In the modern world, where a large percentage of electricity is generated by nuclear power plants, and the leading world states have a huge nuclear arsenal, the problem of nuclear waste disposal is especially acute. The main problem is that nuclear waste cannot be simply recycled as it requires more energy to be recycled than it releases when used.
At the moment, there are technologies for the additional enrichment of spent nuclear fuel, but sooner or later, we receive waste that can no longer be used and its mass is several thousand tons per year. The radioactivity of most of them cannot be eliminated artificially and all that remains is to store them until, due to natural decay, their background radiation returns to normal.
Where is radioactive waste stored and why is it dangerous?
For some dangerous materials, the shelf life is several decades, for others, it is thousands of years, and for a third group, it will not become safe even after a million years. Such long storage requires huge funds and a huge number of precautions.
Nuclear repositories on Earth are created in areas remote from people, often unsuitable for agriculture; if possible, they try to place them in already contaminated areas like the Chernobyl zone and nuclear test sites.
However, even with all the remoteness and safety measures, the risk of leakage of radioactive materials and contamination of vast areas with radiation remains, and the situation is aggravated by the unfairness of the governments of some countries in matters of nuclear waste disposal.
Why dumping nuclear waste in space is impossible for us
The logical way out of the above is to send radioactive waste far away from the Earth, where it cannot harm people. I heard about the placement of burial grounds in near-earth orbit only from science fiction writers, from a practical point of view, this idea is absurd because of the colossal danger.
Firstly, radiation from containers with fuel will freely reach the planet’s atmosphere and, in fact, irradiate the whole world, the exact growth of the background depends on many parameters, but in any case, it will not bring anything good to people.
Secondly, over time, the containers in which radioactive waste is stored will be destroyed and the radioactive substances leaked from them will simply fall into the atmosphere, setting up a new Chernobyl, and it is extremely expensive and problematic to carry out their maintenance and replacement in orbit, not to mention the high cost of construction and the content of the stations themselves.
Thirdly, the Earth’s orbit is overflowing with debris from satellites and their number continues to grow, any collision with such debris will lead to the destruction of the waste storage station or damage it.
As a result, the leakage of a huge amount of radioactive substances that will soon fall into the atmosphere, and again we will get a catastrophe comparable with Chernobyl, but contamination of the entire surface of the planet.
And also, the risk of a missile accident at launch and spraying of the waste directly into the atmosphere remains. This is only a part of the risks associated with putting radioactive waste into orbit; in fact, such a launch turns out to be extremely expensive and extremely dangerous compared to storing waste on Earth.
What about burying it on the Moon?
Sending waste to the Moon, in the case of its development and the creation of the necessary industrial capacities there, looks quite expedient, the risk of an accident at launch by that moment can be minimized, and the price of each launch is seriously reduced.
When placed in a place so remote from a colony, even in the event of a leak, nuclear waste will not cause any harm to people. There will be no need to be afraid that it will seep into groundwater, that it will be thrown into the atmosphere and carried away by the wind.
This will significantly decrease the costs of the construction and maintenance of repositories, as well as on safety measures; in fact, nuclear waste could be thrown into a sufficiently deep mine and forgotten. In addition, in the long term, even with the cost of transporting waste to the Moon, it will be cheaper than storing it on Earth.
At the same time, sending such a large mass of matter into space will require hundreds of launches annually, which, taking into account the need to deliver many other cargoes into space, will be possible only in the distant future.
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• Cain, F. (2017, February 27). Can We Launch Nuclear Waste Into the Sun? Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.universetoday.com/133317/can-we-launch-nuclear-waste-into-the-sun/
• NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS). (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://ntrs.nasa.gov/citations/19780015628
• Salkeld, R., & Beichel, R. (2003, February 25). Nuclear waste disposal in space: Implications of advanced space transportation. Retrieved November 29, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0094576580900132