Of course, some people, such as Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a name that those with their finger on the pulse of nuclear energy policy in the United States and elsewhere will have heard before, has other ideas:The rest of the post is just as good. For our archives on Mangano, click here. And be sure to check out Atomic Insights on the Kentucky legislation as well.
“One problem with nuclear reactors is what to do with the high-level waste they produce. This waste is actually a cocktail of chemicals such as Cesium-137, Iodine-129, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, each radioactive and cancer-causing.”
There’s no way that it is appropriate to call these kinds of materials waste - they are radionuclides with useful and important technological, scientific and industrial applications. Of course, if we greatly expand the use of nuclear fission as an energy source throughout the world, along with the recycling and efficient re-use of the materials contained within irradiated nuclear fuels, it is likely that the inventories of such fission products thus created will ultimately dwarf demand for some of these radioactive materials - and it could be decided that these surplus quantities might be moved to deep underground storage, either for very long term storage, or permanant disposal.
“The waste decays slowly, remaining in dangerous amounts for thousands of years, and must be kept from escaping into the air, water and food supply”
Relatively short lived fission products, such as caesium-137 and strontium-90, with half-lives of 30 years and 29 years respectively, must be isolated from the environment for around 300 years, not thousands of years.
Longer lived fission products, such as iodine-129, one of the very longest lived of the fission product nuclides, can have half-lives of millions of years - with correspondingly smaller specific activities, and in most cases, much smaller nuclear fission yields. Some such long-lived fission products, such as I-129 and technetium-99, have sufficiently large neutron capture cross sections such that destruction of the radioactive nuclide by way of nuclear transmutation in a nuclear reactor is feasable.
Kentucky is close to repealing its 25-year moratorium on new nuclear plants. The State Senate has already approved the repeal but in an effort to stop this legislation, Joseph Mangano came out with his usual claims in an op-ed piece for Kentucky's Courier-Journal. Here's what Physical Insights had to say in response to Mangano's claims: