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United States Science Technology

Better Nuclear Waste Storage Plans than Yucca Mountain 466

Posted by michael
from the moon-still-mostly-empty dept.
NuclearRampage writes "Technology Review has an in-depth article about A New Vision for Nuclear Waste based on the premise that 'storing nuclear waste underground at Yucca Mountain for 100,000 years is a terrible idea.' The article looks at the current DOE plans for Yucca, its shortcomings and what temporary solutions we have to use while a better permanent plan is formulated."
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Better Nuclear Waste Storage Plans than Yucca Mountain

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  • by coupland (160334) * <dchase@@@hotmail...com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:25AM (#10854788) Journal

    >"But here's the twist: with nuclear waste, procrastination may actually pay ... ... technological advances over the next century might yield better long-term storage methods.

    Sorry, but this kind of stupidity really irks me. If the Yucca plan is flawed, then we should be working constructively to fix it, not criticizing it and offering no solutions. Certainly not assuming that in a hundred years we'll have genetically engineered winged monkeys who will fly all our nuclear waste into outer space. The problem is here now, so we've got to face it now, with today's technology. It's the height of irresponsibility to assume that our children will be smart enough to solve a problem a hundred years from now whose solution has completely eluded us.

  • by lawpoop (604919) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:35AM (#10854923) Homepage Journal
    "It's the height of irresponsibility to assume that our children will be smart enough to solve a problem a hundred years from now whose solution has completely eluded us."

    Yeah, because history shows that the past two centuries have been nothing but *stagnation* in terms of technological development.

  • by iezhy (623955) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:39AM (#10854965) Homepage
    do you have any idea how much does it cost to lift a single pound of cargo into the orbit, not speaking about sending it to the sun? and how much nuclear power will cost, if this solution would be used?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:39AM (#10854973)
    If the idea is that we can come up with more permanent solutions if we just wait, then why not use Yucca as the temporary solution?

    The article predicts it will take 100 years for us to come up with a permanent storage solution, which is about how long these casks are good for. What if it takes 200 years? Or 300? Will the casks still be good?

    Would Yucca? So what if it isn't a 100,000 year solution. If it's still a longer solution than anything else, that makes it the best solution.
  • by vlad_petric (94134) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:42AM (#10855013) Homepage
    You only have to store it for the duration of your office (4-8-whatever years). After that, it becomes Someone Else's Problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:47AM (#10855084)
    SAIC and Blechtel can't really be expected to come up with a decent idea for that amount of money, when their friends are getting billions more for not supplying soldiers in Iraq.

    Even Republicans should be complaining about those situations...
  • by Viol8 (599362) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:52AM (#10855144)
    The climate is changing NOW. We need to use an alternative to fossil fuels NOW. Wind power, solar power etc arn't up to the job , only nuclear is. Theres no point worrying about what will happen in milennia if we screw up the climate in this century since if that happens there might not be anyone around in 102,004 AD to have to worry about nuclear waste!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:53AM (#10855155)
    A couple of things about this story annoy me.

    One, is storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain really a "terrible" idea? Storing nuclear waste in the middle of a major city would be a terrible idea. Storing nuclear waste in a volcano would be a terrible idea. Dumping nuclear waste in the ocean would be a terrible idea. Storing nuclear waste at Yucca mountain may not be the best idea, or a great idea, it may even be a bad idea, but is it really a "terrible" idea? Or is saying it's a "terrible" idea one of those little pieces of hyperbole designed to subconsiously sway an argument.

    Second, after about a thousand years even high-level radioactive waste is only going to be about as radioactive as the ore it was mined from. Not that 1000 years is a trivial length of time, but is saying we can't protect this material for "100,000 years" really a valid argument, or is it another one of those bits of hyperbole?

    But I forgot, this is Slashdot, where we're pro nuclear power, but anti nuclear waste.

    I know, -1 troll, but I had to say it.

