After FYI answered why dumping the world's nuclear waste into a volcano would be a bad idea, our inbox was flooded with readers wondering, "Well, how about shooting it into the sun?"
On paper, this is a fantastic way to wipe our hands clean of all that pesky waste. The sun is a constant nuclear reaction that's about 330,000 times as massive as Earth; it could swallow the tens of thousands of tons of spent nuclear rods as easily as a forest fire consumes a drop of gasoline. And NASA currently has two probes orbiting the sun, so the technology exists to get the job done. Alas, the benefits fall far short of the risk involved.
There isn't a space agency or private firm on the planet with a spotless launch record. And we're not talking about cheapo rockets—last year, the craft carrying NASA's $280-million Orbiting Carbon Observatory fizzled out and crashed into the ocean near Antarctica. It's a bummer when a satellite ends up underwater, but it's an entirely different story if that rocket is packing a few hundred pounds of uranium. And if the uranium caught fire, it could stay airborne and circulate for months, dusting the globe with radioactive ash. Still seem like a good idea?
This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Popular Science magazine.
michaeljrgrinter asks why it has to go into the sun? Well, it doesn't; in 50 years of nuclear power, with five cubic *miles* of oil already replaced, no cache of nuclear power waste has injured any of its neighbours. Ever. At all.
One such cache can be seen at www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152583249985451 .
Oil waste, sometimes in the form of carbon monoxide, routinely does injure the neighbours around where it is burned.
But if you did launch it, getting it to fall into the Sun would be very final. Otherwise, it would indeed circle around the solar system like a new planet, or like the Apollo rocket fragment that was rediscovered a few years ago, looking at first like a very small asteroid.
The easiest way it would be done, I think, is to launch it up to Jupiter, and have Jupiter divert it onto a sunbound path.
Don't screw with things beyond your control. Now, put all the eggs in the fusion basket. I mean, the combined resources of all countries on earth.
timakachev, its a stretch to bring my quote into this article. That quote is more relevant to mass being made of energy than it is to disposing of nuclear waste. It isn't an analogy for slight of hand magic tricks. As far as dumping things into the planet... the planet doesn't create nuclear waste with the type of heat or half life of the man-made nuclear waste we create. If the Earth had a fission core then perhaps it might be disposed of as magically as some claim on here but, that is not the case, as far as we know. Therefore sending nuclear material to reside deep in the Earth could have lasting effects. Pile it all in one place and then watch an Earthquake rupture every container sending enormous amounts of radiation into some major water table or other channel that reaches an animal or human habitat. Perhaps it gets mixed with magma and comes back to the surface? Perhaps you should create a quote that says "Out of sight, out of mind!".
I'm still also not understanding why the Neutrino beam got no attention. Spent unspent OR spent nuclear fuel is enormously radioactive. Spent being more-so. Neutrinos would interact with this radioactive material and make it much weaker. This could be a good viable solution in the cooling tanks themselves. Even if the interaction was extremely weak, over time, it should still work. It could work for making unspent nuclear fuel (like nukes) useless as well...
"The effect of matter between the source and target is minimal. Almost all of the neutrinos will end up flying right by the warhead and out into space, never to be heard from again. A tiny tiny fraction will hit the nuclear material, but the ones that do will start a localized chain reaction that will break up some of the nuclear fuel. The net result is that over months/days/hours/seconds, depending on the power of the beam, the nuclear material will either be sub critical mass, not pure enough to react, or both.
Things not made primarily of nuclear material, such as people, will be negligibly affected, meaning the effect of the particles you are exposed to every day is so much stronger that it would wash out this effect by several orders of magnitude....
...The fact is that we can develop neutrino beams with a local intensity significantly greater than that of background solar neutrinos already, with current equipment. This is because the sun is very very far away compared to the beam source. Making a beam of far greater intensity is not out of the realms of possibility. And a very, very tiny fraction of the neutrinos will hit the warhead, degrading it. The physicists quoted in the article have already calculated how many neutrinos would be expected to hit the warhead, and done the corresponding calculations concerning how powerful the beam would have to be; that's where the quote about how much power the beam would need comes from...
...A SINGLE neutrino can often fly through a trillion miles of lead. But produce a beam with quadrillions of em and many will end up interacting at some point. Produce a beam intense enough and you can cause macro-scale effects, especially if the neutrino causes a significant chain reaction, as it does in the case of nuclear material."
This is a very feasible idea that could both shorten the time of radiocative decay in spent fuel but also could make the worlds nuclear arsenals worthless!! Crap, we could point this at the actual fuel rods of a Nuclear Powerplant. We have some fairly powerful capabilities with neutrinos now. I'm betting this in the works as a weapon but, definitely a good possibility for spent fuel.
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Delta V is the problem here it would actually be easier to send the nuclear waste to Jupiter or even out of the solar system then send it to the Sun.
Nuclear waste can be made safer by processing it and recycling the transuranics such as plutonium as fuel.
Putting all your eggs into one basket is a recipe for disaster.
I think money needs to be spent on Thorium is much cleaner then Uranium cycle fission and it's safer.
Molten Salt reactors burn their transuranics which gets rid of the problem of having waste that is dangerous for thousands of years.
Money also needs to be spent on biofuels the sustainable kinds such as from algae and cellulose.
I think you are over thinking it. You would not need to slow velocity. just ram the rocket straight into the sun and burn everything up.
Seal nuke waste in container sized concrete blocks and then ship them to where the continental plates are colliding. Drop them over board there, and allow the continental drift to cover them up and sub duct the waste into the mantel