back to article Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

A very unusual exchange is about to take place over the Atlantic. The UK is sending some 700kg of highly enriched uranium to be disposed of in the US, the largest amount that has ever been moved out of the country. In return, the US is sending other kinds of enriched uranium to Europe to help diagnose people with cancer. The …

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Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

'Cos they will eat any old shite over there?

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Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

How do you suppose they will move it from the ocean to the Mountain Dew factory?

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MJI
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Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

Windscale Flakes

Central Heating for kids

I remember the advert

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Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

Come on, let's not exaggerate. Mountain Dew is MUCH more toxic.

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Mushroom

Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

So they can have...

Fission Chips

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Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

Who says we don't have a special relationship? How very obliging of the US.

(The bill we'll get for this will presumably be declared a 'secret' to save Osborne's blushes.)

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Re: Britain is sending a huge nuclear waste shipment to America. Why?

"How do you suppose they will move it from the ocean to the Mountain Dew factory?"

UPS Ground.

Also, Mountain Dew doesn't have a factory, it's a refinery.

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Probably the most polarizing thing ever.

I think the Government should pay for run/operate and maintain/decommission nuclear sites.

Keep the lights on and use up the plutonium/ H.E.U.

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Odd Decision & Odd Timing

Should we really be shipping weapons-grade uranium to the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger, against civilian and military targets, and at a time when there's a reasonable prospect that the next US president will relax policies on nuclear weapon proliferation and usage?

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Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

Why are we disposing of weapons grade uranium at all???

if its weapons grade, surely its got plenty of power left in it, lets keep it and build nuclear power stations that can use it!

Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, much less than coal or gas power

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Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

I presume, given that it is coming from Dounreay, that it is used fuel rods out of the profotype fast breeder reactor that once operated there. in which case they are highly enriched but also highly radioactively contaminated. Perfect material for a terrorist to construct a nuclear-fizzle radiological bomb from, assuming he doesn't much care about his long-term health.

If the USA can either store it in long-term security or reprocess it into less-enriched Uranium (ie dilute it with U238) then surely we are better-off for them taking it off our hands?

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Unhappy

"Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, "

Trouble is the current designs don't do it right.

That's why there is so much waste (and this is not waste, it's weapons grade fuel) to bury.

Note 2 things.

PWR's can be fueled with transuranic elements and Pu to burn them up.

No one wants to do so and the US is even more difficult about reprocessing than the UK.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

While the points in your post are factual, the premise is flawed. It's not like the US has a shortage of weapons-grade material and withholding this shipment will hinder The Donald's maniacal schemes.

sigh... I should move to Canada now, if His Hairness gets in, there will be a flood of refugees moving north. The Canuks will end up building a wall to keep us all out.

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Terminator

Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

In anger ?

Because you think that, when President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped, he did so while shouting on the phone and cussing the Japs ?

I take it you missed the part where the UK and Canada had a part in the decision ?

All those meetings, draft reports, report approvals and after-meeting cocktails took a bit of time, I think. Enough so that no one can say the decision was taken in anger and be taken seriously.

No, it was coldly, rationally, decided as the best course.

Whether or not that is true is another matter entirely.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_speech

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Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

"Because you think that, when President Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped, he did so while shouting on the phone and cussing the Japs ?"

To do something "in anger" is a common British figure of speech meaning to do something for serious effect, ie. not messing around. It originated with the military:

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/fire_in_anger

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Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

Truman may have consulted others, be he knew full well that the responsibility for the decision could not be shared. The sign on his desk said so.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buck_passing

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WTF?

Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

So we are sending the US some toxic nuclear waste, that is very dangerous and very expensive to dispose of.

And in return they are sending us a different type of uranium, the raw material for making radio isotopes that are used to detect and diagnose cancer. So it sounds like it has value, and possibly a great deal of value.

Sounds like the US is getting the shitty end of the stick in both sides of this transaction. How does that work then? Why would they agree to that? Were they born yesterday?

Reminds me of the adage that "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't".

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WTF?

Re: "Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, "

I am with you on the problem. Sadly the 70 year history has been built on and trained its people on more or less one thing weapons grade output. We should have been more open minded years ago and developed, in parallel, alternatives which could have reduced the then potential problems. There is a problem continuing to plough the same old furrow and expecting different result to emerge, We built breeder reactors, what about thinking round consumer reactors. Too late for Hinkley Point but somewhere, sometime would be nicer.

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Headmaster

Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

@Smooth Newt

"... the adage that "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't"."

The adage goes - "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

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Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

"The Canuks will end up building a wall to keep us all out."

