Energy 

THE ROY PROCESS

FOR THE TRANSMUTATION OF NUCLEAR WASTE


The nuclear waste problem is totally unresolved. There are no sites, no containers and no places on earth which can safely contain radioactive waste materials. No container will outlive the radioactivity of its contents. Areas contaminated with radioactive waste are uninhabitable for the lifetime of their radioactive contents, which can amount to half a million years. Unless a process for transmuting radioactive wastes is developed, the best that we can hope for is above ground disposal sites managed by responsible people with valid monitoring systems. It is impossible to monitor radioactive waste that has been dumped into our rivers or the ocean, buried in the ground or shot into space.

What kind of legacy are we leaving our children and their children?

Is their hope? I believe so, but only if we develop a process for transmuting radioactive materials to harmless products invented by the late Dr. Radha Roy.

INTRODUCTION

This article addresses nuclear waste contamination from ionizing radiation, the kind produced by nuclear plants, nuclear tests, medical procedures, food irradiators, facilities that sterilize via the use of radiation, and research facilities using radioactive isotopes. I will present a viable but yet untested process for transforming nuclear wastes to stable non-radioactive products - the Roy Process.

There are at least 110 nuclear reactors in the United States. Currently, they generate 3,000 tons of nuclear waste each year. Well over 22,000 tons have already accumulated, according to a May 11, 1993 USA Today article on the nuclear waste crisis. Today (1997), this has increased to 34,000 tons. This waste would fill a football field nine feet deep.

This tonnage does not include low-level wastes - materials that come in contact with radioactive substances. These wastes, such as gloves, filters, tools and clothing, come from nuclear power plants, hospitals and research centers that use radioactive substances. There are 100,000 U.S. facilities that use these materials. They produce 1.6 million cubic feet of low-level wastes each year.

Describing the contamination of earth by radiation as "low-level ionizing radiation" is misleading and implies that it is insignificant. It's not.

Low-level ionizing radiation means 5-15 rems (similar to a red) or about what we all get each year if we don't work in a nuclear plant. Dr. John Gofman, a pioneer on the health effects of ionizing radiation, calls this the doubling dose, the dose required to double the cancer rate.

More worrisome is Dr. Abram Petkau's observation that it takes only 700 millirads of protracted radiation (from external or internal sources) to Iyse (break) the cell membrane. By protracted, I mean over a period of time, instead of all at once. In the absence of antioxidant enzyme protection, such as superoxide dismutase and catalase, a mere 10-20 millirads were required to destroy the cell membrane. P.S., we're all deficient in antioxidant enzymes because there's much more radiation-induced free radical damage than nature intended, thanks to the nuclear industry.

There has been no viable solution to the nuclear waste disposal problem. It is the greatest of all disposal problems, and not just because of clean-up costs. Radioactive waste sites are virtually uninhabitable for the lifetime of the radioactive materials contained, which can amount to thousands of years. There are no containers which will last as long as the radioactive materials stored in them, thereby promising leakage of the radioactivity into the water, soil and air.

The U.S. government and the Department of Energy (DOE) are faced with enormous volumes of radioactive waste, with no solution of how to store them.

An April 8, 1992 article in The Arizona Republic reported the results of an eight-month study by the Environmental Protection Agency on radioactive sites in the United States. The EPA designated 45,361 locations, including factories and hospitals, with nuclear waste contamination ranging from slight to severe.

COSTS OF THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY

Despite a one-half-trillion dollar subsidy to the nuclear power and weapons industry over the last 40 years, nuclear power is a dismal economic failure and a safety nightmare. Here are some examples to illustrate the severity of these problems, both financial and safety.

On July 4, 1990, the DOE estimated costs for nuclear cleanup to be $31 billion over the following five years. This figure represents a 50% increase over 1989 projections. In 1991, DOE revised this estimate to $100 billion.

