Nuclear energy has lots of problems, and I personally think this article is not worth this place on HN, but waste is not really one of them, especially compared to the scale of chemical wastes from fossil fuels.
Also: what better place to temporarily store nuclear waste in the exact same place where it is produced where safety and security measures are already in place?
Or does it increase the possible damage, but the security is high enough that the expected damage is lower than storing it elsewhere?
This term is thrown around a lot, and while solid fuel melting in a traditional reactor is a serious event, a lot of people seem to think that "meltdown" is some kind of terrible or damaging event. The reason people in the nuclear industry panic over a possible meltdown has little to do with safety; up until that point you could - in theory - still reasonably believe that the reactor could be fixed and (eventually) restarted. After a meltdown, you have to assume the core is trashed and is now a financial liability instead of your main source of revenue.
Meltdowns are a terrible event financially. The actual melting of the fuel involves the passive-safety, which are usually designed to drain that fuel into (multiple) areas where it can cool down without criticality risk.
All of this is still discussing very old features. This is like worrying about today's computers because vacuum tubes are fragile and need to be replaced when they burn out. Modern reactor design is very different, because we learned form the problems that happened in the original designs, just like any other technology. Unfortunately, propaganda based on radiophobia has been a serious roadblock. Ironically, this means we're stuck using older designs that should have been replaced decades ago with modern reactors that emphasis passive safety.
If you're interested in a brief overview of these problems (and why some of us believe thorium breeder reactors are the answer for many of these problems), I recommend watching "Th". Just remember it's an overview, and they skip over some of the details to keep it short.
 a feature that was missing at Chernobyl, which is one of many reasons that accident affected such a large area
MSR and other fission reactor types can utilize 100% of the fissionable material put into them, so this sort of leftover "waste" is not such a problem.
Nuke advocates always practice magical thinking. Wave away safety concerns. Write off intractable waste disposal issues as "just bury it". The reality is that nuclear as it stands today is a relic of the Cold War. Solar, wind and gas are the future.
It's not used for an active reactor, but rather to dissolve cold fuel and extract more usable uranium.
Liquid fuel reactors don't use phosphoric acid, they use uranium tetrafluoride (a salt) or water.
However, since people don't easily believe water's a very effective radiation shielding (even if there's an xkcd of it https://what-if.xkcd.com/29/) and that heavier than water metals kind of tend to stay put at the bottom of the ocean, other means of disposal might be more realistic. Recycling in breeder reactors, digging huge holes to the ground, buildings which last longer than pyramids etc.
Of course, how one defines "safely" is tricky. Perfect safety is impossible, of course. One can't guarantee that our hole will stand to the heat death of the universe - but just ensuring that the disposal will cause less harm to earth and its living beings than any other energy production method is fairly easy to do. Even windmills kill some people, animals and fauna during normal operation, so if we set "less murderous than windmills" as an acceptable safety standard, we could settle for the ocean disposal, for example.
Result, 20 years later: The waste did not dilute, the radiation in the channel is damaging the local animals.
It's not like things are completely problem free, but that's kind of unreasonable expectation for any industrial or commercial project.
E.g. advertising breeders as a solution for the nuclear waste problem is a bit tricky, since we already have centuries worth of waste to dispose of, plants will only be operated for some decades etc. We would need to increase humanity's electric consumption to tenfold or more to justify enough breeders to dispose all current nuclear waste in reasonable time.
Also the cost to get there is quite high and there's no reason to think radioactivity would stay there.
Most human activities tend to displace natural ecosystems. Waste dumps (nor windmills) are no exception. The question is, is the damage lesser than greater than in proposed alternatives?
Though I do not understand why did they choose to dump the waste to the channel? If I would dispose the waste by sinking, I would use a kilometers deep trench to minimize risks for reacquirement and environmental damage. Do they plan to dig up the waste sometime in the future?
If you want safe nuclear power, including demolishing the reactors safely, safely getting rid of all the materials, nine nines safety, etc, then it won’t be profitable.
