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We all know the issue of deep geological repositories for fuel rods. Is there a currently feasible way to speed up the rod's decay to render them harmless in less than 10 years?

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No, but you can slow it down by sending it on a long journey with nearly the speed of light. – Arnold Neumaier Dec 6 '12 at 14:38
Why not put radioactive waste into space shuttles and deposit it on the moon or some other planet? In space there is strong radiation everywhere anyway, and space doesn't "consider" anything waste. – user11151 Dec 6 '12 at 23:33
For one, launching radioactive waste into space is unbelievably dangerous because of the potential for the rocket to explode and turn itself into one huge dirty bomb. Practical issues aside, shouldn't we rather stop littering our own planet instead of looking for other places for our rubbish? – Emilio Pisanty Dec 7 '12 at 0:40
@RichartBremer an AtlasV can lift about 5tonnes to a high orbit from which you could boost about 1/2 of that to lunar orbit - all for a mere $125M. Paying 25M/ton to get rid of valuable Pu isn't that popular – Martin Beckett Dec 7 '12 at 4:05

The simple answer is no, though as usual in Physics things are a bit more complicated than that.

There are several ways in which radionucleotides decay: alpha decay, beta decay, gamma decay, and fission. These are all mediated by the weak and strong nuclear forces, though the electromagnetic force plays some part in alpha decay and nuclear fission. There is no way we know of to tamper with the two nuclear forces. In principle we could change electromagnetic forces by using a sufficiently strong electric field, but the field strength required would be ludicrously high and far outside anything we could conceivably generate.

In principle we can affect the decay of nuclei by firing particles at them. For example uranium can be made to fission by firing neutrons at it (which is exactly what happens in nuclear reactors). In general this is not a practical way to process nuclear waste, though in the specific case of plutonium you can fission plutonium in nuclear reactors (though the products of the fission are still radioactive). Currently the cost of treating radioactive waste in this way would be prohibitive.

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Efforts to getting beam based waste processing---which people have been working on for decades---from the realm of science fiction to reality are currently being funded by the US DOE on "the intensity frontier". Typical approaches use either an electron beam directly or a as powerful bremstrahlung source. No news yet. – dmckee Dec 6 '12 at 16:24
In addition you don't want to increase the decay rate of a nice long half-life source like Pu, increasing it's decay rate makes it much nastier to handle! – Martin Beckett Dec 6 '12 at 16:27
Why not put radioactive waste into space shuttles and deposit it on the moon or some other planet? In space there is strong radiation everywhere anyway, and space doesn't "consider" anything waste. – user11151 Dec 6 '12 at 23:26
Too expensive. There are lots of good ideas for improving nuclear generation of power, and they always fail because they're too expensive i.e. more expensive than just using gas or coal instead. – John Rennie Dec 7 '12 at 7:28
@RichartBremer, what if the rocket blows up during launch? – Antillar Maximus Dec 28 '12 at 12:13

You can trigger decay of certain nuclei with gamma rays, just like you can stimulate emission of photons from excited atoms with incoming radiation. You can even make a bomb if that is your kind of thing. On the other hand, in case of atoms there is a stimulated emission - with help of photons coherent with the "future" photon. This shows that the "environment" is somewhat important. As soon as the environment is complicated and is hard to control, one can loosely think that the random character of decays is due to random character of the "triggering QM environment".

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that decay probability can be increased, for example via collision with another particle for the right energy, and this is exactly how fission based nuclear bombs work. Here though, again, there is nothing special about the particular atom decaying, and it is simply the particles involved in the collision that have the increased decay probability. (I must admit that I have pared this picture right down to the basics as otherwise it would need to be a far more technical discussion).

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When it comes to radioactive decay, one unstable nucleus explodes to stable ones this moment. And, an another fully identical nucleus wait for thousands years to explode. This is a great example of principle of uncertainty. We don't know exactly why it happens. We only have observed data of their chances to explode (That's why we talk in probability of decay of large number of nuclei). It happens because of no reason. We don't have full understanding of quantum world yet, so we can't find a way to control it while keeping the solution in "natural way" domain.

A way to process nuclear waste quickly is to do it with non-natural way (the way nuclear bombs etc work), but that would be costly and the process is not environment friendly.
However, research on cheap environment-friendly nuclear waste processing is on its way. If it has been successful, we'll listen about it.

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Yes there is a way to speed up nuclear decay rates.

The ionisation state of the specie has some effect on the decay rate.

Also neutrino flux has some effect.

These conditions are perhaps insignificant for your fuel rods but they certainly worth considering.

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Thanks for the interesting references. – Deer Hunter Jun 12 '13 at 22:57
The Shnoll paper is wrong. This is the same kind of kook material as Jenkins and Fischbach, debunked by Lindstrom . – Ben Crowell Jun 16 '13 at 14:49

protected by Qmechanic Jun 16 '13 at 14:57

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