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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Military/History Related Hobbies > Research, Reference and Historical Study > Science

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View Poll Results: Should High Level Nuclear Waste be Buried in a Deep Ocean Subduction Zone?
Yes, this plan seems completely workable. 3 23.08%
Maybe, I have some reservations on technical grounds. 4 30.77%
No, the oceans are not a dumping ground. 6 46.15%
No, I'm against nuclear power for other reasons. 0 0%
Multiple Choice Poll. Voters: 13. You may not vote on this poll

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  #1  
Old 17 Mar 11, 15:26
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Should We Bury High Level Radioactive Waste in the Sub Ocean Subduction Zones?

As promised in the Politics forum.

Ever since I first heard this concept decades ago I've been in favor of it. It seems to solve the majority of waste disposal problems cited as issues with any land based storage scheme. It also addresses the one issue that no land based system is proof against, it will definitely exceed the 10,000 year standard for secure storage.

So here is the basic process:
  1. Keep the high level waste in cooling ponds until it no longer requrires a constant supply of fresh water. Currently about 10-20 years depending on the fuel mixture.
  2. Use the already developed vitrification process to immobilize the waste in a glass like insoluble matrix.
  3. Insert the vitrified waste into stainless steel sleeve to form a solid cask for safe transport.
  4. Transport the casks under armed guard to selected site on a deep ocean subduction zone.
  5. Establish an internationally supervised drilling operation at the site to verify each cask for compliance to technical standards.
  6. Bore a hole into the soft sediment deep enough prevent the waste cask from being easily located by sonar and to prevent sea life from contamination in case of seepage.
  7. Maintain regular patrols over the repository to prevent any attempts at recovery.

Here is the obligatory Wiki reference: Subduction
Objections? Questions? Improvements?
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  #2  
Old 17 Mar 11, 15:54
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No need to go past step three...
  1. Keep the high level waste in cooling ponds until it no longer requrires a constant supply of fresh water. Currently about 10-20 years depending on the fuel mixture.
  2. Use the already developed vitrification process to immobilize the waste in a glass like insoluble matrix.
  3. Insert the vitrified waste into stainless steel sleeve to form a solid cask for safe transport.

Once vitrified and casked... You could store them in your garage.

I used to be all for this idea... Till I realized that you can't directly dump them into subduction zones. You can dump them into a deep marine trench over a subducting plate margin. It would be a long time before the casks actually got subducted.

The vitrification process basically finishes the job.

The best solution would be to build fast breeder reactors and reprocess the fuel.
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Old 18 Mar 11, 14:10
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Opponents of Yucca flats have argued that the gov't cannot guarantee there will be no escape of radiation over very long timelines (~10,000 years).

Plate movement in the subduction zone addresses that concern (warranted or not) as it pulls the casks deeper every year. Additional sedimentation reinforces the burial process. Under those conditions there is almost no risk of the waster ever getting back into the biosphere except on geologic time scales.

Placing them in deep water virtually precludes terrorists from ever gaining access to the casks. A vessel capable of retrieving a multi-ton object from more than 15,000 feet of water is going to be noticed. If the plutonium has not been extracted this method also eliminates the proliferation risk.
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Old 18 Mar 11, 14:45
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Sounds Great

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Doctor View Post
No need to go past step three...
  1. Keep the high level waste in cooling ponds until it no longer requrires a constant supply of fresh water. Currently about 10-20 years depending on the fuel mixture.
  2. Use the already developed vitrification process to immobilize the waste in a glass like insoluble matrix.
  3. Insert the vitrified waste into stainless steel sleeve to form a solid cask for safe transport.
Once vitrified and casked... You could store them in your garage.

I used to be all for this idea... Till I realized that you can't directly dump them into subduction zones. You can dump them into a deep marine trench over a subducting plate margin. It would be a long time before the casks actually got subducted.

The vitrification process basically finishes the job.

