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Building a Plutonium Memorial 205

edsonw writes: "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is giving $3,000 in prizes in a contest which will select the better ideas about how to handling and storing plutonium.. In their words, "We're inviting artists, architects, and general visionaries to submit their artistic work for what we're calling the "Plutonium Memorial," a facility that would house the world's unwanted weapon plutonium. We see the memorial, were it actually ever to be built, as a grand and visible emblem reminding the world that short-sighted paths to power can lead to a big pile of problems"."
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Building a Plutonium Memorial

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sorry if I'm being obtuse, but we have all of the world's surplus plutonium, about 8 tonnes, having a relative atomic mass of 244g/mol.

    The critical mass of Plutonium is a bit less than 250g. So, if you put all 8 tonnes of highly dense weapons-grade Plutonium together, you are going to get a bang.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Because you don't know shit about physics. Critical mass is heavely dependent on density and for low density it's infinite. The critical mass is telling you what amount of material of the particular density will start a chain-reaction caused by the natural neutron-flux. The natural neutron-flux is more or less constant.
  • I feel much safer then.

    Forget Napster. Why not really break the law?

  • There is a fair bit of evidence (see practically every time this discussion has happened on /.) that the Japanese were about ready to surrender anyway

    Perhaps, but (a) I don't consider Slashdot claims authoritative, and (b) has anyone claimed the Americans had any reason to know this? In February of '45, all 22,000 defenders of Iwo Jima fought to the death, killing 6,000+ Americans in the process. In April, 16,000 Americans died at Okinawa, facing 1,400+ kamikaze planes, and 120,000 or more Japanese soldiers, 90% of whom died. It was not longer after the battle that Truman gave the go-ahead to drop the bomb, armed with pretty solid evidence that the Japanese were prepared to fight to the death.
  • by drsoran ( 979 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @04:24AM (#184813)
    The long term success rate of human civilizations aren't terribly high. There's no guarantee that the U.S. will be around multiple millenia from now. There's no guarantee that English will still be the predominant language in the U.S.

    Oh come on now. Don't be silly. Civilizations are destroyed by invading barbarians. Don't you remember your history lessons? Unless the Canadians suddenly start dressing in furry animal skins and fashioning weapons and spearheads out of dead moose carcasses I'm not going to worry that the United States is going to go away anytime soon. At worst everyone in the world will nuke each other and we'll live in some weird ass post-apocalyptic world like something out of "Waterworld" or "The Postman". Kevin Costner is such a visionary. ;-)
  • How about we just figure out somewhere to put it for about 50 years, by which time space access should be cheap enough to blast it all into the Sun or something.
  • you weren't lazy enough to not fix the problem, why not do it right the first time? :-)

  • Can't we just build a memorial to stupid people with too much money so they involve themselves in irrational causes like building memorials to good energy supplies instead? I invision a giant tent with enough purple Kool-Aid(tm) to go around.

    The wheel is turning but the hamster is dead.

  • Our grandchildren are really going to be pissed at us. First we burn up all the oil by driving around aimlessly and keeping our houses at a constant temperature no matter what the season.

    Just wait until they find out that we dug up all the radioactive materials, purified them, and then reburied them in unreachable places so our ancestors can't have nuclear energy either. How can anybody explain that?

    "The best you can hope for is to be buried in secret so your grave won't be desecrated".

  • Haven't we already figured out that "security through obscurity" doesn't work? Even hiding it away, the resourceful terrorists (ie, the ones we should be scared about) will find it anyway. If it's hidden away, it's less likely to be well protected and therefore easier to steal.
  • for getting RID of nuclear waste:

    It all comes from the ground in some form, but it has been concentrated to the point where it is lethal. So, after it has been used (and calmed down a bit) turn the stuff back into dust and spread it around the earth in small enough doses that it is undetectable next to normal natural radioactive ore.

    I am sure there is a problem since nobody disposes of waste this way. I can imagine the ignorant outcry of the masses: "Not in my backyard!".

    Oh well.
  • Breathing in Plutonium dust is also a very bad idea - and where you handle Pu there's probably going to be some dust (2mg breathed in will kill you through cancer).

    And after Pu emits alpha radiation it's gone, but what with the stuff that pops up instead? That's surely not stable already and will probably generate more dangerous radiation.

  • by Tharsis ( 7591 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:12AM (#184822)
    what else?
  • Why not skip all the dramatics and put it into a subduction zone at the bottom of the ocean?

    People always miss the obvious solution.

  • The actual point of burial wouldn't be right at the ocean floor. It should ideally be hundreds of feet below that. There's no water there, so it won't matter if the containers get crushed (a long time from now). The whole mess will be drawn deep into the planet.

    And, it's kinda the whole point that the containers get melted in the interior of the planet
  • The pyramids are way too tempting for something that you want people to leave alone. They are visible from a long way away, for one thing.

    If you want people to leave something alone, make it an uninteresting shape, bury it way underground in a highly inhospitable place, etc.

  • Well, not unless you start banging two sub-critical pieces of the stuff together in an attempt to start a fire...

    Plutonium emits alpha radiation, which can't penetrate the skin - it just feels warm. Ingesting plutonium is a bad idea, or course, but you can quite safely handle the stuff.

    Actually, you're probably better off not handling the stuff directly - it oxidises readily, and has a nasty habit of bursting into flame, which is a problem, as water can cause it to explode.

    So, what you do, is you encase it in glass. Simple. You could use it instead of a hot water bottle. Never need refilling. ;-)


  • What about mixing the plutonium with glass to be the 'filler' against it becoming a critical mass, and also to store the thing in whatever container you like... more glass? .. you can use as much glass as you like so it's safe and it probably will not go anywhere during the life of the plutonium. Keyword: probably. IANANP (I am not a nuclear physicist) but this seemed like a possible 'solution'.

    i.e. mix it with enough benign matter (glass sounds good to me) so it becomes just a big blob of not-very-harmful-stuff.
  • A late reply of mine .. Just wanted to acknowledge your response and thank you for the information :)
  • There's the coal ash too, it doesn't all seep into the atmosphere. The coal ash is even 100ppm od so Uranium..... The ash heaps make pretty good memorials themselves though...
  • make it really ugly too.
    That will scare people away.

    If you make something big, like the large pyramids,
    they'll attract people.
  • Dont they mean a plutonium dump?
  • Why not recycle it? You can learn about the process Here [moxfuel.com] From the web page: "Used nuclear fuel can then either be disposed of as waste or recycled. By separating the three percent of waste from the usable uranium and plutonium, 97 percent of nuclear fuel can be recycled."
  • Don't Panic! but with the Don't crossed out.
  • by stx23 ( 14942 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @04:01AM (#184834) Homepage Journal
    The question is, "Who on earth would want a pile of plutonium in their back yard?"
    Me. How else am I supposed to get superpowers?
  • On a side note- in one of my classes the professor told us that a lot of the scientists at the time were concerned that detonating an atomic bomb would ignite all of the oxygen in the atmosphere, causing the whole planet to burn.
    IIRC - the concern was that the detonation of the first atomic bomb would cause a chain reaction of nitrogen fusion, resulting in an atmosphere composed of silicon and oxygen, which would react to form silicon dioxide. They estimated that there was only a 10% chance that they would convert the atmosphere to sand.
  • Frighten people away, rather than attracting them with the idea of buried treasure, archeological relics or whatever;

    There's only one way to do this: kill people. The goal of placing a message on this pile of plutonium that will be universally understood for tens of thousands of years is ludicrous. However, the plutonium itself is a pretty robust messenger. Whatever else you do, store the plutonium in such a way that whoever discovers it will die.

    Some will no doubt think this is too cold-hearted; I would ask if they intend to avoid unnecessary deaths by eliminating all pathogens and large predators so that our descendants won't be threatened by them? Perhaps level every cliff on the planet so that no one will fall off? Drain the seas so no one will drown? Place warning signs saying "DO NOT LIVE HERE" near all coasts susceptible to hurricanes, in all plains subject to tornadoes, and along every fault line that generates earthquakes and volcanoes?

    We've created a force of nature. We can't hope to warn everyone of its danger EXCEPT by allowing peoples and cultures who come into contact with it to experience the danger.
  • Like someone said previously, a reasonable approache is to put plutonium in our reactors and change it into "less radioactive" substances, or at least something with a shorter half-life. Storing something away for 30k years is one thing, but most radioactive elements don't have such a long lifespan.

    Then again, a more expensive (but definately cooler) idea would be to store it all in a big tunnel in redmond, washington. Maybe it'll mutate the clarity gene and M$ might stop being so crappy :)

  • ..in one spot and the problem will rapidly take care of itself.

    Well, at least, it won't be plutonium anymore.
  • seriously, glass is a liquid

    Not so. That's a science legend (a la urban legend) that is so repeated it has found its way into high school textbooks. Do a search, or go to a higher level source (like a professor in materials science), and you'll find the truth.

    The historical basis of this legend is amusing as well... it has to do with a mistranslation of a german text on the subject. Apparantly (and I am not a materials scientist myself), since glass does not crystalize, it's in a small category of materials called something like "amorphous". The german word was mistranslated, and the resulting text seemed like it was saying that glass is a super cooled liquid. Similar to the Mars "canals" error.

    The "old glass windows are thin on top and thicker on the bottom" is semi-true: about one-quarter of the time. The old process for making glass turned out panes with a slight wedge shape to them. When taken out (as most have), you can only see that they are thicker at one end, and thinner on the other. In fact, that thick end could have been facing to either side or to the top. I have also *seen* verification of that fact from historical reenactors who make glass using techniques from centuries past.

    Now, of course, just like many people have said here: *all* material slowly alters. I believe it was Discover magazine that published the actual model of how long it would take glass (at room temperature) to "flow". It came out to millions or billions of years for a small change. But then, that's true of steel and other "solids".

    Do a search on the subject on Google.


  • .. or even until it naturally becomes "safe"..

    It only needs to be stored until we invent a way to make it safe. (Perhaps we'll invent cheap ways to manipulate things at a subatomic level?)

    At the current rate of technological improvement, I doubt that will be more than 200 years before we figure something out.

    Of course, I just pulled that "200 years" figure from my ass, but the point is, stop hugging trees and trying to hide/bury the problem (which seems nearly impossible) and start figuring out a way to fix the problem.

