Nuclear waste as it's commonly considered is a mixture of many radioisotopes with different lifespans. Relatively active isotopes don't last long because their activity means they decay quickly. It's the long lived isotopes that cause the long-term waste problem (the heavy radioactinides).
Originally Posted by Dragonlord
Long story short, there are designs of reactors available which can burn up the long-lived radioacinides leaving only the short-term constituents. We're just not building them. For the life of me, I can't think why - even if we were to shutdown all existing power reactors today we'd still have a big stockpile to deal with and no better way of doing so than to stick them in the ground.
We're in a situation where the most common complaint of anti-nuclear activists is the treatment of waste, and the best option for dealing with it is to construct more nuclear reactors (of a different type).
Don't get me wrong - I wholly support the development of renewables and conservation of energy, but I don't think we can bet the farm on it.
I don't something like that is a solution in the long run. The more energy consumption is done the more plants are required and the faster the waste grows. You can't play that game forever. Besides are such waste disposal areas a ticking time bomb. If that stuff ever gets out for whatever reason we have a much bigger problem at hand that the Chernobyl disaster ever had been. After all that's a huge, highly concentrated blob of death. I would even go as far as to compare it to a Pandora box. As long as it stays closed all is fine but should it ever bust open you've got a problem.
EDIT: Got cross-posted, directed at Michael. (hail to the 1-minute-edit-limit)
A couple of points to clarify first.
Originally Posted by DuSTman
1) What kind of time scale are you talking about here when you refer to "short-term"?
2) What kind of isotope are we talking about and therefore what kind of decay chain?
After all half-life time does not simply decrease from longest to shortest. Inside a decay chain it is very well possible that an isotope with a short (seconds) half-life time decays into one with a very long (thousands of years) half-life time.
First: nice pictures, Michael. I'd be interested how it did "feel" there, I think there wasn't too much about that in the text.
Well, I don't think they're really that safe, there are enough examples of quite serious events even in western nuclear power plants. But that is of course debatable.
Originally Posted by Michael
What I really doubt is the cheapness. Yes, it may be cheap now (though at least here in Germany it's heavily subsidies to my knowledge), but is it as cheap, if you factor in the costs of storing the waste ? We just have a very big problem with a mine called "Asse", where they dumped medium-grade waste - water got into the mine and now there is the threat of ground-water pollution. Probably there are safer storages for the waste, but I doubt anyone can predict what happens in millions of years. And you'll have to monitor and care about those storages for millions of years, even if not too much happens.
The most interesting fact about all this is, that to my knowledge, there doesn't yet exist a single final storage for nuclear waste world-wide. And this after decades of producing waste and searching for a final storage.
Can you provide some references, or perhaps expand on it yourself? The view I've got from reading Wikipedia is different to what you presented. On the one hand, it doesn't look like a perfectly tested and mature technology yet, so no wonder why plants like these are not widespread. On the other, burning the most long-lived isotopes is good and all, but it won't make nuclear plants clean: you'd still have to deal with the ~30 years half-life products. Now, 30 years sounds peanuts compared to 0.2 million years, but still is a very long time in human life terms. Imagine the effects of say, soil contaminated with this waste; cool that my grandchildren won't notice it, but I and my kids will.
Originally Posted by DuSTman
Looking at the photos reminds me a lot about my country, Lithuania. The poorer districts of Vilnius have quite a lot of the apartment blocks like that (we call them Khrushchevkees since they're all boring and have no style whatsoever), and other artifacts there are also very familiar. Then again, Ukraine isn't far away from here, and it's also post-communist.
Ignalina Power Plant here is a headache for us, too. The model is very similar to the one in Chernobyl, so we are trying to get rid of the power plant and in the long run build a newer one, hopefully in a joint venture of all the Baltic countries. The problem is that we are also very much dependent on it for power, and if it closes, the prices of electricity will grow tremendously and we will have to import it from other countries, probably Russia, and being dependent on them is the last thing we want after the long years of Soviet occupation...
When I say short term I mean in terms of "decays to negligibility in <1000 years" rather than the tens or hundred-thousand year half-lifes exhibited by some uranium or plutonium isotopes.
It's worth mentioning that some countries (such as, I understand, the USA) don't even reprocess their fuel even though it still has the majority of its usable U-235 intact (the rods are typically removed when nuclear poisons accumulate, reducing the rods reactivity). Putting this through the PUREX process will separate the majority of usable usanium from the smaller accumulation of plutonium and a smattering of trace elements. The plutonium can then be transmuted in a fast reactor, which would leave a very compact sludge.
I'd like to put forward the LiFTER reactor here, which has the following points in its favour:
> Uses thorium, which is more commonplace than uranium, and is much harder to process into a form suitable for weapons.
> Has strong passive safety characteristics.
> Can transmute plutonium and other heavy actinides.
> Has waste isotope separation built into its fluid cycle.
> Can scale greatly in size.
> As a liquid medium, you can have a "panic button" which can pollute the fuel into a useless state in case terrorists come knocking.
The current uranium-based nuclear fuel industry came about in most countries because they were looking to cohabitate it with a weapons program, which Thorium wasn't suited for, however Thorium is probably the better choice for purely energy-driven development.
Here's an informative talk about the Liquid fluoride thorium (LiFTER) reactor.
The Ignalina plant was shutdown in december 2009, as it was demanded of Lithuania in their accession treaty to the EU.
Originally Posted by GreatEmerald
One technical thing to note: JPEGs are always LDR (low dynamic range), not HDR. An HDR image should have more than 8 bits per channel, typically 16 or 32, and is not displayable on monitors. What you've shown us was originally an HDR image converted using "tone-mapping" to the range representable by LDR monitors, and the colors which don't fall in LDR are lost or rounded. The fact that the first image looks really good is because of a very good tone-mapping function, not the HDR representation itself.
I couldn't resist enlightening you. Anyway, cool photos.