The best solution would be to build fast breeder reactors and reprocess the fuel.
Your last Comment makes complete sense.

I keep getting asked why the Super-Dreadnoughts I designed for my A T are powered by Fast Breeder Reactors - I have to KEEP Explaining that they are used to provide fuel / fuel rods for the simpler Reactors in the smaller Warships. That is Battleships, CVNs and some BattleCruisers.

However - I really do believe in playing safe. I have NEVER believed that liquid sodium should ever be anywhere near to water. My Fast Breeders will use a liquid lead coolant - and will run at around 650 degrees centigrade - which I know is higher than the water dissociation temperature ( where steam breaks down to H2 and O2 ). However, the high-temperature heat exchangers would run at a temperature somewhat lower than this - allowing pressurised steam to be generated with the maximum of superheat.

This was all discussed with a guy at Poly, on the Masters Course I was doing - who had a Ph. D. in stellar fluid flow ( fluid flow in stars ), and worked for BNFL - the British Nuclear Power Station Company.

Getting back to the containment issue - yes, vitrified and stainless steel enclosed would help with long-term containment. However, my colleague told me that high radiation levels will even rot stainless steel - he said that high Boron Steel is much more resistant. This is because the nuetrons actualy knock atoms out of the lattice in the Stainless Steel - eventually allowing atmospheric oxygen to corrode the iron atoms in the lattice. Lots of Boron in the steel will tend to "mop up" the spare Neutrons.

Perhaps an inner jacket of thick Boron Steel, under the Stainless Steel.
Maybe some Graphite would also help to "mop up" spare Neutrons.

Thoughts and Comments would be welcome
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Old 18 Mar 11, 14:59
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Oh Sorry- Meant to Add.

Sorry - missed it off

The Fast Breeder Reactors are designed to be jettisoned ( downwards ) on Keel section plinths - if their security / safety is likely to be compromised in battle.
These Reactors would be fully flooded with lead and contained - and inside high strength braced structures which are designed to survive descent to the abyssal plains, undamaged. They will also include slowing "parachutes" and special gas bags - to ensure a "soft landing". They will be also be shock damped, to prevent shock loading form contact with the sea bed.
Hopefully they will not be jettisoned over a continental shelf - and not sure how they would behave in a very deep oceanic trench.

Question - are the subduction Zones in deep oceanic trenches, coz if so - good.

Best Wishes - from Kris
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Old 18 Mar 11, 15:11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GCoyote View Post
Opponents of Yucca flats have argued that the gov't cannot guarantee there will be no escape of radiation over very long timelines (~10,000 years).

Plate movement in the subduction zone addresses that concern (warranted or not) as it pulls the casks deeper every year. Additional sedimentation reinforces the burial process. Under those conditions there is almost no risk of the waster ever getting back into the biosphere except on geologic time scales.

Placing them in deep water virtually precludes terrorists from ever gaining access to the casks. A vessel capable of retrieving a multi-ton object from more than 15,000 feet of water is going to be noticed. If the plutonium has not been extracted this method also eliminates the proliferation risk.
It's one of the few areas where I'm a little bit green... I don't like littering. If we need to geologically sequester the casks... Bury them in salt domes.

This is a good book...
Sedimentary Record of Cretaceous and Tertiary Salt Movement, East Texas Basin: Times, Rates, and Volumes of Salt Flow and Their Implications for Nuclear Waste Isolation and Petroleum Exploration, by S. J. Seni and M. P. A. Jackson. 89 p., 57 figs., 7 tables, 1984. RI0139, $6.00
And surprisingly still available from the Bureau of Economic Geology! Only six bucks!
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Old 18 Mar 11, 16:10
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I would like to think that at some time we have a cheap way to send all our trash direct into the Sun. A few fuel rods would not even be noticed.
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Old 18 Mar 11, 17:19
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Blinky supports this plan.
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Old 18 Mar 11, 19:30
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I think it is a little optimistic to predict what the stuff will do in 10,000 years given that we look at a 500 year old helmet in amazement because it's so old. Our oldest artifacts of writing in wide us are 3,000 years old.

