On the surface, it would appear to me that this process should appeal to everyone. What follows is a series of questions asked of Dean Engelhardt and Glen Parker:
SAFE AND SECURE DISPOSAL OF HIGH LEVEL NUCLEAR WASTE
Thoughts, Reactions and Questions.
1. We're late in the political process to reverse the decision to place waste at Yucca Mountain. I believe it is now awaiting the Presidents signature. Elected officials in Nevada are very much against the project, but the site seems to be the only viable one in consideration for storage. You are offering a very different approach - not just a better site for storage, but a different approach and method. How could one do a pilot demonstration of your approach to test its creditability? The idea has political baggage in terms of past dumping of waste in oceans that you must overcome.
A pilot demonstration would consist of testing the capability of my seal to retain integrity in an environment of increased pressures. The other elements of this invention/process are proven already --the steel withstanding up to 1100 degrees Celsius before softening, the depth of the submersible transport vehicle (STV) buried in the seafloor mud being sufficient to protect life directly on top of the mud, and the concept of seafloor subduction. This is all well-known science.
Nuclear waste has been dropped into the ocean by other processes--and contaminated it. This process does not put radwaste into the ocean. The waste never touches the water nor anything in it. It uses the ocean only as a transit medium via a method that does not contaminate it. It is buried in the sea floor at a location where the subducting action of the tectonic plates will cause it to be pulled under the continental shelf. No ocean water is introduced into this equation.
2. What is the life span of these STVs? How can you prove or guarantee this life span? Have the same materials been used in any past experiments? Won't the unique context of the ocean present corrosive impact that might not be predictable now?
In talking with materials people, I have been told that certain alloys are more long-lived than straight stainless steel. I am still researching this aspect, but the STV only needs to last 260,000 years to allow the radwaste from light-water reactors to decay to harmlessness. Exposing the STV to the elements it would experience for about one million years is the only way of proving this. Obviously, a test would be impossible. The corrosiveness of the ocean can be overcome by encasing the exterior of the entire STV with an anti-corrosive layer. This layer need not be capable of withstanding high temperatures and pressure, as exposure to ocean water will cease once it is buried in the seafloor sediments.
3. What would happen in a severe earthquake? Could these STVs collide with each other or be squeezed or smashed together? Would the pressure or force of these STVs colliding damage or rapture them?
The shape of these STVs, coupled with the fact that they are buried in the seafloor sediment layer, would prevent any problems in such circumstances. The STVs are pressure compensating (meaning as the STV goes deeper, the pressure inside the STV equals the pressure on the outside without breaking the seal). They are designed to withstand earthquake activity by being in sediments that undergo increasing pressures, and by being of a shape that will allow them to deflect from rock in a manner similar to squeezing a watermelon seed. They can collide with rocks or other STVs and not be dangerous. There are no flat surfaces to catch on anything. The STVs have more strength than the surrounding material.
4. How would nuclear waste material be transferred to these STVs? Does this procedure warrant concern for safety? They would still have to travel by truck or train to ports of departure to the ocean.
Each site generating nuclear waste would empty the contents of the spent fuel rods and load them into the STVs. Once the radwastes are loaded into the STVs, they are never unpacked again. The fact that they are in their final package before leaving the reactor site means that the chances of accidental nuclear exposure during transport is nearly impossible. Barges and ships will ship as much as possible of the radwaste. Some of this must be transported by rail to rivers or the ocean where it can be loaded onto an ocean-going freighter.
5. How would you keep a record of placement? Is it an advantage to lose track of the location of the STVs? How would you know criteria or standards for number of STVs placed at one site or close together?
In the general location of the deposits, sonar reflectors similar to what is being used to reacquire a hole by a drill ship can be scattered. At the time of deposit, each STV can be located by triangulation with the reflectors and registered. Do we even want to do this? Once deposited, the problem of recovering a STV would be a major effort even for the United States. (This takes a lot more explanation--which I won't go into here.) The vast area for the Aleutian Trench (30,000 square miles) gives a lot of space, so the STVs do not need to be placed that close together. Surface GPS is helpful to keep records of placement so future placement does not overlap.
6. What does "permanent" mean? What is a possible time line for life of an STV? Life of nuclear material? How would you ensure a continuing record of the project through tens of thousands of years of human history? Is this important?
I define "permanent" to mean that the radwaste has decayed through 10 half-lives, which, for the biggest problem of all - plutonium 239 - is a period of 260,000 years. After this period, the material is harmless to the environment and man. A properly-designed (material-wise) STV will last several times that length of time, especially considering the greatly reduced oxygen and higher pressures at these depths. Such records would be unimportant, since the STV, when properly placed, will gradually settle through the sediments until coming to rest on the surface of the oceanic crust. From there, it is carried with the subducting crust down into the mantle. It ceases to be an environmental concern.
7. Are you sure this is the answer to ensure the future of nuclear energy? Or is it a way to solve a problem plaguing the use of nuclear power that is so complicated and costly that it might solve an old problem but not make nuclear energy any more viable or desirable?
All this invention/procedure does is to make the disposal of nuclear waste practical and safe. What we do with nuclear power in the future is not what is being addressed.
8. If a way is found to neutralize radioactive material sometime in the future, will these STVs be recoverable? If not, is this not a disadvantage?
