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What Does the U.S. Do with Nuclear Waste? (Irradiated Barf)
Scientific American "Earthtalk" ^ | 6/24/2008 | "Earthtalk"

Posted on 06/25/2008 12:28:05 PM PDT by angkor

EarthTalk - June 24, 2008 What Does the U.S. Do with Nuclear Waste? What are the future plans for U.S. nuclear waste storage?

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard that there are plans to build a large repository for nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but that plans have been slow and are very controversial. Where is our nuclear waste kept now and what dangers does it pose? -- Miriam Clark, Reno, NV

Plans to store the majority of our nation’s spent nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive waste at a central repository underneath Yucca Mountain in the Nevada desert 80 miles from Las Vegas were first hatched in the mid-1980s. But the project has languished primarily due to opposition from Nevadans who don’t want to import such dangerous materials into their backyard. Critics of the plan also point out that various natural forces such as erosion and earthquakes could render the site unstable and thus unsuitable to store nuclear isotopes that can remain hazardous to humans for hundreds of thousands of years to come.

But the Bush administration is keen to jump-start the project and recently submitted a construction license application to develop the facility—which when completed could hold up to 300 million pounds of nuclear waste—with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In announcing the filing, Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said that the facility being proposed can “stand up to any challenge anywhere,” adding that issues of health safety have been a primary concern during the planning process.

But the administration has still not submitted a crucial document declaring how protective the facility will be with regard to radiation leakage. Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the facility needs to prevent radiation leakage for up to 10,000 years. But a federal judge ruled that to be inadequate and ordered the administration to require protection for up to one million years. The White House argues that the NRC should press on with its review process and that the standard can be settled on later.

Currently, without any central repository, nuclear waste generated in the U.S. is stored at or near one of the 121 facilities across the country where it is generated. Nevadans like Democratic Senator Harry Reid, who has doggedly opposed the Yucca Mountain repository, say it makes more sense to leave such waste where it is than to risk transporting it across the nation’s public highways and rail system, during which accidents or even terrorist attacks could expose untold numbers of Americans to radioactivity.

But others say that the current system, or lack thereof, leaves Americans at great risk of radioactive exposure. The non-profit Nuclear Information and Resource Service concluded in a 2007 report that tons of radioactive waste were ending up in landfills and in some cases in consumer products, thanks to loopholes in a 2000 federal ban on recycling metal that had been exposed to radioactivity.

As with all issues surrounding nuclear technology, where and how to dispose of the wastes is complicated. While some environmental leaders now cautiously support development of more nuclear reactors (which are free of fossil fuels) to help stave off climate change, others remain concerned that the risks to human health and the environment are still too high to go down that road. Whether or not the NRC approves plans for Yucca Mountain won’t resolve the larger debate, of course, but perhaps the greenlighting of other promising alternative energy sources could ultimately make nuclear power unnecessary altogether.

CONTACTS: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, www.nrc.gov; Nuclear Information and Resource Service, www.nirs.org.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: nuclear; nukes
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1) Prior to building some 50 reactors, the French handily solved this problem by agreeing to use safe temporary storage until better disposal technologies are developed several years - or maybe even decades - in the future.

2) The idea that it's safer to have 121 disparate sites located everywhere around the country rather than a single "best choice" site for centralized containment is the kind of harebrained idea that could only come the from the U.S. Congress.

3) When were federal appeals judges granted Constitutional authority to make nuke projects safe for "1 million years" as opposed to "10,000 years"?

1 posted on 06/25/2008 12:28:08 PM PDT by angkor
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To: angkor

A small tupperware container in each and every refrigerator in the United States. Waaaaaayyy in the back, where no one ever looks.

Not my idea originally: I think it came from either Robin Williams, National Lampoon magazine or Saturday Night Live, I can’t really remember.


2 posted on 06/25/2008 12:32:05 PM PDT by WayneS (What the hell is wrong with these people?)
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To: WayneS

Every man’s sock drawer a U-232 disposal site.


3 posted on 06/25/2008 12:36:26 PM PDT by angkor (Conservatism is not now and never has been a religious movement.)
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To: angkor
What Does the U.S. Do with Nuclear Waste?

