back to article Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

A very unusual exchange is about to take place over the Atlantic. The UK is sending some 700kg of highly enriched uranium to be disposed of in the US, the largest amount that has ever been moved out of the country. In return, the US is sending other kinds of enriched uranium to Europe to help diagnose people with cancer. The …

  1. Elmer Phud

    Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

    'Cos they will eat any old shite over there?

    1. Nolveys

      Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

      How do you suppose they will move it from the ocean to the Mountain Dew factory?

      1. Hollerithevo

        Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

        Come on, let's not exaggerate. Mountain Dew is MUCH more toxic.

      2. Fungus Bob

        Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

        "How do you suppose they will move it from the ocean to the Mountain Dew factory?"

        UPS Ground.

        Also, Mountain Dew doesn't have a factory, it's a refinery.

    2. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

      Windscale Flakes

      Central Heating for kids

      I remember the advert

    3. akeane

      Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

      So they can have...

      Fission Chips

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

      Who says we don't have a special relationship? How very obliging of the US.

      (The bill we'll get for this will presumably be declared a 'secret' to save Osborne's blushes.)

  2. JEF_UK

    Probably the most polarizing thing ever.

    I think the Government should pay for run/operate and maintain/decommission nuclear sites.

    Keep the lights on and use up the plutonium/ H.E.U.

  3. Ralph B

    Odd Decision & Odd Timing

    Should we really be shipping weapons-grade uranium to the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger, against civilian and military targets, and at a time when there's a reasonable prospect that the next US president will relax policies on nuclear weapon proliferation and usage?

    1. MrXavia

      Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

      Why are we disposing of weapons grade uranium at all???

      if its weapons grade, surely its got plenty of power left in it, lets keep it and build nuclear power stations that can use it!

      Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, much less than coal or gas power

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

        I presume, given that it is coming from Dounreay, that it is used fuel rods out of the profotype fast breeder reactor that once operated there. in which case they are highly enriched but also highly radioactively contaminated. Perfect material for a terrorist to construct a nuclear-fizzle radiological bomb from, assuming he doesn't much care about his long-term health.

        If the USA can either store it in long-term security or reprocess it into less-enriched Uranium (ie dilute it with U238) then surely we are better-off for them taking it off our hands?

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, "

        Trouble is the current designs don't do it right.

        That's why there is so much waste (and this is not waste, it's weapons grade fuel) to bury.

        Note 2 things.

        PWR's can be fueled with transuranic elements and Pu to burn them up.

        No one wants to do so and the US is even more difficult about reprocessing than the UK.

        1. Richard Jones 1

          Re: "Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, "

          I am with you on the problem. Sadly the 70 year history has been built on and trained its people on more or less one thing weapons grade output. We should have been more open minded years ago and developed, in parallel, alternatives which could have reduced the then potential problems. There is a problem continuing to plough the same old furrow and expecting different result to emerge, We built breeder reactors, what about thinking round consumer reactors. Too late for Hinkley Point but somewhere, sometime would be nicer.

      3. Adam 1

        Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

        > Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, much less than coal or gas power

        .... much less radioactive waste than coal power (on a per MW/hr basis).


        Note: possibly also applies to gas but I don't know those numbers.

        I guess coming out the top of a smokestack over time rather than leaving it in the bottom of a lap pool makes it OK?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

      While the points in your post are factual, the premise is flawed. It's not like the US has a shortage of weapons-grade material and withholding this shipment will hinder The Donald's maniacal schemes.

      sigh... I should move to Canada now, if His Hairness gets in, there will be a flood of refugees moving north. The Canuks will end up building a wall to keep us all out.

      1. Mad Chaz

        Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

        "The Canuks will end up building a wall to keep us all out."

        Winter does that already for the nutters further south. From my experience, the cold apparently makes survival impossible for the more stupid breads of southerners.

        But yea, actually building a giant wall of ice to keep you southerners out looks like a good idea if the hairy brain slug gets into office.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

          > actually building a giant wall of ice to keep you southerners out looks like a good idea

          And rename the RCMP as the Nights Watch? We'd loan you the Black Watch regiment but I don't think it exists any more..

        2. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

          The North Wall?

      2. Alistair

        Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

        "The Canuks will end up building a wall to keep us all out."

        We won't have to, some nutbar from Michigan is insisting that he'll build it. I'll hand him the bricks while he's working on the border *in* the lake.

      3. Ken 16 Silver badge


        But can they make the US pay for it?

        1. Kurt Meyer

          Re: Wall

          Ken, I assume the money that Mexico pays for the southern wall will be immediately shipped northward.

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

      In anger ?

      Because you think that, when President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped, he did so while shouting on the phone and cussing the Japs ?

      I take it you missed the part where the UK and Canada had a part in the decision ?

      All those meetings, draft reports, report approvals and after-meeting cocktails took a bit of time, I think. Enough so that no one can say the decision was taken in anger and be taken seriously.

      No, it was coldly, rationally, decided as the best course.

      Whether or not that is true is another matter entirely.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

      2. HieronymusBloggs

        Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

        "Because you think that, when President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped, he did so while shouting on the phone and cussing the Japs ?"

        To do something "in anger" is a common British figure of speech meaning to do something for serious effect, ie. not messing around. It originated with the military:

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          @ HieronymusBloggs

          Thanks for the info, I'm happy to have learned something more. I'll remember that the next time I need to do something "in anger".

          Obviously, my post is therefor rather over-the-top as a response. Sorry about that everyone, but since there are a few British customs I am aware of, let's have pint ! This round is on me.

      3. chasil

        Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

        Truman may have consulted others, be he knew full well that the responsibility for the decision could not be shared. The sign on his desk said so.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

        You have a very peculiar re-interpretation of the well known term "to do something in anger", which has nothing whatsover to do with being angry.

    4. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

      So we are sending the US some toxic nuclear waste, that is very dangerous and very expensive to dispose of.

      And in return they are sending us a different type of uranium, the raw material for making radio isotopes that are used to detect and diagnose cancer. So it sounds like it has value, and possibly a great deal of value.

      Sounds like the US is getting the shitty end of the stick in both sides of this transaction. How does that work then? Why would they agree to that? Were they born yesterday?

      Reminds me of the adage that "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't".

      1. Kurt Meyer

        Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

        @Smooth Newt

        "... the adage that "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't"."

        The adage goes - "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

        1. Domino

          Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

          "... the adage that "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't"."

          The adage goes - "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

          Neither really say whether it's [probably] true or not though. Are we talking about 'too good to be true' or just 'true' when we say it is or isn't?

  4. Phil Endecott

    Did I miss page 2?

    Why is this 700kg shipment going to the US? What are they going to do with it? Why are they happy to take it? What's this about "cancer curing uranium" in exchange?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The article is from the Conversation so what do you expect - sense.

    2. Aoyagi Aichou

      Diagnosing != curing

  5. Domeyhead

    The costs for disposing of nuclear waste are astronomical, exactly as anti nuclear campaigners want them to be, and I am willing to be that the majority of the cost is incurred in over-engineering solutions to ensure and verify that not one single bequerel should ever escape from the spent waste. It has never been established that low levels of radiation (such as you might get from, say living in Cornwall) actually do us any harm at all. If we were to relax even marginally the amount of radiation permitted to escape in any disposal solution the costs would be slashed massively to something we can all live with. Again something anti nuclear camapigners will go ballistic over. We report on national news radiation "leaks" that are sometimes less than you get from the luminous dial of a wristwatch. A bit of proportionality would change this entire landscape and create jobs in the UK. We are mad.

    1. Nigel 11

      Yes. The nuclear industry is prevented from even contemplating several solutions to the nuclear waste problem, though it is now apparent that even the non-CO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations pose a greater threat. (Mercury, etc.) We've had the worst-case nuclear disasters (Chernobyl, Fukushima) and it's now clear that consequences are orders of magnitude less serious than the anti-nuclear propagandists said. (Not that we want to encourage any repeats! )

      What solutions to the waste issue? The obvious one is to glassify the waste, clad the glass in further layers of containment, then dump it into a deep ocean trench where it will first get covered by sediment and then drawn down into the Earth's interior by geological subduction. The bottom of such a trench is the Hadean zone. There's little life down there, none of which could survive near the surface because the immense pressure alters its biochemistry, and no ocean circulation exists to mix water from down there up to the surface in less than geological time.

      If you do the sums, should the inconcievable happen and all the waste manage to dissolve out of the glass matrix, the volume of water in a deep ocean trench is great enough to dilute it to harmlessness long before it reaches even the normal ocean floor depths.

      But that's banned by international treaty, and will stay that way until Antarctica starts to melt and the true folly of burning coal and oil is revealed. That will be far too late.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        No discussion about nuclear waste would be complete without mentioning the natural uranium reactor at Oklo that ran for over quarter or a million years, and then neatly did geological disposal of the waste in stable geography where it has remained since safely.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "What solutions to the waste issue?"

        Build MSRs. Feed the "waste" into the fuel salts. Extract energy. Enjoy.

        PWR reactors vs thorium MSRs is a greater efficiency and utilisation change than the difference between Neucomen and Watt steam engines.

        It's not just that a thorium-based MSR system should be able to extract 98-99% of the nuclear energy available in the fuel vs the 2-3% that PWRs extract, it's that 50-60% of uranium that's mined is tossed out(*) before it hits a nuclear reactor during the enrichment process(**) and uranium is expensive, whilst thorium is a nuisance byproduct of rare earth mining looking for any kind of use (there are hundreds of thousands of tons of it going begging)

        (*) Actually: turned into hydrogen bomb casings or used as anti-tank armour piercing bullets - the latter may seem "better" but uranium is a worse environmental toxin than lead and cleanup of sites where DU bullets have been used will take decades. A MSR can take that "useless" U238, transmute to Pu238 and burn it up.

        (**) The amount of electrical energy used to enrich uranium is unknown (military secret) but extremely high - driving those centrifuges doesn't come cheap. Thorium doesn't ened enrichment and "nuclear waste" fed into a MSR for disposal doesn't need isotopic separation (the first rule of waste handling for recycling is to try and avoid a need for expensive separation activities. That applies just as much to nuclear waste as plastics or glass)

      3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        > clad the glass in further layers of containment, then dump it into a deep ocean trench

        Have you not read The Laundry Files? Do you really want the Deep Old Ones angry at us?

  6. Tim Worstal

    The reason to send HEU to the US is because they have a system, built and in place, to blend it down to LEU suitable for use in reactors. This is one of the (few?) things that Al Gore got right. Get that HEU out of Russia and into US reactors and spend however much money necessary to do so.

    You do not use HEU is energy production reactors although you might, just, use it in one or another design of isotope production reactors.

    And yet the US has been driving a worldwide campaign to get people to stop using HEU for medical isotope production because of those proliferation issues. To the point that they will come in and build an LEU using production reactor and even finance it.

    Thus, HEU goes off to the US, the US then supplies back LEU suitable for isotope production.

    It all entirely makes sense. But of course someone at The Conversation who wanted to complain about nuclear waste, an entirely different subject, wouldn't bother to tell you all that.

    1. Unep Eurobats

      Thanks for filling in that gap. Otherwise I thought it was a very good and balanced article on a complex and contentious topic.

      Sounds like we can bury our nuclear waste properly or continue to bury our heads in the sand. Let's hope we're finally going to stop doing the latter.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        "Sounds like we can bury our nuclear waste properly "

        no burial is proper. If it's high level waste then it belongs in a reactor and if it's low level waste it doesn't need burial.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well thank goodness we now get shitty filler articles bought in from Duh Conversation instead of well-informed ones by people whose politics the editors of the Register happen to have a problem with.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "You do not use HEU is energy production reactors although you might, just, use it in one or another design of isotope production reactors."

      The number of HEU reactors worldwide is down to the single digits now - thanks to a concerted effort over the last 40 years to eliminate them. There _were_ hundreds (if not thousands) of the things, on college and hospital campuses around the world.

    4. cray74

      You do not use HEU is energy production reactors although you might, just, use it in one or another design of isotope production reactors.

      Not disagreeing with your main point, Mr. Worstal - you were as informative as ever - but the US Navy's submarine reactors typically run on uranium that is enriched to a minimum of 93% U235. HEU is usually defined as "more than 20% enriched." That's several dozen "energy production reactors" (they produce thermal, mechanical, and electrical energy) running on HEU, albeit rarely plugged into an ashore electrical utility grid.

      (The US Navy prefers the extreme enrichment because it means a long span without refueling - 33 years for the Virginia class - and the ability to restart shortly after a shutdown, overriding the usual xenon pit problem without Chernobyl's off-spec mishap.)

      Pardon the nitpick.

  7. eJ2095

    Need to get Superman

    To round it all up and chuck it into the sun

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Need to get Superman

      But if you poison the sun with plutonium then the Stargates won't work.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: Need to get Superman

        I highly doubt it would reach the sun. It would burn up before that in the corona.

        This has been my thought for many years. The argument of a failed launch has always been the boogeyman here.

        1. Hollerithevo

          Re: Need to get Superman

          If we had a skyhook rather than rockets, we could haul it up into space and then lob it wherever we want: sun, the abyss, whatever.

        2. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Need to get Superman

          Launch in Washington DC, any failed launch's affects would not be noticed

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not send it into space...

    140 Tonnes of waste = 1400000Kg of waste.

    A Falcon Heavy rocket costs ~ $2200/Kg to get to Low Earth Orbit.

    So ~ 308,000,000 USD and its all in space.

    Even if you go with a Delta IV at 13K/kg, its "only" 1.8Billion USD... It would pay for itself in a year and do wonders for the global rocket industry

    Now, if you double the cost of doing it for going further than LEO and point it somewhere where the sun-sines... or not... who cares! Its still cheaper over 10 years of storage.

    1. Martin hepworth

      Re: Why not send it into space...

      'cos the rockets arent 100% reliable and will explode on launch with too much regularity, just for 1 reason not to..

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Why not send it into space...

      All the crap that's already in LEO and you want to add high-grade nuclear waste to it? Sooner or later it's going to get clipped by the atmosphere and start to fall back to Earth. Have you factored in the costs of sending up missions to refuel the boosters keeping it in orbit for the next 10,000 years?

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. glen waverley

      order of magnitude?

      140 Tonnes of waste = 1400000Kg of waste.

      1 400 000 kg? I think not.

      1 tonne = 1000 kg.

      So 140 t = 140 000 kg.

      Can't be arsed re-doing the rest of yr calcs.

    5. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Why not send it into space...

      Actually, we should send it into space, as the power for some deep-space probes. Or even to Mars, like in the Curiosity rover.

    6. Andy 97

      Re: Why not send it into space...

      Has Donald Trump got a login for El Reg?

      1. Adam 1

        Re: Why not send it into space...

        > Has Donald Trump got a login for El Reg?

        No. It is missing the tell tale phrase at the end of the sentence "and make the aliens pay for it"

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why not send it into space...

      You also need to lift the containment vessels. They tend to be quite heavy themselves.

      And of course there's the risk of a big boom on rocket failure. Or worse, the rocket could fail somewhere over xxxxxxxxx-stan where the toooorists might get hold of the nooklear material.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Why not send it into space...

        To reduce weight, they're using no protective shielding. Every load we carry exposes us to distronic toxaemia. After a few hours exposure, we'll all be dead.

    8. Bloakey1

      Re: Why not send it into space...

      And shove it up Uranus?

    9. Mike Moyle

      Re: Why not send it into space...

      Store it in a dump on the moon. What's the worst that could happen?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Why not send it into space...

        Obviously not a fan of Dr Who...

  9. Pen-y-gors

    Bury it and mark it

    Burying it deep is a sound idea, but the site needs to be marked well so that people in 10,000 years know not to go fossicking around underground. That's tricky - a nice painted skull and crossbones is likely to have faded.

    How about a nice big ring of giant granite stones raised up on end with more stones across the top, and a massive slab in the centre marking the entrance? Should be good for a few millenia...

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Bury it and mark it

      10,000 years?

      I'd be more concerned about the next couple of decades! The current vogue for fracking rules out deep burial across many areas of the UK, once deemed suitable...

    2. Darryl

      Re: Bury it and mark it

      Even better if you store it in a Pandorica underneath those markers...

    3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Bury it and mark it

      Of all the anti-burial arguments, the 10ka signage one has to be the worst. So we could (and possibly have) create a Signage committte, with international experts from Greenpeace, FoE etc. They could meet in exotic locations quarterly, and be funded by taxpayers and the nuclear industry.

      Alternatively, repainting signs could just be part of the site maintenance plan. It's a non-problem. Unless the UK gets depopulated entirely, and everyone forgets where the site was, it can be maintained. Or future archaelogists could discover an ancient tomb, and try to discover who may have been buried with such a rich haul of fuel to power their afterlife. Or future us could just change the signage from Waste Dump to Fuel Dump.

      1. x 7

        Re: Bury it and mark it

        the signs will be irrelevant when the next ice age comes

        thats the only problem with deep disposal - the glacier will destroy all trace at the surface, so the location will be forgotten. Though I guess it doesn't matter if all life gets killed off by the cold

  10. ukgnome

    So are you saying....

    Maybe we are now able to admit that the reason we have nuclear power stations is in fact just to make bombs. We never achieved cheap and reliable electricity production did we. The whole global mess is basically because America wanted to show Japan it's penis and declare it bigger than theirs.

    Anyone who agues back saying - No UKgnome, America had to show it's big penis because Germany was working on a big penis of it's own has never read any history books of any kind.

    *apologies for penis analogies but I have been listening to a lot of Richard Herring

    1. Nigel 11

      Re: So are you saying....

      that's why we have light water reactors burning enriched Uranium instead of a Thorium fuel cycle. The latter doesn't produce much of any use for making bombs.

      But what we now know about global warming and CO2 pollution indicates that we desperately DO need nuclear reactors. Also, that we are overly paranoid about radiation. The worst-case accidents have already happened and have been orders of magnitude less harmful than the nuclear doom-mongers have predicted. Whereas the worst-case non-nuclear accidents (melting Antarctica, acidifying all the oceans) may still be possible to avert.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: So are you saying....

        "that's why we have light water reactors burning enriched Uranium instead of a Thorium fuel cycle. The latter doesn't produce much of any use for making bombs."

        That's what they said about CANDU reactors - until India proved this not to be the case.

        You can make bombs with what's in a LFTR if you're determined to do so. Doing so would be both extremely expensive and result in noticable unaccountable losses in output power, which should attract attention.

        1. Nigel 11

          Re: So are you saying....

          As I understand it, in a Thorium fuel cycle you have to start the cycle with a reactor fuelled with enriched Uranium. You use that to irradiate Th232 fuel which breeds fissionable U233. This then fissions in situ. Over time the U233-enriched Thorium fuel becomes capable of sustaining a reactor and breeding further U233 without needing any further enriched uranium as input. At that point the world could shut down all U235-enrichment operations.

          Plutonium is bred in significant quantities in any Uranium fuelled reactor and can be separated from the used Uranium fuel by purely chemical means. This is a significant nuclear proliferation and terrorism risk. In contrast no significant amount of Plutonium is bred in a Thorium-fuel cycle. Uranium-233 is fissile and could be separated from Thorium by purely chemical means, but it would be heavily contaminated with other highly radioactive but non-fissionable Uranium isotopes which would make what was separated very difficult to handle and weaponise. The longer Thorium fuel is used, the more difficult it becomes to separate usable bomb material from it.

          And yes, you could put natural Uranium rods into a Thorium reactor core to irradiate them and thereby generate Plutonium for bombs. Which is why civil nuclear plants would need to be regularly inspected and audited by an international agency so everybody can be as sure as possible that's not happening. Ultimately there's no way to have nuclear power without the possibility of a malign government making bomb material. But it is completely possible to have nuclear power without making large amounts of bomb material as an unwanted by-product, that has to be kept safe against misuse for many millennia!

