A Solution to the Problem of Rad Waste Disposal

One of our modern myths is that “we don’t know how to store radioactive waste”. Everybody knows it, and it’s utterly false; in fact, we have known how to safely store rad waste in either bedded salt or certain granitic formations for over forty years now. Just to be sure, we spent decades and 9 billion dollars proving the concept at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, only to shut down the site just after proving its effectiveness, because people in Nevada insisted “Not In My Back Yard”. They were happy to take all the jobs and money while it was being developed, but demanded that it be closed when we started to talk about actually using it. 

Anyway, it occurred to me that perhaps we should alter tack: instead of trying to come up with a truly safe way of storing rad waste, we should come up with a way that looks safe. In other words, don’t just make a good product, make a product that sells. We don’t really have to compromise our standards to do so; we can still make an extremely safe rad waste repository. We just need to make it look like it will last forever. And what better symbol of permanence than this:


The Great Pyramid

Why not make a pyramid for rad waste disposal? I propose something like this:


This pyramid would be four times as high as the Great Pyramid at Giza, with 64 times the total volume. It would easily be able to store all of the rad waste currently in storage in the United States. It would require about 400 million tons of material to construct. To put that number in perspective, Hoover Dam required about 10 million tons of cement. However, I propose that cement be a secondary component of the pyramid; the primary component should be coal ash. More than 100 million tons of this stuff are produced every year in the United States, although some of this is recycled for other uses. I think that this would provide a fitting use of the coal ash; the pyramid becomes a repository for waste from both nuclear and coal power plants. 

This thing would be REALLY safe! Put it anywhere in the American southwest, where there’s little rain, and it will last for tens of thousands of years. Remember, the Great Pyramid at Giza is nearly 6,000 years old, and has been subjected to all sorts of human attacks, and remains intact. This structure would a solid mass, a single monolith of concrete and coal ash. To release the radioactive material, one would have to bore through over a thousand feet of solid concrete. Earthquakes would have no effect on it; volcanic eruptions wouldn’t bother it; even a big nuclear bomb would not be sufficient to breach its containment. And of course, thousands of years of desert rain would not begin to erode it sufficiently to pose any threat to anybody.

Political issues
The real value of this design is that it would not be a political liability; it would be a tourist attraction! Here’s a crude mashup showing how this pyramid would look compared to, say, the Las Vegas Strip:


Yes, it would be big, and quite impressive. What community wouldn’t want to host the Eighth Wonder of the World?