Nuclear energy is commonly used in areas around the world today because it is a cost-effective way to produce a considerable amount of energy necessary for basic functions. Some medical facilities also produce this type of waste. While there are several nuclear waste disposal methods used by countries around the world, the issue of disposing of this incredible amount of waste is a growing concern for a justified reason.
By understanding more about current nuclear waste disposal methods, you may be able to see where the issues lie with some of the disposal methods currently being used.
1. Waste Remains On-Site at Power Plants
Altogether, approximately 2,000 to 2,300 tons of radioactive nuclear waste are generated at energy plants around the world. When you are exploring the various nuclear waste disposal methods available, it is important to note that the waste is typically described as being either high-level waste or used fuel waste.
This waste may be in a solid or liquid form, and there are also waste products with low or intermediate levels of radioactivity. One of the more common nuclear waste disposal methods available for the high-level waste is to simply store the waste on-site at the power plants. This is done when there simply is no other reasonable method available for dealing with highly toxic waste products.
Special chemicals are usually used to pull uranium fuel out of specialized rods at nuclear power plants. As the chemicals extract the uranium from the rods, toxic liquid waste is generated by the chemicals. In addition, used rods are another form of waste.
Approximately 29,000 tons of used rods are currently in the world, and many of these sit in cooling pools located on-site at the nuclear power plants. This is not a long-term solution for dealing with this waste, however. This is because the available space on-site at various nuclear power plants is very limited.
More than that, the radiation can seep into the liquid in the ponds, and this could potentially contaminate ground water. You can see that this type of disposal method for dealing with nuclear waste is simply not ideal.
2. Waste Is Buried in a Landfill
When you are looking at the many nuclear waste disposal methods, it is also important to note that some waste actually makes its way to landfills, and this may include landfills that are located close to your home. Low-level radiation waste is usually compacted tightly or otherwise burned.
After one of these methods is applied to the waste, it is usually transported to a landfill. It simply sits in the landfill along with other types of waste that finds its way to landfills. This creates some level of radioactivity at these landfills, and some people are concerned about how this waste is impacting the environment.
For example, some birds may consume waste products at landfills, and pollution can also enter the air and water supply through the landfills.
3. Waste Is Solidified and Buried at a Deeper Level
Some nuclear reactors also create an intermediate-level of waste that requires more specialized handling. For example, this type of reactor waste typically must be solidified before it can be dumped in a landfill. It most commonly is turned into bitumen or concrete.
This solid waste material is then taken to a landfill for disposal. Generally, it must be buried deeper in the landfill and requires special handling. Nonetheless, some level of toxic radiation can still seep into the environment as a result of this type of waste handling method.
4. Waste Is Sealed and Stored in Approved Locations
Another common option for nuclear waste disposal methods relates to storing the material in off-site and approved locations. There are several locations across the country and beyond that are licensed for storing this type of waste, but many people have issues with these facilities being located close to their home or workplace. After all, issues related to earthquakes and other factors can create a serious risk of radiation exposure.
There are various types of storage facilities in the United States to handle different types of nuclear waste. For example, a facility in Barnwell, SC accepts waste from nuclear reactors. An Andrews County, Texas facility accepts compact waste. There are also other facilities located in Utah and Washington.
These facilities typically use either horizontal or vertical storage containers, and these containers are usually located above ground. While steps are taken to keep them properly maintained and in good condition, the reality is that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster issue caused by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami is a prime example for the reason for concern regarding nuclear waste and how it is handled.
5. The Controversial Space Disposal
Another method of disposal for nuclear waste is known as space disposal. With this type of method, the nuclear waste is solidified. After it has been solidified, it is launched into the earth’s orbit. Then, it is sent beyond the orbit. This option is rather expensive, but it solves the problem of an increasing amount of nuclear waste being stored on the planet.
When the waste has been permanently removed from the planet, natural disasters and other related issues are not a concern. However, some opponents of this type of plan are concerned about the possibility of the space vehicle or rocket that is being used to transport the waste potentially exploring en route. The effects of this type of disaster are unknown and worrisome.
Many people unfortunately assume that all of the waste being generated by nuclear activities worldwide is properly being disposed of. However, you can see that waste is not always eliminated at all. Instead, it is simply stored on-site or in an approved off-site location.
This means that much of toxic waste in the world is growing at a rapid pace rather than being eliminated it. This is a worrisome fact and we can only hope of discovering new methods of disposal soon.