  • I have an idea... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FooAtWFU (699187) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @11:55AM (#10855179) Homepage
    If Yucca Mountain won't be safe for a million billion years, how about you just use *it* as the "temporary solution" before you come up with a permanent one? Say what you will about the long-term stability of Yucca Mountain, consider the pathetic short-term storage facilites and warehouses where the stuff is being stored now.
  • by chaboud (231590) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:01PM (#10855247) Homepage Journal
    It's not that these materials are radioactive, but that these materials are composed of isotopes and elements that are *very* rarely found in nature.

    Strontium-90, cesium-137, and plutonium are not materials that one can regularly dig up in anything greater than trace amounts, but we have manufactured at least several hundred thousand kilograms of each. To suggest putting these low-half-life materials into populated regions or atomizing them for atmospheric delivery is humorous folly at best.

    If we can actually revert the materials in question to their originals (without costing us *more* energy than we originally received from fission; a task that, just to be clear, is impossible) before burial, then I'm all for it. In actuality, your naive suggestions merely show a lack of understanding of the fundamental problem, but this lack of understanding is not unique. That very thinking likely led to the hatching of the Yucca mountain plan in the first place.

    As we depart the steel age and forge into the composite-ceramic age, we stand a very good chance of improving existing technologies that show promise in solving this problem completely.

    Before we decide to package these materials as a dangerous slurry in a mountain about which we intend to forget, we should seriously consider investing in technological advances that have been before us for over a decade.
  • by Bodrius (191265) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:06PM (#10855311) Homepage
    Agreed.

    After reading the article, I found it sorely lacking in the "New Vision" part, but filled with a pletorah of maybes, could bes, perhaps, and hopefullys.

    It's great that they're suggesting a decent Plan B if Yucca fails, but to state that failure of Plan A is the best outcome because some hypothetical future invention will make it obsolete is not very scientific.

    To those with boundless faith in the progress of technology: it's not whether science advances at the same rate in the future, it's whether its direction can be predictable.

    As of now, by early 20th century speculation, we were supposed to have safe nuclear reactors powering our flying cars, and spaceships moving tourists to the moon.

    This article does not even substantiate the speculation with specific current developments in an avenue of research or two. It just makes the assumption someone will come up with something new, soon, that may have something to do with the problem.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:11PM (#10855391) Homepage
    and the american government along with the sheep that are the citizens see anything with the word nuclear as the glowing green boogeyman that will come and lower their savings instrest rate, increase their heating costs and possibly force them to drive [OH THE HORROR] a compact car!

    Now add the word "breeder" and "reactor" to the nuclear phycosis in america??? you have mass hysteria waiting to happen.

    This is the problem with a mostly undereducated/uneducated populace. Most high school students graduate without any physics and basic chemistry no the introduction to chemistry classes you took are not BASIc chemistry.

    Therefore the general public, fueled by the decisions and sensationalized events of the past solidified the fear of nuclear power in the United States. Hell there are 2 reactors within 100 miles of where I live and I am PROUD that they are there. Others in the community almost freak out if you tell them that fact.

    Oh and almost nobody realizes that you are at a greater risk of being killed by a chlorine gas cloud from one of the many many users of that product than from any nuclear accident.

    a 1 ton cylinder of Chlorine can create a cloud that can kill and severly injure everyon in a small town. and most paper processing plants have a 25 ton train car full of it sitting outside.

    until the sensationalism around nuclear anything dies down and the morons from the environmentialist groups actually learn something about it it will forever remain a boogeyman in America.

  • The main fallacy that I see with the article is that it keeps repeating that "in 100 years the waste won't be as hot!"

    That assumes that we won't be making any waste during the next 100 years, which strikes me as incredibly unlikely. I would expect better thinking from the MIT Technology Review than, "Of course we'll be able to solve today's problems in 100 years!" And this without considering that in those 100 years the problem will grow.

    I also don't understand why if casks are so great, why not store them at Yucca Mountain instead of the Skull Valley site, which is open air and closer to Salt Lake than Yucca Mountain is to Las Vegas.

  • by squiggleslash (241428) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:40PM (#10855815) Homepage Journal
    Are you SERIOUSLY arguing that all criticisms of anything must stop unless the person doing the criticism can think of a solution or alternative?

    Because, THAT my friend, burrowing one's heads in the sand and pretending problems do not exist, is the height of stupidity.