  • Hm, so you could actually ship some embedded plutonium on PCI cards...

    But you should probably stay away from LAN-parties. When too many of those cards get together....
  • by vs ( 21446 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:45AM (#184842) Homepage
    Why, you could of course use it as the world's largest hardware random number generator.

    Preferably located deep in some desert, though.
  • Indeed, my first thought on reading the article was, "well, I think it should look like a power plant."
  • This sounds goofy, and it probably is, but didn't all this stuff come from the earth? Why not put it back? We have loads of oil wells that have dried up - drop some plutonium down there when you cap a well. We have to seal the cap anyway, and the low quantities of waste per drilled hole would mean there wouldn't be much of a reward if terrorists tried to pull the stuff back up.
  • by Brento ( 26177 ) <brento AT brentozar DOT com> on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:40AM (#184845) Homepage
    Written and spoken language would change drastically over 10,000 years, how would we show the people of the future that this is a BAD building to enter?

    Well, I'm no psychologist, but I can't imagine anything of the sort working. Look at how we dug into pyramids, despite them having the best barricades they could think up just a short few thousand years ago.

    But furthermore, you're implying that people 10,000 years from now won't be able to detect radiation before it's too late. I would imagine that 10,000 years from now, detecting radiation won't be any more difficult than it is today. "Gee, I'm losing my hair. Hmmm." Hahaha.
  • Correct, In a hundred thousand years the stuff will still be radioactive...

    However, in 600-1000 years nuclear waste decays to the same radiation level as uranium ore. Just have to keep the stuff 1000 years and then bury it again.

  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:04AM (#184849) Journal
    The linked page is only the plutonium summary page.
  • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:52AM (#184850) Journal
    A breeder makes more plutonium.

    A pebble bed plutonium burner [nacsis.ac.jp] is safer and can burn several fuels, including plutonium.

  • by spectecjr ( 31235 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:12AM (#184855) Homepage
    Er.. hello? Stick it in a building? NO THANK YOU.

    There's these things called "Fast Breeder Reactors". They have them in Canada. They convert Plutonium into less radioactive byproducts which are safer. They generate power.

    Jeeeeez... it's like saying "Let's put all of the world's oil in a big vat in the middle of the Atlantic...".

  • Plutonium is bred in ordinary nuclear reactors in the course of operation. By the time the fuel elements are nearing their end of use (mostly due to accumulation of neutron-absorbing fission products) some significant fraction of the reactor's power output is from the fission of plutonium, not uranium. (I think I recall about 30%.)

    So, sure, power plants can burn plutonium. There are, no doubt, some engineering details, but it obviously can be done because it is being done, every day, in every nuclear power plant on the planet.

    That's the appropriate way to dispose of unwanted plutonium, I say, as I sit here in California waiting for another rolling blackout.
  • A better place would be to drop it in a tectonic plate subduction zone. In a few centuries it gets pulled into the interior of the planet. Encase it in glass first so that it won't leak before it gets subducted.
  • The glass is to hold it together until it is subducted. Easier than encasing it in concrete, and glass is fairly nonreactive in seawater. It's a method that's been discussed for decades. The disadvantage is that the waste becomes inaccessible should we need to get at it later.
  • > I've grown-up in the middle of Pennsylvania's soft coal country, and have been surrounded my whole life by HUGE piles of coal ash and red dog. This stuff is quite possibly the worst environmental hazard that I've ever seen.


    And for all you enviroweenies talking about how we need Kyoto, and how horrible the US is for burning fossil fuels:

    From a site on the weird chemistry going on around the Centralia Coal Fire [offroaders.com], which has only burned a town in PA, something for comparison:

    A very large underground fire burns through large coal beds in Northern China. The fires consume up to 200 million tons of coal each year. This fire is quite a bit larger then the largest Pennsylvania fire (Centralia), releasing almost "as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as do all the cars in the United States" (Kittl, 1999).

    Now, could someone explain to me again why nuclear power is bad? Sheesh.

  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @05:47AM (#184869)
    > > [over 10000 years] how would we show the people of the future that this is a BAD building to enter?
    > Well, I'm no psychologist, but I can't imagine anything of the sort working.

    Agreed. The last thing you want is a "grand and visible emblem".

    My solutions, in order of preference:

    1) Use it in breeder reactors. Turn it into something less dangerous (shorter half-life) and get some energy out of it. Sticking this much energy in a hole in the ground is a waste.

    2) Stick it (if you must waste it!) in a hole in the ground with the rest of the waste. Call the place Yucca Mountain. Guard the hell out of it while our civilization lasts, but place no big-ass warning signs designed to attract curiosity-seekers for the next 10,000 years.

    If our descendants in the year 12,001 have at least our level of technology, they'll know it's bad juju by the time they get anywhere near it. (And they'll probably wonder why the hell we buried all this useful Pu-239 instead of using it to power our cities!!)

    If our descendants have stone-age technology, they won't be able to dig through a mile of rock salt. No warning needed.

    If our descendants have 19th-century technology, no matter how intimidating the warning, they'll dig their way in, the same way we dug our way into the Pyramids. "Look, the ancient Americans placed big ugly spikes and pictures of dying people all over this site to warn us off. Silly primitives."

