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Waste and Recycling
Space Travel and Exploration
Nuclear Energy
Radioactive Waste

Can you hurl nuclear waste to the sun?

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June 08, 2009 6:28AM

Yes, we could launch nuclear waste into the Sun. The problem with the concept is simple economics. It presently costs US$20 million to US$30 million to launch even a small payload of 1200 pounds (544 kg). NASA indicates an average cost of US$450 million to launch a Space Shuttle craft, with a payload capacity of 50,000 pounds (22,700 kg). So with spacecraft we are talking about payloads of thousands of pounds, but with nuclear waste we are talking about millions of tons! If you consider only the highest level radioactive waste (HLW), the amount of HLW produced worldwide each year is approximately 53,000,000 pounds (24,000,000 kg); that's nearly 1100 Space Shuttle payloads each year, 3 Space Shuttles launched nearly every single day! In addition to high level waste there is low level waste, intermediate level waste, transuranic waste, along with huge amounts of contaminated soil and water. There is not only the waste that we are now producing, but we have an accumulation of nuclear waste from the past 60 years. It is unlikely that we could ever come up with enough fuel to launch all of our nuclear waste into space with the technology we now have. Future developments in applied physics might make it possible to do this with at least part of our most problematic wastes.