and a psychologist conducted an experiment with three-year-olds: if the symbol was affixed to a bottle they anxiously shouted "poison!", but if it was placed on a wall they enthusiastically yelled "pirates!"

  • thelzdking 1 May 2011 16:49:03 4,326 posts
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    Interesting points. I think I would lean towards leaving no indication that it was ever there. No matter what you put there some numpty is going to have to take a look inside.
  • ecureuil 1 May 2011 16:49:59 76,514 posts
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    Mariana Trench.

    Problem solved.
  • thelzdking 1 May 2011 16:53:56 4,326 posts
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    The problem with putting it deep underwater is that, apparently, the technology simply isn't there to guarrantee that it can be accomplished safely. The potential for contaminating the world's oceans is just too huge a possibility to ignore. The same reasons stop us shooting it into space.

    In the future we may be able to do it - putting it in subduction zones might be an ideal solution - but at the moment we just can't do it safely enough.
  • ecureuil 1 May 2011 16:55:27 76,514 posts
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    The theory is you put it down there, and plate movements will put it towards the core. We can't do it now, but maybe in the future.

    There was a decent thread on Reddit asking why we couldn't just shoot it in to the sun.
  • thelzdking 1 May 2011 17:03:05 4,326 posts
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    Shooting it into space is too dangerous. ATM we can only get it into space on a rocket, and if the rocket fails then we're in a world of shit.

    Hopefully in the future we can send it into space or put it into a subduction zone, but there's a huge push to deal with the stuff now because it's literally piling up in storage facilities around the world. In the documentary they were saying that they are desperate not to leave a burden on future generatons in the form of tons of nuclear waste.

    I'm guessing it would take many, many decades - perhaps centuries - until we could send it into space or to the bottom of the sea safely enough to consider doing it.
  • TechnoHippy 1 May 2011 17:04:44 14,698 posts
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    Isn't there other sources that can be used like Thorium that can be used rather than Uranium. And longet term of course but presumably they can be sourced from asteroids and other planets, unlike oil.

    Edit @Boristhespie

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  • ecureuil 1 May 2011 17:09:06 76,514 posts
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    thelzdking wrote:
    Shooting it into space is too dangerous. ATM we can only get it into space on a rocket, and if the rocket fails then we're in a world of shit.

    Here's the thread I was talking about. Real interesting stuff.
  • Deleted user 1 May 2011 17:11:40
    http://www.damninteresting.com/this-place-is-not-a-place-of-honor

    can't just shoot into the sun because what if the rocket exploded on launch. edit: goddamn reddit's format is obnoxious
  • the_dudefather 1 May 2011 17:14:36 9,196 posts
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    If they put warnings on the sites that just leads to archeologists of the future thinking that there is cyber-gold buried on the spot and dismiss the 'curses' as superstition

    (ง ͠ ͟ʖ ͡)

  • thelzdking 1 May 2011 17:21:13 4,326 posts
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    ecureuil wrote:
    thelzdking wrote:
    Shooting it into space is too dangerous. ATM we can only get it into space on a rocket, and if the rocket fails then we're in a world of shit.

    Here's the thread I was talking about. Real interesting stuff.
    Indeed it is! It's interesting to know that the physics of shooting it into space are just as prohibitive as the safety concerns are. There are hundreds of thousands of tonnes waste and the density of transuranic elements and the other super-heavy elements that comprise nuclear waste is astonishing. I never really thought about the volume of nuclear waste in relation to its weight before.
  • sirtacos 1 May 2011 17:37:35 7,268 posts
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    Fascinating post, king. Particularly love the parts about ominous signs to leave for the mutated dolphinant archeologists to puzzle over.

    To be honest nuclear fission seems like a much better option than fossil fuels and biofuels. The dangers of such modes of energy production seem largely exaggerated.
    Although TBH 'digging a big hole and shoving our crap in there' is a pretty hilariously juvenile solution, regardless of its merits and technical intricacies.

    Shooting it into space is a less funny solution. Mainly because it involves space travel. But it still reminds me of a 5 year-old boy putting his parents' broken china into a bag and launching it over the garden fence using an improved sling. And then blaming it on the cat.
  • Syrette 1 May 2011 17:38:46 43,099 posts
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    Dump it all in Middlesbrough. In fact they may already be doing that.

  • thelzdking 30 Jan 2013 16:38:35 4,326 posts
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    Plan for Cumbria DGR rejected.

    What to do with all of this waste? Anyone fancy volunteering their back garden for the purpose?
  • LeoliansBro 30 Jan 2013 16:44:34 43,227 posts
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    That OP may be old but it's fucking mindbending. Good post!

    LB, you really are a massive geek.

  • neilka 30 Jan 2013 16:47:43 15,661 posts
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    This is the kind of thing that France was made for.
  • LeoliansBro 30 Jan 2013 16:48:20 43,227 posts
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    In answer to finding a solution, that space-railway mass accelerater idea seems tailor made for waste disposal in this way. If the system fails, in does so in an enclosed circuit and is effectively contained. Once the package has exited the accelerator, it is inevitably going to get to space and there remains nothing further to go wrong. Better even than a skyhook.

    LB, you really are a massive geek.

  • mcmonkeyplc 30 Jan 2013 16:50:58 39,387 posts
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    Agreed that OP is awesome!

    Come and get it cumslingers!

