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Radioactive waste is a type of
hazardous waste Hazardous waste is waste Waste (or wastes) are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use, or is worthless, defective and of no use. A by-product A by-product or byproduct is a secondary ...
that contains
radioactive material A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom An atom is the smallest unit of ordinary matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by ...
. Radioactive waste is a result of many activities, including
nuclear medicine Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty A medical specialty is a branch of medical practice that is focused on a defined group of patients, diseases, skills, or philosophy. Examples include children (paediatrics Pediatrics (American and Briti ...
,
nuclear research Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Other forms of nuclear matter are also studied. Nuclear physics should not be confused with atomic physics, which studies the atom as a wh ...
,
nuclear power Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reaction In nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), ...

nuclear power
generation, rare-earth mining, and
nuclear weapon A nuclear weapon (also known as an atom bomb, atomic bomb, nuclear bomb or nuclear warhead, and colloquially as an A-bomb or nuke) is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reaction In nuclear physics Nucl ...
s reprocessing. The storage and disposal of radioactive waste is regulated by government agencies in order to protect human health and the environment. It is broadly classified into
low-level waste Image:Low-Level Waste Facility Graphic.jpg, 300px, NRC Graphic of a low-level waste facility. Low-level waste (LLW) is nuclear waste that does not fit into the categorical definitions for intermediate-level waste (ILW), high-level waste (HLW), spe ...
(LLW), such as paper, rags, tools, clothing, which contain small amounts of mostly short-lived radioactivity, intermediate-level waste (ILW), which contains higher amounts of radioactivity and requires some shielding, and high-level waste (HLW), which is highly radioactive and hot due to decay heat, so requires cooling and shielding. In
nuclear reprocessing Nuclear may refer to: Physics Relating to the nucleus of the atom: *Nuclear engineering Nuclear engineering is the branch of engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, ...
plants about 96% of
spent nuclear fuel Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear power plant). It is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction in an ordinary thermal reactor and ...
is recycled back into uranium-based and mixed-oxide (MOX) fuels. The residual 4% is
fission products Nuclear fission products are the atomic fragments left after a large atomic nucleus undergoes nuclear fission In nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Oth ...
which are highly radioactive High-Level Waste. This radioactivity naturally decreases over time, so the material is stored in appropriate disposal facilities for a sufficient period until it no longer poses a threat. The time radioactive waste must be stored for depends on the type of waste and radioactive isotopes. Short-term approaches to radioactive waste storage have been segregation and storage on the surface or near-surface. Burial in a
deep geological repository at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, New Mexico A deep geological repository is a way of storing toxic or radioactive waste within a stable geologic environment (typically 200–1000 m deep). It entails a combination of waste for ...
is a favored solution for long-term storage of high-level waste, while re-use and transmutation are favored solutions for reducing the HLW inventory. A summary of the amounts of radioactive waste and management approaches for most developed countries are presented and reviewed periodically as part of the
International Atomic Energy Agency The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization An international organization (also known as an international institution or intergovernmental organization) is a stable set of norms and rules meant to gov ...
(IAEA)'s
Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste ManagementThe Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management is a 1997 International Atomic Energy Agency The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization ''Intern ...
.


Nature and significance

A quantity of radioactive waste typically consists of a number of
radionuclides A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterized by their number of proton A proton is a subatomic par ...
, which are unstable isotopes of elements that undergo
decay
decay
and thereby emit
ionizing radiation Ionizing radiation (or ionising radiation), including nuclear radiation, consists of s or s that have sufficient to s or s by detaching s from them. The particles generally travel at a speed that is greater than 1% of , and the electromagnetic w ...
, which is harmful to humans and the environment. Different isotopes emit different types and levels of radiation, which last for different periods of time.


Physics

The radioactivity of all radioactive waste weakens with time. All
radionuclide A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from atomic nucleus, nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterized by their number of protons, ''Z'', their ...
s contained in the waste have a
half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics Physics is the natural science that studies ...
— the time it takes for half of the atoms to decay into another
nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus ''Nucleus'' (plural nuclei) is a Latin word for the seed inside a fruit. It most often refers to: *Atomic nucleus, the very dense central region of an atom *Cell nucleus, a central organelle of a eukaryotic c ...

nuclide
. Eventually, all radioactive waste decays into non-radioactive elements (i.e.,
stable nuclide Stable nuclides are nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus ''Nucleus'' (plural nuclei) is a Latin word for the seed inside a fruit. It most often refers to: *Atomic nucleus, the very dense central region of an atom *Cell nucleus, a cen ...
s). 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 Iodine-129 (129I) is a long-lived radioisotope A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted f ...

iodine-129
will be much less intense than that of a short-lived isotope like
iodine-131 Iodine-131 (131I, I-131) is an important radioisotope A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterize ...

iodine-131
. 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 Ionizing radiation (or ionising radiation), including nuclear radiation, consists of s or s that have sufficient to s or s by detaching s from them. The particles generally travel at a speed that is greater than 1% of , and the electromagnetic w ...
emitted by a radioactive substance are also important factors in determining its threat to humans. The chemical properties of the radioactive
element Element may refer to: Science * Chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Chart-blocks.svg, 400px, Periodic table, The periodic table of the chemical elements In chemistry, an element is a pure substance consisting only of atoms that all ...
will determine how mobile the substance is and how likely it is to spread into the environment and
contaminate Contamination is the presence of a constituent, impurity Impurities are chemical substance A chemical substance is a form of matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by ha ...
humans. This is further complicated by the fact that many radioisotopes do not decay immediately to a stable state but rather to radioactive
decay product In nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and ...
s within a
decay chain In nuclear science, the decay chain refers to a series of radioactive decays of different radioactive decay products as a sequential series of transformations. It is also known as a "radioactive cascade". Most Radionuclide, radioisotopes do not de ...
before ultimately reaching a stable state.


Pharmacokinetics

Exposure to radioactive waste may cause health impacts due to ionizing radiation exposure. In humans, a dose of 1
sievert The sievert (symbol: SvNot be confused with the sverdrup or the svedberg, two non-SI units that sometimes use the same symbol.) is a SI derived unit, derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units (SI) and is a mea ...
carries a 5.5% risk of developing cancer, and regulatory agencies assume the risk is linearly proportional to dose even for low doses. Ionizing radiation can cause deletions in chromosomes. If a developing organism such as a
fetus A fetus or foetus (; plural fetuses, feti, foetuses, or foeti) is the unborn offspring that develops from an animal embryo An embryo is the early stage of development of a multicellular organism A multicellular organism is an organism tha ...

fetus
is irradiated, it is possible a
birth defect A birth defect, also known as a congenital disorder, is a condition present at birth Birth is the act or process of bearing or bringing forth offspring, also referred to in technical contexts as parturition. In mammals, the process is initiat ...
may be induced, but it is unlikely this defect will be in a
gamete A gamete ( /ˈɡæmiːt/; from Ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply ...
or a gamete-forming cell. The incidence of radiation-induced mutations in humans is small, as in most mammals, because of natural cellular-repair mechanisms, many just now coming to light. These mechanisms range from DNA,
mRNA In molecular biology, messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) is a single-stranded molecule of RNA that corresponds to the genetic sequence of a gene, and is read by a ribosome in the process of Protein biosynthesis, synthesizing a protein. mRNA i ...

mRNA
and protein repair, to internal lysosomic digestion of defective proteins, and even induced cell suicide—apoptosis Depending on the decay mode and the
pharmacokinetics Pharmacokinetics (from Ancient Greek ''pharmakon'' "drug" and ''kinetikos'' "moving, putting in motion"; see chemical kinetics), sometimes abbreviated as PK, is a branch of pharmacology dedicated to determine the fate of substances administered to ...

pharmacokinetics
of an element (how the body processes it and how quickly), the threat due to exposure to a given activity of a
radioisotope A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterized by their number of proton A proton is a subatomic par ...
will differ. For instance,
iodine-131 Iodine-131 (131I, I-131) is an important radioisotope A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterize ...

iodine-131
is a short-lived
beta Beta (, ; uppercase , lowercase , or cursive Cursive (also known as script, among other names) is any style of penmanship Penmanship is the technique of writing Writing is a medium of human communication that involves the represen ...

beta
and
gamma Gamma (uppercase , lowercase ; ''gámma'') is the third letter of the Greek alphabet. In the system of Greek numerals it has a value of 3. In Ancient Greek, the letter gamma represented a voiced velar stop . In Modern Greek, this letter rep ...
emitter, but because it concentrates in the
thyroid The thyroid, or thyroid gland, is an endocrine gland Endocrine glands are ductless glands of the endocrine system The endocrine system is a messenger system comprising feedback loops of the hormones released by internal glands of an organi ...

thyroid
gland, it is more able to cause injury than
caesium Caesium (IUPAC spelling) (American and British English spelling differences, also spelled cesium in American English) is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol Cs and atomic number 55. It is a soft, silvery-golden alkal ...

caesium
-137 which, being water soluble, is rapidly excreted through urine. In a similar way, the
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A s ...

alpha
emitting actinides and
radium Radium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elem ...

radium
are considered very harmful as they tend to have long biological half-lives and their radiation has a high
relative biological effectiveness In radiobiology, the relative biological effectiveness (often abbreviated as RBE) is the ratio of biological effectiveness of one type of ionizing radiation Ionizing radiation (ionising radiation) consists of subatomic particles or electromag ...
, making it far more damaging to tissues per amount of energy deposited. Because of such differences, the rules determining biological injury differ widely according to the radioisotope, time of exposure, and sometimes also the nature of the chemical compound which contains the radioisotope.


