So we have all heard of nuclear waste, but what exactly is it? We know it is dangerous and we know it is emitted in certain types of industrial operations, but are you aware that nuclear waste may take over a million years to dissipate into non-hazardous levels? It’s true! Nuclear waste storage is a very serious problem that has plagued power plants and military operations for years. Due to the toxicity levels of nuclear waste, it cannot be stored safely using conventional storage methods.
Where Does Nuclear Waste Come From?
First off, nuclear waste is waste that contains radioactive material. The majority of nuclear waste comes from two main sources which are nuclear power plants and nuclear weapon reprocessing. However, these are simply the main sources of nuclear waste, there are also other sources of nuclear waste that are not quite as prominent such as medical and industrial wastes. One of the most dangerous and growing types of nuclear waste comes from spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors. Once a rod is spent is capable of giving off 99% of the radioactivity, making them highly dangerous to the health of living things. They are not very large in size, but add up quickly when the average 1000 MW nuclear power plant produces nearly 27 tons of spent nuclear fuel each year.
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Types of Nuclear Waste
There are differing levels of nuclear waste, while some nuclear wastes are considered to be high-level wastes which can take millions of years to lose radioactivity, there are also low-level wastes that may take tens of thousands of years to lose radioactivity. However, even though some nuclear wastes are considered low-level, that does not mean that they are any less dangerous to people and the environment. Any levels of radioactivity can be considered hazardous to the health of living things.
Storing Nuclear Waste Safely
The task of storing nuclear waste has been a long debated topic that is both technical and political. Up until quite recently nuclear waste storage was only temporary. Due to the toxicity levels of radioactive materials they have to be stored away from people, animals, and the living environment in general. Many different ideas were considered for the storage of such waste, some main ideas debated included drilling into the ocean floor for storage as well as encapsulating nuclear waste and storing it up in space. However, both of these ideas presented too many risks for exposure and too much in costs. So in order to combat the problem of nuclear storage, the U.S. invested more than 10 billion dollars towards the creation of a nuclear waste repository deep within the earth in the Yucca Mountain located 100 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. This location was chosen because extremely dry environment which limits the possibility for rain water to carry radioactive materials into the environment if any nuclear waste were to escape. This is a touchy political subject because many people living in Nevada do not want nuclear waste being stored near them due to the possibility of leakage or seepage into the environment. However, the U.S government pledges that they have taken every precaution necessary to help prevent the possibility of nuclear waste escaping the storage facility.
Although, there is a “permanent” storage facility for nuclear waste, what happens when that facility meets its capacity? Where will we store more nuclear waste? The task of storing nuclear waste is an ongoing problem that will continue to present itself as long as we continue to utilize radioactive energy and materials.