    (Or in the words of Zaphod Beeblebrox, "Great! We really must be onto something if they're trying to kill us!")

    No warnings, no memorials, nothing that could interest a passer-by, be he a civilian or an archaeologist.

    Better idea: A memorial (in the traditional sense) to those who died to bring us this technology. Your contributions will not be forgotten.

  • use absolute JUNK.

    No matter what material you use, whether it's glass, ceramic, steel, marble, or something else, some culture that comes after ours, will see the amazing mass of $seminaturalresource and decide that they can sell it for a profit, whether they can tell what's inside or not.

    The pyramids have been "investigated" by museums, but plenty of gravesites and momuments were pillaged by thieves long before that.

  • I'm not so scared about people stealing it, but what really scares me is a location of whatever security, where is posted a sign that says, "no matter what, don't make any explosions here"
  • "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is giving $3,000 in prizes in a contest which will select the better ideas about how to handling and storing plutonium.. In their words, "We're inviting artists, architects, and general visionaries to submit their artistic work for what we're calling the "Plutonium Memorial," a facility that would house the world's unwanted weapon plutonium."

    Better idea for handling and storing plutonium? Recycle it back into forms reusable for nuclear fuel. The main concern which has stopped anyone from recycling nuclear waste back into fuel is the fear that terrorists are going to steal the material. Either A) you have an artistic, monumental waste of plutonium just sitting there requiring massive security or B) you build a reprocessing plant that has the ability to get rid of most of our nuclear waste problem (you're welcome, Nevada) while requiring massive security. Personally, with all of the security problems over in Russia, I doubt knocking off a well-secured reprocessing plant would be half as attractive an option as paying a few bribes to underpaid Russian technicians.
  • As the subduction zone moves, the containers holding the toxic waste will get crushed, and will leak toxic waste into the ocean.

    Also, subduction zones are hot (think magma), right? so the toxic containers might melt also.

  • Unfortunately, none of those structures come anywhere close to being a good model for the storage of nuclear waste. I think the pyramids are the only buildings that come close to being airtight. I have serious doubts that the most Governments are capable of building a structure that will remain air-tight leak-free and undisturbed by geological activity for the next 5,000 - 100,000 years.
  • by joq ( 63625 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @05:05AM (#184878) Homepage Journal

    Interesting one of my friends found FOIA information about weapons grade Uranium that was missing, stolen, eaten, disappearing, $INSERT_FAVORITE_TERM_HERE, throughout the 1940's - 1980's. Along with those disappearances, many people were killed, and it was alleged that a) enough was gone for 30 potent weapons, b) some had gotten into the water supply for experimentation, etc.

    Anyways for those who're interested check out MKUraniumcide [antioffline.com]
  • In my ongoing quest to make on-topic posts of the link you don't want to click. [goatse.cx] I propose decorating the monument with an image of everyone's favorite enlarged anus. I can almost gaurantee that 100k years from now that image will still be sufficiently repulsive to scare away any beast which might happen near to it.

  • You are correct.
  • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @03:13AM (#184881) Homepage
    They don't want to build a memorial to the waste produced by coal plants, because there is about 5 million times as much of it, and it all seeps into the atmosphere anyway. That way, the public doesn't have to think coal waste is a problem.
  • Perhaps most readers are familiar with the Doomsday Clock [bullatomsci.org].

    I was thinking that if all the weapons plutonium were gathered it would be appropriate to create a clock set back to a minute after twelve o'clock to symbolize the beginning of a new era of hope.

    Maybe it would be nice to have something like that some day.

    But I think considering the important comment about the Warning Function, this clock should be set to the time the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has set the Doomsday Clock when the center is built. The front cover of the current Bulletin says, "PLUTONIUM - WHO WANTS IT ?" Consider the symbol used for dangerous biological components, it is a much scarier looking version of the trefoil used for atomic energy. I would put the two hands of the doomsday clock, with a great brilliantly glowing crystal at the twelve o'clock digits mark above, at the entrance to this facility. From far away one would see only this brilliant light suspended in the air, and on approach one would see the dark clock hands, supported from a point on the ground that would be the center of the clock. One hand, the hour hand, rises vertically from that point and supports this crystal beacon. Branching off from the main clock hand pillar is the minute hand, set perhaps to nine minutes to midnight as the current clock reads.

    Warning? Perhaps the light would warn off a plane coming in for a crash landing.. but more importantly, warn future generations about how close we came, why we sequestered plutonium, about the seduction of energy, and the hidden threat that anybody with Plutonium power can go nuclear in a short amount of time. Like Japan, which is a classic example of irresponsible leadership and a committment to the plutonium breeding cycle.

    Perhaps heads of state could be required to visit this vault and shrine before taking their oaths of national security so that they personally understand the responsibility they have for forging and maintaining peace. Someone who "wants" Plutonium should have to walk through that door first.

    I am not anti-energy. I am anti-horror. If we could link this sort of thing to the net and hyper-equipped locations around the world it would be nice. But we need a commanding icon which will send a message to everyone who sees it in person or in facsimile. Like the Doomsday Clock, or the rays of the nuclear half-life ticking away the centuries, the millenia.

    I'm thinking this might be a good submission.

