People who believe they have True Ultimate Power want nice, simple, sound bite executable solutions that obliterate nuance and complications with BOLD & DECISIVE ACTION. Were those actions good and appropriate? Ehhhhhh.

[The twenty-third in an ongoing series of my compiled explainers for my CHOOSE YOUR OWN RADIATION ADVENTURE quizzes. There’s never really a right answer but some might work out better under the constraints of the scenario. It’s like poetry, really.]

To those of you who looked at these choices and said, more eloquently, “These are shit” you are correct. But these are all options that have been considered precisely because they are easily conveyed as sound bite solutions. To make it worse, I would like you take a moment and consider the slate of choices that the current American president or British PM would like offered to them. Please consider how much thought they’d put into their choice. Yes, it be like that. You all put in WAY more thought. This is not to say that these soundbite “easy” solutions don’t have one whole hell of a lot of complications entailed with executing them. But True Ultimate Power means you are no longer concerned with trifling things that might stand in the way of your will.

Like treaties. @nuclearkatie said she is convinced she’ll spend the rest of her life explaining the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, or London Conventions for short, forbid dumping radioactive waste in the ocean to people. We first tripped across this in the CYORA: Radioactive Dead, for why you might have issues doing burial at sea of radioactive dead sailors, but this isn’t gonna be concern for you. [waves True Ultimate Power wand] That treaty is now gone. We can now build the Great Glowing Reef!

Except no, it won’t really glow. That’s just silly. Declaring that you wanted to pile all the spent nuclear fuel in one pile on the bottom of the ocean isn’t entirely unreasonable. I mean, presumably you’re gonna do it in casks before sending it to Davy Jones’ Waste Repository. Now, where you build your pile depends on what you want to happen to it and for how long. One of the principles we try to follow for disposal on land is “geologically boring formations”. The abyssal plain of an ocean is, in fact, pretty damn boring.

Drop them on the muds of deep flat plain and wait for them to get encased in marine concrete and get further buried until they’re just a weird unit in the stratigraphic column, right?

Eh, as any marine biologist will tell you things move real slow down there. You’re running a race of biology vs. geology vs engineering. Can you get all this entombed by life, chemistry and pressure before those same things break down the casks themselves? If you want this to go faster, you need to do it much shallower water. Like the Florida Keys. And by faster, I mean at the speed of frisky coral growth.

But shallow water is also more vulnerable to weather and assholes dragging anchors through your Nuke Reef. You may create an incredibly productive fishing ground right in the place you don’t want people to go. The additional benefit to having them shallower is that if things start going wrong, or if you want to access them again for some reason, they’re much easier to get at than if you dropped them on the abyssal plain or, worse, into a trench subduction zone.

Speaking of subduction zones, this brings us to volcanoes. What goes down, must come up, in the form of magma to be specific. I know this because this stupid simple idea didn’t have good solid proof prior to my isotope geochemistry work. The mechanics & chemistry are…tricky.  Also, subduction is slooooow. It isn’t a human civilization grade level worry of getting obliterated cask & contents’ signature reappearing in the erupted lavas of the volcanic arc, but they will eventually come up. Hydrate melting LOVES to grab heavy metals are carry them up. Pretty much everything in that cask, and the cask itself, are the exact kind of things that will get extracted in the melt and percolate back through the crust, depositing veins of material. For the first time in billions of years, Earth might have veins of plutonium again.

As for throwing your waste casks into the top of a volcano, well, let’s take a look at what tossing regular garbage in looks like.

On a positive note, your waste cask won’t be filled with water to then generate lots of reactive steam for fun burps like that trash bag generates. It is, however, a great demonstration of the fuming, steaming mess that is a volcano. Damn things are just leaking all over the place. While there’s no treaty to prevent you from ordering all the spent fuel to be thrown into volcanos, you’re gonna get it back waaaaay too quickly and messily. Imagine Old Faithful spewing transuranic and actinide enhanced superheated water everywhere. So, doing this has a few issues but they’re hardly worth mentioning to the person with True Ultimate Power who is more an idea person that doesn’t like to get bogged down with details.

In the CYORA: Abort Launch, I discussed some of the considerations about blowing up radioactive things high in the atmosphere, mid-yeet. This would be an awful lot more and nastier radioactive material in terms of environmental persistence than a mere Pu-238 RTG. At the most fundamental level, full waste casks are HEAVY. The rocket you need to just get the cask to orbit is, well, a lot. An Apollo lunar mission is ~2/3 the mass of one of our smaller fuel casks. So, something larger than a Saturn V is in order. If you want to get quite a few casks off the face of our planet at once, now we’re talking about breaking atmospheric testing treaties to do nuclear propulsion Orion-style. Nuking the launch pad repeatedly to get the nuclear waste out of here seems a bad trade.

And that’s just one launch.

Once you’re off of Earth the real fun begins. As quite a few of you exhaustively discussed, the orbital mechanics and/or reaction mass considerations of slowing anything down enough to drop something into the sun are non-trivial. It’s easier to fling it into the great beyond. Unless, of course, you’re willing to wait. True Ultimate Power merely demanded that you fire that spent fuel into the sun. The speed of yeet was never specified, only destination. Just, umm, be careful that it doesn’t smack into anything else while it slowly drifts down the gravity well. Also, don’t miss. You have orders. It may take a billion or three years though so, GOOD NEWS, no one is going to yell at you if you mess up.

It is FAR easier to fling things out of the solar system entirely, for given values of easy. I recommend adding quite a bit of extra delta-V to make sure it’s gone. Fuck Alpha Centauri, they know what they did. Stupid mind worms.

Which brings us to what is by far the most popular option, reprocessing everything forever. First of all, let’s take care of these non-proliferation treaties and policies. Got just the tool for them. Put ’em in a nice big stack before dropping them in.

Remember when I shared the term National Sacrifice Area at the end of the Abort Launch essay? Wherever you decide is going to be the True Ultimate Power Memorial Reprocessing Facility is a place I would consider as much, because that is some nasty, messy chemistry done at large scale. Please read up on Hanford and Rocky Flats for reference. Those two are horrible and they were interested in the extraction of plutonium for nuclear weapons production, not fuel recycling.

PROTIP: Don’t make any more nuclear weapons.

Really, ~95% of your spent fuel is recyclable as a brand new LEU rod. To reiterate, this is terrible bad no good chemistry with bonus gross fission products but some people find it fun. This is all the fun of enrichment and fuel fabrication but you’re also likely going to be running a whole bunch of separate extraction lines for those fission products. The good news is that these area all things we know how to do. The reason we don’t do a lot of reprocessing, other than those treaties we shredded earlier, is that they are incredibly labor and resource intensive. Also, small oops moments add up really quick. Sometimes one oops is too many and then you have to abandon that entire separation line. SEE ALSO: Rocky Flats, Room 141, AKA “The Infinity Room” Oh, and you’ll probably want to build some plutonium burning reactors and detoxification accelerators.

You’ll solve the spent fuel issue but not the issues of radioactive waste. In fact, from one point of view you’re kinda making them worse.

In short @nuclearkatie & @slabbxo‘s future employment are assured.