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Half-Life? Try Sixteenth-Life
August 1, 2006 10:03 PM   Subscribe

Chilling Out Mr. Radioactive
A group of scientists at Germany's Ruhr University may have a way of cutting down the time it takes for radioactive waste to decay to a safer state. Instead of 1600 years for Radium-226, Prof. Claus Rolfs theorizes that he can cut that down to a mere 100 years, by encasing the materials in metal and then freezing them to very, very low temps to accelerate the radioactive decay.
posted by fenriq (28 comments total)

 
via Slashdot
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:06 PM on August 1, 2006


Actually it was via the A to Z of Materials as I don't read Slashdot anymore but thanks for the reminder.
posted by fenriq at 10:08 PM on August 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


The interwebs are stuck in reverse tonight. Everything Ive read in the last hour is a repost.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:09 PM on August 1, 2006


for those so inclined, the (more informative) article at IoP and for those even further inclined, the (not free) article in Eur Phys J A.

(note in the abstract in the actual paper, they claim to see a decrease in the half-life of Na22 of 1%. quite honestly, my hype detector is off the charts on this one.)
posted by sergeant sandwich at 10:15 PM on August 1, 2006


Posts discussing radioactive half-lives should be clearer. 1kg of radium + half life of 100 years = after 100 years, you still have 500g of radium (and radon being released in the process). I guess you could call that a "safer state"....
posted by Jimbob at 10:38 PM on August 1, 2006


This sounds like snake oil to me. I've never heard of any way in which fission decay rates were related to temperature. I'm not a particle physicist but I do have some understanding of the field and I can't even think of a mechanism whereby it might work.

In fact, by the time you get to the end of the article, it becomes clear that the guy in question is really saying little more than, "Well, it might work, maybe; how about some funding?"
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:30 PM on August 1, 2006


This sounds like snake oil to me. I've never heard of any way in which fission decay rates were related to temperature. I'm not a particle physicist but I do have some understanding

Emphasis added.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 PM on August 1, 2006


That said, reading the article, it seems unlikely as well. Rolfs says that cooling the material improves fusion, and then goes on to say it might also help accelerate decay as well. But from what I understand fusion is related to both the nucleus and the thing it's fusing with, and cooling the medium down helps them get close together, on the other hand, decay happens entirely inside the nucleus, so cooling down the medium wouldn't make any difference.

But it's also possible, even likely that somewhere along the way the article got dumbed down.
posted by delmoi at 12:00 AM on August 2, 2006


I guess you could call that a "safer state"....

Well, why not? It's only half as dangerious.
posted by delmoi at 12:01 AM on August 2, 2006


Well, it's just that when dates and lengths of time are thrown around in regards to radioisotopes and nuclear waste, I worry that a lot of people interpret them as "oh great, only 100 years and it won't be radioactive anymore!"
posted by Jimbob at 12:06 AM on August 2, 2006


Yeah, but at least it isn't just buried in the nearest landfill like the radioactive waste from a coal plant. I never did figure out why some people focus on the potential radiation hazard from nuclear waste while completely ignoring the actual radiation hazard from coal waste.
posted by Justinian at 12:10 AM on August 2, 2006


well. i don't think it's total bullshit. science is about discovering new unexpected things and all that.

the radioactive decay processes that are affected in this case are beta emissions; these are also known as electron-capture (in the case of beta-minus). it's not so unreasonable to me (or apparently debye) that a nucleus in close proximity to a free-electron-rich substance like a transition metal have its interactions with electrons affected.

i just call crap on the notion that this is going to speed up the decay chain by a factor of 8 or whatever when the measured effect is only a percentage point or less. that spin seems totally unsupported by the research and sounds like trolling for funding to me as well.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:27 AM on August 2, 2006


Isn't it more prudent to keep this type of volatile energy around? It would suck to develop a way to power a country with active isotopes just to discover you artificially depleted them a decade ago.
posted by sourwookie at 12:30 AM on August 2, 2006


Yes, but it would be funny if rich countries paid poor countries to take their radioactive garbage and then ten year later discovered that they wanted to pay even more to get their radioactive garbage back. It's always better to be funny than to be prudent.
posted by pracowity at 1:29 AM on August 2, 2006


Not unbelievable on the face of it. It's already known that radioactive decay via electron-capture of beryllium-7 is affected by its chemical environment (which the creationists immediately jumped on to trash radiocarbon dating, but that's another story).

