The problem with nuclear waste


Originally published at:


Can’t we just feed it to Kaiju?


Why aren’t we pushing molten salt reactors that are powered by nuclear waste?


Chernobyl is nuts. I know not just a few people that came to the US because of Chernobyl, but I know a few who came here because of Chernobyl and had a bunch of Cancer. Like, several people with several kinds of cancer each. All from different countries (Poland, Ukraine, Belarus).


The problem is they don’t really take spent fuel directly – the fuel has to be reprocessed to enrich the uranium. Which 1) isn’t cheap 2) could potentially be used to produce weapons grade uranium. The US and other nuclear powers aren’t too keen on the rest of the world doing that.



Mark Twain said it well

We could learn the hard won lessons of Chernobyl and Fukushima, but instead we’ve decided that nuclear is always and irretrievably not just wrong but actually evil.

We are sofa king screwed.


You can pretty much be sure that whoever has to deal with the waste will be a persecuted ethnic minority.


You might want to look in to Transatomics WAMSR (Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor). It runs off spent fuel that does not require enriching according to the press.


CANDU reactors can also run on non-enriched nuclear materials.


Not true. Or rather, it depends on who you ask. The IPCC, on reviewing the literature, puts nuclear as worse than wind and hydroelectric, but better than solar (of any kind). Various other studies have them in a different order, in part because of huge variations in how various studies account for the full lifecycle emissions, including from things like mining and transporting the fuels, disposing of wastes, and decommissioning the power stations. But the bottom line is that all renewables are in about the same ballpark for CO2 emissions per KWh, which can be summarized as “very low compared to fossil fuels”. It is not correct to suggest nuclear is significantly better on this than other renewables.


As it turns out, Transatomics has had to drop the claim that their reactor design can run on spent fuel rods.


The thing about nuclear waste is that it’s at least a /local/ problem, unlike CO2 emissions. For this reason I’m convinced that nuclear energy should always be preferred to fossil fuels, as the moral, living-with-our-own-consequences choice. Most recent opposition to nuclear power reads as “why should I have an increased risk of cancer when we can just drown folks in Bangladesh instead?”


Waste is always a problem with fission. I think it has a place in energy product, it’s just unfortunate thorium and other fissile materials aren’t looked at viable even if we’re just considering their lack of carbon emissions after construction.


India would be wise to pursue the thorium reactions. They are loaded with the stuff!

In the USA, our best course forward (barring a breakthrough in LENR or fusion) is agriculturally generated methane. It’s sustainable, carbon-neutral, a source of employment that does not require PhD.s, and we have most of the infrastructure already built. We could finish conversion from fossil methane (natural gas) to agriculturally generated methane in about ten years, for less than what we spent on five years of the Forever Wars (such as those against Some Drugs and Some Terror).

Energy production in this country is driven by ideology and fetishism. Our most pragmatic path, though, is to ignore both and use our vast existing pipeline and appliance infrastructure in conjunction with our huge area of productive land.


Regarding the waste that decays very slowly: any project that assumes there will be a system in place X-thousand years into the future is, I would think, doomed from the outset.


If anyone watched the video, there was a bit at the end about discouraging future people from exploring the waste storage by communicating the danger.
My first thought was this would attract people looking for weapons.


There’s a lot of material here to be mined for… Science fiction (badum-tish). If the space age had arrived on schedule we’d be tossing it at the sun.


This. If we ever end up in a world where humans use enough renewable or nuclear power that we need to worry about GHG emissions from them, that’s a world I will be very happy to live in. Also, the less fossil fuel we burn, the less carbon intensive renewables become. Not to zero, but less.


There was a good program on CBC Radio last night, about the problem of marking waste sites off-limits for longer than our civilization will probably last. How do you say “Do not touch!” to people who can’t read the signs?


Has anyone run the numbers? America has a hell of a lot of energy needs for agriculture alone, let alone for feeding the industrial powerhouse that will be needed to sustain modern agriculture over a much larger landmass in a way that doesn’t ecocide the inland US.

I’m not asking rhetorically, I honestly don’t know if the numbers work out.

Personally, I’d go for a high-energy high-reuse future. Nuclear is a way to get a lot more energy and use it to make high-energy recycling methods work so that we solve the trash problem and the resource problem at once. Which would be convenient.

But carbon-neutral methane would make storing energy so much easier, since hacking a car to run on liquefied natural gas is something that’s trivially done all over the world all the time, and getting one to run on electricity is far less convenient given that we still don’t have a charging method that’s as hassle-free as pouring a liquid in a container and that storing electricity with current tech still requires the processing of stupid amounts of lithium which isn’t the easiest thing to get out of the ground.