    I know it's popular on Slashdot to flame as "stupid" anyone who's remotely critical of Nuclear power or its consequences. But tell me how you intend to inspire confidence in the technology if your attitude to real, genuine, concerns is to demand people stop talking about them?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 18, 2004 @12:54PM (#10856023)
    Yucca Mountain happens to be in a geologically unstable region. Ironically, within a few days after the site was approved the area was hit with a quake that registered over 4.0. There is no guarantee that the site will not be rocked by a major earthquake, especially as you consider the length of time required to store the waste. My suggestion is to store the waste in Crawford, Texas.
  • by shotfeel (235240) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:14PM (#10856281)
    I found it lacking in the consistency part.

    There's no guarantee that Yucca Mt. will work for hundreds of thousands of years, so we'll settle for 100 years when some of the radioactivity will have decayed and we may have better ways of managing it.

    That's better than putting it in Yucca Mt. for a thousand years when much more of the radioactivity would have decayed and we may have exponetially better ways of handling it?

    AFAIK the only reason Yucca Mt. is a "failure" is because of the lawsuits arguing that it can't be guaranteed to last forever.
  • by ajs (35943) <ajsNO@SPAMajs.com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:36PM (#10856567) Homepage Journal
    So the concerns are as follows:
    • After 10,000 years, Yucca becomes unpredictable
    • The multiply redundant materials involved need to remain safe
    Ok, part 1 I'm willing to blow off. For those who think 10,000 years is "coming up sooner than you think," consider this: If one significant scientific discovery is made in terms of engineering such containment every lifetime (about 80 years, not every generation which would be about 20 years), then 125 such discoveries separate us from the time where we'd better have a decent solution. It's also 5 times the length of time since the fall of the Roman Empire. I'm sure I'm incapable of imagining what we'll be capable of by then.

    That said, the second problem is a serious one, but the poster I'm replying to is over-stating. If ALL of the materials used fail to perform exactly as expected, we still have a decent chance of containment. But that's not going to happen. What's going to happen is that some of those materials will do something unexpected and failsafe materials will stand between us and a rather difficult national emergency. How can I know this? I can't, of course, any more than I can know that the next launch of the space shuttle won't start some strange chain reaction that will ignite the atmosphere. I am, however, satisfactorilly encouraged that our current state of materials engineering, combined with redundancy in planning is capable of measuring up to the job.

    If you don't think that's the case, then you should never step into a building made of concrete and steel again. I can assure you that the tolerances employed in designing such structures (even when accounting for the difference in planning horizon) are much less strict than those employed in planning Yucca Mountain.

    I, for one, would happily live near the site, as it's probably the area least likely to suffer any sort of man-made disaster in the US.
  • by texwtf (558874) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @01:50PM (#10856763)
    Why is dumping nuke waste in the oceans a bad idea?

    No, seriously.. if we dumped it in the middle of the pacific spread over several hundred square miles and not all piled in a single spot, what's the harm? Isn't there naturally radioactive material down there anyway?

    At extreme depths there shouldn't be any noticeable radiation even if you did pile it all in one spot.
  • by rednip (186217) <rednip@NOSpam.gmail.com> on Thursday November 18, 2004 @02:02PM (#10856918) Journal
    You do realize that there is _virtually_ no chance that a rocket carrying nuclear waste could cause a thermo nuclear explosion right?
    But I certainly wouldn't want to be downwind of an exploding rocket carrying nuclear waste, and when I say 'downwind' I mean an area of thousands of miles. That stuff is pretty nasty. It would be the functional equilivant of a dirty bomb attack.
  • by Xylantiel (177496) on Thursday November 18, 2004 @02:19PM (#10857166)
    Storing nuclear waste in the middle of a major city would be a terrible idea

    The main point of the article is that this is what is going on RIGHT NOW! Yucca is so bad a site that making it safe is taking so long that the stuff is still sitting around in really stupid places waiting.

    Your second point is hyperbole on your part. Also one of the nice things about "the ore it was mined from" is that it is by definition geologically stable (e.g. won't poison groundwater) - metal casks in a wet Yucca mountain are NOT.

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