Radioactive waste


Radioactive waste
Radioactive wastes are wastes that contain radioactive material. Radioactive wastes are usually by-products of nuclear power generation and other applications of nuclear fission or nuclear technology, such as research and medicine. Radioactive waste is hazardous to most forms of life and the environment, and is regulated by government agencies in order to protect human health and the environment. Radioactivity diminishes over time, so waste is typically isolated and stored for a period of time until it no longer poses a hazard. The period of time waste must be stored depends on the type of waste. Low-level waste with low levels of radioactivity per mass or volume (such as some common medical or industrial radioactive wastes) may need to be stored for only hours or days while high-level wastes (such as spent nuclear fuel or by-products of nuclear reprocessing) must be stored for a year or more. Current major approaches to managing radioactive waste have been segregation and storage for short-lived wastes, near-surface disposal for low and some intermediate level wastes, and deep burial or transmutation for the high-level wastes. When dealing with long-term radioactive waste management solutions, the time frames in question range from 10,000 to millions of years. A summary of the amounts of radioactive wastes and management approaches for most developed countries are presented and reviewed periodically as part of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.[1]

Nature and significance of radioactive waste
Radioactive waste typically comprises a number of radioisotopes: unstable configurations of elements that decay, emitting ionizing radiation which can be harmful to humans and the environment. Those isotopes emit different types and levels of radiation, which last for different periods of time.

The new supplementary ionizing radiation warning symbol launched on 15 February 2007 by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the International Organization for Standardization.


Radioactive waste


Medium-lived fission products
Prop: Unit:

t½ a 4.76

Yield % .0803 .2180 .0008

Q * βγ keV * 252 βγ 687 βγ 316 β



Kr 10.76


Cd 14.1 Sr 28.9


4.505 2826 β 6.337 1176 βγ .00005 .5314 390 βγ 77 β


Cs 30.23 Sn 43.9



Sm 90

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Long-lived fission products
Prop: Unit:

t½ Ma

Yield %

Q * βγ KeV * 294 β

Tc 0.211 6.1385


Sn 0.230 0.1084 4050 βγ Se 0.327 0.0447 Zr 1.53 5.4575 2.3 6.9110 6.5 1.2499 15.7 0.8410 151 β 91 βγ 269 β 33 β 194 βγ




Cs Pd I



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The radioactivity of all nuclear waste diminishes with time. All radioisotopes contained in the waste have a half-life—the time it takes for any radionuclide to lose half of its radioactivity—and eventually all radioactive waste decays into non-radioactive elements (i.e., stable isotopes). Certain radioactive elements (such as plutonium-239) in “spent” fuel will remain hazardous to humans and other creatures for hundreds or thousands of years. Other radioisotopes remain hazardous for millions of years. Thus, these wastes must be shielded for centuries and isolated from the living environment for millennia.[2] Since radioactive decay follows the half-life rule, the rate of decay is inversely proportional to the duration of decay. In other words, the radiation from a long-lived isotope like iodine-129 will be much less intense than that of a short-lived isotope like iodine-131.[3] The two tables show some of the major radioisotopes, their half-lives, and their radiation yield as a proportion of the yield of fission of uranium-235. The energy and the type of the ionizing radiation emitted by a radioactive substance are also important factors in determining its threat to humans.[4] The chemical properties of the radioactive element will determine how mobile

1 sievert increment of dosage. . and sometimes also the nature of the chemical compound which contains the radioisotope. Because of such differences.1 sieverts is 0. but it is unlikely this defect will be in a gamete or a gamete-forming cell. it is possible a birth defect may be induced. Treatment of an adult animal with radiation or some other mutation-causing effect. The incidence of radiation-induced mutations in humans is undetermined. being water soluble. In a similar way.Radioactive waste the substance is and how likely it is to spread into the environment and contaminate humans. may cause cancer in the animal.37–23 My 80 My 0.[10] If a developing organism such as an unborn child is irradiated. making it far more damaging to tissues per amount of energy deposited. the alpha emitting actinides and radium are considered very harmful as they tend to have long biological half-lives and their radiation has a high relative biological effectiveness.1-1% <0.05% fission product yield [8] U U Exposure to high levels of radioactive waste may cause serious harm or death. For instance iodine-131 is a short-lived beta and gamma emitter. In humans it has been calculated that a 5 sievert dose is usually fatal.[5] This is further complicated by the fact that many radioisotopes do not decay immediately to a stable state but rather to radioactive decay products within a decay chain before ultimately reaching a stable state. due to flaws in studies done to date.25% 0. such as a cytotoxic anti-cancer drug. the rules determining biological injury differ widely according to the radioisotope. but because it concentrates in the thyroid gland.7–14 Gy 135 Zr 107 Pd № for NORM 4n+2 238 № 4n+3 235 ƒ№ 6-7% 4-5% 1.8%.[9] Ionizing radiation causes deletions in chromosomes. 3 Pharmacokinetics Actinides 244 Half-life 227 243 251 Fission products medium 137 Cm U 241 Puƒ 250 238 Cf Pu Amƒ Ac№ Cmƒ Cfƒ Bk Am Puƒ Pa№ 10–22 y 29–90 y m is meta 85 Kr Sm₡ 113m 121m Cd₡ Sn 232 ƒ Cs 90 Sr 151 ƒ for fissile 249 241 Cfƒ Am Th Cmƒ U 242m 226 246 250 230 [6] 140 y – 1. increasing by the same amount for each additional 0. and the lifetime risk of dying from radiation-induced cancer from a single dose of 0. it is more able to cause injury than caesium-137 which. the threat due to exposure to a given activity of a radioisotope will differ. is rapidly excreted in urine.[11] Depending on the decay mode and the pharmacokinetics of an element (how the body processes it and how quickly).6 ky Ra№ Cm Cm Th№ U [7] 247 243 239 231 No fission products have a half-life in the range of 91 y – 210 ky 240 Pu 229 245 5–7 ky 8–24 ky 32–160 ky 211–348 ky 99 4n 236 248 236 244 232 Npƒ Cm U Pu Th№ 233 ƒ 4n+1 237 234 № 242 247 Tc Cs₡ ₡ can capture 93 126 129 Sn I 79 Se long Np Pu Cmƒ 0.