Sources

Radioactive waste comes from a number of sources. In countries with nuclear power plants, nuclear armament, or nuclear fuel treatment plants, the majority of waste originates from the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear weapons reprocessing. Other sources include medical and industrial wastes, as well as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) that can be concentrated as a result of the processing or consumption of coal, oil, and gas, and some minerals, as discussed below.


Nuclear fuel cycle


Front end

Waste from the front end of the
nuclear fuel cycle The nuclear fuel cycle, also called nuclear fuel chain, is the progression of nuclear fuel Nuclear fuel is material used in nuclear power stations to produce heat to power turbines. Heat is created when nuclear fuel undergoes nuclear fission ...

nuclear fuel cycle
is usually alpha-emitting waste from the extraction of uranium. It often contains radium and its decay products.
Uranium dioxide Uranium dioxide or uranium(IV) oxide (), also known as urania or uranous oxide, is an oxide of rutile Rutile is a mineral composed primarily of titanium dioxide (TiO2), and is the most common natural form of TiO2. Other rarer polymorphs of TiO2 ...

Uranium dioxide
(UO2) concentrate from mining is a thousand or so times as radioactive as the
granite Granite () is a coarse-grained (phanerite, phaneritic) intrusive rock, intrusive igneous rock composed mostly of quartz, alkali feldspar, and plagioclase. It forms from magma with a high content of silica and alkali metal oxides that slowly cool ...

granite
used in buildings. It is refined from
yellowcake Yellowcake (also called urania) is a type of uranium concentrate powder (substance), powder obtained from In-situ leach, leach solutions, in an intermediate step in the processing of uranium ores. It is a step in the processing of uranium after ...

yellowcake
(U3O8), then converted to
uranium hexafluoride Uranium hexafluoride (), colloquially known as "hex" in the nuclear industry, is a compound used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapon A nuclear weapon (also called an atom bomb, nu ...
gas (UF6). As a gas, it undergoes enrichment to increase the
U-235 Uranium-235 (235U) is an Isotopes of uranium, isotope of uranium making up about 0.72% of natural uranium. Unlike the predominant isotope uranium-238, it is fissile, i.e., it can sustain a nuclear fission, fission chain reaction. It is the only f ...

U-235
content from 0.7% to about 4.4% (LEU). It is then turned into a hard
ceramic A ceramic is any of the various hard, brittle, heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant Corrosion is a Erosion, natural process that converts a refined metal into a more chemically stable form such as oxide, hydroxide, carbonate or sulfide. ...

ceramic
oxide (UO2) for assembly as reactor fuel elements. The main by-product of enrichment is
depleted uranium Depleted uranium (DU; also referred to in the past as Q-metal, depletalloy or D-38) is uranium Uranium is a chemical element upright=1.0, 500px, The chemical elements ordered by link=Periodic table In chemistry Chemistry is ...
(DU), principally the U-238 isotope, with a U-235 content of ~0.3%. It is stored, either as UF6 or as U3O8. Some is used in applications where its extremely high density makes it valuable such as
anti-tank Anti-tank warfare originated from the need to develop technology and Military tactics, tactics to destroy tanks during World War I (1914–1918). Since the Triple Entente developed the first tanks in 1916 but did not deploy them in battle until ...
shells Shell may refer to: Architecture and design * Shell (structure), a thin structure **Concrete shell, a thin shell of concrete, usually with no interior columns or exterior buttresses **Thin-shell structure, **Oil company Science Biology * Seashell ...
, and on at least
one occasion
one occasion
even a sailboat
keel The keel is the bottom-most longitudinal structural element on a vessel. On some sailboats, it may have a Fluid dynamics, hydrodynamic and counterbalancing purpose, as well. As the keel laying, laying down of the keel is the initial step in the c ...

keel
. It is also used with plutonium for making mixed oxide fuel (MOX) and to dilute, or downblend, highly enriched uranium from weapons stockpiles which is now being redirected to become reactor fuel.


Back end

The back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, mostly spent
fuel rod Nuclear fuel is material used in nuclear power stations to produce heat to power turbines. Heat is created when nuclear fuel undergoes nuclear fission. Most nuclear fuels contain heavy fissile actinide elements that are capable of Fissile mate ...
s, contains
fission product Nuclear fission products are the atomic fragments left after a large atomic nucleus undergoes nuclear fission. Typically, a large nucleus like that of uranium Uranium is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol U and atomic numbe ...
s that emit beta and gamma radiation, and
actinide The actinoid (IUPAC nomenclature The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC ) is an international federation of National Adhering Organizations that represents chemis ...
s that emit
alpha particle Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Proto ...

alpha particle
s, such as
uranium-234 Uranium-234 (234U, U-234) is an isotope of uranium. In natural uranium Natural uranium (NU, Unat) refers to uranium Uranium is a chemical element upright=1.0, 500px, The chemical elements ordered by link=Periodic table In chemist ...

uranium-234
(half-life 245 thousand years),
neptunium-237 Neptunium (93Np) is usually considered an artificial element, although trace quantities are found in nature, so a standard atomic weight The standard atomic weight (''A''r, standard(E)) of a chemical element Image:Simple Periodic Table Cha ...

neptunium-237
(2.144 million years),
plutonium-238 Plutonium-238 (238Pu) is a radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the sma ...

plutonium-238
(87.7 years) and
americium-241 Americium-241 (241Am, Am-241) is an isotope of americium. Like all isotopes of americium, it is radioactive, with a half-life of 432.2 years. 241Am is the most common isotope of americium as well as the most prevalent isotope of americium in nucle ...

americium-241
(432 years), and even sometimes some neutron emitters such as
californium Californium is a radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the small, dens ...

californium
(half-life of 898 years for californium-251). These isotopes are formed in
nuclear reactor A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a fission nuclear chain reaction 300px, A possible nuclear fission chain reaction: 1) A uranium-235 atom absorbs a neutron">uranium-235.html" ;"ti ...

nuclear reactor
s. It is important to distinguish the processing of uranium to make fuel from the reprocessing of used fuel. Used fuel contains the highly radioactive products of fission (see high-level waste below). Many of these are neutron absorbers, called
neutron poison In applications such as nuclear reactor A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a fission nuclear chain reaction or nuclear fusion reactions. Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power pla ...
s in this context. These eventually build up to a level where they absorb so many neutrons that the chain reaction stops, even with the control rods completely removed. At that point, the fuel has to be replaced in the reactor with fresh fuel, even though there is still a substantial quantity of
uranium-235 Uranium-235 (235U) is an Isotopes of uranium, isotope of uranium making up about 0.72% of natural uranium. Unlike the predominant isotope uranium-238, it is fissile, i.e., it can sustain a nuclear chain reaction. It is the only fissile isotope t ...

uranium-235
and
plutonium Plutonium is a radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material co ...

plutonium
present. In the United States, this used fuel is usually "stored", while in other countries such as Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and India, the fuel is reprocessed to remove the fission products, and the fuel can then be re-used. The fission products removed from the fuel are a concentrated form of high-level waste as are the chemicals used in the process. While most countries reprocess the fuel carrying out single plutonium cycles, India is planning multiple plutonium recycling schemes and Russia pursues closed cycle.