  • Deckard1 30 Jan 2013 16:52:24 27,182 posts
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    I enjoyed this in the reddit post as well

    Your friend who said the reason was purely financial is right but may have failed to make the point strongly enough.
    The Earth is in orbit around the sun. That means the Earth, and everything on it, is moving through space at about seventy thousand miles an hour. In order to drop something into the sun, you'd have to bring it to what is effectively a dead stop in space, which means accelerating it from rest to seventy thousand miles an hour going in the direction opposite the Earth's orbital motion.
    That's twice the velocity necessary to fling something out of the solar system entirely. Now, we have launched a rocket to solar escape velocity before, about 35,000 miles an hour but only once in all of human history, and doing so required a custom-assembled rocket and more than two hundred million US dollars, and the total payload was still only about a thousand pounds. And that's half of what we'd have to do, in terms of total velocity, to fire a payload of the same size into the sun and rockets don't scale linearly with final velocity but rather exponentially, meaning the cost of putting a thousand-pound payload into the sun would probably be on the order of a billion US dollars, not counting the up-front R&D costs.
    And did I mention that spent nuclear fuel is among the densest stuff on our planet? A cubic foot of the stuff weights more than a thousand pounds 1,189 pounds, to be precise.
    "Purely financial" doesn't even begin to cover it. To put any useful amount of the stuff into the sun would literally cost more than the total amount of money in the whole world.
  • Psychotext 30 Jan 2013 16:55:28 53,839 posts
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    That whole "what about people in 10,000 years" spiel is hilarious. Can you imagine the tech by that point? How concerned do you think they might be about accidentally coming across a nuclear waste dump? Short of devolving a 'la Idiocracy I can't see them randomly choosing to open up an underground bunker without at least a little checking either.
  • LeoliansBro 30 Jan 2013 16:57:51 43,227 posts
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    Of society has collapsed and had to rebuild itself?

    LB, you really are a massive geek.

  • AcidSnake 30 Jan 2013 16:59:52 7,214 posts
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    LeoliansBro wrote:
    Of society has collapsed and had to rebuild itself?
    With harsh weather outside you suddenly stumble on a very well built underground complex...And hey, it glows in the dark too!
    Excellent!

    Edited by AcidSnake at 17:00:12 30-01-2013

    AcidSnake - He can't see your sig, avatar, images or vids and talks about himself in the third person because he's proper old-skool...UID 24017

  • Chopsen 30 Jan 2013 17:02:06 15,723 posts
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    10,000 is longer than civilisation itself, by an order of magnitude. To think we're going to fairly much just carry on developing the same way over that period of time is like not putting your coat on to go out to visit the Antarctic because your hallway is nice and warm. Or something.
  • Psychotext 30 Jan 2013 17:04:09 53,839 posts
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    LeoliansBro wrote:
    Of society has collapsed and had to rebuild itself?
    Unless we'd managed to fuck up every source of information everywhere we wouldn't suddenly lose access to technology.


    Chopsen wrote:
    10,000 is longer than civilisation itself, by an order of magnitude. To think we're going to fairly much just carry on developing the same way over that period of time is like not putting your coat on to go out to visit the Antarctic because your hallway is nice and warm. Or something.
    Suuuuree... but we wouldn't do something retarded like that now without testing, so unless we get utterly and massively retarded in the next 10k years I just can't see it happening.

    Edited by Psychotext at 17:06:31 30-01-2013
  • MetalDog 30 Jan 2013 17:05:40 23,708 posts
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    On the 'how to warn people' front, how about a sort of granite comic?

    Show a lot of healthy humans.
    Show a radiation symbol next to the humans.
    Show a lot of dead humans around the radiation symbol.
    Then post the usual radiation symbols further in next to the stash-o-stupid

    Ought to work? So long as they aren't so far removed from us that they can't recognise 'alive creatures, then some thing represented by this symbol makes them dead'

    Even better would be plowing major time and funding finding a non-retarded way to supply our energy needs, but the how to communicate over 100,000 years problems is interesting.

    -- boobs do nothing for me, I want moustaches and chest hair.

  • Chopsen 30 Jan 2013 17:06:32 15,723 posts
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    We barely have access to a fraction of stuff we wrote down a couple of thousand years ago. Hell, I remember watching a Time Team episode where they used archaeology to make sense of stuff from WWII! Do you really think stuff's guaranteed to carry on as normal and we're going to have everything at our fingertips for ever?
  • MetalDog 30 Jan 2013 17:08:09 23,708 posts
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    Psychotext wrote:
    LeoliansBro wrote:
    Of society has collapsed and had to rebuild itself?
    Unless we'd managed to fuck up every source of information everywhere we wouldn't suddenly lose access to technology.

    Chopsen wrote:
    10,000 is longer than civilisation itself, by an order of magnitude. To think we're going to fairly much just carry on developing the same way over that period of time is like not putting your coat on to go out to visit the Antarctic because your hallway is nice and warm. Or something.
    Suuuuree... but we wouldn't do something retarded like that now without testing, so unless we get utterly and massively retarded in the next 10k years I just can't see it happening.
    Your faith in our perpetual improvement and continuance is kind of sweet, but horribly misplaced. Any number of things could destroy 'life as we know it' leading to the possibility of future civilisations not knowing we ever existed at all over that timespan.

    -- boobs do nothing for me, I want moustaches and chest hair.

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