  • ... a lot can change.

    The Egyptian dynasties were around a mere 3000 years ago, our earliest examples of writing less than 6000 years ago. We can't decipher those early writings. And how many of their relics still exist? where now are the cities of Akkad, Ur, Uruk?

    Now add 4000 more years and work out what will be left. How many buildings or artifacts last this long? What will climatic changes and geological changes will happen to any location on the planet?

    It's a great and worthy problem of our own making for people to solve. I heard the US military were looking at this problem a few years ago and came up with a symbolic language to mark out high level radiation dumps. Can anybody give me a reference to this?

    It's also worth checking out the Long Now Foundation [longnow.com] for their work on a 10,000 year clock [longnow.com] and The Rosetta Project [rosettaproject.org] looking to create written artifiacts that will physically survive and be decipherable in a time period twice as long as the history of the written word so far...

    What ever the solution we owe it to our future generations to sort it out. I wonder though if we're so fixed on short term plans and desires that we won't be able to dedicate the energy to making it happen. Sixty years after the nuclear age began and we're already finding that our leaders attitude towards nuclear waste is just to dump it out of sight and mind [bellona.no].

  • The question is, "Who on earth would want a pile of plutonium in their back yard?"

    How bout we take all our plutonium and dump it right in Saddam's backyard in Iraq, right when Saddam's there holding a barbeque or something? That way, we get rid of the plutonium that we don't need, and Saddam gets all the plutonium he wants! Course, he may not survive and be able to use it, but it's a win-win situation!

    But if a "memorial" is what they want, I'd say just dump it all on the White House lawn and put a sign there saying, "We be fucked." I'd say it's a fitting tribute to all the money we spent on developing the stuff during the Cold War.
  • Plutonium has been created in nuclear reactors, how about we destroy it in nuclear reactors?

    CANDU [www.aecl.ca] reactors can safely burn fuel consisting of mixed uranium and plutonium [www.aecl.ca]. If all the CANDU reactors around the world were fed the appropriate mixture, the entire 270 ton stockpile of plutonium could safely be disposed of within a couple years.
  • I think a powerplant it's self would make a nice memorial. Not only cool to look at, but also functional. Why not put the waste to good use? I doubt it would be any more dangerous in a powerplant then it would be in some ordinary memorial.
    =\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\= \=\=\=\=\=\
  • by Dr_Cheeks ( 110261 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @02:59AM (#184893) Homepage Journal
    How about a giant House Of The Future? I suggest it might be nice by a lake near Seattle (say, Redmond or somewhere). Or perhaps they should look around for a house that's already there....

    It could be lined with the plutonium, as well as other unpleasant stuff, like, um, a bunch of NT servers for example.

    Say, wait a minute, I know just the place we can use....

  • The present fundamental tenet of the anti-nuclear crowd is that there is no possibility of safe storage of nuclear materials long term. (Except as in the native ores that we make the materials from, perhaps.) Now this? Or does the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists consider the Union of Concerned Scientists completely misguided? I wouldn't think so.
  • Apparently, you've never seen the "Godzilla" movies. Bad things happen when you dump hazardous material into the ocean.

  • Why does the phrase "critical mass" keep springing to mind when I read this?
  • "We're inviting artists, architects, and general visionaries to submit their artistic work for what we're calling the "Plutonium Memorial," a facility that would house the world's unwanted weapon plutonium. ..."

    Well, let's see. Weapons-grade plutonium contains a high concentration (90% or more) of plutonium-239. Pu-239 has a half-life of around 24000 years. Plutonium is nasty stuff - even its least radioactive isotope, Pu-242, causes tumours, mainly due to plutonium's long-lived, alpha-emitting characteristics.

    The best memorial for this stuff would be a large, impregnable safe so that its contents could not fall into the "wrong hands". On the safe would be a large display indicating in how many years it would be safe to open it, allowing for the natural decay of the plutonium contents. A cat and vial of poison are optional...

    A factsheet on plutonium [nrc.gov]
    1. Pull out Mount Everest
    2. Put Plutonium in hole
    3. Put Mount Everest back in
  • Just make the cheque out to Dan Simmons.

    Scientific 'Merican (or was it The Sciences - NYAS) had a piece about this problem about.. geeps 7 to 10 years ago. The Shrike Palace would be a good model. The real problem is longevity. How do you build something that will last at least as long as the half-life of the material (10K years?). You also must be able to communicate that the contents are dangerous. Sounds easy enough, but how many people can read languages more than 2000 years old now? It should at least have an MS Bob interface.
    Now was that really a MS bash?

  • Haven't we already figured out that "security through obscurity" doesn't work?

    How do you know security through obscurity doesn't work? You hear about the times when it doesn't, but since the times that it works you don't hear about it. It might actually have a really high success rate, but since we only hear of the few failures and none of the successes we can't judge it's effectiveness.
  • will only fall at the hands of Americans.
    Some would argue that means barbarians will be responsible for America's downfall - my only worry is that you guys might take the rest of us with you.
    Seriously, though far be it from me to suggest a /. user in the sub-1000 range is deluded, perhaps the statement that 'Civilizations are destroyed by invading barbarians.' is a little oversimplistic, perhaps gleamed from playing too many marathon sessions of Sid Meier's Civilization? The lack of decent education, a tabloid media and unashamed grabs for global power(while isolating and distancing yourslves from traditional allies) is what's going to scupper the ol' US...despite the best efforts of the Geek 3l,337th.