Fuel composition and long term radioactivity

The use of different fuels in nuclear reactors results in different
spent nuclear fuel Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear power plant). It is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction in an ordinary thermal reactor and ...
(SNF) composition, with varying activity curves. The most abundant material being U-238 with other uranium isotopes, other actinides, fission products and activation products. Long-lived radioactive waste from the back end of the fuel cycle is especially relevant when designing a complete waste management plan for SNF. When looking at long-term
radioactive decay Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material containing unstable nuclei is consi ...

radioactive decay
, the actinides in the SNF have a significant influence due to their characteristically long half-lives. Depending on what a
nuclear reactor A nuclear reactor, formerly known as an atomic pile, is a device used to initiate and control a fission nuclear chain reaction 300px, A possible nuclear fission chain reaction: 1) A uranium-235 atom absorbs a neutron">uranium-235.html" ;"ti ...

nuclear reactor
is fueled with, the actinide composition in the SNF will be different. An example of this effect is the use of
nuclear fuel Nuclear fuel is material used in nuclear power stations to produce heat to power turbines. Heat is created when nuclear fuel undergoes nuclear fission. Most nuclear fuels contain heavy fissile actinide elements that are capable of Fissile mate ...
s with
thorium Thorium is a weakly radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the sma ...

thorium
. Th-232 is a fertile material that can undergo a neutron capture reaction and two beta minus decays, resulting in the production of fissile
U-233
U-233
. The SNF of a cycle with thorium will contain U-233. Its radioactive decay will strongly influence the long-term
activity Activity may refer to: * Action (philosophy), in general * Human activity: human behavior, in sociology behavior may refer to all basic human actions, economics may study human economic activities and along with cybernetics and psychology may stud ...

activity
curve of the SNF around a million years. A comparison of the activity associated to U-233 for three different SNF types can be seen in the figure on the top right. The burnt fuels are thorium with reactor-grade plutonium (RGPu), thorium with weapons-grade plutonium (WGPu), and Mixed oxide fuel (MOX, no thorium). For RGPu and WGPu, the initial amount of U-233 and its decay around a million years can be seen. This has an effect on the total activity curve of the three fuel types. The initial 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, whereas for RGPu and WGPu the curve is maintained higher due to the presence of U-233 that has not fully decayed.
Nuclear reprocessing Nuclear may refer to: Physics Relating to the nucleus of the atom: *Nuclear engineering Nuclear engineering is the branch of engineering Engineering is the use of scientific method, scientific principles to design and build machines, ...
can remove the actinides from the spent fuel so they can be used or destroyed (see ).


Proliferation concerns

Since uranium and plutonium are
nuclear weapons A nuclear weapon (also known as an atom bomb, atomic bomb, nuclear bomb or nuclear warhead, and colloquially as an A-bomb or nuke) is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reaction In nuclear physics Nucl ...

nuclear weapons
materials, there have been proliferation concerns. Ordinarily (in
spent nuclear fuel Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear power plant). It is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction in an ordinary thermal reactor and ...
), plutonium is
reactor-grade plutoniumReactor-grade plutonium (RGPu) is the isotopic grade of plutonium that is found in spent nuclear fuel Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear po ...
. In addition to
plutonium-239 Plutonium-239 (239Pu, Pu-239) is an isotope Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number, and consequently in nucleon number. All isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons but differe ...

plutonium-239
, which is highly suitable for building nuclear weapons, it contains large amounts of undesirable contaminants:
plutonium-240 Plutonium-240 (, Pu-240) is an isotope Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number, and consequently in nucleon number. All isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons but different numb ...

plutonium-240
,
plutonium-241 Plutonium-241 (241Pu, Pu-241) is an isotope Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number, and consequently in nucleon number. All isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons but different ...

plutonium-241
, and
plutonium-238 Plutonium-238 (238Pu) is a radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the sma ...

plutonium-238
. These isotopes are extremely difficult to separate, and more cost-effective ways of obtaining fissile material exist (e.g., uranium enrichment or dedicated plutonium production reactors). High-level waste is full of highly radioactive
fission products Nuclear fission products are the atomic fragments left after a large atomic nucleus undergoes nuclear fission In nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Oth ...
, most of which are relatively short-lived. This is a concern since if the waste is stored, perhaps in deep geological storage, over many years the fission products decay, decreasing the radioactivity of the waste and making the plutonium easier to access. The undesirable contaminant Pu-240 decays faster than the Pu-239, and thus the quality of the bomb material increases with time (although its quantity decreases during that time as well). Thus, some have argued, as time passes, these deep storage areas have the potential to become "plutonium mines", from which material for nuclear weapons can be acquired with relatively little difficulty. Critics of the latter idea have pointed out the difficulty of recovering useful material from sealed deep storage areas makes other methods preferable. Specifically, high radioactivity and heat (80 °C in surrounding rock) greatly increase the difficulty of mining a storage area, and the enrichment methods required have high capital costs. Pu-239 decays to
U-235 Uranium-235 (235U) is an Isotopes of uranium, isotope of uranium making up about 0.72% of natural uranium. Unlike the predominant isotope uranium-238, it is fissile, i.e., it can sustain a nuclear fission, fission chain reaction. It is the only f ...

U-235
which is suitable for weapons and which has a very long half-life (roughly 109 years). Thus plutonium may decay and leave uranium-235. However, modern reactors are only moderately enriched with U-235 relative to U-238, so the U-238 continues to serve as a denaturation agent for any U-235 produced by plutonium decay. One solution to this problem is to recycle the plutonium and use it as a fuel e.g. in
fast reactor A fast-neutron reactor (FNR) or fast-spectrum reactor or simply a fast reactor is a category of nuclear reactor in which the fission nuclear chain reaction, chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons (carrying energies above 1 Electronvolt, MeV ...
s. In pyrometallurgical fast reactors, the separated plutonium and uranium are contaminated by actinides and cannot be used for nuclear weapons.


Nuclear weapons decommissioning

Waste from nuclear weapons decommissioning is unlikely to contain much beta or gamma activity other than
tritium Tritium ( or , ) or hydrogen-3 (symbol T or H) is a rare and radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucl ...

tritium
and
americium Americium is a synthetic radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the ...

americium
. It is more likely to contain alpha-emitting actinides such as Pu-239 which is a fissile material used in bombs, plus some material with much higher specific activities, such as Pu-238 or Po. In the past the neutron trigger for an
atomic bomb A nuclear weapon (also known as an atom bomb, atomic bomb, nuclear bomb or nuclear warhead, and colloquially as an A-bomb or nuke) is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either nuclear fission, fiss ...
tended to be
beryllium Beryllium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical el ...

beryllium
and a high activity alpha emitter such as
polonium Polonium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical eleme ...

polonium
; an alternative to polonium is
Pu-238 Plutonium-238 (238Pu) is a radioactive isotope of plutonium that has a half-life of 87.7 years. Plutonium-238 is a very powerful alpha emitter; as alpha particles are easily blocked, this makes the plutonium-238 isotope suitable for usage in radi ...
. For reasons of national security, details of the design of modern bombs are normally not released to the open literature. Some designs might contain a
radioisotope thermoelectric generator A radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG, RITEG) is a type of nuclear battery that uses an array of thermocouples to convert the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radi ...
using Pu-238 to provide a long-lasting source of electrical power for the electronics in the device. 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, these are likely to include U-236 from Pu-240 impurities, plus some U-235 from decay of the Pu-239; due to the relatively long half-life of these Pu isotopes, these wastes from radioactive decay of bomb core material would be very small, and in any case, far less dangerous (even in terms of simple radioactivity) than the Pu-239 itself. The beta decay of
Pu-241 Plutonium-241 (241Pu, Pu-241) is an isotope Isotopes are variants of a particular chemical element which differ in neutron number, and consequently in nucleon number. All isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons but different ...
forms
Am-241 Americium-241 (241Am, Am-241) is an isotope of americium. Like all isotopes of americium, it is radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process b ...
; 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 In thermodynamics Thermodynamics is a branch of physics that deals with heat, Work (thermodynamics), work, and temperature, and their relation to energy, entropy, and the physical properties of matter and radiation. The behavior of these ...

heat
. The plutonium could be separated from the americium by several different processes; these would include pyrochemical processes and aqueous/organic
solvent extraction A solvent (from the Latin language, Latin ''wikt:solvo#Latin, solvō'', "loosen, untie, solve") is a substance that dissolves a solute, resulting in a solution. A solvent is usually a liquid but can also be a solid, a gas, or a supercritical flui ...

solvent extraction
. A truncated
PUREX PUREX (plutonium uranium reduction extraction) is a chemical A chemical substance is a form of matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday o ...
type extraction process would be one possible method of making the separation. Naturally occurring uranium is not fissile because it contains 99.3% of U-238 and only 0.7% of U-235.