The STVs would be so difficult to recover in the beginning that I consider them functionally unrecoverable. In the unlikely event that some way is discovered to neutralize the high-level waste, there will almost certainly be sufficient spent fuel not yet disposed of on which to try it out. And why bother?
9. Are these STVs going to be placed in international waters? What are the tenets of international law regarding the oceans that might hinder or obstruct the placement?
They will be placed at the subduction fault line. Almost all of these are in international waters. The Aleutian Trench borders the south side of the Aleutian Islands chain, but is still outside the three-mile limit. Technically, we would be placing them below international waters. The area could be claimed in the same way that countries claim oil drilling rights in international waters.
10. If the United States decides to use your method, what is preventing other nations with inferior STVs and methods from dumping their stuff in the oceans for a quick fix that might have disastrous consequences?
We can never be responsible for what others will do. Various countries, including our own, have dumped nuclear waste without any protection at all, so anything we can do will improve the situation. We could make available these STVs and sell them to any nation needing them.
11. How much nuclear waste material is now stored in the United States? Other nations? How many STVs would it take to store all this material? Is the project still feasible? Can this method promise safe disposal of future waste?
The U.S. has about 42,000 tons of radwaste stored at various locations. As we have only 25% of the world's reactors, you can figure about how much is in existence. The 103 reactors in the US create about 2,000 tons more each year. Depending upon size, the STVs would hold between one and four tons of material. You want the STVs to be not so large that subterranean earthquakes would damage the STVs. We could eliminate all of the world's radwaste after having only planted a small field in one subduction trench. (The Aleutian trench has nearly 30,000 square miles.)
I feel that all future waste should be handled this way, as it is the only way to keep it clear of the environment.
12. What is the relative expense of your method? How does it compare with present proposals for storage? How do you pay for your project given the present budget priorities?
Yucca Mountain project will cost from 42 to 60 billion dollars when completed. With the ships, barges, and bottom crawler/drilling platform (BC/DP) if necessary, and the appropriate STVs, we could eliminate the nation's radwaste and save up to half of these billions for American taxpayers.
13. Can you tie in your method with currant security concerns regarding terrorism? How is your approach more secure than traditional methods in regard to military conflict and terrorist behavior?
Terrorists can never recover this waste. The extreme amount of effort to even try to find, much less retrieve, ignoring the problems that I alluded to in question #5, would prevent terrorists from even trying. By contrast, it would take a few miles of tunnel to break into Yucca Mountain, also formidable but much more possible. The highest risk for security is storing the waste on-site as it is now.
14. Is the proposal strictly for government action? Can/should private corporations play a part?
This can be operated by either government or private industry, as is the defense industry. When I was taking nuclear physics at UCLA, only cleared students and faculty were allowed in the reactor control room in Bolter Hall.
15. Who do you have to contact to pursue this project? What kind of professional expertise do you need to further develop this project? Scientific? Political? Environmental?
Would you believe me if I told you I don't have all of the answers, especially to these questions? If the project goes forward, engineers, chemists and materials specialists would finish the design. But nothing in this project's design is a serious problem.
16. An environmental argument must include permanent and safe disposal, but if your proposal is thought to open the way to make nuclear energy viable in the future, most environmental organizations would still oppose your approach.
This statement implies that environmentalists will object to any solution put forward to make nuclear power safer and cleaner. By that thinking, nothing that will clean up the nuclear waste problem will be acceptable because some in government will always feel that this will make nuclear power more viable due to the removal of certain objections to it. By that thinking, environmentalists will oppose any viable solution. (See answer to #7).
This reminds me of the media that sensationalized a story of a train carrying napalm that many felt too dangerous. But gasoline tankers go through there all of the time and no one cares. Napalm is jellied gasoline and is less likely to explode in an accident than liquid gasoline due, in part, to a lack of concentration of explosive vapors. This shows a lack of understanding of relative risks fostered by the media seeking sensationalism to drive up ratings.
At the present time, coal and oil-fired generators emit a great deal of CO2 and radiation into the air by releasing it from coal and oil in orders of magnitude greater than nuclear power. Granite buildings exhibit radioactive decay. By contrast, nuclear power plants (barring severe accidents) are much cleaner in every respect. I have a personal dosimeter I used inside the control room at UCLA, and I took it to the load-out of Unit 2 at San Onofre. I detected the same level of background radiation that I did in Covina and other bedroom communities. This high-level waste is currently in pools of water at the generating site. Using radiation-proof STVs to put it under five miles of seawater and 50 feet of sediments is much safer in every way. I detected much more radiation emitting from a dinner plate made in Mexico.
The interior of the earth is so hot that much of the rock is in liquid form. Three things generate the heat: the intense pressure near the center of the planet, the flexing of the earth's crust due to tidal action, and radioactive decay. Please keep in mind that plutonium is very heavy. It has a specific gravity of over 30. (Lead is 12). When the STV finally fails due to melting, the heavy elements will continue down while lighter elements will rise and stick to the bottom of the Continental Crust. It will be more than a billion years before any of this could see the light of day through seafloor spreading. That is much longer than the 10, 000 years that Yucca Mountain is to last according to the Department of Energy, and that is much longer than an independent review by the state of Nevada concluded.
Will this work? Scientists, who have been shown this, are in agreement that it will
Regardless of whether you are pro-nuclear, anti-nuclear, or somewhere in between, the essential truth is that the cleaning up of high-level nuclear waste will benefit us all. . . .