with a U-235 content of ~0. Front end Waste from the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle is usually alpha-emitting waste from the extraction of uranium. These eventually build up to a level where they absorb so many neutrons that the chain reaction stops.7% to about 4. Many of these are neutron absorbers. France. as well as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) that can be concentrated as a result of the processing or consumption of coal. This reprocessing involves handling highly radioactive materials. oil and gas. and even sometimes some neutron emitters such as californium (Cf). and the fission products removed from the fuel are a concentrated form of high-level waste as are the chemicals used in the process. The majority of waste originates from the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear weapons reprocessing. Used fuel contains the highly radioactive products of fission (see high level waste below). As a gas. At that point the fuel has to be replaced in the reactor with fresh fuel. Nuclear fuel cycle This article is about radioactive waste.[13] It is also used with plutonium for making mixed oxide fuel (MOX) and to dilute. Back end The back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. even with the control rods completely removed. see Nuclear power.3%. or downblend. plutonium-238 and americium-241. principally the U-238 isotope. Uranium dioxide (UO2) concentrate from mining is not very radioactive . and actinides that emit alpha particles. mostly spent fuel rods.Radioactive waste 4 Sources of waste Radioactive waste comes from a number of sources. It is refined from yellowcake (U3O8). then converted to uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6). the fuel is reprocessed to remove the fission products. While these countries reprocess the fuel carrying out single plutonium cycles.[] .only a thousand or so times as radioactive as the granite used in buildings. These isotopes are formed in nuclear reactors. neptunium-237. it undergoes enrichment to increase the U-235 content from 0. contains fission products that emit beta and gamma radiation. for contextual information. this used fuel is stored.4% (LEU). such as uranium-234. even though there is still a substantial quantity of uranium-235 and plutonium present. and the fuel can then be re-used. while in countries such as Russia. Some is used in applications where its extremely high density makes it valuable such as anti-tank shells. as discussed below. even sailboat keels on at least one occasion. and some minerals.[12] The main by-product of enrichment is depleted uranium (DU). Japan and India. In the United States. called neutron poisons in this context. It is stored. It is important to distinguish the processing of uranium to make fuel from the reprocessing of used fuel. Other sources include medical and industrial wastes. India is the only country known to be planning multiple plutonium recycling schemes. It is then turned into a hard ceramic oxide (UO2) for assembly as reactor fuel elements. highly enriched uranium from weapons stockpiles which is now being redirected to become reactor fuel. It often contains radium and its decay products. the United Kingdom. either as UF6 or as U3O8.

Ordinarily (in spent nuclear fuel). Th-232 is a fertile material that can undergo a neutron capture reaction and two beta minus decays. This is a concern since if the waste is stored. Proliferation concerns Since uranium and plutonium are nuclear weapons materials. A comparison of the activity associated to U-233 for three different SNF types can be seen in the figure on the top right. thorium with weapons-grade plutonium (WGPu) and Mixed Oxide fuel (MOX). 5 Activity of U-233 for three fuel types The burnt fuels are thorium with reactor-grade plutonium (RGPu). When looking at long term radioactive decay. the actinides in the SNF have a significant influence due to their characteristically long half-lives. there have been proliferation concerns.000 years (that is.[14] High-level waste is full of highly radioactive fission products. For RGPu and WGPu. Thus "weapons grade plutonium mines" would be a problem for the very far future (>9. with varying activity curves. so that there remains a great deal of time for technology to advance to solve it. so the U-238 continues to serve as a denaturation agent for any U-235 produced by plutonium .g. it contains large amounts of undesirable contaminants: plutonium-240.Radioactive waste Fuel composition and long term radioactivity Long-lived radioactive waste from the back end of the fuel cycle is especially relevant when designing a complete waste management plan for spent nuclear fuel (SNF). and thus the relative enrichment of one isotope to the other with time occurs with a half-life of 9. some have argued. An example of this effect is the use of nuclear fuels with thorium. the actinide composition in the SNF will be different. perhaps in deep geological storage. the initial amount of U-233 and its decay around 1 million years can be seen. as time passes. whereas for RGPu and WGPu the curve is maintained higher due to the presence of U-233 that has not fully decayed. these deep storage areas have the potential to become "plutonium mines". which is highly suitable for building nuclear weapons. to spontaneously decrease by half—a typical enrichment needed to turn reactor-grade into weapons-grade Pu). decreasing the radioactivity of the waste and making the plutonium easier to access. it takes 9000 years for the fraction of Pu-240 in a sample of mixed plutonium isotopes.110 years. and more cost-effective ways of obtaining fissile material exist (e. Thus plutonium may decay and leave uranium-235. Thus.000 years from now). Its radioactive decay will strongly influence the long-term activity curve of the SNF around 1 million years. In addition to plutonium-239. modern reactors are only moderately enriched with U-235 relative to U-238. Depending on what a nuclear reactor is fueled with. The use of different fuels in nuclear reactors results in different SNF composition. uranium enrichment or dedicated plutonium production reactors). and thus the quality of the bomb material increases with time (although its quantity decreases during that time as well).[citation needed] Pu-239 decays to U-235 which is suitable for weapons and which has a very long half-life (roughly 109 years). The absence of U-233 and its daughter products in the MOX fuel results in a lower activity in region 3 of the figure on the bottom right. resulting in the production of fissile U-233. The SNF of a cycle with thorium will contain U-233. The undesirable contaminant Pu-240 decays faster than the Pu-239. from which material for nuclear weapons can be acquired with relatively little difficulty. most of which are relatively short-lived. plutonium is reactor-grade plutonium. and plutonium-238. over many years the fission products decay. Critics of the latter idea point out that the half-life of Pu-240 is 6. These isotopes are difficult to separate.560 years and Pu-239 is 24. However. plutonium-241. This has an effect in the total Total activity for three fuel types activity curve of the three fuel types.