    2. Uncle Ron

      Re: So are you saying....

      Sorry, at -least- a million lives (US and Japanese) were saved by the deaths of those 50 or 60K people. even if that is the lower end of estimates, and the real number is 200+K killed, saving 4 for every one killed was a good trade in my book. You doubt that Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war? We killed a million burning down Tokyo and that didn't even phase them. No, using the A-bomb had nothing to do with penises.

      1. Lars Silver badge

        Re: So are you saying....

        @ Uncle Ron

        In this vid you find Truman's voice on the topic.

  11. Yag

    The DADA method (decide, announce, defend, abandon).

    Very artsy and very astute to describe governments...

  12. Alister

    Deep Disposal

    "We're sending 700kg of nuclear waste across the Atlantic by ship..."

    (2 months later)

    "We're very sorry to announce the ship carrying 700kg of nuclear waste to the US has unexpectedly sunk in the deepest bit of the Atlantic..."


    1. Nigel 11

      Re: Deep Disposal

      "We're very sorry to announce the ship carrying 700kg of nuclear waste to the US has unexpectedly sunk in the deepest bit of the Atlantic..."

      Which would be far less disastrous than doom-mongers will tell you. Even in the worst case if the whole lot dissolves within a decade, the dilution factor is so great that it might never be even detectable at the surface of the Atlantic. They've lost a good few nuclear-powered submarines down there. Nobody can tell you where(*) or point at any nuclear pollution caused thereby.

      Personally (see above) I think the best place for nuclear waste is glassified and dumped in the Hadean zone at the bottom of a deep ocean subduction trench.

      (*) unless they have access to top-secret military data, of course.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Deep Disposal

        "They've lost a good few nuclear-powered submarines down there."

        Locations are known and monitored, along with a bunch of dumped reactors from the Lenin.

        In all cases there is no discernable radioactivity measured once you're more than 2 metres from the hot stuff. Water is a _very_ good moderator.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
        2. Nigel 11

          Re: Deep Disposal

          I was thinking of (non)-detectable amounts of radioactive isotopes in the water at the surface. Such pollution will of course will be high close to the site of the accident/dump on the ocean floor once the containment vessels dissolve, but will remain undetectable a kilometer or more above. The stuff from Chernobyl is dispersed over a thin skin of the earth's surface, and has been less of a catastrophe than the doomsters said it would be. Anything lost in an ocean ultimately gets dispersed in water kilometers deep, so far more diluted, plus water from the ocean floor mixes only slowly with the ocean's surface water (and far more slowly still if it's the stagnant Hadean depths of an ocean trench, rather than just the ordinary ocean floor with slow deep circulation).

      2. Kurt Meyer

        Re: Deep Disposal

        @Nigel 11

        " Nobody can tell you where(*)... "

        "(*) unless they have access to top-secret military data, of course."

        "Come in Nigel, and have a seat"

        "Thank you Sir."

        "Right. The security bods have informed me that the vetting process is complete. Congratulations, you now have access to top-secret military data."

        "Thank you Sir, it is a great honor."

        "Righto, off you go."

    2. Hollerithevo

      Re: Deep Disposal

      As long as it is over a deep sea trench or vent, it neatly sorts out the deep sea burial. Frankly, I think they should go for it.

  13. caffeine addict

    Mutter mutter mutter liquid salt reactors mutter mutter depressed sigh

  14. umacf24

    How is this waste?

    Highly enriched uranium is fuel, an expensively-obtained fuel at that.

    700kgs could be well over a billion kWh, £100M+ of electricity depending on the enrichment.

    If we can't use it, the fault is not in the material, but in ourselves.

    It's renamed "waste" and we're happy to give it away!

    Where is Lewis Page when we need him?

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: How is this waste?

      Well said, sir!

      U-235 has a half life of 700 million years, and U-238 of 4500 my. They are not the problem; it is fission products that are.

      I believe, though I would like to see someone else do it first, that one can safely walk past a freshly manufactured fuel rod. But a rod just withdrawn from a reactor is spitting wild rates of radiation from isotopes with a half life of just a few minutes, and would probably kill you. So those rods are left in a deep pool of water for a year, until there are two main fission products left: caesium-137 and strontium-90. These have half lives of about 30 years.

      A half life of 30 years makes them emit, weight for weight, over 50 times more radiation than the classical radium (half life ca 1700 years). They could, however, be useful for peaceful applications of radiation. This may be why the story mentions hospital uses. Or, as commented above, they can be turned into glass and buried.

      I have read that much of the earth's internal heat comes from the decay of potassium-40 in the earth's crust, with a half life of many billions of years. So I calculated the internal temperature of a football-sized sphere of sodium strontium silicate (glass). It would be red hot at the centre. So burying glass needs some thought and design.

      But the story is unconvincing, a cloud of ackamarackus to hide some real objective, which may even be as mundane as money.

      1. Alan J. Wylie

        Re: How is this waste?

        > I believe, though I would like to see someone else do it first, that one can safely walk past a freshly manufactured fuel rod

        When I was at school in the late 70's, someone from Sellafield/Windscale/Calder Hall came to our physics class and passed around a stick of Uranium, wrapped in polythene. It was very heavy, and rather warm.

