Why can't nuclear waste be reused?

Transmutation: Nuclear waste will no longer radiate in 20 years

Today we read with a smile about the alchemists who at the beginning of modern times prepared to intervene in the foundations of our world, who wanted to create another from one chemical element. Their main goal: to make gold from base metals. The Philosopher's Stone was supposed to help, but it was never invented or invented. He remained a myth.

Today we know why the alchemists in the 15th and 16th centuries could not achieve their goal despite their mortars and pestles, despite retorts, serpentines and other devices in which they let it bubble and hiss.

To transform one element into another, to manipulate the value of the original materials was reserved for the forces of the cosmos charged by the Big Bang. Man was too small and weak for that.

That changed since the entry into the atomic age. Heavenly forces are released in the reactor, the atomic nuclei split - and in this process, which has been going on for half a century, the result is not only electrical energy, but also what some consider the most diabolical elements: toxic, eternally radiating nuclear waste.

We must keep him at bay as far and as safely as possible. “Garbage for millions of years” was the headline of a major newspaper when the lifetimes of nuclear power plants were extended. More rubbish is coming now, indeed. But does it really have to shine, millions of years?

For a long time it was considered impossible, impractical to render the highly radioactive waste harmless, to transform the radiating elements into harmless, non-radiating ones. What happened in the reactor core could not be reversed in a targeted manner, it was said. Actually a challenge for research and technology, but the experts only waved them off, pointing out the cosmic forces that were not available.

But these times are over, too. The challenge has been accepted since the mid-1990s. "Transmutation", the term stands today, four centuries after the alchemists, for the transformation of one element into another by human hands.

The principle works. Remarkably, this is not known to the general public, although the discussion about nuclear power is currently again with growing emotions. And their opponents keep making one argument above all: the nuclear waste, which will remain a problem for millions of years, the unsolved question of a safe repository.

Transmutation is no longer a utopia. It is almost routine to decisively reduce the duration of the radioactive radiation for the most dangerous waste elements from a few hundred thousand years to historical times of less than 500 years.

However, only on a laboratory scale, by no means in the order of magnitude with which one could defuse the many tons of highly radioactive matter from the nuclear power plants.