or at least closure. there were for example at least "167 known contaminant release sites" in one of the three subdivisions of the 37.[15][16] DOE wishes to clean or mitigate many or all by 2025. sites were smaller in nature. cleanup issues were simpler to address. The beta decay of Pu-241 forms Am-241.5 billion pounds of waste". these wastes from radioactive decay of bomb core material would be very small. A truncated PUREX type extraction process would be one possible method of making the separation. such as Pu-238 or Po. however the task can be difficult and it acknowledges that some may never be completely remediated. Ohio site for example had "31 million pounds of uranium product". In just one of these 108 larger designations. 6 Nuclear weapons decommissioning Waste from nuclear weapons decommissioning is unlikely to contain much beta or gamma activity other than tritium and americium. the DOE has stated a goal of cleaning all presently contaminated sites successfully by 2025.Radioactive waste decay. One solution to this problem is to recycle the plutonium and use it as a fuel e. Some designs might contain a radioisotope thermoelectric generator using Pu-238 to provide a long lasting source of electrical power for the electronics in the device. there are numerous sites that contain or are contaminated with radioactivity.[15] .[15] Some of the U. and in any case. and a "223 acre portion of the underlying Great Miami Aquifer had uranium levels above drinking standards. the Department of Energy states there are "millions of gallons of radioactive waste" as well as "thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel and material" and also "huge quantities of contaminated soil and water. the separated plutonium and uranium are contaminated by actinides and cannot be used for nuclear weapons. of several sites. and military programs. in fast reactors. plus some U-235 from decay of the Pu-239.3% of U-238 and only 0. details of the design of modern bombs are normally not released to the open literature. plus some material with much higher specific activities. It is likely that the fissile material of an old bomb which is due for refitting will contain decay products of the plutonium isotopes used in it. sometimes many thousands of acres.7% of U-235. far less dangerous (even in terms of simple radioactivity) than the Pu-239 itself. uranium mining.g. these are likely to include U-236 from Pu-240 impurities.S. "2."[15] Despite copious quantities of waste.75 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris".000-acre (150 km2) site. "2. the in-growth of americium is likely to be a greater problem than the decay of Pu-239 and Pu-240 as the americium is a gamma emitter (increasing external-exposure to workers) and is an alpha emitter which can cause the generation of heat.[15] The Fernald. In pyrometallurgical fast reactors. In the United States alone. It is more likely to contain alpha-emitting actinides such as Pu-239 which is a fissile material used in bombs. however. due to the relatively long half-life of these Pu isotopes. these would include pyrochemical processes and aqueous/organic solvent extraction. an alternative to polonium is Pu-238. The plutonium could be separated from the americium by several different processes. Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Legacy waste Due to historic activities typically related to radium industry. Naturally occurring uranium is not fissile because it contains 99. For reasons of national security."[15] The United States has at least 108 sites designated as areas that are contaminated and unusable. and DOE has successfully completed cleanup. In the past the neutron trigger for an atomic bomb tended to be beryllium and a high activity alpha emitter such as polonium.

After human processing that exposes or concentrates this natural radioactivity (such as mining bringing coal to the surface or burning it to produce concentrated ash). average radiation exposure from natural radioisotopes is 2. Usually ranging from 1 milli-Sievert to 13 milli-Sievert (mSv) annually depending on location.[20] Most rocks. used for brachytherapy. neutron or gamma emitters. from the combustion of an estimated 637 billion tons of coal [18] worldwide. used for brachytherapy and external radiotherapy (5. 0. due to their components.[21] This makes up the majority of typical total dosage (with mean annual exposure from other sources amounting to 0.007 mSv from the legacy of past atmospheric nuclear testing along with the Chernobyl disaster. in the case of pure coal. have a low level of radioactivity. thorium and potassium.0002 mSv from the nuclear fuel cycle.[19] A lot of this waste is alpha particle-emitting matter from the decay chains of uranium and thorium. it becomes technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive material (TENORM).3 years) Cs-137.4 milligrams/day intake.7 days) I-131. include: • • • • • • Y-90.[18] The radioactivity of fly ash is about the same as black shale and is less than phosphate rocks.[24] . such as oil well logging. Gamma emitters are used in radiography while neutron emitting sources are used in a range of applications. The surrounding strata.[22] Coal Coal contains a small amount of radioactive uranium. often contain slightly more than average and this may also be reflected in the ash content of 'dirty' coals.Radioactive waste 7 Medical Radioactive medical waste tends to contain beta particle and gamma ray emitters. used for treating bone cancer. but. 0. but is more of a concern because a small amount of the fly ash ends up in the atmosphere where it can be inhaled. In diagnostic nuclear medicine a number of short-lived gamma emitters such as technetium-99m are used.4 mSv from cosmic rays. averaged over the whole populace. beta.005 mSv occupational exposure). predicted by ORNL to cumulatively amount to 2. intravenous injection (52 days) Ir-192. external radiotherapy (30 years) Industrial Industrial source waste can contain alpha. used for treating lymphoma (2. The main source of radiation in the human body is potassium-40 (40K).0 mSv per person a year worldwide.0 days) Sr-89. Other isotopes used in medicine. Many of these can be disposed of by leaving it to decay for a short time before disposal as normal waste. used for brachytherapy (74 days) Co-60. though there are no significant differences in the radiological risks of these materials. with half-lives in parentheses. typically 17 milligrams in the body at a time and 0. TENORM is not regulated as restrictively as nuclear reactor waste. if shale or mudstone.[17] Naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) Substances containing natural radioactivity are known as NORM. It can be divided into two main classes. this is significantly less than the average concentration of those elements in the Earth's crust. and. barium.9 million tons over the 1937-2040 period.[18][23] The more active ash minerals become concentrated in the fly ash precisely because they do not burn well. used for thyroid function tests and for treating thyroid cancer (8.6 mSv medical tests and 0. 0.[21] Annual release of uranium and thorium radioisotopes from coal combustion.