I am strictly against any kind of nuclear fission use. If you want nuclear, invest money to get fusion going or forget about it.

Can you imagine what would happen with all the fission reactors if the Earth's crust has a flu or something and gives us an earthquake every month for -say- 20 years? That is entirely possible. Aren't half of the people here advocates of non-man made planet changes?
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Old 19 Mar 11, 01:31
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GCoyote View Post
As promised in the Politics forum.

Ever since I first heard this concept decades ago I've been in favor of it. It seems to solve the majority of waste disposal problems cited as issues with any land based storage scheme. It also addresses the one issue that no land based system is proof against, it will definitely exceed the 10,000 year standard for secure storage.

So here is the basic process:
  1. Keep the high level waste in cooling ponds until it no longer requrires a constant supply of fresh water. Currently about 10-20 years depending on the fuel mixture.
That means very large cooling ponds, as a reactor in regular service produces approximately 20 tons of spent rods per year.

2. Use the already developed vitrification process to immobilize the waste in a glass like insoluble matrix.

Nothing is "insoluble" forever.

3. Insert the vitrified waste into stainless steel sleeve to form a solid cask for safe transport.

Current technology.

4. Transport the casks under armed guard to selected site on a deep ocean subduction zone.

More expensive than current methods.


5. Establish an internationally supervised drilling operation at the site to verify each cask for compliance to technical standards.

Why do we need international supervision? Our standards are already the highest in the world. And what happens when the other nations complain? Where does the material go then?

6. Bore a hole into the soft sediment deep enough prevent the waste cask from being easily located by sonar and to prevent sea life from contamination in case of seepage.

Nothing is seep-proof forever, and soft sediment is easily eroded away by currents. There is also the problem with severe pressures at great depths which can crack open storage casks.

7. Maintain regular patrols over the repository to prevent any attempts at recovery.

That is costly. And where are all those "international inspectors? Why aren't they footing the bill for a naval force to constantly patrol the area?

Here is the obligatory Wiki reference: Subduction
Objections? Questions? Improvements?
All in all, this is a costly concept that will not stand the test of time under current technological conditions. Additionally, there is a requirement here in America to openly label such a storage site with signs that will be comprehensible ten thousand years from now. That cannot be accomplished in the ocean depths.
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Old 20 Mar 11, 14:47
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High level nuclear waste is definitely an issue and the problem will continue to worsen until technology obviates the need for nuclear power. That could be 100's of years or more.

There is some talk of introducing Thorium reactors but these produce such high levels of radiation that they are almost unmanageable. Presently the alternatives to nuclear power are messy also. The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico not too long ago is a good example of Humans polluting Our planet on a massive scale. In fact, a single oil spill like that does far more damage to the environment then all the nuclear "stuff" mankind has ever produced.


In any case, nuclear waste (high and low level) is here to stay an is a problem that must be addressed. There's really two aspects to the problem, transportation and storage/elimination.

Transportation is limited to certain routes for safety reasons and here's a map for your perusal.
http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/states/us.htm

Even then, there is a limit to how much radioactive material can be moved. Something like a fuel rod from a nuclear reactor is so radioactive that no truck/train can carry enough shielding to safely transport it anywhere. These fuel rods need decades to decay before they can even be moved from the reactor. Likewise, the reactor cores themselves are so large and radioactive that they are not disposed of. Old nuke plants are just shut down and the containment facilities provide the storage indefinitely. These old reactors won't be going away any time soon.

Even fusion machines of the future will create highly radioactive materials near the reaction chambers. This will be far less waste then a fission plant, but it's still a significant amount of high level rad waste. Especially, if we replace all our coal/oil/natural gas power generation over to fusion and then add a few more billion people to provide power too...