Legacy waste

Due to historic activities typically related to the radium industry, uranium mining, and military programs, numerous sites contain or are contaminated with radioactivity. In the United States alone, the
Department of EnergyA Ministry of Energy or Department of Energy is a government department in some countries that typically oversees the production of fuel and electricity; in the United States, however, it manages nuclear weapons development and conducts energy-relate ...
states there are "millions of gallons of radioactive waste" as well as "thousands of tons of
spent nuclear fuel Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear power plant). It is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction in an ordinary thermal reactor and ...
and material" and also "huge quantities of contaminated soil and water."U.S. Department of Energy Environmental Management

Department of Energy Five Year Plan FY 2007-FY 2011 Volume II
." Retrieved 8 April 2007.
Despite copious quantities of waste, the DOE has stated a goal of cleaning all presently contaminated sites successfully by 2025. The Fernald,
Ohio Ohio () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Co ...

Ohio
site for example had "31 million pounds of uranium product", "2.5 billion pounds of waste", "2.75 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and debris", and a "223 acre portion of the underlying Great Miami Aquifer had uranium levels above drinking standards." The United States has at least 108 sites designated as areas that are contaminated and unusable, sometimes many thousands of acres. DOE wishes to clean or mitigate many or all by 2025, using the recently developed method of geomelting, however the task can be difficult and it acknowledges that some may never be completely remediated. In just one of these 108 larger designations,
Oak Ridge National Laboratory Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is a U.S. multiprogram science and technology national laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered, managed, and operated by UT–Battelle as a federally funded research an ...
, there were for example at least "167 known contaminant release sites" in one of the three subdivisions of the site. Some of the U.S. sites were smaller in nature, however, cleanup issues were simpler to address, and DOE has successfully completed cleanup, or at least closure, of several sites.


Medicine

Radioactive
medical waste Biomedical waste or hospital waste is any kind of waste Waste (or wastes) are unwanted or unusable materials. Waste is any substance which is discarded after primary use, or is worthless, defective and of no use. A by-product A by-product ...

medical waste
tends to contain
beta particle A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β ...
and
gamma ray A gamma ray, also known as gamma radiation (symbol γ or \gamma), is a penetrating form of electromagnetic radiation In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, it ...
emitters. It can be divided into two main classes. In diagnostic
nuclear medicine Nuclear medicine is a medical specialty A medical specialty is a branch of medical practice that is focused on a defined group of patients, diseases, skills, or philosophy. Examples include children (paediatrics Pediatrics (American and Briti ...
a number of short-lived gamma emitters such as
technetium-99m Technetium-99m (99mTc) is a metastable In chemistry and physics, metastability denotes an intermediate energetic state within a dynamical system other than the system's ground state, state of least energy. A ball resting in a hollow on a slop ...
are used. Many of these can be disposed of by leaving it to decay for a short time before disposal as normal waste. Other isotopes used in medicine, with half-lives in parentheses, include: * , used for treating
lymphoma Lymphoma is a group of blood cancer, blood malignancies that develop from lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). The name often refers to just the cancerous versions rather than all such tumours. Signs and symptoms may include Lymphadenopathy, ...

lymphoma
(2.7 days) *
I-131 Iodine-131 (131I, I-131) is an important radioisotope A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: em ...
, used for
thyroid The thyroid, or thyroid gland, is an endocrine gland Endocrine glands are ductless glands of the endocrine system The endocrine system is a messenger system comprising feedback loops of the hormones released by internal glands of an organi ...

thyroid
function tests and for treating
thyroid cancer Thyroid cancer is cancer that develops from the Tissue (biology), tissues of the thyroid gland. It is a disease in which cell (biology), cells grow abnormally and have the potential to metastasize, spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms can ...

thyroid cancer
(8.0 days) * , used for treating
bone cancer A bone tumor is a neoplastic A neoplasm () is a type of abnormal and excessive growth, called neoplasia, of Tissue (biology), tissue. The growth of a neoplasm is uncoordinated with that of the normal surrounding tissue, and persists in growin ...
,
intravenous injection Intravenous therapy (abbreviated as IV therapy) is a medical technique that delivers fluids, medications and nutrition directly into a person's vein. The intravenous route of administration is commonly used for rehydration or to provide nutrition ...
(52 days) * , used for
brachytherapy Brachytherapy is a form of radiotherapy where a sealed radiation, radiation source is placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment. ''Brachy'' is Greek language, Greek for short. Brachytherapy is commonly used as an effective treatment ...

brachytherapy
(74 days) *
Co-60 Cobalt-60 (60Co) is a synthetic radioactive isotope of cobalt with a half-life Half-life (symbol ''t''1⁄2) is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half of its initial value. The term is commonly used in nuclear physics to desc ...

Co-60
, used for brachytherapy and external radiotherapy (5.3 years) * , used for brachytherapy and external radiotherapy (30 years)


Industry

Industrial source waste can contain
alpha Alpha (uppercase , lowercase ; grc, ἄλφα, ''álpha'', modern pronunciation ''álfa'') is the first letter Letter, letters, or literature may refer to: Characters typeface * Letter (alphabet) A letter is a segmental symbol A s ...

alpha
,
beta Beta (, ; uppercase , lowercase , or cursive Cursive (also known as script, among other names) is any style of penmanship Penmanship is the technique of writing Writing is a medium of human communication that involves the represen ...

beta
,
neutron The neutron is a subatomic particle, symbol or , which has a neutral (not positive or negative) charge, and a mass slightly greater than that of a proton. Protons and neutrons constitute the nuclei of atoms. Since protons and neutrons behav ...
or gamma emitters. Gamma emitters are used in
radiography Radiography is an imaging technique using X-ray An X-ray, or, much less commonly, X-radiation, is a penetrating form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Most X-rays have a wavelength ranging from 10 Picometre, picometers to 10 ...
while neutron emitting sources are used in a range of applications, such as
oil well An oil well is a boring Boring may refer to: *Something that causes boredom Engineering and science * Boring (earth), drilling a hole, tunnel, or well in the earth ** Tunnel boring machine, a machine used in boring tunnels * Boring (manufactu ...

oil well
logging.


Naturally occurring radioactive material

Substances containing natural radioactivity are known as
NORM Norm, the Norm or NORM may refer to: In academic disciplines * Norm (geology), an estimate of the idealised mineral content of a rock * Norm (philosophy) Norms are concepts ( sentences) of practical import, oriented to effecting an action, rat ...
(naturally occurring radioactive material). 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), it becomes technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM). A lot of this waste is
alpha particle Alpha particles, also called alpha rays or alpha radiation, consist of two proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Proto ...

alpha particle
-emitting matter from the decay chains of
uranium Uranium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elem ...

uranium
and
thorium Thorium is a weakly radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the sma ...

thorium
. The main source of radiation in the human body is
potassium Potassium is a chemical element In chemistry Chemistry is the study of the properties and behavior of . It is a that covers the that make up matter to the composed of s, s and s: their composition, structure, properties, b ...

potassium
-40 (), typically 17 milligrams in the body at a time and 0.4 milligrams/day intake. Most rocks, especially
granite Granite () is a coarse-grained (phanerite, phaneritic) intrusive rock, intrusive igneous rock composed mostly of quartz, alkali feldspar, and plagioclase. It forms from magma with a high content of silica and alkali metal oxides that slowly cool ...

granite
, have a low level of radioactivity due to the potassium-40, thorium and uranium contained. Usually ranging from 1
millisievert The sievert (symbol: SvNot be confused with the sverdrup or the svedberg, two non-SI units that sometimes use the same symbol.) is a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units International is an adjective ( ...
(mSv) to 13 mSv annually depending on location, average radiation exposure from natural radioisotopes is 2.0 mSv per person a year worldwide.United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation
Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation, UNSCEAR 2008
This makes up the majority of typical total dosage (with mean annual exposure from other sources amounting to 0.6 mSv from medical tests averaged over the whole populace, 0.4 mSv from
cosmic ray Cosmic rays are high-energy proton A proton is a subatomic particle, symbol or , with a positive electric charge of +1''e'' elementary charge and a mass slightly less than that of a neutron. Protons and neutrons, each with masses of approx ...
s, 0.005 mSv from the legacy of past atmospheric nuclear testing, 0.005 mSv occupational exposure, 0.002 mSv from the
Chernobyl disaster The Chernobyl disaster was a that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the No. 4 in the , near the city of in the north of the in the . It is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history both in cost and casualties. It is one of only two nucle ...
, and 0.0002 mSv from the nuclear fuel cycle). TENORM is not regulated as restrictively as nuclear reactor waste, though there are no significant differences in the radiological risks of these materials.