Materials that originate from any region of an Active Area are commonly designated as LLW as a precautionary measure even if there is only a remote possibility of being contaminated with radioactive materials. especially in Colorado. Some high-activity LLW requires shielding during handling and transport but most LLW is suitable for shallow land burial. oil and gas from a well often contain radon. class B. . Low-level waste Removal of very low-level waste Low level waste (LLW) is generated from hospitals and industry.8 person-rem/year during normal operation. and Greater Than Class C (GTCC). Low-level waste is divided into four classes: class A. as well as the nuclear fuel cycle. Vast mounds of uranium mill tailings are left at many old mining sites. New Mexico. or 136 person-rem/year for the complete nuclear fuel cycle). such as a normal office block. tools. filters. Uranium mill tailings typically also contain chemically hazardous heavy metal such as lead and arsenic. clothing. from the section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 that defines them.S. which publishes the Radioactive Waste Safety Standards (RADWASS). The IAEA. The radon decays to form solid radioisotopes which form coatings on the inside of pipework. In an oil processing plant the area of the plant where propane is processed is often one of the more contaminated areas of the plant as radon has a similar boiling point to propane.[18] Oil and gas Residues from the oil and gas industry often contain radium and its decay products. population exposure from 1000-MWe power plants amounts to 490 person-rem/year for coal power plants. They are not significantly radioactive. and Utah. while the water. NCRP reports. rags. class C. and other materials which contain small amounts of mostly short-lived radioactivity. 100 times as great as nuclear power plants (4. Low-level wastes include paper. also plays a significant role.[25] 8 Classification of radioactive waste Classifications of nuclear waste varies by country. The sulfate scale from an oil well can be very radium rich.Radioactive waste According to U. Mill tailings are sometimes referred to as 11(e)2 wastes.[26] Uranium tailings Uranium tailings are waste by-product materials left over from the rough processing of uranium-bearing ore. it is often compacted or incinerated before disposal. Such LLW typically exhibits no higher radioactivity than one would expect from the same material disposed of in a non-active area. To reduce its volume.

S. TRUW is disposed more cautiously than either low. regulations is. which is the equivalent to about 100 double-decker buses or a two-story structure with a footprint the size of a basketball court. with surface dose rates up to 1000000 Röntgen equivalent man per hour (10000 mSv/h). CH TRUW does not have the very high radioactivity of high-level waste. while long-lived waste (from fuel and fuel reprocessing) is deposited in geological repository. The U. but RH TRUW can be highly radioactive.S. law. HLW accounts for over 95 percent of the total radioactivity produced in the process of nuclear electricity generation. waste that is contaminated with alpha-emitting transuranic radionuclides with half-lives greater than 20 years and concentrations greater than 100 nCi/g (3.. debris and other items contaminated with small amounts of radioactive elements (mainly plutonium). short-lived waste (mainly non-fuel materials from reactors) is buried in shallow repositories.[27] A 1000-MW nuclear power plant produces about 27 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel (unreprocessed) every year.000 metric tons every year. as well as contaminated materials from reactor decommissioning.S.[29] . CH TRUW has a surface dose rate not greater than 200 Roentgen equivalent man per hour (to millisievert/hr). High-level waste Spent fuel flasks are transported by railway in the United Kingdom. As a general rule.7 MBq/kg). the term is used in Europe and elsewhere. The amount of HLW worldwide is currently increasing by about 12.[28] Transuranic waste Transuranic waste (TRUW) as defined by U. excluding high-level waste. Intermediate-level wastes includes resins. and consists of clothing. without regard to form or origin. Each flask is constructed of 14 in (360 mm) thick solid steel and weighs in excess of 50 tons High-level waste (HLW) is produced by nuclear reactors. it arises mainly from weapons production.S. It is highly radioactive and often thermally hot. regulations do not define this category of waste. Because of their long half-lives. Under U. tools. nor its high heat generation. It may be solidified in concrete or bitumen for disposal. It contains fission products and transuranic elements generated in the reactor core. currently disposes of TRUW generated from military facilities at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.or intermediate-level waste. rags. residues. In the U. Elements that have an atomic number greater than uranium are called transuranic ("beyond uranium").S. transuranic waste is further categorized into "contact-handled" (CH) and "remote-handled" (RH) on the basis of radiation dose measured at the surface of the waste container. U.Radioactive waste 9 Intermediate-level waste Intermediate-level waste (ILW) contains higher amounts of radioactivity and in some cases requires shielding. chemical sludge and metal reactor nuclear fuel cladding. whereas RH TRUW has a surface dose rate of 200 Röntgen equivalent man per hour (2 mSv/h) or greater.