Dear Miriam,

What don't we do with it? We start off by using some as a binding agent for hemp clothing, birkenstock sandals, stupid hats and other such needs. We also use them for inks and various paper products for thinge like Protest Signs, Mother Jones, and Sierra Club type magazines. We use them in paints and office furniture for the same type offices. There's realy not enough column space to tell you all these possible uses, but be aware some 80% goes to places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Cambridge Mass.

regards,

Them

4 posted on 06/25/2008 12:38:25 PM PDT by theDentist (Qwerty ergo typo : I type, therefore I misspelll.)
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To: angkor

Well, if it weren’t for the Amy Carter nuclear energy policy, we’d be recycling the fuel rods, extracting the still usable fuel (and the plutonium), and storing a much smaller amount, like you said, until we can figure out a better disposal method.


5 posted on 06/25/2008 12:39:10 PM PDT by MrB (You can't reason people out of a position that they didn't use reason to get into in the first place)
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To: angkor

Mix the waste with sand until it is too dilute to go critical, then turn it into glass. The ecofreeks say that glass is forever.

Then it can be stored almost anywhere.


6 posted on 06/25/2008 12:39:43 PM PDT by CPOSharky (Blaming CO2 for global warming is like blaming your thermometer for your kid's fever.)
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To: angkor

We’ve been storing it in a number of ways for years, depending upon the level of radioactivity and materials involved..

I spent time working on around aboveground storage in steel casks/containers years ago.

A lot of testing went into both the storage and transportation of said casks with the anticipation of eventual movement of all those casks to a location such as Yucca Flats.

Personally, I have a perfect place for dems and greens to stick it until we finally get an OK to ‘plant’ it in terra firma.


7 posted on 06/25/2008 12:39:43 PM PDT by NormsRevenge (Semper Fi ... Godspeed ... ICE toll-free tip hotline 1-866-DHS-2-ICE ... 9/11 .. Never FoRget!!!)
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To: angkor

Launch it into space.


8 posted on 06/25/2008 12:40:00 PM PDT by PGR88
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To: angkor
In about 50-60 years, tops, we'll be able to feed this waste into fusion reactors, where it will be destroyed. Or just as likely, have nanobot machines take it apart, molecule by molecule, untils it's safe.

Or, humans will have eradicated themselves off the planet. In any case, we don't have to worry about this stuff for multiple thousands to millions of years.

9 posted on 06/25/2008 12:41:53 PM PDT by willgolfforfood
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To: angkor
I think it would improve the whole country if we stored it in New York city or Boston
10 posted on 06/25/2008 12:42:35 PM PDT by jrd
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To: angkor

Don’t forget that the French reprocess their spent fuel. As a result their high-level waste occupies a space the size of a basketball gym.

We don’t even need a giant underground repository in the first place. Its only an typically dumbass executive order for Jimmy Carter that forbade reprocessing.

Don’t expect dubya to work up the stones to rescind it, however. Nor the executive order that forbids offshore drilling (although there is a separate, congress-passed law as well).


11 posted on 06/25/2008 12:42:51 PM PDT by sinanju
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To: angkor
Miriam,

Ever see young kids and teens with those glow in the dark flexible rods at Raves, concerts, and evening events? What do you think makes them glow?

12 posted on 06/25/2008 12:43:52 PM PDT by Phantom Lord (Fall on to your knees for the Phantom Lord)
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To: jrd

It could revitalize Detroit.


13 posted on 06/25/2008 12:47:03 PM PDT by Westlander (Unleash the Neutron Bomb)
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To: MrB

>>>>we’d be recycling the fuel rods, extracting the still usable fuel (and the plutonium), and storing a much smaller amount, like you said, until we can figure out a better disposal method.

I believe that’s exactly how the French have handled it for 20++ years, with the very sensible understanding that “We’ll make the process safer as future technology permits.”

THE FRENCH, BY GOD!!!!!!!!

THE FRENCH WHO ARE USING 50+ REACTORS BUILT FOR THEM BY WESTINGHOUSE U.S.A. !!!!!


14 posted on 06/25/2008 12:48:45 PM PDT by angkor (Conservatism is not now and never has been a religious movement.)
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To: MrB

Absolutely. The Navy ships its used fuel rods to the desert of Idaho where it is recycled at the Expended Core Facility (at least that’s what it was called when I worked there in the late seventies) at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory operated then by Westinghouse Electric. I haven’t kept up with developments there and a lot of names might have changed but I think the cores still arrive by train.


15 posted on 06/25/2008 12:49:53 PM PDT by caseinpoint (Don't get thickly involved in thin things)
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To: angkor

“Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the facility needs to prevent radiation leakage for up to 10,000 years. But a federal judge ruled that to be inadequate and ordered the administration to require protection for up to one million years.”

ok 10,000 years is silly but 1,000,000 years? Where the heck does a judge get the authority to set this arbitrary time line?