Coal

Coal Coal is a combustible , Germany ) , image_map = , map_caption = , map_width = 250px , capital = Berlin , coordinates = , largest_city = capital , languages_type = Official language , languages = German language, German , ...

Coal
contains a small amount of radioactive uranium, barium, thorium, and potassium, but, in the case of pure coal, this is significantly less than the average concentration of those elements in the
Earth's crust Earth's crust is a thin shell on the outside of Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting of continents and islands. The ...
. The surrounding strata, if shale or mudstone, often contain slightly more than average and this may also be reflected in the ash content of 'dirty' coals. The more active ash minerals become concentrated in the
fly ash Fly ash, flue ash, coal ash, or pulverised fuel ash (in the UK) plurale tantum A ''plurale tantum'' (Latin for "plural only"; ) is a noun that appears only in the plural The plural (sometimes abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brev ...
precisely because they do not burn well. The radioactivity of fly ash is about the same as black
shale Shale is a fine-grained, clastic Clastic rocks are composed of fragments, or clasts, of pre-existing minerals In geology and mineralogy, a mineral or mineral species is, broadly speaking, a solid chemical compound with a fairly well-defi ...

shale
and is less than
phosphate In chemistry, a phosphate is an anion, salt (chemistry), salt, functional group or ester derived from a phosphoric acids and phosphates, phosphoric acid. It most commonly means orthophosphate, a derivative of phosphoric acid, orthophosphoric a ...

phosphate
rocks, but is more of a concern because a small amount of the fly ash ends up in the atmosphere where it can be inhaled. According to U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) reports, population exposure from 1000-MWe power plants amounts to 490 person-rem/year for coal power plants, 100 times as great as nuclear power plants (4.8 person-rem/year). The exposure from the complete nuclear fuel cycle from mining to waste disposal is 136 person-rem/year; the corresponding value for coal use from mining to waste disposal is "probably unknown".


Oil and gas

Residues from the oil and gas industry often contain radium and its decay products. The sulfate scale from an oil well can be very radium rich, while the water, oil, and gas from a well often contain radon. 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. Radioactive elements are an industrial problem in some oil wells where workers operating in direct contact with the crude oil and brine can be actually exposed to doses having negative health effects. Due to the relatively high concentration of these elements in the brine, its disposal is also a technological challenge. In the United States, the brine is however exempt from the dangerous waste regulations and can be disposed of regardless of radioactive or toxic substances content since the 1980s.


Rare-earth mining

Due to natural occurrence of radioactive elements such as
thorium Thorium is a weakly radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus The atomic nucleus is the sma ...

thorium
and
radium Radium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elem ...

radium
in Rare-earth element, rare-earth ore, mining operations also result in production of waste and mineral deposits that are slightly radioactive.


Classification

Classification of radioactive waste varies by country. The IAEA, which publishes the Radioactive Waste Safety Standards (RADWASS), also plays a significant role. The proportion of various types of waste generated in the UK: * 94% – low-level waste (LLW) * ~6% – intermediate-level waste (ILW) * <1% – high-level waste (HLW)


Mill tailings

Uranium tailings are waste by-product materials left over from the rough processing of
uranium Uranium is a chemical element In chemistry, an element is a pure Chemical substance, substance consisting only of atoms that all have the same numbers of protons in their atomic nucleus, nuclei. Unlike chemical compounds, chemical elem ...

uranium
-bearing ore. They are not significantly radioactive. Mill tailings are sometimes referred to as 11(e)2 wastes, from the section of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 that defines them. Uranium mill tailings typically also contain Dangerous goods, chemically hazardous Heavy metal (chemistry), heavy metal such as lead and arsenic. Vast mounds of uranium mill tailings are left at many old mining sites, especially in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Although mill tailings are not very radioactive, they have long half-lives. Mill tailings often contain radium, thorium and trace amounts of uranium.


Low-level waste

Low-level waste (LLW) is generated from hospitals and industry, as well as the
nuclear fuel cycle The nuclear fuel cycle, also called nuclear fuel chain, is the progression of nuclear fuel Nuclear fuel is material used in nuclear power stations to produce heat to power turbines. Heat is created when nuclear fuel undergoes nuclear fission ...

nuclear fuel cycle
. Low-level wastes include paper, rags, tools, clothing, filters, and other materials which contain small amounts of mostly short-lived radioactivity. 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. Such LLW typically exhibits no higher radioactivity than one would expect from the same material disposed of in a non-active area, such as a normal office block. Example LLW includes wiping rags, mops, medical tubes, laboratory animal carcasses, and more. LLW waste makes 94% of all radioactive waste volume in the UK. Some high-activity LLW requires shielding during handling and transport but most LLW is suitable for shallow land burial. To reduce its volume, it is often compacted or incinerated before disposal. Low-level waste is divided into four classes: ''class A'', ''class B'', ''class C'', and ''Greater Than Class C'' (''GTCC'').


Intermediate-level waste

Intermediate-level waste (ILW) contains higher amounts of radioactivity compared to low-level waste. It generally requires shielding, but not cooling. Intermediate-level wastes includes resins, chemical sludge and metal
nuclear fuel Nuclear fuel is material used in nuclear power stations to produce heat to power turbines. Heat is created when nuclear fuel undergoes nuclear fission. Most nuclear fuels contain heavy fissile actinide elements that are capable of Fissile mate ...
cladding, as well as contaminated materials from Nuclear decommissioning, reactor decommissioning. It may be solidified in concrete or bitumen or mixed with silica sand and Vitrification, vitrified for disposal. As a general rule, short-lived waste (mainly non-fuel materials from reactors) is buried in shallow repositories, while long-lived waste (from fuel and Nuclear reprocessing, fuel reprocessing) is deposited in Deep geological repository, geological repository. Regulations in the United States do not define this category of waste; the term is used in Europe and elsewhere. ILW makes ca 6% of all radioactive waste volume in the UK.


High-level waste

High-level waste (HLW) is produced by nuclear reactors and the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. The exact definition of HLW differs internationally. After a nuclear fuel rod serves one fuel cycle and is removed from the core, it is considered HLW. Spent fuel rods contain mostly uranium with
fission products Nuclear fission products are the atomic fragments left after a large atomic nucleus undergoes nuclear fission In nuclear physics Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions. Oth ...
and Transuranic element, transuranic elements generated in the reactor core. Spent fuel is highly radioactive and often hot. HLW accounts for over 95% of the total radioactivity produced in the process of nuclear electricity generation but it contributes to less than 1% of volume of all radioactive waste produced in the UK. Overall, the 60-year-long nuclear program in the UK up until 2019 produced 2150 m3 of HLW. The radioactive waste from spent fuel rods consists primarily of cesium-137 and strontium-90, but it may also include plutonium, which can be considered transuranic waste. The half-lives of these radioactive elements can differ quite extremely. Some elements, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 have half-lives of approximately 30 years. Meanwhile, plutonium has a half-life that can stretch to as long as 24,000 years. The amount of HLW worldwide is currently increasing by about 12,000 tonnes every year. A 1000-megawatt nuclear power plant produces about 27 t of spent nuclear fuel (unreprocessed) every year. For comparison, the amount of ash produced by coal power plants in the United States alone is estimated at 130,000,000 t per year and fly ash is estimated to release 100 times more radiation than an equivalent nuclear power plant. In 2010, it was estimated that about 250,000 t of nuclear HLW were stored globally. This does not include amounts that have escaped into the environment from accidents or tests. Japan is estimated to hold 17,000 t of HLW in storage in 2015. As of 2019, the United States has over 90,000 t of HLW. HLW have been shipped to other countries to be stored or reprocessed and, in some cases, shipped back as active fuel. The ongoing controversy over High-level radioactive waste management, high-level radioactive waste disposal is a major constraint on the nuclear power's global expansion. Most scientists agree that the main proposed long-term solution is deep geological burial, either in a mine or a deep borehole. As of 2019 no dedicated civilian high-level nuclear waste is operational as small amounts of HLW did not justify the investment before. Finland is in the advanced stage of the construction of the Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository, which is planned to open in 2025 at 400–450 m depth. France is in the planning phase for a 500 m deep Cigeo facility in Bure. Sweden is planning a site in Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant, Forsmark. Canada plans a 680 m deep facility near Lake Huron in Ontario. The Republic of Korea plans to open a site around 2028. The site in Sweden enjoys 80% support from local residents as of 2020. The Morris Operation in Grundy County, Illinois, is currently the only ''de facto'' high-level radioactive waste storage site in the United States.


