Thursday, April 07, 2011

Nuclear waste

Got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this one. On the one hand, something intuitively tells me that nuclear waste is not completely kosher; I mean how can we be sure that all the waste we are generating can be stored safely for generations, nay hundreds of generations, to come? On the other hand, I want to base my decisions and thinking on objective observations and measurements, insofar that is possible. Coupling this to good theory, the laws of physics and our engineering capability is the basis of science. If we are to emerge from the dark ages of nuclear campaigning, we have to know not only what the facts are, but also what they mean.

So, I'm on a crusade to find out the following information on nuclear waste:
1) how much nuclear waste is produced by a nuclear power plant in a) one year and b) its entire life time?
2) what types of waste are there and how much of each type is generated?
3) what is the radioactivity of each type of waste and how does that change with time: for example iodine isotopes are intensely radioactive but have a short half-life, whereas plutonium is not so radioactive but has a very long half-life (thousands of years). The problem is, how long does the plutonium remain harmful to humans and how do we define that?
4) what are the safe long and short-term exposure limits for different types of radiation (alpha, beta and gamma) and what is the effect of over-exposure in the short and long term.
5) are there any ways of shortening half-lives or treating radiation sickness (apart from the iodine tablets necessary to combat exposure to iodine-131
6) what is the environmental impact of producing the fuel eg. CO2 generated by uranium production when compared to savings on the generation side

This site is a good place to start, so I'm gonna try to glean the information I need and post it here. There are a couple of other good sites: one from the US.NRC and another from a bunch of physicists, if I can find it again.

I think I should nail my colours to the mast (if I hadn't already) by saying that I am a nuclear sceptic, but open-minded about the investigating the facts. I might get tempted to cherry pick, but I won't mind too much if that gets pointed out.

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