Winter does that already for the nutters further south. From my experience, the cold apparently makes survival impossible for the more stupid breads of southerners.

But yea, actually building a giant wall of ice to keep you southerners out looks like a good idea if the hairy brain slug gets into office.

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Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

> Nuclear power is safe and if designed right, does have minimal waste, much less than coal or gas power

.... much less radioactive waste than coal power (on a per MW/hr basis).

TFTFY

Note: possibly also applies to gas but I don't know those numbers.

I guess coming out the top of a smokestack over time rather than leaving it in the bottom of a lap pool makes it OK?

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Windows

Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

"The Canuks will end up building a wall to keep us all out."

We won't have to, some nutbar from Michigan is insisting that he'll build it. I'll hand him the bricks while he's working on the border *in* the lake.

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Pint

@ HieronymusBloggs

Thanks for the info, I'm happy to have learned something more. I'll remember that the next time I need to do something "in anger".

Obviously, my post is therefor rather over-the-top as a response. Sorry about that everyone, but since there are a few British customs I am aware of, let's have pint ! This round is on me.

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Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

> actually building a giant wall of ice to keep you southerners out looks like a good idea

And rename the RCMP as the Nights Watch? We'd loan you the Black Watch regiment but I don't think it exists any more..

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Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

"... the adage that "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't"."

The adage goes - "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

Neither really say whether it's [probably] true or not though. Are we talking about 'too good to be true' or just 'true' when we say it is or isn't?

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Facepalm

Re: Odd Decision & Odd Timing

The North Wall?

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Trollface

Wall

But can they make the US pay for it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "the only nation who has actually used atomic bombs in anger"

You have a very peculiar re-interpretation of the well known term "to do something in anger", which has nothing whatsover to do with being angry.

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Re: Wall

Ken, I assume the money that Mexico pays for the southern wall will be immediately shipped northward.

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Did I miss page 2?

Why is this 700kg shipment going to the US? What are they going to do with it? Why are they happy to take it? What's this about "cancer curing uranium" in exchange?

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The article is from the Conversation so what do you expect - sense.

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Headmaster

Diagnosing != curing

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The costs for disposing of nuclear waste are astronomical, exactly as anti nuclear campaigners want them to be, and I am willing to be that the majority of the cost is incurred in over-engineering solutions to ensure and verify that not one single bequerel should ever escape from the spent waste. It has never been established that low levels of radiation (such as you might get from, say living in Cornwall) actually do us any harm at all. If we were to relax even marginally the amount of radiation permitted to escape in any disposal solution the costs would be slashed massively to something we can all live with. Again something anti nuclear camapigners will go ballistic over. We report on national news radiation "leaks" that are sometimes less than you get from the luminous dial of a wristwatch. A bit of proportionality would change this entire landscape and create jobs in the UK. We are mad.

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Yes. The nuclear industry is prevented from even contemplating several solutions to the nuclear waste problem, though it is now apparent that even the non-CO2 emissions from coal-fired power stations pose a greater threat. (Mercury, etc.) We've had the worst-case nuclear disasters (Chernobyl, Fukushima) and it's now clear that consequences are orders of magnitude less serious than the anti-nuclear propagandists said. (Not that we want to encourage any repeats! )

What solutions to the waste issue? The obvious one is to glassify the waste, clad the glass in further layers of containment, then dump it into a deep ocean trench where it will first get covered by sediment and then drawn down into the Earth's interior by geological subduction. The bottom of such a trench is the Hadean zone. There's little life down there, none of which could survive near the surface because the immense pressure alters its biochemistry, and no ocean circulation exists to mix water from down there up to the surface in less than geological time.

If you do the sums, should the inconcievable happen and all the waste manage to dissolve out of the glass matrix, the volume of water in a deep ocean trench is great enough to dilute it to harmlessness long before it reaches even the normal ocean floor depths.

But that's banned by international treaty, and will stay that way until Antarctica starts to melt and the true folly of burning coal and oil is revealed. That will be far too late.

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No discussion about nuclear waste would be complete without mentioning the natural uranium reactor at Oklo that ran for over quarter or a million years, and then neatly did geological disposal of the waste in stable geography where it has remained since safely.

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/181620-2-billion-year-old-african-nuclear-reactor-proves-that-mother-nature-still-has-a-few-tricks-up-her-sleeve

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"What solutions to the waste issue?"

Build MSRs. Feed the "waste" into the fuel salts. Extract energy. Enjoy.

PWR reactors vs thorium MSRs is a greater efficiency and utilisation change than the difference between Neucomen and Watt steam engines.

