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Any human endeavor produces waste, whether you cook a meal, drive a car, or wash your clothes. Any form of energy production creates waste, too, whether we use coal, solar, wind, gas, or nuclear energy. Waste is simply part of living, and the only way to deal with it is to find solutions for the challenge.
In the nuclear science and technology industry, waste comes from different activities. It arises from the use of radioisotopes in medicine, in research, in agriculture, in manufacturing, as a byproduct of the generation of electricity through nuclear fuels, and more.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Making electricity in a nuclear power plant produces a small amount of high-level radioactive wastes. A lifetime supply of electricity for one person produces only a soda can size amount of such nuclear wastes.
- Nuclear waste still contains 95% of its energy. That’s like taking a drink from your can of soda and throwing the rest away.
- Nuclear waste can be recycled, and actually produces energy while being recycled, instead of requiring energy to recycle.
- The U.S. does not currently recycle used nuclear fuel but citizens, utilities, and government officials are discussing it. Used Nuclear fuel is safely stored in the U.S. in special facilities.
Radioactive wastes must be managed and disposed of properly. Federal agencies and some states control the risks that come with radioactive waste by setting limits and regulations that disposal facilities must follow. EPA is responsible for setting environmental standards that are used by other federal and state agencies in regulations for the disposal of radioactive waste.
In the U.S., radioactive waste is divided into three main types, classified according to their activity, their heat generation potential, and what they physically contain. These three main levels are low level waste (LLW), transuranic waste (TRU), and high level waste (HLW). For each of these types of waste, there is a specific disposal solution — above ground storage or shallow burial for low level waste and deep repository storage for transuranic and high level wastes.
In most other countries, nuclear waste is categorized as low level waste, intermediate level waste, and high level waste. The reason for this different classification system is that in the U.S. waste is classified based on where it comes from; in most other countries, waste is classified according to what the effects of the waste might be. In both classifications, low level waste represents about 90% of all radioactive waste.
Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information of the American Nuclear Society
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