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Why does the world store nuclear waste and not shoot it into the sun or into space? – Jason, 16, Mackay, Queensland.
Hello Jason. Thanks for the question. I'm exploring space junk, so I've spent some time thinking about what we're going to get into space and where it's going.
It would be nice to send dangerous nuclear waste far from the earth where it can do no harm. However, it's not as easy as it sounds.
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What is nuclear waste?
Nuclear waste is what remains after the use of nuclear fuel in a reactor. Many countries around the world use nuclear reactors to produce electricity for homes and industries.
The energy is generated by fission, ie when an atom breaks up. The problem is that some of the waste ̵
The level of high-grade waste accounts for only 3% of total nuclear waste. Much of it is recycled, reducing radioactivity. This leaves the problem of what to do with the rest.
High-grade waste is currently being stored on Earth. Normally it is isolated in water, glass or concrete to prevent particles from escaping. The containers are buried, but they must be somewhere where earthquakes do not happen, and terrorists can not dig them out.
We do not have to worry if we could send the trash to the sun it will dissolve. However, there are some reasons why we do not.
It's not as easy as you might think
That's very, very expensive. When the Parker Solar Probe was sent to measure the Sun this year, it only cost $ 1.5 billion for a spacecraft the size of a small car.
It seems easy to shoot an object at something as big as the sun – 1.3 million times the size of the Earth. But it is really hard. The Parker Solar Probe (a NASA robot spaceship en route to exploring the outer corona of the Sun) has to float past the planet Venus seven times to slow itself enough to approach the sun.
The other reason is that rockets sometimes explode on the launch pad or in the atmosphere. This would release the waste into the environment and aggravate the problem.
What about space?
You also asked for space, and that's a good question. Why do not we just send nuclear waste from the sun into the outer solar system?
Well, there is a risk that the spacecraft will deviate from the course for waste storage and crash onto a planet, moon or asteroid. In some places, there may be a life we have not yet discovered, such as Mars and Europe (one of the moons of Jupiter).
Even if the waste is safely sealed in a container, there is a risk that it will pollute other planets. It can be a danger to us or other forms of life. The life forms may just be microbes, but we still have the ethical responsibility to do them nothing.
Of course, there are already nuclear-powered spacecraft. They use an RTG (a type of generator called a thermoelectric radioisotope generator). In The Martian astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) digs out an RTG to keep him warm in sub-zero temperatures.
At the end of the day, the problem is that no one on Earth wants to store nuclear waste near them, and it's not safe or inexpensive to blow it into space.
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