why can’t nuclear waste be neutralized?


Why can’t nuclear waste either be neutralized or recycled in some way? I know the US is sitting on a rediculous amount of waste, so why haven’t they devised a way to make it less toxic to the environment and safer to either store or dispose of?

In: Technology

Its not like acidic or caustic liquid that can be “neutralized”. Nuclear waste has products that are radioactive by nature and the only way to fix that is to allow them to decay until they are stable. Which usually involves several steps and each one releases some form of radiation. The only way to bypass this would be to somehow manipulate the nuclei of the atoms and change the atoms into something else. We’ve only come as far as splitting atoms for bombs and destructive means. The “strong force” that holds a nucleas together is fundamentally unknown, so we are unable to manipulate an element at this level and cannot stabilize the waste by any means besides allowing it to naturally decay.

They get shoved in, for lack of a better term, “super barrels” and buried in Yucca Mountain. Not perfect but a decent solution. Still a cleaner, safer, cheaper option over coal.

There is no single way to neutralize every radioactive isotope. It might be possible to excite some isotopes to make them fission faster to reduce their half time from centuries to minutes but this process would make other isotopes more radioactive. The process of separating the elements in spent nuclear fuel so that you can at least reduce the amount of nuclear waste by only throwing away the actually radioactive isotopes and nothing else and also hopefully reusing unspent fuel is a very costly process. It is even more costly then separating nuclear fuel from ore. So most nuclear reactors just dump the waste materials in a big hole or more commonly just stores it next to the reactor hoping that future generations will solve the issue. There are processing plants that does process spent nuclear fuel, but they are mostly research labs.

You have to wait for it to decay away. There’s really no way for it to be “neutralized” in the sense that you can neutralize an acid or base.

There are some core designs out there that could operate on unenriched Uranium and other versions of waste (like heavy water).But apparently nuclear power is scary, so it seems like it might be a dying power source.

Nuclear waste can’t be recycled because U238, the non-fuel isotope of natural uranium, gets bombarded with neutrons in the reactor and some of it changes to plutonium. Since some of the plutonium is pure enough to make weapons, it’s politically infeasible to reprocess the waste to recover the reusable fuel.