Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Nuclear waste disposal on the Range? Why not?

There was a letter in the news tribune today talking about nuclear waste disposal on the range.  My first thought on it was that if you are looking to store nuclear waste someplace and need a stable granitic craton the range is an excellent place to look.  That and granite is already radioactive, so there is less for the clueless hippies to complain about.

Oh, did I say granite is already radioactive and clueless hippies?

Yes, yes I did.

Granite contains many things that naturally release radiation, not the least of which is potassium.  Potassium 40 breaks down into argon, releasing radiation.

You also have zircons which because of the open structure of the crystal end up hosting all kinds of weird radioactive stuffs.  If you look at a thin section of biotite under a microscope it will often have radiation halos (essentially burn marks) in the crystals.  If you zoom in on the radiation halos you will often find a zircon crystal hanging out in the middle.

So I see no reason why we shouldn't be hosting nuclear waste in northern Minnesota granite formations.  We have plenty of granite, why the hell not.

And copied from the News Tribune (before you have to pay to see it), the original letter.

In a wide area near Minnesota’s Iron Range are large deposits of another material widely used for buildings, bridges, paving and countertops. It’s granite, a tough, impermeable combination of silicon and feldspar.
There is another use for granite: encapsulating nuclear waste. Thanks to some political Nevada officials and our nation’s annual need to store thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel, our granite has the opportunity to become a major industry in northern Minnesota.
One-tenth of a cent per kilowatt hour generated by our 102 nuclear power reactors is placed in a fund to provide geologic storage of the fuel waste generated by those reactors. This waste currently is stored in water pools and in steel and concrete casks at our reactor sites, awaiting transfer to geologic storage.
The storage fund has received
$25 billion, half of it already spent to build the storage facility in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain Ridge. Now political pressure from Nevada officials has caused President Barack Obama to cancel the project and begin its dismantling.
Sandia National Laboratories was commissioned to study America’s geology for an alternate site. Sandia’s newly released report notes that granite’s properties as a chemically and physically stable rock with low permeability would “strongly inhibit” radiation from reaching the outside environment. Three of the best U.S. granite sites identified in the Sandia report are in northern Minnesota.
The radiation protection standard for geologic storage facilities sets a dose limit for nearby residents about equal to taking an annual round-trip domestic airline flight
Nevada’s loss should be northern Minnesota’s gain on this opportunity.
Rolf Westgard
St. Paul
The writer is a professional member of the Geological Society of America.

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