Breeder reactors are useful in reducing waste, but the byproducts can be used to make nuclear weapons so they are also undesirable. Likewise, there is still a reactor core that is a major disposal problem.

Launching the rad waste into the Sun sounds good, but the cost is prohibitive and if a rocket full of high level waste exploded, it would create quite the mess, so this is not a practical solution with our technology. Maybe the "space elevator" of the future will solve this problem, but that's down the road a ways.

Another method of addressing highly radioactive stuff is to use particle accelerators to blast the waste material and induce radioactive decays. Of course this increases the radiation levels by orders of magnitude temporarily so it's messy as well. Even worse, such accelerators are VERY expensive and unless you want to transport that nasty stuff, you need to build the accelerator at the location of the waste which further increases the cost. Once again, our feeble 21st century technology fails us.

However, one good thing about radioactive substances is that they decay with a half life, and at some point the material can be transported, collected, and disposed. In fact, 100 years or so from now, we might be cleaning up all the old reactor sites around the world and putting the waste in a safe place.

That said, you have two options. Bury it on land, or bury it in the ocean.

The bury on land solution has problems. Where do you put it? How do you keep people from intentionally or non-intentionally getting into the waste? How do you warn people of the future of the hazard? Do you even want to mark the spot or keep it hidden? If it's on land, someone is likely to stumble across it. You could bury it in the ice at the south pole but people can still get at it with some difficulty. Likewise, that ice will eventually make it into the ocean through glacial action or other means where it can contaminate the water.

If I were going to bury this stuff on land, I would dig a deep hole in a piece of bedrock in the middle of a desert. Then I would dump all the bad rad in the hole, fill it in, and pile a bunch of rocks on it to the point where anyone with the technology and/or motivation to move the rocks, and get at the nasty, would be smart enough to realize what they were getting themselves into.

A site which matches this criteria might look something like this!



Once again, such a construct is very expensive and strains the limits of our technology.

Sooooo, that leaves the ocean. Water is used in all types of reactors as a neutron moderator so it is very good at that. It also does a good job on gamma rays and such. Especially if you have miles of it. Likewise, the ocean floor is not readily accessible by anyone and no one is likely to stumble across your waste storage area except a few fish. Especially if you are talking a trench 7 miles deep. There's not a lot of things living down that deep in the ocean so while some critter will get dosed, the damage will be minimal. These deep ocean creatures are not part of the food chain so even if they were contaminated, it's unlikely it would have much impact on humanity (until the giant kraken eats a ship! ).

Since these deep underwater trenches are indeed subduction zones, anything buried there will eventually be pushed back into the mantle, melted and mixed with the Moho. By the time it make it back to the surface, the radiation levels would be at background.

In summary, I think dumping the high rad waste in the Marianas trench or some similar place is a GREAT idea! You don't even need to dig a hole. As long as the water isn't in direct contact with the rad materials it won't create much contamination. Likewise, it will be a long time before terrorists have the technology to recover such materials which would be guarded in some manner anyway. So far, no one has ever even stolen a spent fuel rod from a nuke plant because it's not so easy. Just handling the stuff is difficult and dangerous. As far as future generations are concerned. If humanity somehow ends up back in the stone age, it will be long time before they rebuild and go exploring the deep ocean floor. By then, the hazard will be minimized due to time.

Eventually technology will save us from high level nuclear waste. However, that will be generations from now, and in the mean time, the problem will continue to worsen so a safe and effective near term solution must be found.
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Old 20 Mar 11, 15:06
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GCoyote View Post
Opponents of Yucca flats have argued that the gov't cannot guarantee there will be no escape of radiation over very long timelines (~10,000 years).

Plate movement in the subduction zone addresses that concern (warranted or not) as it pulls the casks deeper every year. Additional sedimentation reinforces the burial process. Under those conditions there is almost no risk of the waster ever getting back into the biosphere except on geologic time scales.