  15. ZSn

    Plutonium fizzle

    It's disingenuous to state that the plutonium from nuclear waste can be used in nuclear weapons. It's far too poisoned with plutonium 240 to be useful. A dirty bomb could be constructed with it, but that is true of any of the isotopes in the waste.

    1. Message From A Self-Destructing Turnip

      Re: Plutonium fizzle

      It's also disingenuous to state that 'using the plutonium as fuel for conventional reactors lacks credibility'. Mixed oxide (MOX) fuel containing recycled plutonium provides almost 5% of the new nuclear fuel used today. Currently about 40 reactors in Europe are licensed to use MOX, and over 30 are doing so. In Japan about ten reactors are licensed to use it.


    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Plutonium fizzle

      "A dirty bomb could be constructed with it, but that is true of any of the isotopes in the waste"

      A dirty (chemical) bomb would contaminate a few hundred square metres at absolute most - and the hot particles would be easy to both detect and collect. They are more of a theoretical weapon than a practical one, based on the kneejerk paranoia about "radiation baaaaad"

    3. Balvenie Doublewood

      Re: Plutonium fizzle

      Hi Zsn, not sure that is the case - it has been done with high burnup UK plutonium

      similar yield, implosion is not too fizzle sensitive to the neutron emitting 240

      1. ZSn

        Re: Plutonium fizzle

        Again, this link is disingenuous. The plutonium bomb test that it quotes was a test to see if it would work in principle. It does with two very important caveats, the yield was a lot lower than expected (only 20 kts, considered a fizzle for the actually design) and it didn't use 'vanilla' fuel. The plutonium came from a UK magnox reactor that was designed to be able to produce plutonium for weapons and it wasn't run for a full cycle, so it hadn't built the full load of 240Pu that you would expect. I think that it had a purity of about 90% as opposed to >93% you would expect for weapons grade. The stuff you get out of a normally run reactor is a *lot* worse and you certainly would get a fizzle.

        All this is from unclassified publications on the internet (and from memory as I can't find the links at the moment, google is playing hard to get), so if anyone has better information I'd be interested to know.

        There seems to be a lot of FUD about reprocessing that I'm at a loss to explain. There are arguments for and against but it seems to produce a visceral loathing that I don't understand.

  16. Alfred

    " It raises profound ethical issues of equity between generations."

    Given the way the younger generation is currently being treated by their own, still living ancestor generations, I think caring about generations after that isn't on the table :(

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: " It raises profound ethical issues of equity between generations."

      Nuclear waste - the gift that really keeps on giving!

    2. Hollerithevo

      Re: " It raises profound ethical issues of equity between generations."

      To me, it is patently obvious that no generation actually gives a flying feck for future generations. We as a species poison our own offspring (smoking, stuffing them full of fatty foods and sugar, etc) or exploit them (prostitution of children, child labour, abuse), and the next generation down is even more dimly observed. As for the great-grandchildren and further out? Our ape brains really can't see that many bananas into the future. They won't keep _us_ alive, so who cares?

  17. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    MOX fuel

    is a security risk when moving it around the country?

    Since when?

    Well I suppose the terrorist could hijack the train, open the containers, remove fuel rods, dissolve them in acid, then do the seperation to get the plutonium out, then refine said plutonium and machine it into bomb parts, then assemble the whole device and .. hang on....

    Be quicker , easier and cheaper to bribe the guards at a south asian country's bomb store and steal a nuke

  18. Graham Jordan

    Complex and expensive

    That's funny because the article suggests anything but. The technology for using spent rods has been used for the last 60 years and they're quoting almost 80% of the price of a standard light water reactor.

    That video hurts my head in all the right ways

  19. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    What a waste of "waste"

    This stuff is a useful source of energy if handled right. The epithermal variants of fourth generation nuclear reactors should all be able to use what we now call waste as fuel for power generation. IIRC there's ~100 years of our current electricity usage available from "spent" fuel rods used in once through mode. What it needs is a government with the balls to actually try out an experimental Gen IV reactor. Molten salt looks the most likely design as it's been around since the 50s and is known to work(*). Then whoever does it can charge the world a fortune for taking their "waste" and generate electricity from it.

    (*) It worked for power generation, but not for making weapons, which is why the design was never used other than in experimental form.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: What a waste of "waste"

      Not sure why you got downvoted for this. Your analysis seems right on the money to me.

      Have an upvote to balance.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: What a waste of "waste"

        Not sure why you got downvoted for this.

        Probably one of the "nuclear - that makes your children grow two heads and die!!!!" brigade. Personally I prefer sound engineering and viable economics.

        Have an upvote to balance.

        Ta. Have an iconic pint of beer in return. :-)

  20. ardencaple

    Burn it in SSRs

    I agree with the the comment "How is this waste?"

    One of the problems of current reactors such as the PWR (and the olf Magnox and AGRs) is that they only burn about 4% of the fuel!

