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Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

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Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

Postby Miranda Holmes » Feb 8th, 2013, 11:23 am

radiation symbol - smaller.jpg


Twenty-five years ago, after consensus on the reality and impacts of manmade climate change led to the formation of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, western governments had two choices. They could either stop subsidising fossil fuel industries and invest the savings in promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy (e.g. putting solar panels on all public buildings to bring the price down for homeowners) or they could make long, lingering love to Fido.

They chose the latter and now, a quarter of a century later, we are being told by these same governments that our best hope of averting the worst consequences of climate change is to embrace nuclear power.

“Look,” they say, “no carbon dioxide emissions! Isn’t that great?” Well, no, it isn’t. It’s a bit like being told your only two choices are being beaten to a pulp tomorrow or being beaten to a pulp in ten years

Assume for a moment that it is possible to guarantee there will never be another Chernobyl or Fukushima (and that’s a very large and problematic assumption), you can never produce nuclear energy without producing nuclear waste. This waste – leftover plutonium and uranium, as well as various isotopes – can remain lethally radioactive for an unimaginably long time.

The speed with which radioactivity decreases is measured by its half-life (the time it takes for half the radioactivity to decay). Picking just a few of the isotopes in nuclear waste, the half-life of Strontium-90 is 28 years and the half-life of Plutonium-239 is 24,000 years, while the half-life for Caesium-135 is 2.3 million years and for Iondine-129 is 15.7 million years.

Half a century after realizing quite how dangerous nuclear waste is, there is still no safe way to dispose of it – nor is there ever likely to be.

That’s not to say there haven’t been some ill-conceived suggestions, including dumping it in the oceans and blasting it into space. (In the aftermath of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, my father-in-law – a renowned nuclear physicist – commented that the tragedy should at least serve as a warning against the latter proposal. Unfortunately, he was wrong. Apparently it might be a good idea to put nuclear waste in orbit around Venus – in case we ever want to retrieve it. I kid you not.)

The waste problem is very bad news for the nuclear energy industry and, like many other industries in the past, it has decided the best thing to do with bad news is to bury it.

As Anna Tilman reports in the current issue of Watershed Sentinel, proponents of nuclear power (both industry and government) have decided that Deep Geological Repositories (DGRs) are the “final solution” to the problem of nuclear waste.

The theory behind DGRs is that nuclear waste can be safely stored “forever” deep underground in geologically stable areas.

The reality, as Tilman points out, is that “nothing is immutable, not even rocks. Containers will eventually corrode. Cracks and fissures will develop. Groundwater will seep in. Water and gas contaminated with radionuclides will penetrate the barriers. Chemical and microbial processes and interactions will occur, with unpredictable results. Climate change, glaciations and earthquakes could severely destabilise the repository.”

Ignoring Geology 101, governments (including Canada’s) have been pushing hard for many years to establish DGRs. So far, none have succeeded, although one is currently under construction in Finland. (A documentary about this project, Into Eternity, eloquently makes the case for why this is a bad idea. It should be required viewing for all government leaders.)

Finding an “informed and willing host community” is, not surprisingly, a challenge for Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (a federal agency established in 2002 and run by the nuclear industry), despite the fundamentally flawed consultation process Tilman describes in her article.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that the volume of radioactive waste on the planet already exceeds 345,000 tonnes – 50,000 tonnes in Canada alone.

We’ve created this disaster and, of course, we have to deal with it. (Personally, I would establish secure, monitored, above ground storage facilities paid for by and located in the backyards of every nuclear power industry executive and government supporter.)

What we absolutely, positively do not have to do is add to the problem.

Every year, each of the more than 400 nuclear reactors currently operating in 31 countries adds an average of 30 tonnes to the total volume of nuclear waste.

This is the sign the IAEA thinks will protect thousands of future generations from the dangers of nuclear waste:

IAEA warning symbol square.jpg
IAEA warning symbol square.jpg (46.73 KiB) Viewed 306 times


This is the sign I think will best protect them:

stop sign.jpg
stop sign.jpg (27.25 KiB) Viewed 306 times
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Re: Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

Postby logicalview » Feb 8th, 2013, 3:33 pm

Thanks Miranda. I'll make you a deal - I'll accept nuclear waste in my back yard if you accept toxic sludge byproduct from acid boiling of magnets from all those wind turbines you love so much. This fear mongering is extremely counter-productive.
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Re: Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

Postby Sn0man » Feb 8th, 2013, 8:46 pm

The only thing I can think of that would work to get rid of all that waste would be to send it into the sun - it's a giant nuclear fireball anyways. But that's probably not feasible due to the cost of jettisoning hundreds of thousands of tonnes of the stuff.