  • ..to the phrase "perfect".

    "Slightly Used" is more fitting.

    "Cheap" [to the buyer, not the taxpayer] should also be mentioned.

  • The best solution I ever saw to this problem that I ever saw proposed was to mix radioactive material in glass, encasing it in glass, then dump it at the bottom of the marianas trench (which is 7 miles deep) where it will eventually get subducted back into the earth.

    You can make the glass pellets small enough that they will spread out evenly over a large area.

    It is that, or launch it into the sun, but we do not want a challenger type disaster when launching nuclear waste.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [eplugz.com] comic strip

  • Consider further that the oldest known human structures are about 5000 years old (in central America, IIRC.)

    No, the world's oldest structure is off the coast of Japan [virtualave.net].

    No, it's a on Malta [walkabouttravelgear.com]

    I mean Egypt [egyptrevealed.com].

    Actually, it's north of Tokyo [bbc.co.uk].

    Or, is it a wine jar [upenn.edu]?

  • I remember watching a documentary program a few months back on discovery [discovery.com] or something (might have been discovery today) about the big question of what to do with the ever increasing stockpile of this stuff. It turns out they are burying some if it in some old salt mines that are slowly collapsing from the weight of the rock above which will effectivly seal it all under half a kilometer of rock. The were descussing what to do about warning furture generations to its presence, such as giant monoliths with engravings in every known language saying "keep away", or markings such as radioactive symbols, but they fealt that in the future, considering we are talking of 30k year half lifes and stuff that our known languages and symbols may have no meaning. They then considered "emotions" and had one idea of what kind of looked like a thorn bush, but in stone. Eventualy the settled on the idea that best thing to do was not mark the site at all as we all know that curiosity was allways the cats downfall :-)
  • The simple idea behind critical mass is that it's not so much critical mass as critical density. You can store more than the critical mass of a radioisotope as long as you include something to reduce the density. You can (A) mix it with non-reactive filler, which cuts the mass per unit area down to non-chaining levels, or you can (B) store subcritical masses that are separated from each other by shielding (the golf-balls-in-a-box idea). In most cases, both are used in tandem. And so, there's no boom.

  • > So, what you do, is you encase it in glass. Simple. You could
    > use it instead of a hot water bottle. Never need refilling. ;-)

    Two things: first, with no seriousness at all, it really makes dropping your Thermos a bad thing. "Oops! Oh, no! (crack) BOOM!". Second, and seriously, glass is a liquid, and it's fragile. Since exposing plutonium to the environment is a bad thing, putting it in such a fragile container is asking for trouble. Besides, if you could buy your plutonium bottle at Wal-Mart, you could buy enough of them to get together a noticeable amount of fissile material. I'll warrant that building a bomb with it would be difficult, but crushing the elements and blowing the dust into an air exchange system would make for a useful terrorist tactic as well.

  • > Encase it in glass first so that it won't leak before it gets subducted.

    Swing and a miss, Ace. Would you tell me what good encasing it in glass would do, considering that glass melts at a much lower temperature than rock? I hope you didn't lose any sleep thinking this up.

  • > why's it a bad idea?

    See my post above. Lifting the garbage into orbit costs too much energy to be worth it. And, "as long as nothing goes wrong" has to be pretty exacting when you're dealing with plutonium.

  • Nuclear detonations don't happen by accident. Ever (and don't include accidental activation of an H-bomb here. That's not an accidental reaction, that's accidentally starting a device intended to create a reaction). The reason most nations don't store all of their plutonium in one place has nothing to do with putting it all in close proximity, it has to do with the cost and danger involved in moving it from where it's made (usually by power plants) to where it would be stored. Any accident would have to involve supercompression of the stored plutonium, and since storage is usually both mixing the material with filler and separating units of material with shielding the odds that any accident will cause such supercompression is vanishingly small.

  • I'm astonished that this came up, because I can indeed refute your theory (damn, what one learns in college!). In 1991 while I was in college, we passed a large number of foods under a Geiger counter to monitor natural radiation (we were bored and had lunch and a Geiger counter at hand). None other than chicken nuggets from Mickey D's was in the group, and they didn't show any noticeable increase in radioactive material from the background. Sorry.

  • by virg_mattes ( 230616 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @08:15AM (#184958)
    Actually, plutonium isn't nearly that deadly. The original article even mentions some doctoral nitwit who inhaled plutonium dust to make a point. I think he's nuts, but he's still alive, so I guess he wins the bet. The issue has been and continues to be the cost associated with success, and with failure. Lifting something out of Earth's gravity well costs a lot of energy (remember, we're not just talking space shuttle stuff here, since the shuttle never leaves orbit). On all of the moon shots, 99.99 percent of the material that left the launch pad, weight-wise, was fuel. Thus, lifting tons of plutonium out of orbit would require tens of thousands of tons of fuel to do the job (that's hundreds of Saturn-V rockets worth). Not only does this represent an awesome cost, but it's also an awesome risk, since if a single one of these space shots malfunctions it'll dump a big cloud of unpleasantness into the atmosphere. Since the removal of the material from our gravity well is the stopping point, nobody has ever bothered to address where it should go once it's up there.

