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Why can't nuclear waste be sent into outer space? © Getty Images

Why can't nuclear waste be sent into outer space?

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The current solution to handling nuclear waster is to store it. This isn't without it's flaws, but what about our alternatives?

Asked by: John Walker, Halifax

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The world's nuclear reactors have generated tens of thousands of tonnes of high-level nuclear waste, and the current solution is to simply store the stuff. This is not without its dangers: an explosion at the Mayak nuclear waste facility near Kyshtym, Russia in 1957 remains the third worst nuclear disaster in history, after Chernobyl and Fukushima.

In the search for alternatives, the possibility of firing the waste out of the Solar System or into the Sun has been investigated many times, but the use of rockets raises the threat of an accidental release of the waste into the atmosphere if there was an explosion. Some studies have looked at the possibility of using high-powered lasers to blast capsules into space, but economic, reliability and safety issues – plus likely legal challenges – have so far ruled out this option.


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Authors

Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.

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