On the other hand, it's hard to believe this will be useful for getting rid of useful quantities of waste. How much energy will it take to keep kilotons of metal encased, highly radioactive waste supercooled for 100 years? And where's that energy going to come from? Another nuclear plant? Oh dear...

Firing the stuff into the sun seems like a better idea. Or can't we just use Australia?
posted by Bletch at 2:17 AM on August 2, 2006


If the waste has to be buried, it should be buried right under where most of the users are. If the power generation plant supplies Washington, DC, then that's where the waste should be. Did a hole in the park and drop it in.
posted by pracowity at 2:25 AM on August 2, 2006


Or can't we just use Australia?

Ha, bugger off, we don't what that stuff back here.
posted by Jimbob at 3:34 AM on August 2, 2006


I never did figure out why some people focus on the potential radiation hazard from nuclear waste while completely ignoring the actual radiation hazard from coal waste.

Because nukuleer=baaad, of course.
posted by spazzm at 5:04 AM on August 2, 2006


One would like to know: if it turns out this works for uranium waste from nuke plants, how long does it take, and how much energy does the supercooling require for all those years. We could end up deriving a quantity of energy from a given quantity of uranium, and then using twice as much energy, over time, to make the waste safe.
posted by beagle at 5:06 AM on August 2, 2006


Firing the stuff into the sun seems like a better idea.

With the current success rate of NASA and ESA space flights, this seems like a brilliant idea. If you want a second Chernobyl with a wider spread.
posted by uncle harold at 6:43 AM on August 2, 2006


via Slashdot
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:06 AM EST on August 2 [+] [!]


please don't do that
posted by caddis at 7:23 AM on August 2, 2006


If it worked it would be very cool. The biggest problem with nuclear power is how to handle the waste (well, boneheaded plant management is perhaps even more of an issue but with effort that could be solved). Given that we will need to replace fossil fuels sometime nukes are the only real viable alternative right now.
posted by caddis at 7:27 AM on August 2, 2006


T.D. Strange writes "via Slashdot"

via MeTa
posted by signal at 7:31 AM on August 2, 2006


Firing the waste into the sun seems like a good idea but didn't anyone see that Superman movie where Lex Luthor created a super being that way? I don't think we can take that chance.

Its still a theory and, as a theory, I think this is a pretty good idea. From the article, I like the thought process of dealing with our own waste instead of burying it and letting our great-great-great grandchildren have to deal with it (and fifteen foot mutant squirrels).

And JimBob, sorry, I was under the impression that half-lives were pretty decently understood, I'll be more careful with my assumptions next time and parse it out a bit more.
posted by fenriq at 8:42 AM on August 2, 2006


If you want to get rid of extra uranium, an integral fast reactor would work. Plus it would actually be practical instead of wasteful.
posted by Humanzee at 8:49 AM on August 2, 2006


Reactors cooled with liquid sodium just don't seem like a very good idea to me.
posted by caddis at 9:16 AM on August 2, 2006


Well, why not? It's only half as dangerious.

One could argue that being in a room filled with a 50% hydrogen cyanide atmosphere is safer that being in a room with a 100% hydrogen cyanide atmosphere if one was not real concerned with being taken seriously.

Some part of me wonders if there isn't some Bose-Einstein condensate phenomenon they're banking on here, but none of the links says anything about BECs and the list of BECifyable materials is pretty short at this time, so how they would be getting positive results is beyond me.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:20 AM on August 2, 2006


I don't see any reason why even forming a BEC would affect the decay rate, and you have to be damned cold to form a BEC.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:33 PM on August 2, 2006


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