Placing them in deep water virtually precludes terrorists from ever gaining access to the casks. A vessel capable of retrieving a multi-ton object from more than 15,000 feet of water is going to be noticed. If the plutonium has not been extracted this method also eliminates the proliferation risk.
Subduction zones exponentially increase the odds of storage cask rupture and radiation leaks into the oceans on a major scale. This is the exact opposite of what responsible long-term nuclear storage is supposed to accomplish.
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Old 20 Mar 11, 15:08
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Originally Posted by Pirate-Drakk View Post
High level nuclear waste is definitely an issue and the problem will continue to worsen until technology obviates the need for nuclear power. That could be 100's of years or more.

There is some talk of introducing Thorium reactors but these produce such high levels of radiation that they are almost unmanageable. Presently the alternatives to nuclear power are messy also. The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico not too long ago is a good example of Humans polluting Our planet on a massive scale. In fact, a single oil spill like that does far more damage to the environment then all the nuclear "stuff" mankind has ever produced.


In any case, nuclear waste (high and low level) is here to stay an is a problem that must be addressed. There's really two aspects to the problem, transportation and storage/elimination.

Transportation is limited to certain routes for safety reasons and here's a map for your perusal.
http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/states/us.htm

Even then, there is a limit to how much radioactive material can be moved. Something like a fuel rod from a nuclear reactor is so radioactive that no truck/train can carry enough shielding to safely transport it anywhere. These fuel rods need decades to decay before they can even be moved from the reactor. Likewise, the reactor cores themselves are so large and radioactive that they are not disposed of. Old nuke plants are just shut down and the containment facilities provide the storage indefinitely. These old reactors won't be going away any time soon.

Even fusion machines of the future will create highly radioactive materials near the reaction chambers. This will be far less waste then a fission plant, but it's still a significant amount of high level rad waste. Especially, if we replace all our coal/oil/natural gas power generation over to fusion and then add a few more billion people to provide power too...

Breeder reactors are useful in reducing waste, but the byproducts can be used to make nuclear weapons so they are also undesirable. Likewise, there is still a reactor core that is a major disposal problem.

Launching the rad waste into the Sun sounds good, but the cost is prohibitive and if a rocket full of high level waste exploded, it would create quite the mess, so this is not a practical solution with our technology. Maybe the "space elevator" of the future will solve this problem, but that's down the road a ways.

Another method of addressing highly radioactive stuff is to use particle accelerators to blast the waste material and induce radioactive decays. Of course this increases the radiation levels by orders of magnitude temporarily so it's messy as well. Even worse, such accelerators are VERY expensive and unless you want to transport that nasty stuff, you need to build the accelerator at the location of the waste which further increases the cost. Once again, our feeble 21st century technology fails us.

However, one good thing about radioactive substances is that they decay with a half life, and at some point the material can be transported, collected, and disposed. In fact, 100 years or so from now, we might be cleaning up all the old reactor sites around the world and putting the waste in a safe place.

That said, you have two options. Bury it on land, or bury it in the ocean.

The bury on land solution has problems. Where do you put it? How do you keep people from intentionally or non-intentionally getting into the waste? How do you warn people of the future of the hazard? Do you even want to mark the spot or keep it hidden? If it's on land, someone is likely to stumble across it. You could bury it in the ice at the south pole but people can still get at it with some difficulty. Likewise, that ice will eventually make it into the ocean through glacial action or other means where it can contaminate the water.

If I were going to bury this stuff on land, I would dig a deep hole in a piece of bedrock in the middle of a desert. Then I would dump all the bad rad in the hole, fill it in, and pile a bunch of rocks on it to the point where anyone with the technology and/or motivation to move the rocks, and get at the nasty, would be smart enough to realize what they were getting themselves into.

A site which matches this criteria might look something like this!



Once again, such a construct is very expensive and strains the limits of our technology.

