Can Nuclear Waste Survive a 14,500 Mile Journey? via Popular Mechanics

Researchers put a nuclear fuel container through an epic journey to see how safely it could travel.

Can you send a container of nuclear fuel on an 14,500-mile trip through land and sea safely? Recently, researchers from Sandia National Laboratories teamed up with organizations in South Korea and Spain to find out.

Right now, radioactive nuclear fuel doesn’t travel; most are stored next to the nuclear power plants where they’re generated. But one day, the government hopes to store all the nuclear waste from the U.S. in a central repository ( since few states want to host the country’s toxic nuclear waste underneath their land, the location hasn’t been determined yet). If and when the repository gets designated, all the nuclear waste across the country will have to make some long trips. Right now, nuclear waste containers can stand up to rough conditions: container designs get dropped, lit on fire and submerged in water before they get approved for use (some even get by a truck), and according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in over 40 years of transporting nuclear waste, none of the containers have leaked. But what happens to the fuel as the container travels?

To test it, researchers sent a nuclear waste container filled with faux-nuclear fuel from Spain to Colorado and back, through 500 miles by truck, 10,000 miles by sea, and 4,000 miles by rail. Scientists equipped the container with accelerometers and strain gauges to study how the fuel fared during its journey.


While the journey may be safe, what’s less certain is will happen to the actual fuel inside its complicated packaging. Nuclear waste might be able to make its journey safely, but what happens when you open it up at its final destination?

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