If you want for-profit nuclear power, then either the government has to subsidize it, or it has to be unsafe.
Usually, it’s both unsafe (companies save money everywhere, including stuff like not securing the generator cough Fukushima cough) and barely profitable.
The hard part right now is deciding on suitable ground for the tombs. Doing seismic measurements, analyzing the rock formations and especially forming the policies for burial (e.g. do we reserve the option to dig the stuff back up for use in breeders?) can take decades, but it's hardly an expensive part of the process.
The disposal isn't really an acute problem that needs to be solved today. It's not that dangerous to store the junk at warehouses while we use hundred years if necessary to research best viable options.
Nuclear power is expensive, but only if you compare it to burning hydrocarbons and hydroelectric power generation. It's still decades ahead of photovoltaic and wind turbines.
> but it's hardly an expensive part of the process.
> Das Gesetz zur Beschleunigung der Rückholung radioaktiver Abfälle und der Stilllegung der Schachtanlage Asse II („Lex Asse“) wurde am 28. Februar 2013 durch den Bundestag beschlossen. Die Kosten werden auf vier bis sechs Milliarden Euro geschätzt. Sie sollen nicht durch die Betreiber, sondern durch den Bund getragen werden.
> The "Nuclear Waste Retrieval Speed Up and Asse II mine closing law" was passed on February 28, 2013. The costs are expected to be between four and six billion Euro. They will be paid not by the owner, but by the federal government.
Germany built one. Turns out it wasn’t that safe. Now we have to dig up all the waste again, and put it back underground into a different mine. And this mine was our only hope, actually, because it was the only semi-stable unused salt mine left in Germany.
Now the government passed a tax "Brennelementsteuer" (Nuclear Fuel Tax) that means the owners of nuclear power plants have to pay parts, approx up to 20% of the costs for demolishing the plants, and still 0% of getting rid of the waste, this money will be gotten as a tax for using nuclear fuel.
And, with this tax, nuclear energy is now, even despite getting similar subsidies as renewables, more expensive than wind. Several large energy companies already sold their nuclear plants and switched over to wind; even the few plants in Germany that were still running after Fukushima are now not profitable anymore.
Somehow everybody freaks out about nuclear waste and says stuff like "But after 20,000 years it will still retain half of its radiation!"
Well, our industrial waste also contain mercury and other heavy metals. We usually just bury them. Somehow nobody freaks out and says "But after 20,000 years it will still retain ALL of its toxicity!"
I can't fathom why.
It's like any other fuel -- the faster it burns, the shorter it lives. And vice versa.
"Long half-life" = "not very radioactive" by definition.
"Half-life of infinity" must sound really scary to these people, but that's the same as saying that it's not radiactive at all.
The ocean contains 4.5 billion tonnes of uranium already. 4.5. BILLION. TONNES. Dispersed in water.
I haven't noticed any continents dying off because of this, have you?
Without radioactivity, there would be no continent to die in the first place.
You claimed that "a few tons" of uranium or plutonium, dispersed, could "kill the population of a continent".
Sorry, that's nonsense.
Have you heard of arithmetic? Try doing some. Start by figuring out how many tonnes of air there are over North America, then figure out what concentration of plutonium would result from dispersing a "few tonnes" in that volume of air.
Hint: Not nearly enough to kill everyone on the continent. Likely not even enough to make the cancer rate go up by any measurable amount.
Here, I'll even help you out a little. North America covers about 25 million square kilometers, or 25 trillion square meters, and there are roughly 10,000 kg of air over every square meter at standard air pressure, so we're looking at about 2.5x10^17 kg of air, or 2.5x10^14 metric tonnes of air. Plug in whatever number you like for a "few" tonnes of radioactive material and figure out what concentration will result.
In fact, if you ground up the Fukushima reactor whole, to a fine powder, and dispersed it over the entire ocean, it wouldn't make one bit of significant difference with respect to the concentration of radionuclides.