Transuranic waste

Transuranic waste (TRUW) as defined by U.S. regulations is, without regard to form or origin, waste that is contaminated with Alpha particle, alpha-emitting transuranic
radionuclide A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is a nuclide A nuclide (or nucleide, from atomic nucleus, nucleus, also known as nuclear species) is a class of atoms characterized by their number of protons, ''Z'', their ...
s with Half-life, half-lives greater than 20 years and concentrations greater than 100 Nanocurie, nCi/g (3.7 becquerel, MBq/kg), excluding high-level waste. Elements that have an atomic number greater than uranium are called transuranic ("beyond uranium"). Because of their long half-lives, TRUW is disposed of more cautiously than either low- or intermediate-level waste. In the United States, it arises mainly from
nuclear weapon A nuclear weapon (also known as an atom bomb, atomic bomb, nuclear bomb or nuclear warhead, and colloquially as an A-bomb or nuke) is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reaction In nuclear physics Nucl ...
s production, and consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, and other items contaminated with small amounts of radioactive elements (mainly
plutonium Plutonium is a radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by radiation. A material co ...

plutonium
). Under U.S. law, transuranic waste is further categorized into "contact-handled" (CH) and "remote-handled" (RH) on the basis of the radiation dose rate measured at the surface of the waste container. CH TRUW has a surface dose rate not greater than 200 mrem per hour (2 mSv/h), whereas RH TRUW has a surface dose rate of 200 mrem/h (2 mSv/h) or greater. CH TRUW does not have the very high radioactivity of high-level waste, nor its high heat generation, but RH TRUW can be highly radioactive, with surface dose rates up to 1,000,000 mrem/h (10,000 mSv/h). The United States currently disposes of TRUW generated from military facilities at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in a deep salt formation in New Mexico.


Prevention

A future way to reduce waste accumulation is to phase out current reactors in favor of Generation IV reactors, which output less waste per power generated. Fast reactors such as BN-800 reactor, BN-800 in Russia are also able to consume MOX fuel that is manufactured from recycled spent fuel from traditional reactors. The UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority published a position paper in 2014 on the progress on approaches to the management of separated plutonium, which summarises the conclusions of the work that NDA shared with UK government.


Management

Of particular concern in nuclear waste management are two long-lived fission products, Tc-99 (half-life 220,000 years) and I-129 (half-life 15.7 million years), which dominate spent fuel radioactivity after a few thousand years. The most troublesome transuranic elements in spent fuel are Np-237 (half-life two million years) and Pu-239 (half-life 24,000 years). Nuclear waste requires sophisticated treatment and management to successfully isolate it from interacting with the biosphere. This usually necessitates treatment, followed by a long-term management strategy involving storage, disposal or transformation of the waste into a non-toxic form. Governments around the world are considering a range of waste management and disposal options, though there has been limited progress toward long-term waste management solutions. In the second half of the 20th century, several methods of disposal of radioactive waste were investigated by nuclear nations, which are : * "Long-term above-ground storage", not implemented. * "Disposal in outer space" (for instance, inside the Sun), not implemented—as it would be currently too expensive. * "Deep borehole disposal", not implemented. * "Rock melting", not implemented. * "Disposal at subduction zones", not implemented. * Ocean disposal of radioactive waste, Ocean disposal, by the USSR, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Russia, Germany, Italy and South Korea (1954–93). This is no longer permitted by international agreements. * "Ocean floor disposal, Sub-seabed disposal", not implemented, not permitted by international agreements. * "Disposal in ice sheets", rejected in Antarctic Treaty * "Direct injection", by USSR and USA. * Nuclear transmutation, using lasers to cause Beta particle, beta decay to convert the unstable atoms to those with shorter half-lives. In the United States, waste management policy completely broke down with the ending of work on the incomplete Yucca Mountain Repository. At present there are 70 nuclear power plant sites where spent fuel is stored. A Blue Ribbon Commission was appointed by President Obama to look into future options for this and future waste. A
deep geological repository at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, New Mexico A deep geological repository is a way of storing toxic or radioactive waste within a stable geologic environment (typically 200–1000 m deep). It entails a combination of waste for ...
seems to be favored.
Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future: Executive Summary
'', January 2012.
2018 Nobel Prize for Physics-winner Gérard Mourou has proposed using Chirped pulse amplification to generate high-energy and low-duration laser pulses to transmute highly radioactive material (contained in a target) to significantly reduce its half-life, from thousands of years to only a few minutes.


Initial treatment


Vitrification

Long-term storage of radioactive waste requires the stabilization of the waste into a form that will neither react nor degrade for extended periods. It is theorized that one way to do this might be through vitrification. Currently at Sellafield the high-level waste (
PUREX PUREX (plutonium uranium reduction extraction) is a chemical A chemical substance is a form of matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday o ...
first cycle raffinate) is mixed with sugar and then calcined. Calcination involves passing the waste through a heated, rotating tube. The purposes of calcination are to evaporate the water from the waste and de-nitrate the fission products to assist the stability of the glass produced. The 'calcine' generated is fed continuously into an induction heated furnace with fragmented glass. The resulting glass is a new substance in which the waste products are bonded into the glass matrix when it solidifies. As a melt, this product is poured into stainless steel cylindrical containers ("cylinders") in a batch process. When cooled, the fluid solidifies ("vitrifies") into the glass. After being formed, the glass is highly resistant to water. After filling a cylinder, a seal is welding, welded onto the cylinder head. The cylinder is then washed. After being inspected for external contamination, the steel cylinder is stored, usually in an underground repository. In this form, the waste products are expected to be immobilized for thousands of years. The glass inside a cylinder is usually a black glossy substance. All this work (in the United Kingdom) is done using hot cell systems. Sugar is added to control the ruthenium chemistry and to stop the formation of the volatile ruthenium tetroxide, RuO4 containing Ru-106, radioactive ruthenium isotopes. In the West, the glass is normally a borosilicate glass (similar to Pyrex), while in the former Soviet Union it is normal to use a phosphate glass. The amount of fission products in the glass must be limited because some (palladium, the other Pt group metals, and tellurium) tend to form metallic phases which separate from the glass. Bulk vitrification uses electrodes to melt soil and wastes, which are then buried underground. In Germany a vitrification plant is in use; this is treating the waste from a small demonstration reprocessing plant which has since been closed down.


Phosphate Ceramics

Vitrification is not the only way to stabilize the waste into a form that will not react or degrade for extended periods. Immobilization via direct incorporation into a phosphate-based crystalline ceramic host is also used. The diverse chemistry of phosphate ceramics under various conditions demonstrates a versatile material that can withstand chemical, thermal, and radioactive degradation over time. The properties of phosphates, particularly ceramic phosphates, of stability over a wide pH range, low porosity, and minimization of secondary waste introduces possibilities for new waste immobilization techniques.


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. For instance, it is possible to use a ferric hydroxide Flocculation, floc to remove radioactive metals from aqueous mixtures. After the radioisotopes are absorbed onto the ferric hydroxide, the resulting sludge can be placed in a metal drum before being mixed with cement to form a solid waste form. In order to get better long-term performance (mechanical stability) from such forms, they may be made from a mixture of
fly ash Fly ash, flue ash, coal ash, or pulverised fuel ash (in the UK) plurale tantum A ''plurale tantum'' (Latin for "plural only"; ) is a noun that appears only in the plural The plural (sometimes abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brev ...
, or blast furnace slag, and Portland cement, instead of normal concrete (made with Portland cement, gravel and sand).


