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Disposal of Nuclear Waste

Nuclear waste is toxic and harmful radioactive by-product generated from nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons producing industries and medicinal purposes. The waste can be in the form of solid, liquid or gases. Also, the waste can be classified depending upon their toxicity and radioactivity level, such as low level waste, high level waste and intermediate level nuclear waste.

Each type of nuclear waste is handled in different ways for safe disposal so that it does not possess any threat to mankind and environment.


Safe Disposal of Nuclear Waste

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Safe disposal of nuclear waste is a very important subject in terms of handling nuclear waste. There are different types of nuclear waste and for every type there are different levels of safe disposal. The levels of safe disposal are explained below.

Low Level Waste

Low level waste includes regular supplies such as laboratory wearable which include lab suits, surgical gloves and other lab equipment. After any use, these supplies are stored for about 10-15 years in a sealed storage and after that they are disposed like regular waste. The after stored waste will be free from any radioactive elements and substances.

Intermediate Level Waste
Intermediate Level Waste
Intermediate level waste includes materials that are characterized as bulk and by low level of heat emission. These type of waste generally consists of chemically used sludges, fuel claddings and other harmful radioactive substances. The disposal starts with the waste being stored in steel drums and then the drums being dumped in concrete casks and dropped in trenches with depth of 18-20 mts. After that, the concrete trench is covered with a concrete slab upon which layer of compacted clay. This duo layers are then enforced below an intrusion shield and finally layer of clay at the top. The disposal depth can be far max reached to 100 mts.

High Level Waste

High level as the name suggests is the most harmful and the most radioactive waste that has ability to retain that state for thousands of years. Dealing with this type of radioactive waste is very important and requires great precision and great measures. However, with modern implementation, we have been successful to dispose this high level by the use of method of glass vitrefication.

This method combines radioactive waste in liquid form with glass elements in order to form a solid compound. Being solid waste has its great advantage over liquid waste as; solid waste has fewer tendencies to decay in the surrounding atmosphere compared to liquid waste which would leak if the steel drums are damaged. After solidification the high level waste can be stored in deep mines or caves so that it won’t affect human life. 

High Level Radioactive Waste

Nuclear Waste Problems

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Nuclear waste problems are caused by the ionization radiations. The radiations caused by the ionization can cause harmful effect in the body cells. They travel through generations.Two types of damages caused by nuclear waste are:
  • Genetic damage - The nuclear waste produces radiations which cause mutation in the DNA, which will affect genes and chromosomes. These are called genetic damage. These are often transmitted to several generations.
  • Somatic damage - The radiations cause eye cataract, cancer, lungs and skin infection.
For example, Sr-90, a long lived component of radioactive fallout is chemically similar to Ca. It is carried with Ca, and finally enters into humans in bones and teeth. Its presence in bones leads to serious disorders in blood formation.

Nuclear Waste Space Disposal

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Nuclear waste space disposal is among the safest way to get rid of nuclear waste. In this method, all the nuclear waste is loaded onto a space shuttle and then launched in the outer space that is the shuttle carrying the nuclear waste is then transferred outside the stratosphere of earth. But this method has its glitches too as transferring waste using a space shuttle is very expensive as with every trip only a small amount of nuclear waste can be dealt with.

Secondly, there is always a danger of shuttle exploding that would pollute the air by making it toxic and further the damage will be far out of control. The upside argument can be for the fact that, decay of nuclear waste occurring outside our atmosphere will be preferred irrespective of its half-life.

Ways of Disposing Nuclear Waste

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Radioactive wastes can be disposing in a number of ways. The common ways of disposing radioactive nuclear wastes are:

1. Dilute and disperse
- Dilute and disperse method is used for low disposal of low level waste especially coming out from X–ray treatment and other procedures in hospitals. In dilute and disperse method, the radioactive nuclear waste is diluted to a level such the concentration of radioactive material in water becomes very negligible. It is then released in the water stream and is no longer detrimental to the environment.

2. Concentrate method
- Concentrate method is used for the radioactive waste which are very toxic and highly radioactive. In concentrate method the radioactive nuclear waste is locked into the crystalline structure of rock synthesized by scientists. The radioactive waste can remain in this form for millions of years. It is one of the safest methods of disposal of nuclear waste.

3. Delay and decay
- This method is used from disposal of intermediate level wastes. In this particular method, the radioactive material is allowed to move through the soil. The slow movement allows the radioactive nuclear waste to decay.
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