  • Thanks to those nutty museli-munching sandal wearing communist tree-huggers, the general public and *even world governments* (well, ones that aren't lead by an animated glove puppet, at any rate) are already well aware [greenpeace.org.uk] of the environmental damage [newscientist.com] caused by burning fossil fuels [www.ipcc.ch]...
    "I'm not downloaded, I'm just loaded and down"
  • Yep, that looks like the exact one. Cheers for the link, /me has a happy Friday evening ahead re-reading that ;)
    "I'm not downloaded, I'm just loaded and down"
  • Actually, the world's oldest struct is still present the SCO^W Caldera UnixWare kernel. 28 years' uptime! takes a lickin', keeps on (clock) tickin'...
    "I'm not downloaded, I'm just loaded and down"
  • by imipak ( 254310 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @06:45AM (#184969) Journal
    > in 600-1000 years nuclear waste decays to the same
    >radiation level as uranium ore.

    Er, I don't know where you got your information from, but you are profoundly mistaken.

    Different radioactive elements, and different isotopes of those elements, decay at differing rates; they turn into different decay products along the way, too (some of which are actually *more* dangerous than teh stuff they started out as). Most decay through a whole series of elements with different half-lives. This is sort-of related to the way carbon (C-14) dating works.

    The number usually quoted in this context, and generally misunderstood, is 'half life'. This is the period of time taken for 50% a given mass of substance X to decay into something else. (remember the decay product can still be dangerous, and sometimes more so.) See also radon gas, which occurs naturally in granite (as found all over the southwest of the UK, in Scotland, and sundry other locations... I believe there is even some in the US!) which causes a statistically significant number of cases of lung cancer.

    Of course one can argue "what's the big deal about a few unfortunate deaths from cancer, compared to the greater good of mankind?" - try making that argument to the mother of an 18 year old who just suffered a protracted and painful death from the disease...

    Finally, even if it *was* "no more radioactive than uranium ore", it would still be highly dangerous. You might notice that houses tend not to be built over uranium mines. Of course, you're not making the environmentalist nut's error of thinking "it's "natural"! It MUST be safe, if not actually GOOD for us!" Speaking as an environmentalist nut, that attitude's one of several things that really piss me off about my fellow tree-huggers ;)
    "I'm not downloaded, I'm just loaded and down"

  • by imipak ( 254310 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @04:28AM (#184970) Journal
    I think this was in Scientific American [sciam.com] a few years back, although the piece was concerned more with waste from power generation. Some of that waste (a relatively small amount, perhaps a mere few thousand tons in the US) is radioactive enough to still be dangerous in 100,000 years. Pretty sobering thought when you consider that our present civilisation is only a few hundred years old, earliest recorded history is about 4,500 years ago, and we've had a good dozen ice ages in the last 100K years.

    Wherever the stuff is stored, therefore, needs to be signed in such a way as to:

    • Frighten people away, rather than attracting them with the idea of buried treasure, archeological relics or whatever;
    • communicate this in a way that is culture-neutral. In other words, the third civilisation after us, in say 50,000 years' time (after the catastrophic collapse of ours (due to massive climate change and population growth the planet can no longer support) and the next (caused by brain damage resulting from the accidental translation of a fossilised Dummy's Guide to Windows) must be able to comprehend the message of whatever markers we erect despite having very different language, religious traditions, taboos, social structures, etc etc.;
    • Do so reliably for geological periods of time.
    Consider further that the oldest known human structures are about 5000 years old (in central America, IIRC.)

    I'm sure this story will be full of posts from the pro-nuclear lobby; I'm somewhat sympathetic to that PoV, with the exception of the hand-waving that goes on with regard to waste disposal (including defunct power stations themselves.) I grew up within 20 miles of the largest concentration of nuclear power in Western Europe (Oldbury, Berkeley, Hinkley Point) - the former stations were built in the mid 60s, had a design life of 21 years, were kept up and running for 30, and are now testbeds for decommmissioning. It's going to take a century *just to get the buildings into a safe state for long term storage* - a huge block of concrete containing the reactor core, sitting right on the edge of an enormous river with the highest tidal range in Europe. Hmmmmm. Was it worth it for 30 years of slightly-more-expensive than coal electricity? Well, hindsight is a wonderful thing... I suggest we learn from it.

    Incidentally the UK Govt. just approved the first UK complex of off-shore windfarms [greenpeace.org.uk]. Another interesting experiment - might work, might be a white elephant, no way of telling without trying... but at least we know that cleaning them up afterwards will be nbd.
    "I'm not downloaded, I'm just loaded and down"

  • by Kibo ( 256105 ) <naw#gmail@com> on Friday June 01, 2001 @04:04AM (#184973) Homepage
    Does Keanu Reeves have something to say about what schemes the folks at The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists back?

    They're talking about a structure which would have to stand intact for 8 half lives of Plutonium. Ummm. Ok. Sure, pyramids have gotten along ok, but they really haven't been around THAT long. Their talking about making a "facility" of some sort that will last a span of time much greater that seperating the creation of agriculture from the present. How long did "Lucy's" hut stand? But this isn't the only exceptionaly tall order.

