I keep seeing documentaries describing the pile-up of nuclear waste from nuclear power stations in the US and in other countries. Countries such as Finland are working to deposit waste in old mines in geologically stable regions, and I was under the impression that the US was heading down that track as well, but this has now apparently been put on hold. A case of NIMBY I presume (not in my back yard).

The media story is that the waste is piling up, and is being stored in pools at nuclear power stations all over the US - which sounds dangerous considering the prevalence of natural disasters. I wonder what the real truth is? I am not quite sure what the situation is in France and England, but I got the impression they are experimenting with methods of re-use of the waste products as well as storing some material under ground.

What is the current state-of-the-art in terms of nuclear waste reuse? Are new reactors capable of burning discarded fuel from older reactors? Are there realistic expectations to be able to eliminate deposition of nuclear waste altogether in the foreseeable future?


closed as off topic by David Z Jun 24 '11 at 6:49

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    $\begingroup$ This is really not a physics question. That said, I would like to know what documentary you had in mind. I could go into details of what kind of atoms are the problems regarding nuclear waste streams, but that's not what this question is asking for. This question is politics first, engineering second, and physics is a loong stretch. I am tempted to respond, but this is not the place. $\endgroup$ – Alan Rominger Jun 24 '11 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding prevalence of natural disasters, the US doesn't hold a candle to Japan. Look at how freaking huge the place is. $\endgroup$ – Scott Carnahan Jun 24 '11 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ What is more relevant physics for the world right now than reuse of nuclear fuel? How can such a crucial topic for the world be "off topic"? I am writing a social context around the physics question, but it is still a physics question I believe. I don't want to argue, I just genuinely want an answer to this. $\endgroup$ – Stein Åsmul Jun 24 '11 at 12:45
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    $\begingroup$ I also think this is relevant question. Unfortunately, not enough karma to reopen. Anyway, spent nuclear fuel is indeed reused after some 10 years of storage - some precious isotopes are extracted out of it, and that's it. in Russia Mayak corporation is doing that. Reusing uranium is just economically not profitable. Plutonium from spent fuel is also bad - specialized reactors provide much better plutonium isotope combination for further isotopic separation. $\endgroup$ – BarsMonster Jun 24 '11 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ I'm also confused as to why this was closed. Is it because of the social aspect, or because he's asking more of an engineering question than a physics question? The core question, as I understand it, it "What is the current state-of-the-art in terms of waste handling, and can it be reasonably expected that underground deposition of nuclear waste can be eliminated altogether in the foreseeable future?" $\endgroup$ – Ben Hocking Jun 24 '11 at 15:43