High-level radioactive waste

Extracting data from an unwilling press

Excerpted from November 1996 issue
The anti-nuclear bias of the media is obvious
    but you can still get information

    Fact 1 ==>


    Fact 2 ==>


    Fact 3 ==>


    Fact 4 ==>

      Why are the operators not in danger?
      Why you are in even less danger

    fact 5 ==>

      The longer the half-life, the less radioactive the substance
It is an open secret that newspapers are not a source of information and only a poor transmitter of it. More obvious yet is that the great majority of them are against nuclear power. Still, with a little care, an intelligent reader can extract some important information, for the writers and editors are rarely intelligent enough to censor out all information damaging to their doctrine. The numbered statements below are typical of the litany. 
  1. Nuclear power plants have been storing their high-level radioactive waste on site. (I)
  2. When you burn coal, most of the waste products go up the stack (CO2, NOx, and other gases, along with particulates, some of which are precipitated electrostatically). That is, as soon as the coal is burned, there is no control whatsoever of the wastes: it is discharged into what is lovingly called The Environment. The media mavens thus tell us something important: the nuclear wastes do not escape into The Environment, but remain right there in the power plant. 

  3. Nuclear power plants have been storing their high-level radioactive waste on site. (II)
  4. Storing all their waste on site? Indeed. If we needed proof that the nuclear waste is minimal, there it is, staring us in the face. Such storage is possible only because the total quantity of high-level waste occupies very little volume. (Try doing that with coal!) 

  5. The waste has been building up for years, and utilities are running out of room to store any more.
  6. True again. How many years' worth of coal waste can be stored on site? (Better yet, how many days' worth, even ignoring whatever goes up the chimney?) All of the high-level waste from all nuclear power plants from Day 1 remains on site. 

  7. If somebody were to be exposed without shielding to the nuclear waste, he would very rapidly receive a lethal dose of radiation.
  8. Without that shielding, a passer-by would soon be dead. However, with that shielding, the operators of the reactor spend years of their lives within a hundred feet of that radioactivity _ all of it from years of operation _ and survive quite nicely. What's more, the radiation from the reactor when it is producing power is far greater than the radiation from the waste, and the same shielding keeps the operators safe. 

    How much shielding is there? It takes no expertise to know that there can't be a hundred feet of shielding, because there would be no room for any work to go on inside the buildings; clearly, underground burial can easily provide shielding that is even better _ vastly so. 

  9. Some of the radioactive waste products have half-lives of millions of years!
  10. The oxygen in the environment has a half-life of infinity. Does that make it a radioactive hazard?


How much fly-ash do you get from burning coal in a power plant for a year? The answer depends upon the coal, which comes in many grades and from many places. There is no way to calculate how much fly-ash you will obtain without knowing about the coal itself. 

With nuclear power, the high-level radioactive waste occurs precisely because of the nuclear reactions that produce the energy. It is therefore possible to calculate how much high-level radioactive waste will result from running (say) a 1000 MWe power plant for a year, and the answer is one tonne (1000 kg), the mass of a compact car. In a future issue, we'll show how that calculation is done. Meanwhile, some readers may wish to figure out how we arrive at the 1-tonne figure. 

Excerpted from November 1996 The Energy Advocate
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