not permitted by international agreements. "Disposal in outer space".000 years). rotating tube. not implemented. is highly resistant to water. France. disposal or transformation of for nuclear waste [32] the waste into a non-toxic form. Belgium. not implemented. The Netherlands. not implemented. Japan. Russia. Fast reactors can theoretically consume some existing waste. Switzerland.[37] . and unlikely to start before 2050. which output less waste per power generated. • "Disposal in ice sheets". Such glass. done by USSR. When cooled.[30] Management of waste Of particular concern in nuclear waste management are two long-lived fission products.[] The 'calcine' generated is fed continuously into an induction heated furnace with fragmented glass. • "Sub seabed disposal". rejected in Antarctic Treaty • "Direct injection". Calcination involves passing the waste through a heated. followed by a long-term Modern medium to high level transport container management strategy involving storage.[35] Currently at Sellafield the high-level waste (PUREX first cycle raffinate) is mixed with sugar and then calcined. not implemented. after being formed. but the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority described this technology as immature and commercially unproven.[33] In second half of 20th century. which dominate spent fuel radioactivity after a few thousand years. the fluid solidifies ("vitrifies") into the glass. USA.000 years) and I-129 (half-life 17 million years). Germany. "Deep borehole disposal". and de-nitrate the fission products to assist the stability of the glass produced. "Disposal at subduction zones". This product. though there has been limited progress toward long-term waste management solutions. as a melt.[36] The resulting glass is a new substance in which the waste products are bonded into the glass matrix when it solidifies. Initial treatment of waste Vitrification Long-term storage of radioactive waste requires the stabilization of the waste into a form which will neither react nor degrade for extended periods of time. Tc-99 (half-life 220. The most troublesome transuranic elements in spent fuel are Np-237 (half-life two million years) and Pu-239 (half-life 24. Sweden. One way to do this is through vitrification. not implemented. done by USSR and USA. is poured into stainless steel cylindrical containers ("cylinders") in a batch process. This usually necessitates treatment. Italy and South Korea. (1954–93) It's not permitted by international agreements. "Rock-melting".Radioactive waste 10 Prevention of waste A theoretical way to reduce waste accumulation is to phase out current reactors in favour of Generation IV Reactors or Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors.[31] Nuclear waste requires sophisticated treatment and management to successfully isolate it from interacting with the biosphere. "Ocean disposal". Governments around the world are considering a range of waste management and disposal options. The purposes of calcination are to evaporate the water from the waste. UK. several methods of disposal of radioactive waste were investigated by nuclear nations.[34] Which are. • • • • • • "Long term above ground storage". not implemented.

The sugar is added to control the ruthenium chemistry and to stop the formation of the volatile RuO4 containing radioactive ruthenium isotopes. 11 Long term management of waste The time frame in question when dealing with radioactive waste ranges from 10.[46] [47] Practical studies only consider up to 100 years as far as effective planning[48] and cost evaluations[49] are concerned.[] In Germany a vitrification plant is in use. while in the former Soviet bloc it is normal to use a phosphate glass. the waste products are expected to be immobilized for thousands of years. Synroc was invented by the late Prof Ted Ringwood (a geochemist) at the Australian National University. or blast furnace slag. The main minerals in this Synroc are hollandite (BaAl2Ti6O16). it is possible to use a ferric hydroxide floc to remove radioactive metals from aqueous mixtures. For instance. usually in an underground repository. the other Pt group metals.[42] In order to get better long-term performance (mechanical stability) from such forms. zirconolite (CaZrTi2O7) and perovskite (CaTiO3). gravel and sand). The cylinder is then washed. After being inspected for external contamination. Long term behavior of radioactive wastes remains a subject for ongoing research projects in geoforecasting. which are then buried underground. In this form. and Portland cement. a seal is welded onto the cylinder. instead of normal concrete (made with Portland cement.[45] Researchers suggest that forecasts of health detriment for such periods should be examined critically.[][40] Ion exchange It is common for medium active wastes in the nuclear industry to be treated with ion exchange or other means to concentrate the radioactivity into a small volume. The much less radioactive bulk (after treatment) is often then discharged.000 years. In the West. The strontium and barium will be fixed in the perovskite. the resulting sludge can be placed in a metal drum before being mixed with cement to form a solid waste form. the glass is normally a borosilicate glass (similar to Pyrex). this is treating the waste from a small demonstration reprocessing plant which has since been closed down. Synroc The Australian Synroc (synthetic rock) is a more sophisticated way to immobilize such waste.[39] The amount of fission products in the glass must be limited because some (palladium. Bulk vitrification uses electrodes to melt soil and wastes. The caesium will be fixed in the hollandite.000. they may be made from a mixture of fly ash. and this process may eventually come into commercial use for civil wastes (it is currently being developed for US military wastes).[50] International radioactive waste hazard symbol featuring the trefoil design.[41] After the radioisotopes are absorbed onto the ferric hydroxide. The zirconolite and perovskite are hosts for the actinides. All this work (in the United Kingdom) is done using hot cell systems.Radioactive waste After filling a cylinder. The original form of Synroc (Synroc C) was designed for the liquid high level waste (PUREX raffinate) from a light water reactor.[43] The Synroc contains pyrochlore and cryptomelane type minerals.[44] according to studies based on the effect of estimated radiation doses.000 to 1. . the steel cylinder is stored.[38] The glass inside a cylinder is usually a black glossy substance. and tellurium) tend to form metallic phases which separate from the glass.