Synroc

The Australian Synroc (synthetic rock) is a more sophisticated way to immobilize such waste, and this process may eventually come into commercial use for civil wastes (it is currently being developed for U.S. military wastes). Synroc was invented by Prof Ted Ringwood (a geochemist) at the Australian National University. The Synroc contains pyrochlore and cryptomelane type minerals. The original form of Synroc (Synroc C) was designed for the liquid high-level waste (PUREX raffinate) from a light-water reactor. The main minerals in this Synroc are hollandite (BaAl2Ti6O16), zirconolite (CaZrTi2O7) and perovskite (CaTiO3). The zirconolite and perovskite are hosts for the actinides. The strontium and barium will be fixed in the perovskite. The
caesium Caesium (IUPAC spelling) (American and British English spelling differences, also spelled cesium in American English) is a chemical element with the Symbol (chemistry), symbol Cs and atomic number 55. It is a soft, silvery-golden alkal ...

caesium
will be fixed in the hollandite. A Synroc waste treatment facility began construction in 2018 at ANSTO


Long-term management

The time frame in question when dealing with radioactive waste ranges from 10,000 to 1,000,000 years, according to studies based on the effect of estimated radiation doses. Researchers suggest that forecasts of health detriment for such periods should be examined critically. Practical studies only consider up to 100 years as far as effective planning and cost evaluations are concerned. Long term behavior of radioactive wastes remains a subject for ongoing research projects in geoforecasting.


Remediation

Algae has shown selectivity for strontium in studies, where most plants used in bioremediation have not shown selectivity between calcium and strontium, often becoming saturated with calcium, which is present in greater quantities in nuclear waste. Strontium-90 with a half life around 30 years, is classified as high-level waste. Researchers have looked at the bioaccumulation of strontium by ''Scenedesmus, Scenedesmus spinosus'' (algae) in simulated wastewater. The study claims a highly selective biosorption capacity for strontium of S. spinosus, suggesting that it may be appropriate for use of nuclear wastewater. A study of the pond alga ''Closterium, Closterium moniliferum'' using non-radioactive strontium found that varying the ratio of barium to strontium in water improved strontium selectivity.


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, which is placed in a concrete cylinder which acts as a radiation shield. It is a relatively inexpensive method which can be done at a central facility or adjacent to the source reactor. The waste can be easily retrieved for reprocessing.


Geologic disposal

The process of selecting appropriate Deep geological repository, deep final repositories for high-level waste and spent fuel is now underway in several countries with the first expected to be commissioned sometime after 2010. The basic concept is to locate a large, stable geologic formation and use mining technology to excavate a tunnel, or large-bore tunnel boring machines (similar to those used to drill the Channel Tunnel from England to France) to drill a shaft to below the surface where rooms or vaults can be excavated for disposal of high-level radioactive waste. The goal is to permanently isolate nuclear waste from the human environment. Many people remain uncomfortable with the immediate stewardship cessation of this disposal system, suggesting perpetual management and monitoring would be more prudent. Because some radioactive species have half-lives longer than one million years, even very low container leakage and radionuclide migration rates must be taken into account. Moreover, it may require more than one half-life until some nuclear materials lose enough radioactivity to cease being lethal to living things. 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." Ocean floor disposal of radioactive waste has been suggested by the finding that deep waters in the North Atlantic Ocean do not present an exchange with shallow waters for about 140 years based on oxygen content data recorded over a period of 25 years. They include burial beneath a stable abyssal plain, burial in a subduction zone that would slowly carry the waste downward into the mantle (geology), Earth's mantle, and burial beneath a remote natural or human-made island. While these approaches all have merit and would facilitate an international solution to the problem of disposal of radioactive waste, they would require an amendment of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Law of the Sea. Article 1 (Definitions), 7., of the 1996 Protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, (the London Dumping Convention) states: :""Sea" means all marine waters other than the internal waters of States, as well as the seabed and the subsoil thereof; it does not include sub-seabed repositories accessed only from land." The proposed land-based subductive waste disposal method disposes of nuclear waste in a subduction zone accessed from land and therefore is not prohibited by international agreement. This method has been described as the most viable means of disposing of radioactive waste, and as the state-of-the-art as of 2001 in nuclear waste disposal technology. Another approach termed Remix & Return would blend high-level waste with uranium mining, uranium mine and mill tailings down to the level of the original radioactivity of the uraninite, uranium ore, then replace it in inactive uranium mines. This approach has the merits of providing jobs for miners who would double as disposal staff, and of facilitating a cradle-to-grave cycle for radioactive materials, but would be inappropriate for spent reactor fuel in the absence of reprocessing, due to the presence of highly toxic radioactive elements such as plutonium within it. Deep borehole disposal is the concept of disposing of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear reactors in extremely deep boreholes. Deep borehole disposal seeks to place the waste as much as 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. 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), among other natural radioisotopes. Since the fraction of nuclides decaying per unit of time is inversely proportional to an isotope's half-life, the relative radioactivity of the lesser amount of human-produced radioisotopes (thousands of tons instead of trillions of tons) would diminish once the isotopes with far shorter half-lives than the bulk of natural radioisotopes decayed. In January 2013, 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. "For any host community, there will be a substantial community benefits package and worth hundreds of millions of pounds" said Ed Davey, Energy Secretary, but nonetheless, the local elected body voted 7–3 against research continuing, 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." Horizontal drillhole disposal describes proposals to drill over one km vertically, and two km horizontally in the earth’s crust, for the purpose of disposing of high-level waste forms such as
spent nuclear fuel Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear power plant). It is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction in an ordinary thermal reactor and ...
, Caesium-137, or Strontium-90. After the emplacement and the retrievability period, drillholes would be backfilled and sealed. A series of tests of the technology were carried out in November 2018 and then again publicly in January 2019 by a U.S. based private company. The test demonstrated the emplacement of a test-canister in a horizontal drillhole and retrieval of the same canister. There was no actual high-level waste used in this test. European Commission Joint Research Centre report of 2021 (see above) concluded:


Transmutation

There have been proposals for reactors that consume nuclear waste and transmute it to other, less-harmful or shorter-lived, nuclear waste. In particular, 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 but was eventually canceled by the U.S. Government. Another approach, considered safer but requiring more development, is to dedicate subcritical reactors to the transmutation of the left-over transuranic elements. An isotope that is found in nuclear waste and that represents a concern in terms of proliferation is Pu-239. 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. An option for getting rid of this plutonium is to use it as a fuel in a traditional light-water reactor (LWR). Several fuel types with differing plutonium destruction efficiencies are under study. Transmutation was banned in the United States in April 1977 by President Carter due to the danger of plutonium proliferation, but President Reagan rescinded the ban in 1981. Due to economic losses and risks, the construction of reprocessing plants during this time did not resume. Due to high energy demand, work on the method has continued in the European Union, EU. This has resulted in a practical nuclear research reactor called SCK•CEN, Myrrha in which transmutation is possible. Additionally, a new research program called ACTINET has been started in the European Union, EU to make transmutation possible on a large, industrial scale. According to President Bush's Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) of 2007, the United States is actively promoting research on transmutation technologies needed to markedly reduce the problem of nuclear waste treatment. There have also been theoretical studies involving the use of fusion reactors as so-called "actinide burners" where a fusion reactor plasma (physics), 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 Tritium ( or , ) or hydrogen-3 (symbol T or H) is a rare and radioactive Radioactive decay (also known as nuclear decay, radioactivity, radioactive disintegration or nuclear disintegration) is the process by which an unstable atomic nucl ...

tritium
in the reactor. 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.


Re-use

Spent nuclear fuel contains abundant fertile uranium and traces of fissile materials. Methods such as the PUREX process can be used to remove useful actinides for the production of active nuclear fuel. Another option is to find applications for the isotopes in nuclear waste so as to re-use them. Already, caesium-137, strontium-90 and a few other isotopes are extracted for certain industrial applications such as food irradiation and radioisotope thermoelectric generators. While re-use does not eliminate the need to manage radioisotopes, it can reduce the quantity of waste produced. The Nuclear Assisted Hydrocarbon Production Method, Canadian patent application 2,659,302, 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. The thermal flux of the waste materials fractures the formation and alters the chemical and/or physical properties of hydrocarbon material within the subterranean formation to allow removal of the altered material. A mixture of hydrocarbons, hydrogen, and/or other formation fluids is produced from the formation. 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. Breeder reactors can run on U-238 and transuranic elements, which comprise the majority of spent fuel radioactivity in the 1,000–100,000-year time span.


