May 17, 2006

Nuclear Waste Disposal 1 

I borrowed a book on the subject from the library and I' more than halfway through it:

Neil A. Chapman, Ian G. McKinley
The Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste
John Wiley & Sons, 1987, ISBN 0 471 91249 2

The book is rigorous yet not exceedingly complex (it carefully avoids matemathical treatment, among other things), so much it can be understood almost in full even by people without considerable scientific knowledge.

For me, it did not provide any revolutionary information given that everything can be worked out from the basic laws of chemistry, physics and heat/mass transfer, but I learnt some interesting things about the details of nuclear waste disposal nonetheless.

However, the basic concept behind this activity, like many others, is risk management. It is unrealistic to ask for zero risk (of exposure to radiations, or of dying while driving to work); the only thing that can be done is to reduce the risk to reasonable levels. What is a reasonable level is a debatable subject, but considering the natural backgroud and other sources, one death per year in 100 000 people is considered a reasonable level (As Low As Reasonably Achievable). And risks must always be weighted against the elephant in the room: the fact that the world needs electricity, and not just for electric orange-squeezers, but also and mainly for more basic and even life-saving applications (how many lives have been saved by food conserved properly in fridges?).

The other conclusion is that we have the knowledge and technology to build nuclear waste repositories that are safe, for million of years and in any case except catastrophic cataclysms - which would be much more destructive in themselves than the release of radionuclides from the repository.

But today I received bad news on the personal side that sapped my morale, so more on this subject will follow in the near future.


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