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Nuclear Waste Essay Research Paper Nuclear Waste

Nuclear Waste Essay, Research Paper Nuclear Waste Nuclear waste is one of the most pressing and provocative environmental issues of our time. This radioactive waste, which

Nuclear Waste Essay, Research Paper

Nuclear Waste

Nuclear waste is one of the most pressing and provocative

environmental issues of our time. This radioactive waste, which

remains deadly for thousands of years, is incredibly difficult to

deal with. Unfortunately, time is running short for a solution, as

a growing number of reactors, (111 in the United States alone),

radioactive remnants of Cold War weapons, and increasing medical

uses of radioactivity will soon create enough waste to exceed the

current holding capacity for radioactive materials.

There are two types of nuclear waste. The first is low-level

radioactive waste, which contains small amounts of radioactivity.

This sort of waste usually comes from medical facilities and

pharmaceutical companies and includes clothing, test tubes, and all

kinds of diagnostic waste. The other kind, which is of most

concern, is high-level radioactive waste, which is created when

reactor fuel is mined and processed and when atoms are split in

reactors. This “hot” waste includes spent uranium fuel rods and

the liquid waste produced when those rods are dissolved in acid to

make plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Disposing of low-level waste presents difficulties, but not

insurmountable ones. As of now, it is shipped to special disposal

sites in the United States. Expectedly, the public is not pleased

to have any type of radioactive waste in their own backyards, even

the relatively harmless low-level trash. The main obstacle in

dealing with this type is to educate the public, which tends to

equate anything radioactive with that of the highly dangerous,

nuclear fuel cycle variety. Without good information, the people

will always fear anything remotely connected with nuclear power and

will continue to incorrectly liken what goes on in an X-ray

laboratory with what goes on in a plutonium bomb.

Of far more concern is how to dispose of the high-level

radioactive waste. This problem has plagued scientists and

politicians since the beginning of the nuclear age. “Hot” waste

contaminates the earth, the water, the air, and even minute amounts

of it can be extremely poisonous to humans. Short of abolishing

nuclear waste altogether, it looks like there is little that can be

done about the growing accumulation of nuclear waste. Scientists

are doing what they can to deal with the problem, although the

solutions are admittedly not long-term ones.

Currently, “hot” waste is stored near the reactors and weapons

plants that make it. Used fuel rods are kept in pools of

circulating water and liquid waste in steel tanks that are buried

below the ground. Some of the less radioactive liquid waste is

mixed with concrete and made into blocks, which are buried under

clay and planted over. Wastes have sometimes been encased in metal

drums lined with concrete and dumped into the sea, at times dumped

without any packaging at all. A few countries recycle the fuel to

recover plutonium, which can be used as reactor fuel.

Each of these methods has drawbacks. Drums have leaked and

contaminated surrounding land. Storing fuel rods in pools is only

a temporary measure, and the pumps and filters required can

malfunction. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can damage buried

drums, break the concrete, and release radioactive material into

the soil and groundwater. This groundwater can also serve to free

wastes by corroding metal containers of nuclear waste, mixing with

it and leaching into soil and streams. Recycling waste for

plutonium is costly, complex, and still leaves behind waste. Worse

still, large-scale recycling could lead to trade in plutonium,

which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The question of how to deal with nuclear waste is an extremely

difficult one, but it must be dealt with. Certainly, nuclear waste

must be disposed of somewhere, and the longer we wait, the more

formidable the task becomes. What is needed is more study on how

radioactive elements behave, hopefully enough to solve this most

urgent environmental problem.

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