16 posted on 06/25/2008 12:50:03 PM PDT by driftdiver
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To: angkor

Something like that, yes.


17 posted on 06/25/2008 12:53:07 PM PDT by WayneS (What the hell is wrong with these people?)
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To: Phantom Lord

LOL...Cerenkov Radiation on a moonbat.


18 posted on 06/25/2008 12:53:52 PM PDT by Ouderkirk (DemocRATS....the party of Slavery, Segregation, Secularism, and Sedition)
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To: jrd

The Capitol building.

It could lead to term limits.


19 posted on 06/25/2008 12:54:42 PM PDT by WayneS (What the hell is wrong with these people?)
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To: CPOSharky

That is exactly how its stored in a glass matrix. Bravo! The process is a little convoluted but once in the matrix there is really no way the waste can ever be separated from it to be effective for anything.


20 posted on 06/25/2008 12:55:13 PM PDT by SouthernBoyupNorth ("For my wings are made of Tungsten, my flesh of glass and steel..........")
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To: driftdiver

And how do you test the proto-type?


21 posted on 06/25/2008 12:55:36 PM PDT by WayneS (What the hell is wrong with these people?)
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To: angkor

I’ll bet money Miriam watch MegaDisaters on the History Channel last night.

I watched that too. The only reason I watched it was the ads were so full of sh** that I couldn’t wait to see what was in the actual show. The ads were designed to generate fear and the show itself did the same. They did show how safe the transportation plans were but then outlined an almost ludicrous senerio in which containment could fail (and I’m not convinced that it would fail even in that case).

1. The idea of centralized storage at a facility that does not have any significant earthquake risk, does not have a water table for a breach to leak into, is a GOOD IDEA.

2. The containers that the waste would be transported in has been dropped, burned, had a freight train run into at the weakest design point and did not breach. About the only way to pop one of those things is to hit it with a nuke....which makes the point mute.

Go back to sleep Miriam, your head would explode if you ever were confronted by any real problems we face in this world.


22 posted on 06/25/2008 12:55:43 PM PDT by CougarGA7 (Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.)
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To: driftdiver

10,000 years is all any of us will last, based on Al Gore’s Global Warming statistics. We will all be dead, so no worry about the old leaky nuclear waste.


23 posted on 06/25/2008 12:56:02 PM PDT by TommyDale (I) (Never forget the Republicans who voted for illegal immigrant amnesty in 2007!)
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To: caseinpoint

My understanding is that the rods still contain a pretty high percentage of fissile (radioactive) material, but also contain too much “dead” (non-radioactive) material for them to work right anymore.

The recycling process removes the fissile material and makes new rods, leaving much less radioactive waste amongst the spent material to be stored.


24 posted on 06/25/2008 12:56:24 PM PDT by MrB (You can't reason people out of a position that they didn't use reason to get into in the first place)
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To: SouthernBoyupNorth

Can the glass be used in windows? say, in the Capitol building? Or a Senate Office building?


25 posted on 06/25/2008 12:56:27 PM PDT by WayneS (What the hell is wrong with these people?)
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To: angkor

“...but perhaps the greenlighting of other promising alternative energy sources could ultimately make nuclear power unnecessary altogether.”

Such drivel effectively requires that we remove the first half of the title - e.g., “Scientific” from the magazine. Perhaps a simple course on energy consumption (even greatly reduced energy consumption) vs energy available might be useful to the editorial loons at that once influential magazine. Alternative energy sources my patooti.


26 posted on 06/25/2008 12:57:05 PM PDT by Da Coyote
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To: WayneS

god dont i wish it could be!


27 posted on 06/25/2008 12:58:28 PM PDT by SouthernBoyupNorth ("For my wings are made of Tungsten, my flesh of glass and steel..........")
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To: PGR88

>>>>Launch it into space.

That’s always been my solution.


28 posted on 06/25/2008 12:59:08 PM PDT by angkor (Conservatism is not now and never has been a religious movement.)
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To: WayneS

How do we test the prototype, why we build it and then wait 1 million years.

The only purpose of this judgement is to stop the development. Good to be the King errr Judge, same thing.


29 posted on 06/25/2008 1:00:17 PM PDT by driftdiver
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To: angkor; All

I always thought the safest way to get rid of unprocessable waste is to dump it in the ocean over a subduction zone, where silt action and movement of the plates will cover it up, eventually sending it down into the Earth’s Upper Mantle where it will be incinerated.

