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Yucca Mountain, Open For Business 366

John Galt writes: "It seems the Feds have finally decided that Nevada will host the government's nuclear waste repository." The Yucca Mountain project has been in the works for a while. Here is a cutaway diagram.
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Yucca Mountain, Open For Business

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  • by silentbozo ( 542534 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:19AM (#2822384) Journal
    Nuclear winters are caused by the dust kicked up by multiple warheads impacting and exploding on the earth's crust. A single rocket with waste blowing up in the atmosphere, critical mass or not, will not cause a nuclear winter.

    What you will get is a nasty case of Chernobyl-style fallout, combined with a Mir-like dispersal of radioactive junk across a given hemisphere. Time to stock up on fallout shelters and iodine tablets...
  • Re:Pretty creepy. (Score:2, Informative)

    by jmorzins ( 86648 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:29AM (#2822405)

    it's 400 degrees F (~750 celsius)

    I think you converted in the wrong direction: 400 degrees F is only about 200 degrees C.

  • ACK! (Score:4, Informative)

    by PD ( 9577 ) <> on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:37AM (#2822425) Homepage Journal
    This doesn't seem like it's the best solution here. I can think of two alternatives that aren't being used or investigated: 1) subduction zones. Put the waste deep into a subduction zone instead of a stable region like Yucca Mtn. Instead of hanging around basically forever, the waste will be pulled underneath the Earth's crust eventually. 2) Breeder reactors. Using breeder reactors would allow ALL of the Uranium isotopes to be burned in the production of energy, not just the U-235. That means that the ultimate waste product of the reactors would have a half-life of under 30 years instead of thousands of years. France deals with their nuclear waste like this already, and we should too.
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @07:55AM (#2822586) Homepage
    Yucca Mountain is located at the NTS (Nevada Test Site), where the USA has performed most of its nuclear weapons testing. So it isn't exactly a pristine example of desert wilderness. The site also has the most of the needed infrastructure and security already there.
  • Re:hmmm... (Score:5, Informative)

    by limber ( 545551 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @08:32AM (#2822672) Homepage
    Using deep-sea subduction zones to dispose of waste is an interesting idea that has been kicking around for awhile.

    However, there are a few concerns, some political, some practical which have not been sufficiently dealt with (yet), for use of this method to be deemed acceptable.

    It goes against the grain of current 'waste disposal' thought. In the past, the model used to be "dilute and disperse". Then, as we realized some pollutants remain toxic even in low low exposure rates, the model changed to "concentrate and contain". You can see this mindset in our acceptance of smokestacks: they used to be a sign of progress, now they're not welcome in your neighbourhood. So, simply dumping nuclear waste into a subduction zone gives the shivers to anyone raised in this mindset, even if logically you can show that the subduction zone does in fact carry material only downward -- you can't guarantee the waste isn't going to wind up someplace where it can do harm. Models can only show you what should happen; the real world often decides to disagree. So it's a tough approach to sell.

    The key thing is, once the waste is down there, you no longer have control. Who knows what might happen to it. Once waste is placed at the subduction zone, human intervention will be extremely difficult, whether by submersible or robot remote.

    If a waste container breaks open down there (and don't think you can economically design one that won't -- the forces down there are spectacular), there's not much you can do except cover it with dirt or other materials. "Oh, it's just one broken waste cannister at the bottom of the entire ocean" -- see how well that goes over with Greenpeace.

    The other main practical consideration is actually getting the waste containers to go into the subduction zones. Most subduction zones have thick sedimentation layers over
    their sea floor opening. We're talking about tectonic processes here, not vacuum cleaners. That is, any container you put there is just going to sit at the bottom for a long long time without actually going anywhere.
  • by fwc ( 168330 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @09:23AM (#2822800)
    I agree with #2 above.

    When we started to do nuclear plants the idea was to build the plants we have today which basically "burn" Uranium. These plants usually take an enriched 3.5% U-235/ 96.5% U-238 mix (U-235 is what actually is Fissioned). After enough U-235 is spent to prevent efficient fuel usage, they remove the fuel and end up with a waste product which includes both U-235 and U-238 along with Plutonium-239 (Pu-239) isotopes and other radioactive isotopes.

    What was supposed to happen is that this spent fuel would be reprocessed to extract the unused U-235, the Pu-239, and the other products. These would then be used in a fast neutron reactor which would actually burn not only the fuel itself but the waste products, producing as a result waste with a half-life of about 30 years (safe after 300 years and a lot less volume to store).

    In the 1970's someone realized that the Plutonium-239 was also useful as bomb-making material. They decided that the risk of some of this being diverted to some third-world country which wanted a nuclear bomb was too high to take and so President Carter canceled the research project.

    There is still a lot of debate over the real risks involved. From everything I've read I think the real story is twofold - first the Plutionium isn't really "weapons grade" when it is reprocessed in this manner, so the risks are over emphasized. And second, I think that the people running the power plants don't want to do this because it is cheaper to just run the uranium through their plants once.

  • by way2slo ( 151122 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @10:42AM (#2823087) Journal
    Granted, Tremors is not a blockbuster movie, but it can be enjoyable. The main thing are the characters. Val [Kevin Bacon] and Earl [Fred Ward] are excellent anti-heros with wonderful chemistry. Burt [Michael Gross] and Heather [Reba McEntire] are pretty good too as the survivalists. (In Tremors 2, Gross takes his character to the next level and is hilarious) It's easy to be dissapointed with this movie when you go in expecting that it's a straight horror flick, when it's really a blend. This is a fun movie that does not take its self too seriously.

  • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @10:49AM (#2823121)

    When it comes to storing nuclear waste permanently, people are wrongly conjuring up images of thin-metal barrels of waste in liquid being dropped off.

    WRONGO. Very likely, the radioactive waste will be mixed with molten glass and turned into glass balls, which are chemically extremely stable and have a tiny fraction of the radioactive output of spent fuel rods. These glass balls are then put into special large containers that are so strong even dropping them 30 meters wouldn't make anything close to a dent in the container. With the waste in barely radioactive form and these large containers, they could be dropped off anywhere undergground that has stable geology and never be an environmental problem to anyone.

    I remember there was a bad joke going around early in the current Bush Administration about sending all the nuclear waste to Texas. That joke quickly ended when people read that DoE is actually looking at salt domes at now-dry oil fields in Texas as nuclear waste repositories, since salt absorbs radiation extremely well and these underground salt domes are geologically very stable.

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