The Advantages of Being Salty

wipp waste storage transuranic

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) first opened in 1999 with the ambitions to permanently bury transuranic waste in our post-nuclear production age. Located 26 miles from Carlsbad, New Mexico, WIPP houses barrels of waste 2,150 feet below the surface. This site was chosen not only because of its remoteness but also because waste cold be embedded within a 3000 feet thick salt formation that has been stable for 250 million years. The underground salt formation from an ancient sea is just wet enough to move and seep slowly, therefore sealing the caverns after their construction. However, this also means that they would eventually flood. That is if it doesnt first collapse as it is predicted to do so before its 1000th birthday.

wipp waste carlsbad

Regardless of floods or collapses, the site is estimated to remain dangerous for 24,000 years. And recently there has been considerable debate on how to mark the site as such long after the surface-based processing buildings are gone. Cave scratchings? Symbols? Words?

waste wipp transuranic storage carlsbad

Maybe more significantly to us here is the role of salt (ancient seas) as burial grounds for toxic waste.

nullarbor plains limestone

Limestone, at high temperatures, breaks down into carbon dioxide and quicklime, in a process that produces greenhouse gas. But dump that quicklime in seawater, and it absorbs roughly twice as much CO2 as was released in the first reaction. This is what the folks at cquestrate hypothesize.

This scheme works off the assumption that regardless of the greenhouse effect, CO2 buildup leads to ocean acidification, which could lead to large-scale oceanic ecosystem collapse. This cocktail of lime and saltwater, however, takes gas out of the air and sequesters it into the ocean, thus making oceans more alkaline. Now whether enough limestone can be sourced and ecologically transported to oceans would be the challenge... the Nullarbor Plains would be a good start.

cloud seeding geoengineering

Another salty vision for earth involves "cloud seeding." This is proposed by John Latham and Stephen Salter, (i know, i know, his last name is perfect!) who suggest to spray droplets of seawater high up into the air, so that the tiny particles of salt from these droplets will make clouds thicker and more reflective.

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