In our Future of the Environment issue, we mentioned one visionary's suggestions: self-sinking tungsten spheres that stash spent nuclear fuel deep beneath the Earth's surface. That idea is a long way from reality, but in our green-energy-starved present, it may be worth considering all options, no matter how wacky. Here are a few other pie-in-the-sky ideas.
Click to launch the photo gallery
Nuclear reactors create high-level nuclear waste, composed of spent fuel rods loaded with the still-radioactive isotopes created when uranium-235 fissions. Some of those isotopes, like cesium-137 and strontium-90, have half-lives of 30 years or so -- but high-level waste also includes plutonium-239, which has a half-life of 24,000 years. Thanks to the fission process, fuel rods are actually more radioactive when they come out of the reactor than when they go in. But at the moment, using the spent rods as a source of fuel just isn't cost effective. And 24,000-year storage solutions are hard to come by, it turns out.
In our gallery, an overview of some of the options being considered today.
Additional reporting by John Bradley
Way to continue helping public misconceptions with nuclear technology, pop sci.
Why show cooling towers billowing moisture and then label the photo with nuclear waste. That just adds to the misconception. Unless, of course, you think water is detrimental to human health.
All the worlds nuclear waste which would fit on a football field is enough valuable fuel to power the world for centuries using Gen IV nukes like India's new 500 Mw $1B unit, and operating Russian, French, and Japanese units.
No need to dispose of it.
France powers its reactors with reprocessed waste so just because American third world nuclear tech can't do it doesn't mean we can't buy the tech.
Reprocessing not "cost effective". More defeatism from America's third world level nuclear technocrats.
From a tour of French reprocessing facultys at Areva
" ...Company officials would not discuss production costs, other than to say that the cost of using low-enriched fuel with recycled MOX does not substantially differ from the cost of low-enriched fuel on a once through cycle..."
Articles like this are why we have not built a new nuclear reactor in decades. Fear and ignorance, Nuclear "waste" as it comes out of the light water reactors we use now has almost as much energy as the fuel that went into the reactor. New reactor designs like lftr and ifr can reprocess the "waste" for there fuel and yield actual waste that is about 2% the volume of what comes out of current reactors and only dangerously radioactive for a couple hundred years, instead of hundreds of thousand of years like current "waste."
These forms of reprocessing are also very proliferation resistant, unlike how France and other countries with much less security than the US have been processing waste for decades. Saying reprocessing is not cost effective while suggesting things like shooting usable "waste" into space at $10,000 a pound is unforgivable for a science magazine. Things like this are why politicians are to afraid to pursue the only real option that could get us burning less coal on any reasonable timetable.
Nuclear is more dangerous than you think. A reactor melting down can kill many millions and even hundreds of millions more by poisoning water supplies, food supplies, air, and making the land unusable for thousands of years. It's not worth it at the moment. I don't want to hear "but it will never melt down" crap. It's even more than "melt down" ... just the waste has the capacity to kill us all given the right conditions.
Even if it takes 50 years to create a fusion reactor (fusion research really must have the slowest a** people I've ever seen!), we have plenty of CLEAN and RENEWABLE natural gas, oil, etc.
Nuclear fission I would say is the LAST resort and we are far away from having to resort to it.
"Oh but the greenhouse gases" I can hear the Democrats and uneducated women shriek ... There are the same types of people who used to go around with "the sky is falling" and "the end of the world is tomorrow" signs back 75 years ago. We are not going to "destroy the earth" with fossil fuels that are 100000x cleaner than radioactive waste. Do your research and you will see ONE massive NATURAL VOLCANO eruption can emit more greenhouse gases than all of mankind has since our existence began. So lay off the green crap...
@SLNuke87 Hey! Dihydrogen monoxide is fatal if inhaled and kills hundreds of children a year! lol
Yeah that always pisses me off! Outside of phoenix there are two nuke plants and people will always point to them and be like "Ooooh! Look at all the pollution coming out of those things! I can't believe we do that stuff! Blah blah blah!" I have to restrain myself from punching them in the mouth. Then, with a calm demeanor, I remind them that everything that comes out out of the plant's stacks is in fact steam.
"Oh Harmless Steam" ... ever think that steam from a nuclear reactor is just, say, a tiny bit contaminated? In some designs the steam is very contaminated ... in others they say it's "clean" but really, how is it possible to have ZERO contamination after coming from a reactor? Its not possible. If they condensed that steam to water, would you want to drink it?? NO!
Sure a nuclear meltdown si dangerous but it rarely happens... then again the same thing was said about oil spills I believe huh?
And looking at how much damage the oil spill has done nuclear energy seems almost completely environmentally friendly currently in my opinion... kinda.
Oh where are you hydrogen fusion :)?
Natz, you are right about the fact that there are hazards with oil drilling, just as there are risks with any energy source.
I don't like oil at all, however, it (and natural gas, etc) is still a much lower risk than Nuclear and we have massive infrastructure built to handle it so we may as well use it. I love technology and would like to see it at the level of fusion soon but when looking at the big picture, it's silly to tax the cr*p out of us for using oil or to try and scare us that the planet will be a big fireball if we drive SUV's.
