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Question:
How long would it take to dispose of nuclear waste and where to put it?



Replies:
The best way to dispose of nuclear waste is to turn it into rapidly-decaying isotopes that decay to produce stable isotopes (which are not radioactive). In that way, the waste could be reduced to only miniscule fractions of the original radioactivity in a hundred years or so (depending on what the longest lived isotope you would have to deal with would be). However, doing that requires certain kinds of nuclear reactors that are no longer being actively considered (at least in the United States). The only other way to dispose of it is to put it somewhere where you will not have to deal with it until it is mostly decayed away. A lot of the waste we have now is really long-lived (10's of thousands of years to decay) so that means finding places to put it that would last that long. The best option for that is probably the worlds ocean-bottoms, where things could be buried and left for millions of years with almost no disturbance. However, political considerations again seem to have eliminated that possibility, at least for the moment. That leaves burial on land somewhere, and the U.S. government is still trying to figure out a good place. Actually, chemical wastes (often associated with the nuclear weapons program) are a much bigger problem than the nuclear wastes we now have on hand, and the government is spending 10's of billions of dollars every year trying to fix up the messes the defence department and other government and private source has made.

Arthur Smith



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