Final disposal of hazardous material waste
Name: Doug Moe
Would it be at all feasible to load all or some of our more hazardous waste
into some sort of disposable space vehicle, and then launch it into space with
the destination being the Sun? It seems this would take care of it for good,
no? Especially the nuclear waste! I read where the Department of Energy
wants to bury it in some underground salt cavern in New Mexico. Supposedly we
will not have to worry about it after that.
It is a tough question, to be sure. There are a number of drawbacks to space
disposal, including a relatively high failure rate for rocket launches, an
incredibly complex series of navigation maneuvers to get the darned thing to
crash into the sun, and big bucks. If you shoot a rocket out of Earth orbit,
it will tend to fly off on a tangent away from the sun, so you need to fly it
past other planets to get it heading in toward the sun - I am sure you could
get a better explanation in the physics or astronomy section. The current
site selected for the nation's high-level waste repository is in Nevada, in
the volcanic tufts of Yucca Mountain. Salt domes in Texas and Missouri were
proposed for site characterization studies, as were basalts in Washington
State, but the site characterization studies were canceled.
There are a lot
of questions about the relative risks of shipping waste on land (by truck, by
rail, by commercial carrier or government agency?), and the relative benefits
of various geologic formations. I personally think ocean-floor burial in a
tectonic subduction zone would be worth exploring as an alternative. Land-
based disposal is considered preferable because the waste would be
retrievable, those who take this view believe that today's waste may be
tomorrow's fuel. I will look up some references for you to pursue the topic
Here is your reading list:
"Environmental Hazards: Industrial and Toxic Waste, A Bibliography" 1985, by
Miller and Miller, published by Vance Bibliographies.
"Dangerous Ground: The World of Hazardous Waste Crime" 1992, by D.
Rebovitch, published by Transaction Publishers
"Program Summary: Nuclear Waste Management and Fuel-Cycle Programs" by US
Department of Energy, available from National Technical Information Service
phone (703) 487-4780.
Congressional hearings available from US Government Printing Office:
3/21/91, Senate committee on energy and natural resources, "The DOE Civilian
Nuclear Waste Program"
10/2/90, Senate committee on environment and public works "Nuke Waste
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Update: June 2012