”[53] Aside from dilution.[61] Another approach termed Remix & Return[62] would blend high-level waste with uranium mine and mill tailings down to the level of the original radioactivity of the uranium ore.” The proposed land-based subductive waste disposal method disposes of nuclear waste in a subduction zone accessed from land.[51] Geologic disposal The process of selecting appropriate deep final repositories for high level waste and spent fuel is now under way in several countries with the first expected to be commissioned some time after 2010.Radioactive waste Above-ground disposal Dry cask storage typically involves taking waste from a spent fuel pool and sealing it (along with an inert gas) in a steel cylinder. The basic concept is to locate a large.[52] Moreover.[63][64][65] Since the fraction of nuclides decaying per unit of time is inversely proportional to an isotope's half-life. This method has been described as the most viable means of disposing of radioactive waste. burial in a subduction zone that would slowly carry the waste downward into the Earth's mantle.[60] and as the state-of-the-art as of 2001 in nuclear waste disposal technology. (the London Dumping Convention) states: “Sea” means all marine waters other than the internal waters of States. among other natural radioisotopes. 7.[54] Sea-based options for disposal of radioactive waste[55] include burial beneath a stable abyssal plain. The Earth's crust contains 120 trillion tons of thorium and 40 trillion tons of uranium (primarily at relatively trace concentrations of parts per million each adding up over the crust's 3 * 1019 ton mass). Deep borehole disposal is the concept of disposing of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear reactors in extremely deep boreholes. It is a relatively inexpensive method which can be done at a central facility or adjacent to the source reactor. it may require more than one half-life until some nuclear materials lose enough radioactivity to cease being lethal to living things. they would require an amendment of the Law of the Sea. chemically toxic stable elements in some waste such as arsenic remain toxic for up to billions of years or indefinitely. A 1983 review of the Swedish radioactive waste disposal program by the National Academy of Sciences found that country’s estimate of several hundred thousand years—perhaps up to one million years—being necessary for waste isolation “fully justified. the relative radioactivity of the lesser amount of human-produced radioisotopes (thousands of tons instead of trillions of tons) would diminish once the 12 . Deep borehole disposal seeks to place the waste as much as 5 kilometres (3. and of facilitating a cradle-to-grave cycle for radioactive materials.600 ft) to 1. The waste can be easily retrieved for reprocessing. even very low container leakage and radionuclide migration rates must be taken into account. Because some radioactive species have half-lives longer than one million years. of the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter. While these approaches all have merit and would facilitate an international solution to the problem of disposal of radioactive waste.[56][57] and burial beneath a remote natural or human-made island. The goal is to permanently isolate nuclear waste from the human environment.. then replace it in inactive uranium mines. but would be inappropriate for spent reactor fuel in the absence of reprocessing. or large-bore tunnel boring machines (similar to those used to drill the Channel Tunnel from England to France) to drill a shaft 500 metres (1.1 mi) beneath the surface of the Earth and relies primarily on the immense natural geological barrier to confine the waste safely and permanently so that it should never pose a threat to the environment. Many people remain uncomfortable with the immediate stewardship cessation of this disposal system.[58] Article 1 (Definitions). stable geologic formation and use mining technology to excavate a tunnel. which is placed in a concrete cylinder which acts as a radiation shield.300 ft) below the surface where rooms or vaults can be excavated for disposal of high-level radioactive waste. it does not include sub-seabed repositories accessed only from land.000 metres (3. as well as the seabed and the subsoil thereof. suggesting perpetual management and monitoring would be more prudent. due to the presence in it of highly toxic radioactive elements such as plutonium. This approach has the merits of providing jobs for miners who would double as disposal staff.[59] and therefore is not prohibited by international agreement.

there will be a substantial community benefits package and worth hundreds of millions of pounds" said Ed Davey. construction of reprocessing plants during this time did not resume. industrial scale. Another approach. An isotope that is found in nuclear waste and that represents a concern in terms of proliferation is Pu-239. but nonetheless. the local elected body voted 7-3 against research continuing.Radioactive waste isotopes with far shorter half-lives than the bulk of natural radioisotopes decayed. Cumbria county council rejected UK central government proposals to start work on an underground storage dump for nuclear waste near to the Lake District National Park. work on the method has continued in the EU. Transmutation was banned in the US in April 1977 by President Carter due to the danger of plutonium proliferation. of which 210 MT had been separated by reprocessing. but was then canceled by the US Government. Several fuel types with differing plutonium destruction efficiencies are under study.[70] There have also been theoretical studies involving the use of fusion reactors as so called "actinide burners" where a fusion reactor plasma such as in a tokamak. could be "doped" with a small amount of the "minor" transuranic atoms which would be transmuted (meaning fissioned in the actinide case) to lighter elements upon their successive bombardment by the very high energy neutrons produced by the fusion of deuterium and tritium in the reactor. Additionally. See Nuclear transmutation. the US is now actively promoting research on transmutation technologies needed to markedly reduce the problem of nuclear waste treatment."[66][67] Transmutation There have been proposals for reactors that consume nuclear waste and transmute it to other. In particular.[69] Due to the economic losses and risks. This has resulted in a practical nuclear research reactor called Myrrha in which transmutation is possible. a new research program called ACTINET has been started in the EU to make transmutation possible on a large. the Integral Fast Reactor was a proposed nuclear reactor with a nuclear fuel cycle that produced no transuranic waste and in fact. could consume transuranic waste. It proceeded as far as large-scale tests.[68] but President Reagan rescinded the ban in 1981.645 MT. after hearing evidence from independent geologists that "the fractured strata of the county was impossible to entrust with such dangerous material and a hazard lasting millennia. "For any host community. is to dedicate subcritical reactors to the transmutation of the left-over transuranic elements. According to President Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) of 2007. An option for getting rid of this plutonium is to use it as a fuel in a traditional Light Water Reactor (LWR). A study at MIT found that only 2 or 3 fusion reactors with parameters similar to that of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) could transmute the entire annual minor actinide production from all of the light water reactors presently operating in the United States fleet while simultaneously generating approximately 1 gigawatt of power from each reactor. Due to high energy demand. considered safer but requiring more development. The estimated world total of plutonium in the year 2000 was of 1. The large stock of plutonium is a result of its production inside uranium-fueled reactors and of the reprocessing of weapons-grade plutonium during the weapons program. Energy Secretary.[71] 13 . less-harmful nuclear waste. In January 2013.