During the last 10 years the nuclear industry and the federal government have spent $6 billion on a plan to store 77,000 metric tons of radioactive waste in tunnels bored into the granite bedrock of Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The San Jose Mercury News reported on July 14, 1992 that a June earthquake caused $ 1 million in damage to a Department of Energy building six miles from the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada Site. (The San Jose Mercury News reported on July 14, 1992 that a June earthquake caused $1 million in damage to a Department of Energy building six miles from the proposed Yucca Mountain site). DOE scientists were rattled to discover that the epicenter of the quake was 12 miles from the proposed dump site.

In 1991, mining experts reported that a deep underground salt chamber in the New Mexico desert designated for the first U.S. tests of permanent radioactive waste disposal would probably collapse years before the tests could be completed. The $800 million DOE nuclear- waste disposal project was already years behind schedule when this ominous proection was made (June 14, 1991, The Arizona Republic).

WHERE DOES THE WASTE GO?

Nuclear waste has been dumped into oceans, rivers and lakes, and into the ground. Leaking containers of radioactive wastes add to this on a daily basis, endangering the earth's groundwater. There is no permanent storage site that is free from the hazards of radioactive waste.

The following examples are given to indicate the serious and unsolved nature of the nuclear waste crisis.

Port Granby, Canada dump site: Port Granby, east of Oshawa, Canada, is one of three landfills in the Port Hope area storing radioactive waste from a nearby uranium processing plant. Over 40 years, more than half-a-million tons of radioactive waste was buried in 122 14- foot pits in the Port Granby dump. Years of public outcry forced the closing of the dump in 1988. Despite efforts to capture the seepage, radioactive groundwater from this site makes its way down the bluffs, where the current carries it towards Toronto. A greater fear is the cliff sides that are eroding. One day, the bluffs will send chunks of the dump site crashing into the water. Currendy, anti-dump activists debate with nuclear officials over the perilous dump site, with no solution at hand. (New Magazine, Toronto, March 1993).

Russian Dumping: On September 2, 3, and 4, 1992, the Los Angeles Times reported on "The Soviets' Deadly Nuclear Legacy". From 1966 to 1991, the Russians dumped nuclear wastes into rivers, lakes and into the ocean. Russia's deadly atomic legacy is just now coming to light in a report issued in March 1993 by Russian President Boris Yeltsin. From 1949 to 1956, nuclear waste from plutonium refining was dumped into the Techa River, even though radioactivity began showing up 1000 miles downstream in 1953. Today, gamma radiation on the river bank measures 100-times normal levels. Aware of the radioactivity in the Techa, Russian workers began dumping into Lake Karachai. Today, "to stand on its bank, even for a short time, would be deadly," according to Mira Kosenko, M.D., of the Chelyabinsk Institute of Physics and Biology.

The Russians dumped at least 15 used nuclear reactors including six submarine units containing uranium fuel into the Kara Sea. According to Andrei Zolotkov, a radiation safety engineer, the entire hull section of the obsolete nuclear powered icebreaker V.1. was cut out with blowtorches and sunk. The irradiated mass measured 65 by 65 by 35 feet, or as high as a five-story building. The results of this are now evident. Officials at the Northern Division of the Polar Institute of Fish and Oceanography in Arkhangelsk report that thousands of seals are dying of cancer. This was caused by radioactive pollution of the seabed plus fallout from Russian nuclear tests on Novaya Zemyla, the archipelago where the seals live.

Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, Colorado: On March 26,1992, Rockwell Intemational Corporation, operator of the Rocky Flats plant pleaded guilty to criminal violations of hazardous-waste laws and the illegal discharging of radioactive wastes into two streams that feed water supplies serving four Colorado Cities. The government fined Rockwell $20 million and selected EG&G Inc. as the new plant operator (Thursday, March 26, 1992, The Arizona Republic).

The Hanford crisis: A new EPA analysis revealed that Hanford workers dumped millions of gallons of radioactive waste into the ground. Some of the wastes were injected deep into the earth, while others were dumped into open trenches or ponds which were later covered with dirt. These wastes contain two long lived carcinogens, technetium 99 and iodine 129. Technetium 99 has a half-life of 212,000 years and iodine 129 a half-life of 16 million years. Because Hanford is located close to the Columbia River, radioactive isotopes continue to flow into the river.

