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Management of Nuclear Wastes

Mines and tailings

The storage and disposal of tailings are site-specific problems. Solutions will be very much
dependent on local climate, topography, and geology and on the nature of the mining operation. The
proximity of the populated areas will also have an impact on the engineering design.

Refinery and fuel fabrication wastes

Small amounts of uranium-bearing wastes are generated in refineries where uranium

concentrates from the mines are purified. Another product of the refinery operation is ammonium
nitrate. Its uranium content is reduced in the chemical processes involved to a concentration below that
normally found in commercial fertilizers so that it can be marketed as an acceptable product.

In fuel fabrication operations, a small amount of uranium oxide is produced as a result of the
pressing, sintering and grinding operations. It is recycled through the fabrication process by dissolution
in nitric acid, precipitation as ammonium diuranate, and conversion to uranium dioxide powder.

Spent fuel

The time that the spent fuel should be stored under water is still open to question. Certainly,
during the first one to two years after discharge from the reactor, the heat flux from the decaying fission
products us sufficiently high to make underwater storage the most desirable. However, as time passes,
another possibility emerges, that of interim dry storage in concrete flasks. The specific route for interim
storage will be determined by economics and the proposed ultimate disposition of the spent fuel. One
proposed economical method would be to store fuel underwater for perhaps the first 50 years. The high
corrosion resistance of the zirconium alloy cladding material gives confidence that such period should be
attainable without significant damage due to corrosion.

When spent fuel is discharged from light-water reactors, it consists of a mixture of enriched
uranium, plutonium, and fission products. The enriched uranium component has been reduced by
irradiation from its original concentration of 3 to 3.5% uranium-235 to about 1.1%. The residual
plutonium content is 0.8%.

Spent fuel from CANDU reactors is less valuable, because its uranium-235 content has been
decreased during irradiation to about 0.2% and its plutonium content is only 0.4%. Nonetheless, there is
a possibility of introducing advanced fuel cycles into CANDU reactors based on the utilization of
plutonium and on the irradiation of thorium.

The disposal philosophy of Canada is the spent fuel should be paced in a geologically stable
granite repository 500 to 1000 m underground. There are many such granite formations in Canada,
called plutons, which have not developed major new fracture systems due to any seismic, tectonic, or
glacial activity for more than 109 years.
`The disposal route foreseen for CANDU fuel bundles is to load a number of these into a
container of corrosion-resistant material, perhaps titanium, nickel-based alloys, or copper. The
interstices between the fuel bundles and the container would filled with a particular support (such as
glass beads) or by a lead-antimony alloy.

The sealed containers would be placed in caverns drilled in the rock repository, and a buffer
material placed around the container to separate it from the rock. One possible buffer is bentonite clay.
It will expand when exposed to water, thus impeding further movement of water toward the container.
After the filling of the repository, all rooms, boreholes, and shafts would be backfilled and plugged as
shown in Figure ______ so that further supervision of the disposal site would not be required.

Decomposition of Nuclear Power Reactors

Power reactors will need to be decommissioned at the end of their useful life. Although many
such units have been financed so as to amortize the initial capital investment over 30 years of operation,
their actual lifetimes may be considered longer. Several possible routes are available in planning a
decommissioning operation. A currently-favored one is to remove the main source of radioactivity, the
nuclear fuel, and all useful non-radioactive or decontaminated equipment. The reactors building would
be sealed so that the access was prevented for 30 to 50 years. During this time much of the residual
radioactivity in the facility, due primarily to cobalt activation products, would have decayed away.
Dismantling of the buildings and the residual equipment would begin with the objective of returning the
site to its original state. The relatively small volume of items containing residual radioactivity, about 5%,
of the total volume, would be transported tin suitably shielded containers to a near surface, secure
disposal site.

Biomedical Waste( reporter Angus)

Chemical Wastes

Need to control

It was not until the mid-1970s that legislation to control hazardous wastes evolved, not just in
North America, throughout Europe, Australia, Japan, and other developed countries. Incidents like the
New York States now infamous Love Canal situation, which festered for 30 years before its dangers to
human were exposed, demonstrated the consequences of improper hazardous waste disposal. As new
treats are revealed, additional technical, legal and social measures will be implemented to control this
insidious pollution. Most hazardous wastes cannot be handled by the conventional processes used in
municipal wastewater treatment plants. Faced with the increasing waste disposal costs, industries will
try to recycle and reclaim more wastes and to minimize the quantity to be taken off-site. Large
industries may be able to solve their own problems, but for smaller companies, an off-site facility for
receiving hazardous wastes will be necessary.

Environmental Effects
Our understanding of the human health and environmental impacts of mismanaged hazardous
wastes has grown considerably since the 1980s, but the pathways and mechanisms by which improperly
disposed hazardous wastes exert their toll on humans and the ecosystem are still not clear.

According to Blackman (1993), human health impacts of direct and indirect exposure to
hazardous wastes can include carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic effects, reproductive system
damage, respiratory effects, central nervous system effects, and many others.

Probably the most prevalent risk associated with hazardous waste management is the potential
for groundwater contamination. When disposed of on land in facilities not the designed for full
contaminant (whether in surface impoundments, waste piles, deep wells injection systems, or landfills),
hazardous wastes can leach into adjacent aquifers and thereby affect drinking water supplies. The
effects of mismanaged hazardous wastes on local flora and fauna are easier to detect than groundwater

Certain disposal practices which are no longer acceptable, such as surface impoundments (i.e.,
pits, ponds, and lagoons), have had, and continue, serious impacts on the ecosystem.