Heck, the Soviets used to dump their scrapped sub reactors into the Arctic Ocean whole. There are dozens of them up there, probably (I don't have a hard number on this). It hasn't killed any oceans or continents yet.
Would I go scuba diving near one of the dump sites? Hell no! Am I going to lose any sleep over the prospect of them killing the entire ocean? Likewise hell, no!
It would be like building a new coal plant in the US today. You simply can't compete with wind, solar, and natural gas (which is still superior to coal, and I don't mind it being a stranded asset for whomever invested in it as solar and wind ramp up).
Properly built and managed distribution networks, along with utility scale battery storage.
> And China builds nuclear plants a lot faster and cheaper than we do, and no known accidents.
Yet. China still gets more power from wind than nuclear, and they're building out wind generation capacity far faster than nuclear: http://www.earth-policy.org/data_highlights/2015/highlights5...
> Maybe we can learn something from them.
Indeed. When you're an authoritarian regime, you can operate more fluidly "at scale" (fuck you, I do what I want).
> Plus the whole 90% of a nuclear plant's cost is servicing the debt.
And yet, someone has to pony up those billions of dollars. A kickstarter perhaps?
> Once completed the operational costs are a rounding error.
And when you fail hard, it costs billions of dollars to cleanup: http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/environmental-heal...
I'll take solar and wind, thanks.
Using Fukushima as an argument against nuclear is such a silly thing to do, and the decades long freeze on any sort of real progress in meaningfully upgraded or new commercial reactors makes this sort of thing a self fulfilling prophecy.
How many industries have catastrophic failures? How many people have been killed by hydro-electric dams? How much financial damage?
We've created a climate where a completely viable power option that is better than what we have now has had innovation massively stifled due to politics and fearmongering, which has in turn made it more difficult for nuclear plants to be a safe option, which then allows for even more politics and fear mongering.
Fukushima? Yes, it was a catastrophic failure. But it was hit by a 9.0 earthquake and then a tsunami. It was scheduled to be shut down two weeks from the earthquake. It was a 4 decade old plant that was being shut down due to it's age hit by some of the worst possible natural disasters, and even then some better design choices, such as a higher seawall, or not storing the backup generators underground would have prevented it. The condenser units also hadn't been inspected or had maintenance performed on them since basically the reactor's opening. Everything that happened with Fukushima could have been prevented even with it's old technology despite being batter with one of the worst natural disasters in modern history. And this is with 4 decade old technology. With a more favorable political climate, how many advances in safety and efficiency could have been made over those decades?
Humans are greedy, generally corrupt, and bad at maintenance when things are going well. To really trust nuclear, we need better humans, since the accidents can be so catastrophic.
PS: If you build more wind than you need it does get slightly more expensive, but the wasted peaks are a fairly low percentage of energy generation so there not that important. ie. If you build 5% more wind than you need the cost only increases by 5% but you need to time shift far less power. Considering how much cheaper wind is than Nuclear you can have a lot of extra capacity factor.
Not necessarily, not if you include the environmental costs. Natural gas may be considered "superior", if you don't mind the damaging effects of hydraulic fracturing over the environment. Water contamination is no small deal.
So, let's look at how we can safely store coal/oil waste. We can't, it goes straight in the air, or in the sea. So in this sense, I'd argue even simply dumping our nuclear waste in the Mariana Trench would be safer.
Reprocessing or transmutation are alternatives to handle nuclear waste but they have in common that they're more expensive and even less acceptable to society.
Consider the scale of waste generated as well. All the waste used to power a life of electrical usage creates was the size of a pea.
Source on this?
Best I could find shows that 3 cubic meters of waste is generated per year for a "typical 1000 MWe light water reactor" after reprocessing and all (which isn't always done). 
With 99 plants in the US (not counting the plants with multiple reactors) that leads to 297m^3 of waste.
With a population of 318 million, that's about 9.3x10-7, or approximately 4-5 peas per year or 367 peas over the course of a lifetime.
EDIT: Forgot that we only get about 20% of our power from nuclear energy, so it's actually closer to 1835 peas.