    There are new designs of reactors, based on molten salts, that can burn > 96% of their fuel. Not only that, but they can burn up the sort of enriched waste that we are talking about here. So, less waste, and clean up the garbage from the past! What's not to like?

    There is a particularly simple UK design that has just emerged called the SSR from Moltex, which is worth looking at.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      What's not to like?

      No bomb stuff.

      And hyperventilating "greens" who miss the entire point of being green by trying to get us all to live in caves as off-grid spoon whittlers, producing scary "facts" like Fukushima will lead to millons of radiation related illnesses and deaths over the coming decades (this despite the science proving that because so little radiation was released, it will be impossible to detect even one such excess illness/death against the background rate).

      These things (and other such stupidities) mean an obviously brilliant idea that deals with a huge number of fundamental issues will struggle to gain traction.

      1. dkaivan

        Re: What's not to like?

        "hyperventilating greens"? you calling half of EUROPE, including the most rich and powerful such as germany and switzerland "hyperventilating greens"? Face it, those nations have resources (including their people and environment) worth protecting, hence banned all nuclear after fukushima. The UK on the other hand is a dump of people like you living in mortgage laden cubicle houses. nobody would care less if these installations broke down, which sellafield already has over 30 times in the past 15 years to a point where scotland and norway are petitoning the british gvnt to stop bc it all travels over to their nations, but of couse, the corrupt british gvnt, like this paid shill, just ignores it. money over sustainability.

  21. BoldMan

    The only real waste in this article is the electricity used to create and transmit it.

    1. Kurt Meyer

      RE:real waste


      "The only real waste in this article is the electricity used to create and transmit it."

      Not true, your presence here disproves your statement.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As my radiation safety officer used to say,

    "Radiation is easy to detect from a safe distance; there lots of toxins out there that can kill you in milligram quantities and are much harder to identify. Radionuclides decay over time, but arsenic is there forever."

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: As my radiation safety officer used to say,

      Arsenic may be there forever, but plutonium (including the 'stable' isotopes) is as toxic as nerve gas, so I know which if the two I'd rather ingest.

      1. G R Goslin

        Re: As my radiation safety officer used to say,

        Where on earth did you get the idea that Plutonium is more poisonous than nerve gas? In fact caffeine is more poisonous than plutonium. ALL heavy metals are poisonous, lead, barium, etc. Plutonium is just one of those with similar toxicity

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. Dr Fidget

    "Sellafield"? I thought that'd been re-branded as "Leafy Green Meadows" sometime after the last leak.

  25. earl grey

    Dump in the deep ocean?

    Oh yeah, that'll go over well with Cthulhu and the old ones.

  26. G R Goslin


    How is this waste? if it's weapons grade, it will never have seen the inside of a reactor. The most compact reactors made only use circa 60% enriched. Weapons grade is well over 90%. Do you realise just how much it cost us to make this stuff? The easy way to dispose of it is to dilute it with natural uranium, until that has been enriched to power reactor grade (1-2 %) It might make Urenco a bit pissed off, but who cares.

  27. Jeffrey Nonken

    Toss it into the sun

    Of course, if we ever figure out how to recycle it, we won't have it any more. But it'll be someplace that it won't do any harm.

  28. HmmmYes

    I always thought this stuff was going to get shoved down Boulby mine after they finished mining Potash.

    Borrowing waste in the UK only earthquake zone is a bit daft. Mind you, so was building a nuckeur power station.

  29. NotWorkAdmin

    £68 billion to clean up?

    If memory serves we used to have a similar problem at Windscale. The government were able to reduce the amount of waste present at Windscale to zero at very low cost:

    "There is no longer a nuclear waste problem at Windscale. We've changed the name to Sellafield."

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    700 metric tons?

    That'll run Doc Brown's Delorean for awhile.

  31. x 7

    FFS sakes how naive are you lot?

    We've been sending this kind of "waste" to the USA for years, because its enriched uranium is just what they need for bombmaking.

    If I remember correctly it was part of the tradeoff deal that gave us the original Polaris missiles cheaply, it wouldn't surprise me if the same deal was extended when the Trident missiles were purchased.

    You have to understand: this isn't "waste" in the conventional sense of the word: its the product of used nuclear fuel rods which as a result of their use are now life-expired for power production purposes, but are now enriched in weapons-grade uranium as a by-product

  32. Uncle Ron


    700 Kg is only about 1500 pounds. How many tonnes of stuff have we shot into space? You could build hundreds of man-rated boosters with "escape" rockets in the event of launch failure, for the prices we're discussing here--plus hurtling it into the Sun assures the stuff never bubbles back to the surface. Why not do it this way?

  33. Oengus

    The UK sent some radioactive material to Australia in the 50's and 60's. They detonated it at a couple of locations. Surely adding a few hundred kilos there will make little difference.

    Australia should grasp the opportunity and create a Nuclear waste dump and recycling plant at Maralinga on the ground contaminated by the UK atomic tests and charge countries to store and process their nuclear waste.

  34. Mark Pawelek

    "The plan also contradicts the principle that countries are responsible for managing their own nuclear legacy."

    What principle. Something cooked up by Gordon MacKerron in one of his wilder plans for world government?