I have faith that we can develop commercial fusion reactors in the next 40 years so instead of really stupid "carbon tax", they should focus on the big picture and fund fusion research 100x more than they are today.
I have an idea for a "carbon tax" if they really want one -
Since PEOPLE exhale carbon, send the 20 million ILLEGAL immigrants back to wherever they are from and as a country we will save 20 million people "worth" of pollution with less cars, electric usage, resource usage, etc. US can be so much "greener"... or tax families that spit out 10 kids since not only is there 10x the carbon exhaled, they will use 10x the gas, electric, cars, building supplies, etc over their lifetime. Reward people with 2 kids or less. Oh wait, this would make sense, however, the people with 10 kids are usually in the city or ghetto and usually wind up a Democrat because they are on welfare their entire lives at our expense. They would never make law something that would reduce the number of future democrats.
Water doesn’t pass thru the reactor... the reactor has a closed loop of water or some liquid that heats up another loop of water. There is no mixing. One loop is very contaminated and the other is not as is separate and shielded. Google something once in a while.
Finally I found one. Cruz here is a nuclear and a climate denier all rolled into one. This is one thick individual.
Your million dead meltdown is impossible because of reactor physics - yes that science you don't believe in - says its impossible in a modern reactor with a negative cooefficient of reactivity. Sixties tech TMI was a meltdown. Didn't even penetrate the reactor case a quarter inch.
Even Chernobly which science says could meltdown with positive reactively only killed 56 and tiny portion of those killed by even NG.
What is certain is that every year deniers can defer the coal to nuclear conversion, three million more folks worldwide die of coal pollution. The coal tar black souls of these deniers think that sacrifice is reasonable insurance against their insane ravings about nuclear accidents.
What an interesting mix of viewpoints. The article ignored waste reprocessing, which other countries have been doing for years, and Generation IV reactor designs that produce much less--and less hazardous--waste. The Gen IV reactors won't be online before 2030 though.
It seems the theme of the article was more Big Proposals than Practical Solutions, although it did inform us that burying waste was the most realistic solution. Good. Let's do it and stop throwing up expensive legal roadblocks. Bury it so it will stay out of the environment for say a century, but can still be easily retrieved and processed when a better solution comes along. As sethdayal pointed out, there's not that much waste to deal with, and future reactors will produce even less.
I agree, the article was a bit short sighted, but to the previous comment (clean and renewable fossil fuels) fossil fuels not only release carbon dioxide (doubling every twenty years since the industrial revolution) but sulfur dioxide as well (acid rain anyone?) and are not "renewable". It takes millions of years for fossil fuels to form. Nuclear energy is an option, but so is wind, hydro and solar. Please recycle.
@johnt007871 - Yes, I know how it works. What I said was aren't you skeptical that very contaminated water heating regular water can cross contaminate just a little bit? Radiation travels you know. Their "heat exchanger" can not be perfect. Even if it is 99.99%, there is no way I would drink water from that condensed steam. I'd like to see your swimming pool filled with it and see you let your kids take a swim in it or drink it... yeah, I figured you wouldn't.
My point with nuclear is that it is a very dirty technology at this time. Do you know that waste is SO TOXIC that in many cases they can not MOVE it out of the power plant!! Yeah, they store most of it ON SITE because they can not move it!! Try Google searching that too..
Oh and is it just the waste? NO! Not only is the hundreds of acres of land its on unusable for thousands of years due to contamination when the reactor is shut down but think - how much contaminated water in the "sealed closed loop" has to be disposed of? How often is that water or other cooling fluid changed? Where does it go? What about thousands of tons of building materials, concrete, metal pipes, control rods, etc has to be disposed of when it is decommissioned?
And safety protocol limits exposure to only so much before that item has to be disposed of - for example radiation suits for maintenance workers. Those suits can only take so much (actually very little) before they have to disposed of with the radioactive waste. If they have to even mop the floors in certain areas, the water, buckets, and suits all are now nuclear waste. Multiply that by millions of items globally and you have a big mess.
Look, if we don't have the technology to safely MOVE waste around easily, we sure as hell are not ready to be messing with this stuff on a larger scale. Yeah, they can reprocess some spent fuel rods, but what about everything else? Bury it? What are you animals? Like the dog in the yard buries dead animals? Come on ... And bury it just to have it leak or contaminate ground water, underground aquifers, or even oceans?? I think they were incredibly stupid to build reactors in the first place when they did not have any real plan to dispose of the waste properly.
Here is a small piece from a google search (since everyone moans if you don't google facts) ... it's a LOT of waste! It's already 200,000 cubic meters of waste a YEAR! Let's bury it in your city and see how much you will support it when your whole family suddenly gets leukemia. As a kid, I once knew the one survivor of a 10 person household who lived nearby a nuclear waste burial location many years back (that has since been "cleaned" when he was a child) his parents and older 7 brothers and sisters all died of Leukemia and it was just coincidental... yeah, you tell yourself that. Those numbers just don't show up in the statistics for some reason ... wonder why?
