What is Nuclear Waste?
I’ve noticed a trend in the last decades where people are pretty much afraid of everything nuclear. And if we think about the human history and the destructions that we’ve seen, then yes, some of us are entitled to think that everything nuclear is a bad thing.
In my opinion we have to look at the big picture and not blame the “thing” but the people who make use of thins materials recklessly. I will make a small analogy if you want: – If someone jumps off of a bridge and kills themselves, should we ban bridges for killing people?
It is the same, in my humble opinion with everything, with guns, with cars or whatever you can think of. People are controlling these “things” thus making them responsable for their actions.
Going back to “What is Nuclear Waste?”, you should know that Nuclear Waste also called Radioactive Waste is actually the leftover materials that have been used in different nuclear processes like power generation or other similar applications like medicine or research.
We all know, or at least we all have heard that these leftover materials are very dangerous and that some countries are not doing a very good job disposing them.
And when it comes to people who are against nuclear power, nuclear waste is the first argument they use against people who are pro nuclear power plants.
And rightfully so, these materials can be extremely hazardous and can affect human life, flora and fauna of a certain area and even contaminate water and soil. This can last from a few days to millions of years. Current major approaches to managing radioactive waste have been segregation and storage for short-lived waste, near-surface disposal for low and some intermediate level waste, and deep burial or partitioning / transmutation for the high-level waste. Radioactivity naturally decays over time, so radioactive waste has to be isolated and confined in appropriate disposal facilities for a sufficient period until it no longer poses a threat.
Classification of radioactive/nuclear waste
This is very tricky because classification is very different depending on the country but the IAEA, which publishes the Radioactive Waste Safety Standards (RADWASS), also plays a major role .
- Uranium tailings are a waste by-products material left over from the rough processing of uranium-bearing ore. They are not that radioactive.
- Low-Level Waste (LLW) includes rags, tools, sometimes clothing, paper, filters, and other materials which may contain small amounts of mostly short-lived radioactivity. Low-level waste are usually leftovers from hospitals, industry and nuclear fuel cycle.
- Intermediate-Level Waste (ILW) usually contains higher amounts of radioactivity and my require shielding but they do not require cooling. They include resins, chemical sludge and metal nuclear fuel cladding, as well as contaminated materials from reactor decommissioning.
- High-Level Waste (HLW) is generated by power plants nuclear reactors and it is very hazardous. After a nuclear fuel rod serves one fuel cycle and is removed from the core, it is considered HLW. This is usually hot and requires cooling.
Nuclear or Radioactive waste requires management and very sophisticated treatment in order to successfully isolate it from merging into biosphere. Applying treatment is the first step followed by the long-term storage or disposal or transformation.
In the past or even today a lot of countries have considered different methods of disposal of radioactive waste:
- Outer space disposal – too expensive it was not implemented
- Long term above ground storage – too dangerous at present times
- Deep boreholes disposal – not implemented
- Ocean Disposal – done in the past is no longer permitted by the international laws
- Disposal in ice sheets – not implemented and today not permitted by international laws
- Direct injection – implemented by USA and URSS in the past
Even though the advantages of nuclear energy are obvious there are certain drawbacks as well. We for sure need to think about our future on the long-term and avoid being short-sided.
Nuclear Energy is an extraordinary form of energy. It is the Power stored within the middle or the nucleus of an atom. Once we divide the nucleus into two parts, two distinct elements are formed along with the emission of excessive energy. The method used is known as fission. There’s another reaction called fusion, which produces almost one tenth of the Power produced throughout fission. Fission is the chain reaction which needs uranium-235. The nuclear Energy is taken into consideration because is a great alternative source of energy after fossil fuels.
But, as I was saying in my previous post “Advantages of Nuclear Energy” there are for sure at the moment some disadvantages for producing this kind of energy.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
- Radioactive Waste – The waste produced by nuclear reactors is desired to be disposed off at a safe area since they’re extraordinarily dangerous and might leak radiations if they are not well stored. Such type of waste can emit radiations from tens to hundreds of years. The storage of radioactive waste has been one of the most important downside for the expansion of more nuclear programs. The nuclear wastes incorporate radio isotopes with long half-lives. This means that the radio isotopes stay within the ecosystem in some shape or another. These reactive radicals make the sand or the water contaminated and it is called mixed waste. The mixed wastes cause dangerous chemical reactions and results in dangerous complications. The radioactive wastes that are normally buried underneath sand and are called vitrification. However these wastes may be used to make nuclear weapons.
- Nuclear Accidents and Nuclear Radiation – Other disadvantages of nuclear energy are nuclear accidents and nuclear radiation. Lately we have access to new technologies that have significantly improved the safety of Nuclear Power Plants. But we have to be aware that there is always a chance that something might go wrong at one point. We have the examples of Chernobyl versus Fukushima, and even if in both events the area has been evacuated, in Japan they did a much better job of not allowing everything in the area to be completely destroyed. Symptoms of radiation include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or fatigue. People who work at nuclear power plants and live near those areas are at high risk of facing nuclear radiations, if it happens, but we hope that will not happen again very soon.
- Higher Cost – Higher cost is another disadvantage of nuclear energy. It is not hard to see that building the infrastructure of a nuclear power plant is very expensive. It takes a while to be built, probably around 5 years or more and that means a lot of resources needs to be spent in order to assure safety of the area and not many countries can afford such an ordeal.
- National Risk – I would say that in case of a war nuclear energy will be some very hot targets. That’s why all over the world the security is at high standards in these plants.
There might be other disadvantages of nuclear energy but I am sure I’ve touched the most important ones in this article. I know that a lot of people are against them and that others are not. But I am writing this article especially to raise awareness of how important nuclear energy is for the future of the human kind.
Knowing its weaknesses we can work to improve them and use nuclear energy in our advantage.
- How About Recycling?
- In Depth Advantages Of Nuclear Energy
- What is Nuclear Waste?
- What is Nuclear Energy?
- Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy