Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nuclear Waste Facts - Storage, Transportation And Clean up

Facts About Nuclear Waste

What Is Nuclear Waste?

Nuclear waste is waste products that is left over from nuclear reactors, nuclear research projects and the production of nuclear bombs. There are three levels of nuclear waste, low, medium and high levels. The level is determined by the amount of radioactivity that is produced by the waste. Naturally occurring radioactive waste is the largest source of nuclear waste. Most things are slightly radioactive because of decay. The other major source of nuclear waste is from nuclear reactors built by man.

Storage Of Nuclear Waste

Storage of nuclear waste doesn't seem like it would be much of a problem because you only have to store it until it is no longer radioactive. In some things that doesn't take very long so storage is easy but for things such as fuel cells the radioactivity is longer and needs a long term storage which can be a serious concern. For long term storage of fuel cells the waste needs to be stabilized to prevent it from degrading over long periods of time. One way that nuclear waste is transformed and readied for storage is by vitrification. This is a process that changes the waste into glass and then it can be safely stored for longer periods of time. Part of the vitrification process is Calcination. This is where the waste is put through a rotating, heated tube to remove the water and prepare it. After vitrification is completed the glass product that is produced can be buried underground without the fear of contamination. Another way of getting nuclear waste ready for storage is by ion exchange. In this process the waste is used with ferric hydroxide floc to make a sludge and is then mixed with cement to make a solid waste and easier to store. For above ground disposal the spent fuel cells are sealed in a steel cylinder and then sealed again in a concrete cylinder. This will act as a radiation barrier and protect against leaks and possible exposure. There is also research for a deep borehole disposal plan. In this type of disposal they theory is that a deep borehole is put into the ground to about five kilometers below the surface. The radioactive waste is placed in this hole and covered. It is believed that this is deep enough to protect the environment from any possible exposure. They are also looking into the possibility of space disposal but there are a lot of problems with this option. One of the biggest problems with this option is the chance of launch failure and the spread of radioactive material throughout the atmosphere. Re-use is another option to manage nuclear waste. This option does not help in the storage issue but it does decrease the amount of the waste that is produced and the amount of waste that will need to need to be stored.

Transportation Of Nuclear Waste

Transporting nuclear waste can be dangerous but there have never been an instance where there has been a leak from a container that was carrying highly radioactive material. In the United States two hundred fifty thousand packages containing radioactive material is shipped each year. This is radioactive waste from nuclear power plants throughout the United States. About twenty five to one hundred of those packages will contain the used fuel. Usually these packages are carried by rail. When the need for transportation of radioactive material arise it is a very few people that are trained and specialize in the transportation of the waste. The drivers must have a special license to carry such waste. There is also certain routes and roads that trucks are required to drive when hauling hazardous materials. The waste is packaged in containers that is constructed with every possible scenario in mind. With this type of planning if there is an accident the possibility of leaking or breakage of the container is minimized.

Nuclear Waste Clean Up

The average person should never try to clean up any type of radioactive material. Cleaning up nuclear waste can be dangerous and can lead to long term health problems. The person that cleans up this type of material is very highly trained and knows how to do this safely. There is not only a danger to the person doing the cleaning but also to the public in general. If you find what you believe to be nuclear waste you need to leave it alone and call the authorities. There are companies that are trained and specializes in the clean up of nuclear waste. In almost every state and city there are Haz-Mat teams that are qualified for this type of clean up also.

Nuclear energy is a big part of the world today and as long as that program is growing the waste from that will be growing also. Having a trained and certified transportation team and a certified and trained cleanup team are very important parts of the equation. If we are going to make the nuclear energy work for us then we need to have the people that can transport the waste and people that can clean up the waste in the rare case of an accident. There are a lot of bad sides to nuclear energy and the waste that it produces but there are by far more good things that come from it. This is the direction that the world is taking and we need to be ready for the repercussions.

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