I agree that burying it is not any kind of solution. It will end up in the water supply eventually, and then we're all screwed.
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Re: Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

Postby StraitTalk » Feb 12th, 2013, 12:11 am

You should watch the TED Talk by Bill Gates. He is helping fund research and pilot projects for nuclear reactors that burn nuclear waste for energy.
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Re: Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

Postby Thinktank » Feb 12th, 2013, 7:45 am

With 424 nuclear power plants in the world, and Chernobyl in 1986,
and Fuku twenty five years later in 2011, with a few close calls probably every five years,
I think we can all relax for probably another twenty years. And the really beautiful thing about
it, is OTHER people will pay the price with their lives when it does happen.

Rich live a fantastic life today - getting richer.

Poor kids get thyroid cancer tomorrow - and die. What can be a better deal than that?

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Re: Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

Postby Thinktank » Feb 12th, 2013, 7:50 am

Thje coolest thing about Fukushima, was when all the headquarters of the big banks
quickly moved from Tokyo to Singapore, so the richest bankers who get the most rich from nuclear power
didn't have to actually .... drink Tokyo's Fuku'd water.


Isn't it wonderful to have lots of money?

:hailjo: --->money
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Re: Geology 101: Why our nuclear problem can’t be buried

Postby zzontar » Feb 12th, 2013, 8:51 am

logicalview wrote:Thanks Miranda. I'll make you a deal - I'll accept nuclear waste in my back yard if you accept toxic sludge byproduct from acid boiling of magnets from all those wind turbines you love so much. This fear mongering is extremely counter-productive.


From another thread: viewtopic.php?f=22&t=42563

http://www.propublica.org/article/whiff ... ls-trouble
The well site was next to two older Aristech disposal wells, in a spot where federal and state regulators believed hazardous materials would remain safely tucked away forever almost 6,000 feet under the earth’s surface.

But the phenol – a deadly chemical used in Aristech’s processes that is known to cause internal burns, muscle spasms and organ failure – indicated that something might have gone wrong.

Environmental regulators suspected that the chemical had somehow drifted upward from the first two wells, travelling as much as 1,400 feet through the very rock expected to contain it.

If confirmed, their suspicions had broader implications: The type of disposal wells Aristech was using were among the most stringently regulated and monitored in the country.

http://www.allgov.com/Controversies/Vie ... _Us_120626
Now, however, geologists are finding that deep layers of rock beneath the earth may not safely store the waste for millennia. According to the old model, vertical movement of underground fluids should not happen at all, or should occur over thousands of years or more. Yet a 2011 study in Wisconsin found that human viruses had managed to move through such rock to infiltrate deep aquifers, and a study published in April of the Marcellus Shale formation in New York showed that chemicals could leak through natural cracks into aquifers used for drinking water in just 100 years, and that man-made cracks created by fracking (hydraulic fracturing) could allow chemicals to reach the surface in as little as “a few years, or less.”

According to an investigation by Pro Publica, Structural failures inside injection wells are routine. From late 2007 to late 2010, more than 17,000 well integrity violations were recorded nationally. Records from all over the U.S. show that injection wells have repeatedly leaked, allowing toxic chemicals to get to the surface or into aquifers.


There's actually plenty, just google it. What makes matters worse is they cause earthquakes:
stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/tag/deep-injection-wells/
According to an investigation by Pro Publica, Structural failures inside injection wells are routine. From late 2007 to late 2010, more than 17,000 well integrity violations were recorded nationally. Records from all over the U.S. show that injection wells have repeatedly leaked, allowing toxic chemicals to get to the surface or into aquifers.

http://www.cleveland.com/business/index ... _smal.html
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A waste-water injection well induced the series of 12 earthquakes in Youngstown last year, an on-going state probe has concluded.


It's not fear mongering if it's happening, is it?
They say you can't believe everything they say.
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