“An increasing backlog of plutonium from reprocessing is developing in many countries.. international agreements on the regulation of such a program would need to be established. while many others reprocess spent fuel or contract with France or Great Britain to do it. A high number of launches would be required because no individual rocket would be able to carry very much of the material relative to the total amount that needs to be disposed of. It has significant disadvantages. It is doubtful that reprocessing makes economic sense in the present environment of cheap uranium. Sweden and Finland are furthest along in committing to a particular disposal technology. The radioactivity of high-level radioactive waste affords proliferation resistance to plutonium placed in the periphery of the repository or the deepest portion of a borehole. Finland.000 years is 250 times more permissive than the European limit.. is a method for the temporary or permanent storage of nuclear waste materials comprising the placing of waste materials into one or more repositories or boreholes constructed into an unconventional oil formation.[77] The U. nuclear waste would increase the radioactivity in the top 2000 feet of rock and soil in the United States (10 million km2) by ≈ 1 part in 10 million over the cumulative amount of natural .000 years after closure. which could spread radioactive material into the atmosphere and around the world. A mixture of hydrocarbons.[74] To further complicate matters.[72] Already. which comprise the majority of spent fuel radioactivity in the 1000-100000 year time span. The Nuclear Assisted Hydrocarbon Production Method. burying U. hydrogen.5 milli-Sieverts (350 millirem) each annually to local individuals after 10.302. EPA’s proposed standard for greater than 10. though the U.S. caesium-137.Radioactive waste Re-use of waste Another option is to find applications for the isotopes in nuclear waste so as to re-use them. after the most active short half-life radioisotopes decayed. it reduces the quantity of waste produced. This makes the proposal impractical economically and it increases the risk of at least one or more launch failures.S. and/or other formation fluids are produced from the formation. such as the potential for catastrophic failure of a launch vehicle. the Netherlands.[77] The U. European limits are often more stringent than the standard suggested in 1990 by the International Commission on Radiation Protection by a factor of 20.. alters the chemical and/or physical properties of hydrocarbon material within the subterranean formation to allow removal of the altered material. Space disposal Space disposal is attractive because it permanently removes nuclear waste from the environment. The thermal flux of the waste materials fracture the formation. and other proposals. taking back the resulting plutonium and high-level waste.659.[78] Over a timeframe of thousands of years. While re-use does not eliminate the need to manage radioisotopes.S. EPA proposed a legal limit of a maximum of 3. Britain.[73] Canadian patent application 2. and more stringent by a factor of ten than the standard proposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository for the first 10.”[76] In many European countries (e.g. strontium-90 and a few other isotopes are extracted for certain industrial applications such as food irradiation and radioisotope thermoelectric generators.S. Sweden and Switzerland) the risk or dose limit for a member of the public exposed to radiation from a future high-level nuclear waste facility is considerably more stringent than that suggested by the International Commission on Radiation Protection or proposed in the United States. Breeder reactors can run on U-238 and transuranic elements. which would be up to several percent of the exposure currently received by some populations in the highest natural background regions on Earth. space elevators. 14 National management plans Most countries are considerably ahead of the United States in developing plans for high-level radioactive waste disposal.000 years.[75] Costs and inadequate reliability of modern rocket launch systems for space disposal has been one of the motives for interest in non-rocket space launch systems such as mass drivers. DOE predicted that received dose would be much below that limit.

and sending them to the sea bed off the Calabrian coast. several radioactive waste deposits let material flow into river water. Poneman visited Mongolia in September. . Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. These negotiations started after U.[87] in another case. containment trenches covered with dirt.[89] Irresponsibility on the part of the radioactive material's owners. Mongolia stopped all negotiations in September 2011. 15 Illegal dumping Authorities in Italy are investigating a 'Ndrangheta mafia clan accused of trafficking and illegally dumping nuclear waste. which may have less regulation of dangerous substances (and sometimes less general education about radioactivity and its hazards) and a market for scavenged goods and scrap metal.[79] Mongolia After serious opposition had risen about plans and negotiations between Mongolia with Japan and the United States of America to build nuclear waste facilities in Mongolia. a manager of the Italy’s state energy research agency Enea paid the clan to get rid of 600 drums of toxic and radioactive waste from Italy. at the Areva plant in Tricastin.[82] Accidents involving radioactive waste A few incidents have occurred when radioactive material was disposed of improperly.[80] The Mongolian government has accused the newspaper of distributing false claims around the world. collapsed under heavy rainfall into the trenches and filled with water. usually a hospital. In other cases of radioactive waste accidents. while the 'Ndrangheta clan also blew up shiploads of waste.[84] At Maxey Flat. over 100 staff were contaminated with low doses of radiation. The water that invaded the trenches became radioactive and had to be disposed of at the Maxey Flat facility itself. or when it was simply abandoned or even stolen from a waste store. Germany. with Somalia as the destination. Former employees of Enea are suspected of paying the criminals to take waste off their hands in the 1980s and 1990s. waste stored in Lake Karachay was blown over the area during a dust storm after the lake had partly dried out. it was reported that during a draining operation. a low-level radioactive waste facility located in Kentucky. mostly in developing nations.[86] in one. According to a turncoat. The scavengers and those who buy the material are almost always unaware that the material is radioactive and it is selected for its aesthetics or scrap value.[85] In France. the United States and Mongolia in February 2011.Radioactive waste radioisotopes in such a volume. Shipments to Somalia continued into the 1990s. 2010. 13 banning all negotiations with foreign governments or international organizations on nuclear waste storage plans in Mongolia. Switzerland. The talks were kept secret. the Mongolian president fired the individual that was supposedly involved in these conversations. but the vicinity of the site would have a far higher concentration of artificial radioisotopes underground than such an average. and although The Mainichi Daily News reported on it in May. liquid containing untreated uranium overflowed out of a faulty tank and about 75 kg of the radioactive material seeped into the ground and. joined in the negotiations.[citation needed] In Italy.[81] According to the environmental group Legambiente. shielding during transport was defective.[83] In the Soviet Union. The Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj issued a presidential order on Sept. into two rivers nearby. Mongolia officially denied the existence of these negotiations. lakes or ponds with radioactive waste accidentally overflowed into the rivers during exceptional storms. thus contaminating water for domestic use. including radioactive hospital waste. which wanted to buy nuclear fuel from Mongolia. But alarmed by this news. France.[88] Scavenging of abandoned radioactive material has been the cause of several other cases of radiation exposure. Talks were held in Washington DC between officials of Japan. where the waste was buried after buying off local politicians. and demanded the government withdraw the plans and disclose information. Mongolian citizens protested against the plans. former members of the 'Ndrangheta have said that they were paid to sink ships with radioactive material for the last 20 years. from there. in the summer of 2008 numerous incidents happened. After this the United Arab Emirates (UAE). and the US.S. After the presidential order. instead of steel or cement.