    The containers for plutonium itself are a monstrous feat of engineering, that would stretch our understanding of materials beyond the bleeding edge. Even underground in a steel container you have the effects of fatigue from every tremor they feel. With moisture present in the air no less. Ceramics and glass are no better. In periods such as these the glass will deform, the ceramics will crack, even under their own weight, and scaresly need the help of tremors to do so. Other qualities such as creep aren't easly extrapolated to very long lifetimes. And I'm talking about, in some cases, 50 years to say nothing of 100,000. Then there is the challenge of these containters being bathed in neutrons for many thousands of years, degrading the chosen materials.

    While how some people obtained their doctorates is quite the conundrum. I some how doubt that this is actually serious, as in an attempt to actually build something. It seems far more likely that they might just be putting up $3000 to get some media attention for their cause, and spark discussion. That's certainly a worthy goal. Or maybe Ponds and Pal have found a place where that whole cold fusion stigma didn't follow them. The idea that professionals familiar with nuclear materials and their special challanges would consider something like this achievable, is in all honesty, inconceivable. And I do think that word means what I think it means.

  • One of the big problems with nuclear disposal isn't just disposing of it, its making sure that future generations know that they really shouldn't be digging it up. The long term success rate of human civilizations aren't terribly high. There's no guarantee that the U.S. will be around multiple millenia from now. There's no guarantee that English will still be the predominant language in the U.S.

    A structure that people would notice and preserve (or at least not destroy) like the Sphynx, Eifel tower or the Statue of Liberty might help a bit. You also need warnings that can be interpreted by future civilizations and need to assume that your native tongue is a lost language.

  • by tb3 ( 313150 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @04:32AM (#184982) Homepage
    No, they don't have fast breeder reactors in Canada. The fast breeder never got past the planning stages, they were too dangerous. All Canadian reactors are the CANDU type.

    "What are we going to do tonight, Bill?"
  • by tb3 ( 313150 ) on Friday June 01, 2001 @04:35AM (#184983) Homepage
    C'mon, you mean no one has considered dumping it on the Moon? It's not like there's going to be any massive explosion [imdb.com] or anything.

    "What are we going to do tonight, Bill?"
  • Surely the purpose of a memorial is to be a visual reminder of an event, in which case it would have to be somewhere people would actually see it.

    The question is, "Who on earth would want a pile of plutonium in their back yard?"

  • Build a gigantic structure with a flat smooth surface for a exterior and start carving all the names of the people that have died from radiation or nuclear weapon detonation.

    (Okay, so its a rip off of the Vietnam memorial, but hey.. it has a powerful effect =)
  • France operates the Phenix fast breeder , as well as having the only commercial reprocessing facility. For more on the French program, from an "Official View", check out:

    Profile of Nuclear Power in France [ambafrance-us.org]
  • All about Plutonium-239 used in nuclear bombs [howstuffworks.com] such as Little Boy.
  • say the size of Manhattan. Just concrete, nothing more. Pour the concrete over all the plutonium you want to get rid of, et voila: an enduring monument to the stupidity of man.
  • As the half life of this stuff is measured in tens of thousands of years, does the design not have to take durability into account. Apart from anything else, what signs do you use to show that this structure contains dangerous things?

    Written and spoken language would change drastically over 10,000 years, how would we show the people of the future that this is a BAD building to enter?

    Non verbal warnings (spikes, colours, sounds) may be more appropriate for the structure.

  • "Little boy", the first bomb dropped on Japan, was a 'gun type' weapon, which fired two subcritical lumps of enriched Uranium (mostly U-235) together, not plutonium. It was the second bomb, "Fat Man" (and also the one tested at trinity) that used a sphere of P-239. It is easier and cheaper to 'breed' P-239 in a reactor (by irradating the relativly common U-238) than try and enrich natural uranium (which has only about 0.7% U-235). You then use the 'left over' 98%+ of U-238 (plus onter trace nasties) to make artiliry shells to smash Iraqi tanks and irradiate and toxify your own soldiers.
  • Just wait until the heat from all that decaying plutonium cracks the concrete, then some ground water gets in and starts moderating (in a atomic sense) all those fast neutrons flying around in there, and pretty soon your concrete and plutonium is not in a nice orderly structure any more.
  • Space probes don't run on weapons grade plutonium. They need lots of heat, and P239 is too 'cold'. Although its got a long half life, that just means it takes *ages* to decay, and the decay heat is spread out over thousands of years. Other isotopes of plutonium, however, are a different matter, particularly the even numbered ones. (such as P234, P238). These have short half life (10's of years), which means they decay quicker and give off the decay heat faster. They will also kill you quicker, but not your grandchildren. P239 will just mutate you and your grandchldren. On a side note, having traces of these 'even' isotopes in your nuclear bomb is a real problem, since the intense radioactivity (neutrons) will cause your lump of P239 to go off before you expect it to.
  • That storing all the world's weapons-grade plutonium in one place is a really, really bad idea? Disregarding for the moment attempted theft, what if there's some sort of accident. There'd be enough plutonium for a pretty big bang.

    There's a good reason most countries don't store all their plutonium in one place.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.