Organic chemicals

Organic chemicals of concern are those that persist (degrade slowly) in the environment and are fat
soluble, since these can accumulate in the food chain. PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and some
pesticides are examples of organics that behave this way, causing problems ranging from immediate
toxicity to long- term effects (carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, etc.). Many of these persistent pollutants
are formed from the degradation of primary substance s or from the burning of substances containing
chlorine in some form. Fossils fuels, organic materials, and municipal solid wastes are common sources
that release toxic chlorinated organics when incinerated. Adsorption of these organic on dust and fly ash
permits wide atmospheric distribution of these pollutants.

Inorganic pollutants

Many inorganic elements, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic are biological poisons at
concentrations in the parts per billion (ppb) range. These and the other toxic elements accumulate in
organic matter in soil and sediments and are taken up by growing plants. Also, because they are poorly
excreted by humans, they can build up in organs and tissues to toxic levels in the body. Toxic metals
enter the atmosphere (from the burning of coal and the combustion of solid and hazardous wastes),
reach receiving waters (through atmospheric fallout and leaching from mines and landfills), and
contaminate land ((as a result of sewage sludge application). Low pH caused by acid rain or the
generation of carbon dioxide gas increases the transportability and hence availability of the metals by
making them more soluble.

Identifying a hazardous waste

` Many countriesthe United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands,
among others supplement a general classification system with detailed lists of substances, processes,
industries, or wastes considered hazardous. Other countries expand on broad classifications by setting
maximum concentrations for specific contaminants. In japan, for example, four types of waste are
considered toxic (sludges, slags, acid wastes, and alkaline wastes), as are wastes containing any of nine
toxic materials [As, PCBs, cadmium, 6 , Pb and mercury( total and alkyl) organic phosphates)] in
excess of allowable limits.

Algorithms that consider qualities such as reactivity, toxicity and persistence, may be used to
provide preliminary screening for identifying hazardous wastes. Unfortunately, like all classification
systems, these models have shortcomings: the quality of waste involved, its behavior in the
environment, the degree of hazard, and its eventual effect on the living creature are seldom considered.

United states practice

In the United States, the procedures for the identification of hazardous wastes are described in
the federal register of May 19, 1980. These policies have been evolving since the introduction of the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976 and are still under constant review. In fact,
amendments to the Hazardous Waste Regulations are more voluminous than the original standards
promulgated in 1980. Five basic criteria are used by the U.S. EPA to define and identify a hazardous

1. Is the material a solid waste as defined by RCPA?

2. Has it been discarded?
3. Is it specifically excluded by the regulations?
4. Does it exhibit any of the characteristics of a hazardous waste?
5. Is it listed as hazardous in the regulations?

Let us examine each of these in turn.

Solid wastes

Solid waste, as defined under the RCRA, includes not just solids, but liquids, semi-liquids, and
contained gaseous material. This broad definition enables hazardous liquid waste from industry to be
covered by this legislation and to be examined as potential hazards.


Has the waste been (legally) discarded after serving its original purpose? This stipulation
includes wastes that are stored or treated prior to disposal, but materials to be recycled can be

Is the waste specifically excluded by the regulations? For example, municipal solid wastes,
agricultural waste, animal manures, and other wastes noted under the U.S. EPA definitions of a
hazardous waste in Section 15.1 are excluded.


RCRA solid wastes can be designated hazardous if they possess certain characteristics that

Have the potential to increase mortality or illness (i.e., may be toxic to humans) , or
Pose a substantial threat to human health or the environment because they are known to be
flammable, corrosive, explosive, toxic, or hazardous

The ff. four characteristics, detectable, and measurable by standard tests, are currently specified in the
RCRA regulations:

1. Ignitability: that is, the substance causes or enhances fires

2. Corrosivity: that is, the substance destroys tissues or metals
3. Reactivity: that is, the substance reacts violently or causes explosions
4. Toxicity: that is, the substance is a threat to water supplies and health

These four characteristics can be quantified by standard tests developed by the U.S. EPA. In the case of
toxicity, the major concern is the treat to groundwater. The toxicity of the waste is determined by the
Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure (TCLP), which was designed to stimulate the leaching
behavior of the waste in a landfill. The leachate from this test is analyzed to determine if it contains any
contaminants in concentrations that exceed regulatory levels. If so, the waste is considered hazardous
by virtue of its toxicity.

Wastes listed as Hazardous

The EPA has compiled an inventory of waste materials classified as hazardous because they met at
least one of the ff. criteria:

1. Exhibits one or more of the four characteristics of a hazardous waste

2. Meets the statutory definition of hazardous waste
3. Is acutely toxic or acutely hazardous
4. Is otherwise toxic

Waste is considered acutely hazardous if it has been to have (1) an oral LD50* toxicity of less
than 50 mg/kg, or (2) a dermal LD50 toxicity of less than 200 mg/kg, or (3) an inhalation LC50** toxicity
of less than 2 mg/kg.

There are currently about 750 listed wastes, which are subdivided into the ff. three categories.
1. Nonspecific source wastes, which are produced in variety of manufacturing and industrial
processes, such as spent solvents used in degreasing and treatment sludges from electroplating
2. Specific source waste, which are produced by specific industries, such as process water form
wood preservation and petroleum refining
3. Commercial chemical products and chemical intermediates, including organic compounds, acids,
metals, and pesticides

* lethal dose 50: dosage in mg/kg of body weight causing 50% mortality to test rats as a result of oral
ingestion and to rabbits as a result of dermal penetration

**lethal concentration 50: ambient concentration in mg/L of air causing 50% mortality to test rats
during air inhalation