In addition, storage tanks at Hanford are in danger of exploding due to continuous production of extremely reactive, labile products. This serious situation is described below.

CURRENT LEGAL METHODS OF NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE

There are two storage methods.

The most common is to store the radioactive waste in wafer pools made of reinforced concrete six feet thick lined with stainless steel. The second method is to store the material in dry casks which are transported by rail, ,truck or barge to outdoor storage sites where they are placed on 3-foot reinforced concrete pads.

CURRENT DUMP SITES

The 1980 plan for waste storage has unraveled. In this plan, the federal government would be responsible for high-level waste and states would take responsibility for low-level wastes. States could build their own waste sites or form compacts with other states to share common repositories. However, states encountered massive opposition when possible locations were chosen. The problem is unsolved.

The only two current disposal sites, in Richland, Washington and Barnwell, South Carolina, are nearing capacity and will have to shut down. Wastes not allowed to go there are piling up in makeshift storage facilities across the United States. Currently, there are more than 100 makeshift sites in 41 states where nuclear waste is being stored in cooling pools. Many of these sites are in developing areas and some are near businesses, residential areas and schools.

The fight over dump sites continues. As of Tuesday, April 1997, the Senate voted (65-34) to establish a temporary central storage facility for the nation's 33,000 tons of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, northwest of Las Vegas. President Clinton is expected to veto it. If he does, the question of what to do with nuclear garbage will remain unanswered.

Opponents emphasize the danger of transporting hazardous nuclear waste through populated areas by rail or highways and believe that a temporary site in Nevada will lead to a permanent facility there.

This temporary site would be above ground but there is a proposed permanent storage location underground in the same area. This proposal is fraught with controversy. The DOE says that four more years of study are needed before making a final decision. Why? An earthquake of 5.9 magnitude on the Richter scale occurred on June 29, 1992 just six miles from the proposed burial site. Since then, federal officials have had major problems convincing people that nothing can go wrong at their proposed nuclear dump sight. Senator Richard Bryan (Democrat Nevada) said of this quake, "Mother Nature delivered a wake-up call to America's policy-makers. Placing ... high-level radioactive nuclear waste in an active earthquake zone defies common sense." (San Jose Mercury News, Tuesday, July 14, 1992).

Most people are unaware of how grim it is to have 33,000 tons of radioactive garbage which will take from 30 to 480,000 years to decay to a harmless substance. However, the government knows.

That's why their policy says that radioactive waste must be stored at least 10,000 years, even though this is hardly realistic. Let me explain. The range of half-lives of these materials varies from 24 seconds to nearly 15.9 million years.

The half-life of a radioactive element is the time it takes it to decay to one-half of its mass. The whole lifetime of a radioactive element is its half-life times 20 years. This makes the situation grim. For example, the half-life of Strontium 90 is 28 years. Multiplying this by 20 gives you a life time of 560 years. For Plutonium 239 with its half-life of 24,000 years, has a whole-life of 20 X 24,000 or 480,000 years. Cesium 137 with its half-life of 30 years will hang around for 600 years.

"Do not be surprised if you learn that the nuclear industry makes billions of dollars by being a part of government's policy of burial of nuclear wastes. It is not in their financial interest to try any other process. They are not idealists. " Radha R. Roy, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus

WHAT'S WRONG WITH STORING NUCLEAR WASTE ABOVE THE GROUND?

Although above-ground storage has the advantage of access to being monitored, it is still not without unsolved dangers. Nuclear waste is highly unstable and reactive. For exarnple, at Hanford, Washington, radioactive wastes were stored in million-gallon tanks while awaiting a permanent (?) storage site (lots of Luck!). These tanks contain plutonium wastes and organic materials. Chemicals in the tanks break down, producing hydrogen gas, increasing pressure inside the tanks. This lays the conditions for an explosion, which would spread contaminants into the atmosphere, the land and the water, not to mention the people and the animals.

In 1957, similar waste storage tanks exploded at the Russian Mayak plutonium plant and contaminated hundreds of square miles in the southern Ural mountains. According to a Thursday, January 28, 1993 Washington Post article, this explosion released two million curies over a huge territory, leading to the resettlement of 10,700 people. This disaster caused thousands of casualties.

