Long-lived nuclear waste warnings


in Economics, Geek stuff, Science, The environment, Writing

In addition to the engineering problems involved in storing radioactive wastes from power plants and weapons programs, there is the additional difficulty of marking the storage sites as dangerous, in a manner that will be comprehensible throughout the period in which the wastes will be a hazard. In 1991, a report considered this question: “Expert Judgment on Markers To Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion Into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.”

As reported in Slate:

“The report’s proposed solution is a layered message—one that conveys not only that the site is dangerous but that there’s a legitimate (nonsuperstitious) reason to think so. It should also emphasize that there’s no buried treasure, just toxic trash. Here’s how the authors phrase the essential talking points: “[T]his place is not a place of honor … no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.” Finally, the marker system should communicate that the danger—an emanation of energy—is unleashed only if you disturb the place physically, so it’s best left uninhabited.”

They estimate that a system of redundant warning markers for an American nuclear waste dump would cost about $68 million.

The whole issue is a potent demonstration of the challenges contemporary technologies create, when it comes to our moral relationship with future generations. Just as they will be the ones who live with the climate change we produce, they will also have legacies like topsoil erosion and the accumulation of toxic and radioactive wastes to contend with.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

. November 22, 2017 at 11:02 am

The Nuclear Waste Problem
Wendover Productions

. November 22, 2017 at 11:05 am

This place is not a place of honor.
No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
Nothing valued is here.
This place is a message and part of a system of messages.
Pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us.
We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

Excerpts from Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Sandia National Laboratories report SAND92-1382 / UC-721, p. F-49

. September 22, 2021 at 11:54 pm

“The recent discovery that some bacteria specifically use rare earth elements has opened new areas of biochemistry with important technological applications and potential implications for actinide geochemistry, because of chemical similarities between the rare earths and actinides” said Joseph Cotruvo Jr., Penn State assistant professor and co-corresponding author on the paper.

The protein called lanmodulin is a small and abundant protein in many rare earth-utilizing bacteria. It was discovered by the Penn State members of the team in 2018. While the Penn State and LLNL team has studied in detail how this remarkable protein works and how it can be applied to extract rare earths, the protein’s relevance to radioactive contaminants in the environment was previously unexplored.

“Our results suggest that lanmodulin, and similar compounds, play a more important role in the chemistry of actinides in the environment than we could have imagined,” said LLNL scientist Annie Kersting. “Our study also points to the important role that selective biological molecules can play in the differential migration patterns of synthetic radioisotopes in the environment.”

“The study also shows for the first time that lanmodulin prefers the actinide elements over any other metals, including the rare earth elements, an interesting property than could be used for novel separation processes,” said LLNL scientist Mavrik Zavarin.


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