How to Rid the World of the “Element from Hell”

How to Rid the World of the “Element from Hell”

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The vast majority of the radioactive plutonium on the planet is man-made—roughly 500 metric tons, or enough to make 100,000 nuclear weapons by the calculations of the International Panel on Fissile Materials. Much of it is the legacy of the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and Russia in the latter decades of the 20th century but, more and more, it is also the legacy of nuclear power.

Now a team of scientists—physicists Frank von Hippel and Richard Garwin along with environmental scientists Rodney Ewing and Allison Macfarlane—suggest that burying plutonium is the only reasonable solution to this problematic stockpile in a comment published in Nature. They also recommend the U.K., which is presently debating what to do with its nearly 100 metric tons of plutonium, should lead the way by studying how to immobilize the “element from hell” in ceramic pucks that can then be buried in deep caverns or even deeper boreholes.

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