Could The Sun Be The Answer To Nuclear Waste Disposal?

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NuclearWaste_640In recent years, discussions surrounding the disposal of nuclear waste have reemerged. Since the sun is a constant nuclear reaction much larger than the Earth, it could hypothetically serve as a dump for the tens of thousands of tons of nuclear waste humans have accumulated. While NASA currently has two probes orbiting the sun, there isn’t a firm on the planet with a spotless launch record and the necessary equipment costs billions to manufacture and maintain. Here, Zintro experts weigh the potential benefits and risks of this waste disposal option.

According to Alexander Peschanov, a strategic planner within the nuclear industry, “the main concern is the price of launching the missiles [which] is incommensurably higher than storing the reprocessed waste underground in specialized burial sites. [Another] consideration is that thousands of launches will be needed to remove significant amounts of nuclear waste.” Peschanov adds that “launching missiles has its own ecological price in the context of production and use of propellant,” and concludes that “It looks more sensible to concentrate on developing technologies for efficient reprocessing of nuclear waste than trying to litter it in space.”

J.M. Meslem researches processes in order to manage any potential risks in sectors including organic chemistry. Meslem asserts that, while “there are actually many advantages to envisage the sun as a dump for radioactive waste, they do not seem big enough to risk launching such a project.” While the project would “remove the dangerous radioactive waste accumulated during [decades] of operational activities worldwide, save money [by eliminating the need for] future radioactive waste storages [and] spare our descendants from being contaminated by stored waste.” However, “the overall costs of waste drums launches can be huge,” and “it is likely that any drum would melt before reaching the target. [Meslem doesn’t] think technologies are reliable enough [for] probe and satellite launches to become routine operations.” Furthermore, Meslem wonders “which competent authority in the world can take the risk of sending a drum containing radioactive waste? In the event of an explosion during launch the impact to human beings and environmental consequences could be disastrous.”

Kenneth D. Kok specializes in the transportation of nuclear materials and nuclear system safety. “First,” Kok begins, “sending something into the sun takes much more energy than sending it out of the solar system or placing it in a safe orbit around the sun. Just developing a rocket with sufficient power to make lifts of large masses of waste would make a moon shot look very easy.” Kok notes that while “The mass could be greatly reduced if one was only looking at the very long lived not actinide fission products, that would require a whole new separation technology. Second, there is the safety problem -both perceived and real- regarding the failure of the vehicle and payload during the launch phase of such a mission. The chances of approval are close to impossible. Third, the materials [being discussed] are not waste, but rather an incredible energy asset. To dispose of them even on earth would be foolish, or worse.”

Ulrich Decher, a nuclear power project manager, explains that “If we are talking about tens of thousand pounds, we are talking about the entire irradiated fuel assemblies: only a small fraction of which is radioactive.” Furthermore, “the short lived fission products can be separated from the long-lived actinides: [why] shoot the non-radioactive part into space?” “As for risk,” Decher continues, “[it] is mostly perception. It is better to let the waste decay in repositories that shoot it into space. That said, if the risk is perception, and if shooting it into space eliminates that perception, (out of sight, out of mind) there may be some merit to it.”

By Gabriela Meller

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