Sooooo, that leaves the ocean. Water is used in all types of reactors as a neutron moderator so it is very good at that. It also does a good job on gamma rays and such. Especially if you have miles of it. Likewise, the ocean floor is not readily accessible by anyone and no one is likely to stumble across your waste storage area except a few fish. Especially if you are talking a trench 7 miles deep. There's not a lot of things living down that deep in the ocean so while some critter will get dosed, the damage will be minimal. These deep ocean creatures are not part of the food chain so even if they were contaminated, it's unlikely it would have much impact on humanity (until the giant kraken eats a ship! ).

Since these deep underwater trenches are indeed subduction zones, anything buried there will eventually be pushed back into the mantle, melted and mixed with the Moho. By the time it make it back to the surface, the radiation levels would be at background.

In summary, I think dumping the high rad waste in the Marianas trench or some similar place is a GREAT idea! You don't even need to dig a hole. As long as the water isn't in direct contact with the rad materials it won't create much contamination. Likewise, it will be a long time before terrorists have the technology to recover such materials which would be guarded in some manner anyway. So far, no one has ever even stolen a spent fuel rod from a nuke plant because it's not so easy. Just handling the stuff is difficult and dangerous. As far as future generations are concerned. If humanity somehow ends up back in the stone age, it will be long time before they rebuild and go exploring the deep ocean floor. By then, the hazard will be minimized due to time.

Eventually technology will save us from high level nuclear waste. However, that will be generations from now, and in the mean time, the problem will continue to worsen so a safe and effective near term solution must be found.
Of course, you realize that water in the Mariannas Trench doesn't just stay there; it circulates throughout the oceans of the world.

Best solution: use thorium reactors, which do not produce plutonium as a by-product and are far less radioactive to begin with.
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Old 20 Mar 11, 20:10
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Originally Posted by Mountain Man View Post
Of course, you realize that water in the Mariannas Trench doesn't just stay there; it circulates throughout the oceans of the world.
And your point is? The waste won't be dissolved in the water...

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Originally Posted by Mountain Man View Post
Best solution: use thorium reactors, which do not produce plutonium as a by-product and are far less radioactive to begin with.
How does creating more nuclear waste solve the problem of disposal?
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Old 20 Mar 11, 22:00
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Originally Posted by Mountain Man View Post
Subduction zones exponentially increase the odds of storage cask rupture and radiation leaks into the oceans on a major scale. This is the exact opposite of what responsible long-term nuclear storage is supposed to accomplish.
The sediment over the sub-ducting rock is in most places miles thick. Once the waste is vitrified it is no longer soluble so a leak in the conventional sense simply cannot happen. Essentially vitrified waste will not dissolve much faster than glass would.

Even if the cask were not deliberately buried, as I think it should be, the natural process of sedimentation would cover it in a thick layer bottom material before even the steel case became compromised. The longer it sits there, the more deeply buried it becomes.

The other reason for deliberate burial is to get around the 'no dumping' clause of the law of the sea treaties. That plus the security concerns I mentioned in the OP indicate to me that we should at least attempt to get the casks some tens of meters into the sediment at the minimum. Ideally I'd like to get them through the soft sediment and into rock of the plate itself but that may be prohibitively expensive or not technically feasible with our current technology. [Doc?]

The steel outer shell is to prevent accidental or deliberate removal of chips of the hardened waste. I also retains any gaseous decay products generated close enough to the surface of the cylinder to have chance of escaping.

The water at depth is at about 38 degrees F and has only a little oxygen so corrosion is not much of a factor given the chemistry of the materials we are talking about here.

The cask may eventually encounter magma or other geologic forces strong enough to damage or destroy it. If the site is selected properly the material will be tens of millions of years old by that time and nearly inert. Mixing it with several cubic miles of magma will only render it safer.

Thorium reactors could also play a part in this process, reducing the total amount of some types of waste we need to dispose of.

IMHO nuclear non-proliferation has generally failed and using plutonium for power seem like it would actually be safer as it would reduce the number of wars fought over access to oil supplies.
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