It's not just that a thorium-based MSR system should be able to extract 98-99% of the nuclear energy available in the fuel vs the 2-3% that PWRs extract, it's that 50-60% of uranium that's mined is tossed out(*) before it hits a nuclear reactor during the enrichment process(**) and uranium is expensive, whilst thorium is a nuisance byproduct of rare earth mining looking for any kind of use (there are hundreds of thousands of tons of it going begging)

(*) Actually: turned into hydrogen bomb casings or used as anti-tank armour piercing bullets - the latter may seem "better" but uranium is a worse environmental toxin than lead and cleanup of sites where DU bullets have been used will take decades. A MSR can take that "useless" U238, transmute to Pu238 and burn it up.

(**) The amount of electrical energy used to enrich uranium is unknown (military secret) but extremely high - driving those centrifuges doesn't come cheap. Thorium doesn't ened enrichment and "nuclear waste" fed into a MSR for disposal doesn't need isotopic separation (the first rule of waste handling for recycling is to try and avoid a need for expensive separation activities. That applies just as much to nuclear waste as plastics or glass)

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> clad the glass in further layers of containment, then dump it into a deep ocean trench

Have you not read The Laundry Files? Do you really want the Deep Old Ones angry at us?

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The reason to send HEU to the US is because they have a system, built and in place, to blend it down to LEU suitable for use in reactors. This is one of the (few?) things that Al Gore got right. Get that HEU out of Russia and into US reactors and spend however much money necessary to do so.

You do not use HEU is energy production reactors although you might, just, use it in one or another design of isotope production reactors.

And yet the US has been driving a worldwide campaign to get people to stop using HEU for medical isotope production because of those proliferation issues. To the point that they will come in and build an LEU using production reactor and even finance it.

Thus, HEU goes off to the US, the US then supplies back LEU suitable for isotope production.

It all entirely makes sense. But of course someone at The Conversation who wanted to complain about nuclear waste, an entirely different subject, wouldn't bother to tell you all that.

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Thanks for filling in that gap. Otherwise I thought it was a very good and balanced article on a complex and contentious topic.

Sounds like we can bury our nuclear waste properly or continue to bury our heads in the sand. Let's hope we're finally going to stop doing the latter.

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Well thank goodness we now get shitty filler articles bought in from Duh Conversation instead of well-informed ones by people whose politics the editors of the Register happen to have a problem with.

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"You do not use HEU is energy production reactors although you might, just, use it in one or another design of isotope production reactors."

The number of HEU reactors worldwide is down to the single digits now - thanks to a concerted effort over the last 40 years to eliminate them. There _were_ hundreds (if not thousands) of the things, on college and hospital campuses around the world.

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"Sounds like we can bury our nuclear waste properly "

no burial is proper. If it's high level waste then it belongs in a reactor and if it's low level waste it doesn't need burial.

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You do not use HEU is energy production reactors although you might, just, use it in one or another design of isotope production reactors.

Not disagreeing with your main point, Mr. Worstal - you were as informative as ever - but the US Navy's submarine reactors typically run on uranium that is enriched to a minimum of 93% U235. HEU is usually defined as "more than 20% enriched." That's several dozen "energy production reactors" (they produce thermal, mechanical, and electrical energy) running on HEU, albeit rarely plugged into an ashore electrical utility grid.

(The US Navy prefers the extreme enrichment because it means a long span without refueling - 33 years for the Virginia class - and the ability to restart shortly after a shutdown, overriding the usual xenon pit problem without Chernobyl's off-spec mishap.)

Pardon the nitpick.

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Need to get Superman

To round it all up and chuck it into the sun

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Re: Need to get Superman

But if you poison the sun with plutonium then the Stargates won't work.

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Re: Need to get Superman

I highly doubt it would reach the sun. It would burn up before that in the corona.

This has been my thought for many years. The argument of a failed launch has always been the boogeyman here.

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Re: Need to get Superman

If we had a skyhook rather than rockets, we could haul it up into space and then lob it wherever we want: sun, the abyss, whatever.

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Happy

Re: Need to get Superman

Launch in Washington DC, any failed launch's affects would not be noticed

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Anonymous Coward

Why not send it into space...

140 Tonnes of waste = 1400000Kg of waste.

A Falcon Heavy rocket costs ~ $2200/Kg to get to Low Earth Orbit.

So ~ 308,000,000 USD and its all in space.

Even if you go with a Delta IV at 13K/kg, its "only" 1.8Billion USD... It would pay for itself in a year and do wonders for the global rocket industry

Now, if you double the cost of doing it for going further than LEO and point it somewhere where the sun-sines... or not... who cares! Its still cheaper over 10 years of storage.

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