Public Health Considerations of Launching Nuclear Waste to the Sun

By Berkowitz, Murray R. | Air & Space Power Journal, November/December 2013 | Go to article overview

Public Health Considerations of Launching Nuclear Waste to the Sun


Berkowitz, Murray R., Air & Space Power Journal


This article addresses the public health aspects of disposing of radioactive nuclear waste by launching it to the sun. The environmental and ecological problems that have occurred since British Petroleum's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April 2010 have prompted discussions about finding alternative energy sources. On 11 May 2010, Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) introduced legislation (the American Power Act) "to secure the energy future of the United States, to provide incentives for the domestic production of clean energy technology, [and] to achieve meaningful pollution reductions."1 Nuclear power, one of the many forms of alternative energy, has attracted renewed and increased interest. However, damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan on 15 March 2011, as well as reported problems at several nuclear power plants along the East Coast of the United States during Hurricane Irene, has heightened concerns about safety and health regarding the use of nuclear power. Furthermore, when power outages plagued the East Coast after "Superstorm Sandy" struck on 29 October 2012, the press ran articles about the issue of nuclear power plants endangering the public.

Nuclear waste material, which emits "ionizing radiation," poses a threat to public health, based upon the duration of exposure, distance to the source of radiation, type of radiation (e.g., alpha, beta, gamma, etc.), and the presence and type of any shielding.2 Sources of radioactive nuclear waste materials include nuclear weapons, nuclear power sources, medical radionuclides used for diagnosis or treatment, radiationproducing machines, radioactive metals, and radioactive isotopes of all elements (usually found in "background radiation" exposures).3

The threat of exposure arises primarily from an accident or incident that results in a "spill" of radioactive nuclear material (i.e., a "nuclear spill") normally not encountered by the general (unprotected) population. Collection and containment of radioactive nuclear materials in secure sites-the current method of disposal-require safe transport and placement in specialized, secure installations. These repositories must be located away from populated areas; on installations whose physical security can be assured and where access by intruderswhether deliberate or inadvertent-is extremely unlikely and easy to detect (e.g., the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, which was defunded in 2010); and in places not likely to suffer from geological instabilities such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and so forth.

Another option is the collection and burial of radioactive nuclear waste material in the ocean, particularly in the deep crevices of midoceanic mountain ranges or extremely deep geologic formations such as the Marianas Trench. Clearly, any consideration of deep-sea burial would demand that the area be far removed from the oceanic tectonic plates-locations more subject to volcanoes, earthquakes, or other seismic geological activities. According to Charles Hollister and Steven Nadis, marine scientists feel that such places have not experienced geological activity for more than 50 million years and, therefore, will not likely become active in the future.4

Previous proposals for disposing of radioactive nuclear waste by launching it to the sun remove the threats of exposure from leakage of a storage facility or from the diversion of such materials by nuclear terrorists.5 The underlying principle here is that all matter caught in the sun's gravity will lose its structural integrity due to the stress of gravitational forces and "break up" before reaching the sun. Moreover, high temperatures will incinerate and completely consume all matter prior to its reaching the sun's corona.6 Specifically, as matter heats up, it expands beyond its structural integrity, and the heat energy encountered causes molecular bonds to break. …

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