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[85] Report RAI. guardian. Mass and Composition of the Continental Crust (http:/ / adsabs.Radioactive waste [42] Removal of Silicon from High Level Waste Streams via Ferric Flocculation (http:/ / sti. phyast. R.243^1080736. pdf [73] http:/ / www. [90] http:/ / www. 1989. Nuclear waste stalemate. com/ s/ afp/ 20090914/ sc_afp/ italycrimemafiaenvironment_20090914212821). 81. org/ SONIC. Vandenbosch. ias. pdf).00. Spent Fuel and High Level Waste: Chemical Durability and Performance under Simulated Repository Conditions (http:/ / www-pub. [53] Yates. com/ [76] Vandenbosch. phyast. html) [81] From cocaine to plutonium: mafia clan accused of trafficking nuclear waste (http:/ / www. net/ subductionservices/ ) [60] Utah Nuclear Waste Summary (http:/ / www. Synroc (http:/ / world-nuclear. reuters. report. 2007. New incident at French nuclear plant (http:/ / uk. Final Rule (http:/ / www.February 2002 (http:/ / www. 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com/write/articles/space.html) (documents) • Grist. 1–9 • Jacob Darwin (2008).nrc. 14. Number 2.epa.: subjects/ U. New York: Taylor & Francis. • Hewitt. Nova Publishers. Science and Engineering Ethics 13 (1) .be/) (link) • Ondraf/Niras.nuclearfiles. pp.smartplanet.pdf) (PDF) • Environmental Protection Agency . Oxford. Second ed. Sierra Club Radioactive Waste Campaign. Volume 5. and James doc-collections/reg-guides/fuels-materials/active/03–054/) (guide) • Radwaste Solutions (http://www.grist. Handbook of advanced radioactive waste conditioning waste 18 Further reading • Babu.Yucca Mountain (http://www. and (link) • Critical Hour: Three Mile Island.Spent Fuel Heat Generation Calculation (http://www. Geohydrologic aspects for siting and design of low-level radioactive-waste disposal [U. in A. (2008) Leaving Messages about Our Radioactive Waste for Future Generations.euridice. ( NRSB (http://dels. An overview of waste from the nuclear fuel cycle. • Marshall.shtml)) Going the Distance? The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States (http://www. • . (2005) Questioning the Motivations for International Repositories for Nuclear Waste Global Environmental (magazine) .nrc. (1989). N. 93–102. ISBN 1-84569-626-3. CH.html)). Geological Survey. nap.woodheadpublishing... ed. Melbourne. ( (http://robin-hewitt.S.S. Department of the Interior. NJ: Rutgers University Press. (2011).org .org/news/maindish/2006/08/ 08/stang/) (article) • SmartPlanet. Saling.ans.aspx?browse=science/Nuclear+ Waste) (annotated bibliography) • Euridice European Interest Group in charge of Hades URL operation (http://www. 1. yucca-mountain/index.S. http://www. Radioactive Waste Management.Internet Directory of Nuclear Resources (http://www.earthhealing.Radioactive Waste (http://alsos. 1985.S. Nuclear Waste Research. pp37–46.php?record_id=11538#orgs) ISBN 0-309-10004-6 • M. Alan. Audeen W. • Marshall.Ticking Time Bombs: What Should We Do With Nuclear Waste (http://www. Alan (2005) The Social and Ethical Aspects of Nuclear Waste. M. D. • Marshall. The Nuclear Legacy.htm) (documents) • Nuclear Regulatory Commission .iaea.html) (links) • Nuclear Files. Electronic Green Journal 21. • Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board.How to tell future generations about nuclear waste (http://www.I. Alan. Robin (1985). • Fentiman. 2005. the waste management authority in Belgium (http://www. P Latiffer. com/business/blog/smart-takes/ticking-time-bombs-what-should-we-do-with-nuclear-waste/7950) • International Atomic Energy Agency . • Hamblin.). Alan. Alan (2007) Questioning Nuclear Waste Substitution: A Case Study. FoE and BNI. Poison in the Well: Radioactive Waste in the Oceans at the Dawn of the Nuclear Age.Yucca Mountain ( External links • Alsos Digital Library . Geological Survey Circular 1034]. Outer Space: the Easy Way Out?. (2006) Dangerous Dawn: The New Nuclear Age. May 2005. Energy Education Science and Technology.nas. Piscataway.nirond. And National Security ( • Bedinger. 2002.Radioactive Waste (http://www. 512 p. NY. Ojovan (ed.html) (documents) • Nuclear Regulatory Commission .

world-nuclear.unep.php) (documents and links) • World Nuclear Association .latimes. com/2008/jan/21/business/ft-nuclearwaste21) • RadWaste.Radioactive Waste (http://www.html) (briefing papers) • Worries can’t be buried as nuclear waste piles up. Los Angeles (http://www.Radioactive waste • UNEP Earthwatch .org/info/inf04. January 21. 2008 (http://articles.Radioactive Waste ( 19 .

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