  35. Mark Pawelek

    So called toxic radioactive waste not as toxic as anti-nuke fear-mongers would like it to be

    This article contains a number of wrong statements by a guy who hasn't much of a clue what he's talking about. He's just an anti-nuclear power campaigner. For example:

    "no operator wants to use plutonium-based fuel" -- there are plenty of people who'd love to use plutonium-based fuel. Maybe not current operators. Then again, there is only one current nuclear plant operator in Britain: EdF.

    "So nuclear waste remains the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry" -- the amount of spent fuel produced by the nuclear industry is a tiny amount. Worldwide: less than 400,000 tonnes since nuclear power began. A single coal plant makes more solid waste than that in one year (ignoring its global warming gases). Your i-pads, smart phones and other electronic gear make lakes of actually toxic waste going for miles upon miles in China. Used nuclear fuel is not toxic in practice because no one is ever harmed by it. It's secure, guarded and safe. It's not particularly dangerous. Low level radiation does not cause cancer, despite the lies green fearmongers tell you. Cancer is dues to a weak, or suppressed immune system :

  36. Crisp

    Can't we refine the waste?

    Then recycle the uranium that we can use and dispose of the unwanted waste separately.

  37. This Side Up

    Get it right!

    Please learn the difference between "Sporadically" (here and there) and "Spasmodically" (now and then).

  38. MachDiamond Silver badge

    The US was accepting Russian warhead "packages" for reprocessing since the Russians didn't have the facilities or money to do it themselves after a reduction treaty. US reactors use a slightly enriched (U235 added to U238) fuel, so acquiring material with a higher U235 content for "free" is a good deal. It means not having to run inefficient isotope separation machines.

    Short half-life: Very radioactive

    Long half-life: Much less, low radioactivity

    I'd like to see more countries working on LFTR reactors and other nuclear technology conceived to be safer and produce less waste. China has a LFTR program based on information they were given on the cancelled US program from many years ago. If they are left unchallenged, they will own the patents going forward and all other countries will be buying reactors from them.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The only credible way forward is deep burial." - really?

    That's not entirely true. Nor is it the case that "The scientific community does in fact agree on how to dispose of these materials safely: deep underground."

    Carlo Rubbia's got a Nobel prize in physics and he's not in favour of deep storage.

    Rubbia's energy amplifier proposal has this in favour of it - I'm citing a student essay because it's an nicely accessible summary:

    "The Energy Amplifier has very attractive waste characteristics, assuming the fuel is reprocessed. When reprocessing, fission products are separated from the rest of the fuel, then the remains are reformed with some extra thorium to create new fuel rods. The small amount of actinides created would therefore be recycled and always kept in the reactor."

    Admittedly: "The chemical processes to reprocess fuel from the Energy Amplifier have not yet been fully developed."

    But the fact remains that if you're willing to spend many billions and many years developing some new technology, you can turn nuclear fuel waste into electricity without having to dispose of any of it outside your melt-down proof accelerator-driven fancy new power plant. And this isn't a crack-pot scheme from some loony: it's a sound idea from one of the world's most eminent physicists.

    - expensive it would be, but so is deep storage of nuclear waste.

    As for politically acceptable and so on: if you told the good citizens of (say) Hartlepool that they could have a shiny new technology inherently safe accelerator driven nuclear power plant designed to "burn" nuclear fuel waste instead of the conventional nuclear power plant currently intended to replace their existing aging AGR power station, I reckon you'd be on to a winner. If you then told them that it'd be a long term project involving many stages of construction and maybe a couple of decades of continuous high investment, any remaining objections would probably dry up very quickly.

  40. Conundrum1885

    Orion drive

    140 tonnes of Pu = enough to get to Mars and back a dozen times even with 1st gen circumlunar acceleration Orion based on my modified design 220 ton yield per bomblet.

    The tricky part would be getting what is essentially a miniature version of the Z Machine into orbit intact without sustaining damage, to ignite the bomblets (see earlier thread)

    If you wanted to be really sure only fire the drive when its behind the Moon from Earth's POV, the shortest distance to Mars means about one mission every 8.2 years with a flight time of less than 7 months.

    Plus you get to test EmDrive, ion drive, etc so this is a no brainer.

  41. martinusher Silver badge

    One person's waste is another's raw material

    Nuclear power has always been an illusion. Reactors exist for one purpose and that's to make fissile material for nuclear weapons. They generate power only because the operation of a reactor gives off a lot of energy and its not only cheaper and more convenient to turn it into power but it can also be marketed as a wonderful 'green' energy source. (Which its nothing of the sort if you look at the lifecycle costs of a typical nuclear installation -- the only way you can justify the costs is if there's a military budget behind it.)

    Although we don't need to increase our stocks of nuclear weapons they do deteriorate over time so the need to be constantly be refreshed.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    and despite all this, unelected PM May has announced a deal with the chinese to build new nuclear power stations.. without any public vote/approval.. and of all places right in the centre of nature, ext to water sources, and next to public places such as norfolk, gloucestershire, essex, etc. This is pure madness. This gvnt is corrupt tyranny.

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