What is Nuclear Waste?

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?

advantages of nuclear energyIt 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 .

  1. Uranium tailings are a waste by-products material left over from the rough processing of uranium-bearing ore. They are not that radioactive.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

What is Nuclear Waste?


Disposal Methods

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:

  1. Outer space disposal – too expensive it was not implemented
  2. Rock-melting
  3. Long term above ground storage – too dangerous at present times
  4. Deep boreholes disposal – not implemented
  5. Ocean Disposal – done in the past is no longer permitted by the international laws
  6. Disposal in ice sheets – not implemented and today not permitted by international laws
  7. 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.






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