Take the 2-minute tour ×
Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. It's 100% free, no registration required.

If harmful toxic, nuclear and other wastes are dangerous if improperly disposed on Earth, can't they be launched into space? If a large, tightly bound mass of waste were to be propelled into outer space, according to the law of Inertia, it would never stop going forward, unless obstructed by something. Also, the chances of it running into a space shuttle are almost zero. So can wastes be launched into space? If not, what are the demerits of such a practice? Or has such a project already been undertaken?

share|improve this question
    
Short answer. Launching something into space that doesn't crash back eventually: hard. Digging a hole deep enough to never worry again: trivial. –  Chris White Mar 17 '13 at 11:28
1  
This reminds me of a Futurama episode. –  Wouter Mar 17 '13 at 11:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Disposal in outer space

The objective of this option is to remove the radioactive waste from the Earth, for all time, by ejecting it into outer space. The waste would be packaged so that it would be likely to remain intact under most conceivable accident scenarios. A rocket or space shuttle would be used to launch the packaged waste into space. There are several ultimate destinations for the waste which have been considered, including directing it into the Sun.

The high cost means that such a method of waste disposal could only be appropriate for separated high-level waste (HLW) or spent fuel (i.e. long-lived highly radioactive material that is relatively small in volume). The question was investigated in the United States by NASA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because of the high cost of this option and the safety aspects associated with the risk of launch failure, this option was abandoned.

Today only radioisotope thermal generators (TRGs) containing a few kilograms of Pu-238 are launched by NASA (see information page on Nuclear Reactors for Space).

World Nuclear Asscociation ("The World Nuclear Association is the international organization that promotes nuclear energy and supports the many companies that comprise the global nuclear industry.")

share|improve this answer
    
The fact that they mention "directing it into the Sun" says a lot, considering it is harder to throw something into the Sun than to send it on an escape trajectory out of the Solar System. –  Chris White Mar 17 '13 at 11:26
    
@ChrisWhite They mention "including directing it into the Sun". So, I'm not so sure about "says a lot". But, otherwise, that's a very good point. –  Glen The Udderboat Mar 17 '13 at 12:19

In principle you can shoot anything into space. Economically, it will never be affordable, but how about energetically.

The earth escape velocity is about $v_e=11.2 km/s$. This means, that per unit mass, to get something to outer space, you need at least the following amount of energy

$$ \frac{E_{kinetic}}{m}=\frac{1}{2}v_e^2 = 63 \frac{MJ}{kg} $$

Now it is interesting to look at energy density per unit volume of certain fuels. The nuclear material itself contains in the order of a million times more energy, so energetically it is very well possible. The only downside, is that you need fuels that you can just burn down. And of course, the financial and safety aspects are not included.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.