Thoughts?


30 posted on 06/25/2008 1:00:48 PM PDT by rottndog (Globull Warming "Science" = garbage in, gospel out.)
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To: sinanju; angkor

According to this article - “France’s Nuclear Waste Heads to Russia”. And “...there are more than a thousand sites in France being used for temporary nuclear waste storage, and some lack any type of protection. The volume of all types of radioactive waste in France grows by 1,200 tonnes a year.”

source: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=31466


31 posted on 06/25/2008 1:00:55 PM PDT by shove_it (and have a nice day)
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To: angkor
Reprocess, reprocess, reprocess. Separate out the unused U-235, U-238 and plutonium. Use the plutonium and U-235 for more nuclear power and the U-238 to create more plutonium. If you are burying uranium and plutonium then you are wasting a huge resource.

The interesting thing about radioactive material is that the really dangerous stuff doesn't last for long (short half life) and the long lived stuff isn't too dangerous as long as you don't ingest it.

32 posted on 06/25/2008 1:01:39 PM PDT by KarlInOhio (Whale oil: the renewable biofuel for the 21st century.)
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To: driftdiver

>>>>ok 10,000 years is silly but 1,000,000 years? Where the heck does a judge get the authority to set this arbitrary time line?

It sounds to me like a senile old judge making a deliberate and cynical mockery of his own position and his own courtroom.

In fact it’s such a brazen abuse of the public trust that he should be impeached.


33 posted on 06/25/2008 1:03:23 PM PDT by angkor (Conservatism is not now and never has been a religious movement.)
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To: WayneS

It is not window glass. You wouldn’t want anything made of this kind of glass anywhere near your house or office.


34 posted on 06/25/2008 1:04:01 PM PDT by RightWhale (I will veto each and every beer)
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To: theDentist

ROTFL


35 posted on 06/25/2008 1:04:54 PM PDT by girlangler (Fish Fear Me)
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To: KarlInOhio
The interesting thing about radioactive material is that the really dangerous stuff doesn't last for long (short half life) and the long lived stuff isn't too dangerous as long as you don't ingest it.



"La la la la la la la.....I can't hear you saying anything intelligent....La la la la la la la...."
36 posted on 06/25/2008 1:05:34 PM PDT by rottndog (Globull Warming "Science" = garbage in, gospel out.)
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To: RightWhale
It is not window glass. You wouldn’t want anything made of this kind of glass anywhere near your house or office.

Not my house, but the original poster suggested the House of Representatives and Senate. Kind of like voluntary term limits. Every click of the Geiger counter gives the senator a little nudge out the door.

37 posted on 06/25/2008 1:06:02 PM PDT by KarlInOhio (Whale oil: the renewable biofuel for the 21st century.)
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To: RightWhale

Right.

But maybe I DO want it in the Capitol building or the Senate office buildings.


38 posted on 06/25/2008 1:08:47 PM PDT by WayneS (What the hell is wrong with these people?)
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To: WayneS

A self- irradiating refrigerator? There have been worse ideas.


39 posted on 06/25/2008 1:10:22 PM PDT by Calvin Locke
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To: MrB

I believe you are right. When the rods arrived, they were stored in pits of water some thirty or so feet deep. They were worked on in those pits or by using “slaves” (remote-controlled mechanisms) inside boxed filled with several inches of vegetable oil sandwiched between bullet-proof glass. (They are probably not called slaves anymore, I suspect.) What could be recovered was gathered for new rods and the old ones stored on-site. The problem with the site there in Idaho, however, is that it is seismic and it is sitting on a huge aquifer where rivers sink into the porous volcanic soil there, travel underground and emerge in south central Idaho at what is called Thousand Springs near Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s not a very stable repository for radioactive materials.


40 posted on 06/25/2008 1:14:40 PM PDT by caseinpoint (Don't get thickly involved in thin things)
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To: angkor
But the project has languished primarily due to opposition from Nevadans who don’t want to import such dangerous materials into their backyard.

Liars. Unless those "Nevadans" are Mole People, or C.H.U.D.S., or Troglodytes, this material isn't going into their "backyards. Things buried 2000 down in welded volcanic tuff isn't in anyone's "backyard".

Critics of the plan also point out that various natural forces such as erosion and earthquakes could render the site unstable and thus unsuitable to store nuclear isotopes that can remain hazardous to humans for hundreds of thousands of years to come.