From world-nuclear org ..
How much waste is produced?
Each year, nuclear power generation facilities worldwide produce about 200,000 m3 of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste, and about 10,000 m3 of high-level waste including used fuel designated as waste1.
In the OECD countries, some 300 million tonnes of toxic wastes are produced each year, but conditioned radioactive wastes amount to only 81,000 m3 per year.
@Lis5362, Natural Gas (methane) IS renewable! It's spewing out everywhere from swamps, trash dumps and even your sewer as we speak! So yes, natural gas can be renewed ... from GARBAGE even!
The state I'm in gets most it's power from Natural Gas, not coal or oil.
I am wondering why things we do not know to use is considered "waste". If I recall gasoline is also considered "waste" when cars are not that common. Our garbage was and still is considered waste but now being recycled to become a source of raw material. I doubt that nuclear waste can be any different.
Now lauren there are GenIV nukes now working in France, India, Japan and Russia and have been for years. India is firing up a big 500 MW unit next year and 5 more for 2020. Both Russia and China have a half a dozen more on the go for 2020.
Man the Cruz can't stop spewing the bull. I'd say chances are one hundred percent he works out of the denier workshop down at Big Oil.
I love the junk science. Radioactive waste water, steam - there is no peer reviewed science showing any levels greater than background.
His low level nuke waste is almost all from medical and industrial processes that use isotopes nothing to do with nuclear power.
But if you want low level radioactive waste take his annual thousands of cubic miles of deadly toxic radioactive coal ash, and thousands of cubic miles of natural gas spewed radioactive radon gas.
And methane from bio process is a tiny percentage of the not renewable gas we burn every year so no Lis it isn't renewable.
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Talk about risks. We have natural gas tankers with an explosive power equivalent to a small nuclear device plying around the world exploded, crude tankers loaded with cargo that can pollute the ocean for thousands of miles in all direction did just that, and fuel depots that leveled towns after catching fires, and we cry about nuclear accidents none of which exploded like an atomic bomb. This topic is about burying nuclear wastes, I say we pour more money and human resources into getting more bang out of the nuclear fuel. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
__________________________Explanations for Everyone____________________________
To start... @cruzinmy64 Cracks me up with all his fear mongering. @cruzinmy64 your almost as good at fear mongering as Glenn Beck! And for the children pool thing, Radiation is a naturally accruing phenomenon. that means that your children are quite literary swimming and drinking radiation all the time. and as for the "On-Site" storage, There is not yet a suable place to store uranium 232 and plutonium 94(Soon to be solved with the Yucca Mountain Project). As for the clean up of radioactive contaminates, Items are properly decontaminated by "Hot Shops" all over the country and then disposed of. As for the 200,000 m3 of LOW emitting waste, I would just like to remind you that that is WORLDWIDE and most of it is decontaminated before disposal. Also if your looking to find what most of that waste is you will find things like medical waste and the common smoke alarm that sames hundreds each day thanks to the radioactive element americium 95. Let me just finish saying that there are risks with ANY energy sources. Fire will burn you if you don't know how to control it for example. plus, we have been controlling the atom for years now. its time... to bring change with Clean Energy and renewable resources. Let me thank @cruzinmy64 for posting questions that the great community at pop sci can answer to help enrich the knowledge of others. Thank you all for your time :)
Once again we have an article about nuclear waste which is blatantly misleading about half lives. Yes it is true that some waste elements have extremely long half lives, but that simply means that they aren't very radioactive.
Is it asking too much to point out that only those waste elements with short half lives are dangerously radioactive to the point where they have to be treated with extreme caution?
Spent fuel doesn't need to be treated like high-level nuclear waste for thousands of years: only for about a hundred years at the most after which time it can be safely handled and stored with much more conventional means.
For a mere hundred years of containment, open air storage in concrete caskets is more than adequate: especially on site at the secure fortresses that are nuclear power plants.
The idea that nuclear waste has to be stored for thousands of years is a lie that even the most basic and fundamental understanding of the relationship between radioactivity and half-lives disproves!
Anyone who thinks that nuclear is bad and toxic can start reading up on their facts.
1. Cherynobl was 1960's tech, and poor quality Soviet Tech at that.
2.New reactors make far less waste than old reactors.
3. Coal is actually nowadays as efficent as nuclear beacuse of hard coal. Where I live we also use CLEAN coal which is low greenhouse emissions.
4.All of the "renewable energy" has a downside. Hint, what about a clear day with no wind? Or the absurd cost of solar panels that only rises?
5.Nuclear waste could be used to heat carbon seperated by nuclear plants to make low cost building materials, carbon nanotubes are about 10 times stronger than steel and is cheap to make.
6.For the energy cost of Bio-fuel we are losing energy.
7.Oil could be replaced by a more efficent system known as cold or standard fission and fusion.