4 thoughts on “fifty thousand kilometres of aluminium plumbing

    1. Actually, I was being way too literal. The fuel rod cladding is not zirconium, but stainless steel.

      But yes, that too. Although for the UK, more nukes might actually make some sense.

      1. Do they know what to do with the waste yet? Well, aside from sealing it in concrete and dumping it in the sea. My uncle the geophysicist once told me that the nuclear waste from power plants is technically natural – in that all its elements appear elsewhere in nature anyway, unlike the waste from nuclear weapon production (which apparently involves some sort of super-hyped-up version of the normal process, not that I know anything about the science of this). So in theory, my uncle said, it would be possible to break down normal nuclear waste into mostly harmless components, although no one has managed to do this yet.

        I find that fascinating… does it sound remotely right to you?

        1. Both right and horribly, horribly wrong. Technically what he’s saying is sort of true, but misses the point entirely.

          Uranium occurs in nature, as a mix of U-238 and U-235. The 238 is pretty safe, the 235 is nastily radioactive and good for making bombs. Natural uranium is less than 1% 235, the rest 238. Reactor grade is up to 5% 235. So you could still call it natural, just as salt extracted from the sea is natural. However, salt behaves quite differently from seawater. Similarly, lead is natural and lead on a church roof is no threat to anyone. Put it in petrol and it gets into people’s brains and makes them stupid.

          So is the waste from reactors a problem? Well, yes, because the ‘natural’ radioactivity is concentrated.

          Weapon production involves plutonium, which isn’t natural, is entirely man-made, and is radioactive and poisonous. Plutonium is just bad news and waste containing it is a far worse problem.

          (This ignores what uranium or plutonium turn into after they’ve reacted in a reactor or bomb. The spent fuel has all sorts of crap in it, natural and artificial, which makes it much more dangerous and unpredictable.)

          You can break down the waste by transmuting it into something safe. Its ridiculously expensive. Alternatively, mix it into glass, as glass lasts a very long time, then bury it somewhere dry. And after only a hundred thousand years or so, the radioactivity is gone. That’s what Sweden does, and France, UK and US are planning on doing. Strangely, people tend to object to this.

          We are assured that its safe. Then again, we are assured this by organisations with a track record of lying about saftey:
          http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/646230.stm

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