Liars. I did some of the erosion studies for the strata at depth in the disposal site. We're talking about a few millimeters of erosion in about 10 million years. Not the kind of rate that's going to render anything unsuitable.

Earthquakes? So what? Once the stuff is sealed up, any kind of earthquake that causes collapse is only going to seal the stuff up tighter. That's the beauty of geologic storage. Any kind of subsidence diastrophism (earthquake collapse) works in your favor.

Nevadans like Democratic Senator Harry Reid, who has doggedly opposed the Yucca Mountain repository, say it makes more sense to leave such waste where it is than to risk transporting it ...

Reid is a duplicitous bastard on this issue like almost all of the anti-nuke kooks. They say, "Leave it where it is.", then they turn around and hammer the industry saying it's unsafe because they've got all of this spent fuel laying around plant sites and that makes them "targets for terrorists", so we should shut them down. So the industry says, fine, we'll move it to a central storage location where it can all be monitored and guarded together. But then Reid and the kooks say no, it isn't safe to move the material, keep it where it is. IOW, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

41 posted on 06/25/2008 1:30:58 PM PDT by chimera
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To: angkor
"But the project has languished primarily due to opposition from Nevadans who don’t want to import such dangerous materials into their backyard."

IOW, eco-fanatical NIMBY-ites.

"But a federal judge ruled that to be inadequate and ordered the administration to require protection for up to one million years."

Gee--I wonder what he based his decision on. I suspect he pulled the basics from his nether regions, rather than anything in law and science.

42 posted on 06/25/2008 1:33:18 PM PDT by Wonder Warthog (The Hog of Steel-NRA)
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To: angkor

The “waste” is no more dangerous then the ore, the smelted uranium or the new rods. These are shipped all over the place now.

This article is a barf.


43 posted on 06/25/2008 1:34:41 PM PDT by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: angkor

I have read that France generates about 75% of its electricity with nuclear reactors. Also, that it recycles most of the waste, so that all of the non-recycled waste would fit inside a typical US house.


44 posted on 06/25/2008 1:36:19 PM PDT by pleikumud
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To: CPOSharky

“Mix the waste with sand until it is too dilute to go critical, then turn it into glass. The ecofreeks say that glass is forever.”

We could use it to make plastic water bottles and grocery bags using the same rationale.


45 posted on 06/25/2008 1:47:36 PM PDT by Hacklehead (Crush the liberals, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the hippies.)
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To: angkor
Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the facility needs to prevent radiation leakage for up to 10,000 years. But a federal judge ruled that to be inadequate and ordered the administration to require protection for up to one million years.

This is ridiculous. Human civilization is only about 10,000 years old, and homo sapiens didn't even exist 1 million years ago. Considering that we only learned how to make this radioactive waste a few decades ago, I think it's safe to say we'll have learned ways to either render it inert or dispose of it entirely within a few more decades - most likely within the lifetime of this crackpot judge.
46 posted on 06/25/2008 1:48:27 PM PDT by AnotherUnixGeek
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To: WayneS

I think your own to something there


47 posted on 06/25/2008 1:56:51 PM PDT by jrd
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To: Hacklehead
We could use it to make plastic water bottles and grocery bags using the same rationale.

Glass grocery bags?

The object is to make the nuke waste safe and unusable.

48 posted on 06/25/2008 2:25:51 PM PDT by CPOSharky (Blaming CO2 for global warming is like blaming your thermometer for your kid's fever.)
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To: shove_it
"The volume of all types of radioactive waste in France grows by 1,200 tonnes a year."

The kicker is the phrase "....all types...". Most of the total volume of nuclear waste is not from nuclear reactor fuel, but from radioisotopes used for medical tests and the like. Relatively low radioactivity and short half-life. It still needs to be stored, but only for a relatively short time.

49 posted on 06/25/2008 2:26:41 PM PDT by Wonder Warthog (The Hog of Steel-NRA)
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To: MrB
The recycling process removes the fissile material and makes new rods, leaving much less radioactive waste amongst the spent material to be stored.

The recycling process also separates out the plutonium, which because of its intermediate half-life is the element that makes nuclear waste dangerous for thousands of years. With the uranium and plutonium gone and the short-life isotopes decayed away, what remains is a small volume of long-period ash that can be safely buried. Meanwhile, the plutonium can be burned, in special reactors optimized for the purpose, to create still more energy.

50 posted on 06/25/2008 2:34:20 PM PDT by BlazingArizona
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