Now it is 1993. In April, several newspapers reported that yet another tank of radioactive waste exploded at a weapons plant in the secret Siberian city of Tomsk-7. This explosion contaminated 2,500 acres and exposed firefighters to dangerous levels of radiation. Tomsk-7 is believed to be about 12 miles outside Tomsk, a city of half-million people. Since Tomsk-7 is secret, it is not on ordinary maps (The Arizona Republic, April 7; The Washington Post, April 8, 14; The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, April 7, 8, 1993).

WHAT'S WRONG WITH STORING NUCLEAR WASTE BELOW THE GROUND?

Only two problems: #1, there is no material that will outlast its radioactive contents; #2, radioactive wastes are so active that their contents continuously produce heat, hydrogen gas and other labile products. Who will monitor this for 10,000 years? How will the contents be stabilized to prevent explosions and leakage of radioactive waste into the groundwater? Who will pay the astronomical costs?

However, during the 1980's burial became the official government policy, despite the objections of many scientists, and national organizations concerned about dangers to the environment.

THE ROY PROCESS FOR TRANSMUTING RADIOACTIVE WASTES TO HARMLESS PRODUCTS

Is there a safe process to get rid of nuclear waste? Maybe!

One possible solution is a process invented by Dr. Radha R. Roy, former professor of Physics at Arizona State University, and designer and former director of the nuclear physics research facilities at the University of Brussels in Belgium and at Pennsylvania State University.

Dr. Roy is an intemationally known nuclear physicist, consultant, and the author of over 60 articles and several books. He is also a contributing author of many invited articles in a prestigious encyclopedia. He is cited in American Men and Women of Science, Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World and the International Biographical Centre, England. He has spent 52 years in European and American universities researching and writing recognized books on nuclear physics. He has supervised many doctoral students.

Roy invented a process for transmuting radioactive nuclear isotopes to harmless, stable isotopes. This process is viable not only for nuclear waste from reactors but also for low-level radioactive waste products.

In 1979, Roy announced his transmutation process and received international attention. The Roy process does not require storage of radioactive materials. No new equipment is required. In fact, all of the equipment and the chemical separation processes needed are well known.

What is the basis for the Roy Process? If you examine radioactive elements such as strontium 90, cesium 137 and plutonium 239, you will see that they all have too many neutrons. To put it very simply, the Roy process transmutes these unstable isotopes to stable ones by knocking out the extra neutrons. When a neutron is removed, the resulting isotope has a considerably shorter half-life which then decays to a stable form in a reasonable amount of time.

How do we knock out neutrons? By bombarding them with photons (produced as x-rays) in a high-powered electron linear accelerator. Before this process, the isotopes must be separated by a well-known chemical process.

It is feasible that portable units could be built and transported to hazardous sites for on-site transmutation of nuclear wastes and radioactive wastes.

To give an example, cesium 137 with a half-life of 30.17 years is transformed into cesium 136 with a half-life of 13 days. Plutonium 239 with a half-life of 24,300 years is transformed into plutonium 237 with a half-life of 45.6 days. Subsequent radioactive elements which will be produced from the decay of plutonium 237 can be treated in the same way as above until the stable element is formed.

The Roy Process could be developed in three distinct phases, according to Roy. Phase I consists of a theoretical feasibility study of the process to obtain needed parameters for the construction of a prototype. Phase II will involve the construction of a prototype and supporting facilities for demonstrating the process. Phase III will consist of the construction of large scale commercial plants based on the data from Phase II.

Cost estimates for Phase I and II are in the neighborhood of $10 million. For Phase III, Roy estimates a cost of $70 million. Says Roy, "It will be interesting to do a cost analysis of eliminating nuclear waste by using my process and by burying itfor 240,000 years - ten half- lives of plutonium - under strict scientific control. There is also an ethical question: can we really burden the thousands of generations yet to come with problems which we have created? There is no god among human beings who can guarantee how the geological structure of waste burial regions will change even after ten

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