Space disposal

Space disposal is attractive because it removes nuclear waste from the planet. It has significant disadvantages, such as the potential for catastrophic failure of a launch vehicle, which could spread radioactive material into the atmosphere and around the world. 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. This makes the proposal impractical economically and increases the risk of at least one or more launch failures. To further complicate matters, international agreements on the regulation of such a program would need to be established. Costs and inadequate reliability of modern rocket launch systems for space disposal has been one of the motives for interest in non-rocket spacelaunch systems such as mass drivers, space elevators, and other proposals.


National management plans

Sweden and Finland are furthest along in committing to a particular disposal technology, while many others reprocess spent fuel or contract with France or Great Britain to do it, taking back the resulting plutonium and high-level waste. "An increasing backlog of plutonium from reprocessing is developing in many countries... It is doubtful that reprocessing makes economic sense in the present environment of cheap uranium." In many European countries (e.g., Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, 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. European limits are often more stringent than the standard suggested in 1990 by the International Commission on Radiation Protection by a factor of 20, and more stringent by a factor of ten than the standard proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository for the first 10,000 years after closure.#Vandenbosch, Vandenbosch, p. 248 The U.S. EPA's proposed standard for greater than 10,000 years is 250 times more permissive than the European limit. The U.S. EPA proposed a legal limit of a maximum of 3.5
millisievert The sievert (symbol: SvNot be confused with the sverdrup or the svedberg, two non-SI units that sometimes use the same symbol.) is a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units International is an adjective ( ...
s (350 millirem) each annually to local individuals after 10,000 years, which would be up to several percent of the exposure currently received by some populations in the highest natural background regions on Earth, though the U.S. United States Department of Energy (DOE) predicted that Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository#Opposition, received dose would be much below that limit. Over a timeframe of thousands of years, after the most active short half-life radioisotopes decayed, burying U.S. nuclear waste would increase the radioactivity in the top 2000 feet of rock and soil in the United States (10 million km2) by approximately 1 part in 10 million over the cumulative amount of Natural radioactivity, natural radioisotopes in such a volume, but the vicinity of the site would have a far higher concentration of artificial radioisotopes underground than such an average.


Mongolia

After serious opposition about plans and negotiations between Mongolia with Japan and the United States of America to build nuclear-waste facilities in Mongolia, Mongolia stopped all negotiations in September 2011. These negotiations had started after U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman visited Mongolia in September 2010. Talks took place in Washington, D.C. between officials of Japan, the United States, and Mongolia in February 2011. After this the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which wanted to buy nuclear fuel from Mongolia, joined in the negotiations. The talks were kept secret and, although the Mainichi Shimbun, ''Mainichi Daily News'' reported on them in May, Mongolia officially denied the existence of these negotiations. However, alarmed by this news, Mongolian citizens protested against the plans and demanded the government withdraw the plans and disclose information. The Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj issued a presidential order on September 13 banning all negotiations with foreign governments or international organizations on nuclear-waste storage plans in Mongolia. The Mongolian government has accused the newspaper of distributing false claims around the world. After the presidential order, the Mongolian president fired the individual who was supposedly involved in these conversations.


Illegal dumping

Authorities in Italy are investigating a 'Ndrangheta mafia clan accused of trafficking and illegally dumping nuclear waste. According to a whistleblower, a manager of the Italy's state energy research agency ENEA (Italy), Enea paid the clan to get rid of 600 drums of toxic and radioactive waste from Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, and the United States, with Somalia as the destination, where the waste was buried after buying off local politicians. Former employees of Enea are suspected of paying the criminals to take waste off their hands in the 1980s and 1990s. Shipments to Somalia continued into the 1990s, while the 'Ndrangheta clan also blew up shiploads of waste, including radioactive hospital waste, sending them to the sea bed off the Calabrian coast. According to the environmental group Legambiente, former members of the 'Ndrangheta have said that they were paid to sink ships with radioactive material for the last 20 years.


Accidents

A few incidents have occurred when radioactive material was disposed of improperly, shielding during transport was defective, or when it was simply abandoned or even stolen from a waste store. In the Soviet Union, waste stored in Lake Karachay was blown over the area during a dust storm after the lake had partly dried out. At Maxey Flat, a low-level radioactive waste facility located in Kentucky, containment trenches covered with dirt, instead of steel or cement, collapsed under heavy rainfall into the trenches and filled with water. The water that invaded the trenches became radioactive and had to be disposed of at the Maxey Flat facility itself. In other cases of radioactive waste accidents, lakes or ponds with radioactive waste accidentally overflowed into the rivers during exceptional storms. In Italy, several radioactive waste deposits let material flow into river water, thus contaminating water for domestic use. In France in the summer of 2008, numerous incidents happened: in one, at the Areva plant in Tricastin Nuclear Power Plant, Tricastin, it was reported that, during a draining operation, liquid containing untreated uranium overflowed out of a faulty tank and about 75 kg of the radioactive material seeped into the ground and, from there, into two rivers nearby; in another case, over 100 staff were contaminated with low doses of radiation. There are ongoing concerns around the deterioration of the nuclear waste site on the Enewetak Atoll of the Marshall Islands and a potential radioactive spill. Scavenging of abandoned radioactive material has been the cause of several other cases of Radioactive contamination, radiation exposure, mostly in developing nations, 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. 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.International Atomic Energy Agency
''The radiological accident in Goiânia''
, 1988. Retrieved September 2007.
Irresponsibility on the part of the radioactive material's owners, usually a hospital, university, or military, and the absence of regulation concerning radioactive waste, or a lack of enforcement of such regulations, have been significant factors in radiation exposures. For an example of an accident involving radioactive scrap originating from a hospital see the Goiânia accident. Transportation accidents involving spent nuclear fuel from power plants are unlikely to have serious consequences due to the strength of the spent nuclear fuel shipping casks. On 15 December 2011, top government spokesman Osamu Fujimura of the Japanese government admitted that nuclear substances were found in the waste of Japanese nuclear facilities. Although Japan did commit itself in 1977 to these inspections in the safeguard agreement with the IAEA, the reports were kept secret for the inspectors of the
International Atomic Energy Agency The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organization An international organization (also known as an international institution or intergovernmental organization) is a stable set of norms and rules meant to gov ...
. Japan did start discussions with the IAEA about the large quantities of enriched uranium and plutonium that were discovered in nuclear waste cleared away by Japanese nuclear operators. At the press conference Fujimura said: "Based on investigations so far, most nuclear substances have been properly managed as waste, and from that perspective, there is no problem in safety management," But according to him, the matter was at that moment still being investigated.


Associated hazard warning signs

File:Radioactive.svg, The trefoil symbol used to indicate ionizing radiation. File:Logo iso radiation.svg, 2007 ISO radioactivity danger symbol intended for IAEA Category 1, 2 and 3 sources defined as dangerous sources capable of death or serious injury. File:Dangclass7.svg, The dangerous goods transport classification sign for radioactive materials


See also

* Banana equivalent dose * Horizontal drillhole disposal * Deep geological repository * Deep borehole disposal * Depleted uranium * Ducrete * Environmental remediation * Geomelting * Hot cell * Human Interference Task Force * ''Into Eternity (film)'' * Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents * Material unaccounted for * Mixed waste (radioactive/hazardous) * Microbial corrosion * Nuclear decommissioning * Personal protective equipment * Radiation protection * Radioactive contamination * Radioactive scrap metal * Radioecology * Taylor Wilson#Fission reactor, Taylor Wilson's nuclear waste-fired small reactor * Toxic waste * Waste management


References


Cited sources

*


External links


Alsos Digital Library – Radioactive Waste
(annotated bibliography)
Euridice European Interest Group in charge of Hades URL operation
(link)
Ondraf/Niras, the waste management authority in Belgium
(link)
Critical Hour: Three Mile Island, The Nuclear Legacy, And National Security
(PDF)

(documents)
Grist.org – How to tell future generations about nuclear waste
(article)

(links) * [https://web.archive.org/web/20070227210853/http://www.nuclearfiles.org/menu/key-issues/nuclear-energy/issues/yucca-mountain/index.htm Nuclear Files.org – Yucca Mountain] (documents)
Nuclear Regulatory Commission – Radioactive Waste
(documents)
Nuclear Regulatory Commission – Spent Fuel Heat Generation Calculation
(guide)
Radwaste Solutions
(magazine)
UNEP Earthwatch – Radioactive Waste
(documents and links)

(briefing papers)
Worries can't be buried as nuclear waste piles up, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2008
{{Authority control Radioactive waste, Radioactivity Environmental impact of nuclear power Hazardous waste