NuclearWaste Disposal Environmental Implications Fossil fuels have been staplesource of power since the industrial revolution. However more recently nuclearenergy has become more popular.
Nuclear energy is created through a processcalled fission. Fission occurs when a uranium atom is split inside a reactor.The heat that is created through this process is used to create steam whichspins a turbine and creates electricity. The increase in nuclear energy use canbe attributed to the negative aspects of using fossil fuels. The problem withfossil fuels is firstly the process in which they are mined.
Which can bedangerous and is bad for the environment (Add more about mining). Second isthat when fossil fuels are burned they release carbon dioxide, methane andother greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions arethe key culprits of climate change, and the rising temperatures that the earthis experiencing (Nuclear Energy institute 1). All ofthe negative aspects of using power from burning fossil fuels. Has led to thesearch newer cleaner forms of power.
Nuclear energy has partially fulfilledthis request. Nuclearenergy does not require the any fossil fuels, in fact it has nothing to do withfossil fuels. The process of creating nuclear energy as mentioned above is donethrough a process called fission. Fission is where you a uranium atom inside areactor.
The energy that is harnessed from the fission process is used to heatwater, and that water is then turned into electricity (Nuclear Energy Institute2). There is also a way to turn the energy from the process of Nuclear Fusioninto electricity. Nuclear fusion is the process of merging the nuclei of twoatoms together and getting the energy from to create electricity. Howevernuclear fusion has its own problems. The process of getting nuclear fusion canbe very dangerous and the research to make it safer is very expensive. Becauseof all of this nuclear fusion is not currently be utilized as a power source(Duke Energy 1). Theprocess of nuclear fission may seem like the perfect alternative to usingfossil fuels. However, it does not come without its issues.
There are manyissues associated with nuclear fission. First nuclear fission requires uraniumfor the process. This is a problem because in order to obtain uranium you needto mine it. Uranium is also a finite resource meaning that it will eventuallyrun out. Uranium mining can be a dangerous process as is a form of mining. Alsothere has been a connection between uranium miners and an increased risk ofgetting lung cancer. This is because uranium is very radioactive.
The processof nuclear fission creates an excess amount of waste. This waste isaccumulating quickly. This problem is amplified by the fact that the wasteproduced by nuclear fission is radioactive. Therefore, the waste cannot simplybe disposed of. The waste produced needs to be stored until the radiationdecays, and it is less radioactive.
Because of this the waste is currentlystored in nuclear waste storage areas. These areas are either on the site ofthe nuclear power plants, if there is not that much waste or if the waste isnot very highly radioactive. Waste that has less radioactivity will decayquicker and will be able to be actually disposed of faster (World NuclearAssociation 2).
If the waste is highlyradioactive which most of it is, it is put into holes deep into the ground andstays there for years, or however long it takes for it to become lessradioactive enough to be actually disposed of. Thispaper will look into, the different kinds of nuclear waste, how their disposalimpacts the environment, and the political implications of each. As mentioned before there are two types of nuclear waste that arecreated in the nuclear fission process, High-level nuclear waste and Low-levelnuclear waste. High level radioactivewaste are radioactive materials that come from the reactions that occur in theprocess of making nuclear energy that occurs inside the nuclear reactor (U.S.NRC 1). This type of nuclear waste is cause by the burning of uranium innuclear reactors. According to the World Nuclear Association “high level wasteaccounts for just three percent of the volume of nuclear waste but only ninetyfive percent of the total radioactivity of all the produced nuclear waste (“Storageand Disposal of Radioactive Waste” 1).
” There are two kinds of high levelwaste, spent and waste material. Spent waste is used waste from reactor fuelwhen it is accepted for disposal. Waste material is what is remaining afterspent fuel has been reprocessed (U.
S. NRC 1). The other kind of nuclear waste is lowlevel waste is not necessarily just the waste that is created from the processof making nuclear energy, while that can be part of it.
Low level radioactivewaste is just that, it has a lower level radioactivity. Low level radioactivewaste can be generated by hospitals, industries, and of course through theprocess of obtaining nuclear energy. Low level waste is usually comprised ofthings such as rags, clothing, filters, and medical materials that have beenexposed to radiation. These objects have a range of radioactivity, that candiffer greatly from being very radioactive to having very low levels ofradiation.
According to the U.S. NRC low level waste comprises ninety percentof the volume of nuclear waste, but it only comprises one percent of theradioactivity (U.S.
NRC 2). Low level nuclear waste is usually stored on site,in places such as nuclear power plants, or hospitals. This type of waste isstored there until it has decayed enough, meaning it has lower levels ofradioactivity that it can be thrown away like ordinary trash or waste. OR lowlevel waste is kept on site until there is enough of it for it to be moved to alow level waste disposal site (U.S. NRC 3). This paper has previously mentionedsome of the issues of nuclear waste and its disposal, however there are many problemsassociated with the current methods of disposing of nuclear waste. First ofall, nuclear wastes are radioactive.
Radioactive waste is waste is a byproductof nuclear energy and contains radioactive materials. Radioactive decay occursin unstable atomic nuclei (Choudri 1). Since the process of fission splits thenuclei of uranium atoms, it leaves them unstable, this is what causes theradioactivity. There are many negativeeffects of being exposed to radioactive materials. There are many correlationsbetween people who have been exposed to radioactive materials and people whoget cancer.
Much like the people who mined uranium there is a high connectionbetween people being exposed to radiation and people who get lung cancerspecifically. Also, exposure to radiation can cause damage to tissues, and canalter DNA. This occurs when human cells are exposed to DNA the proteins withinDNA are ionized and the electrons are forced out. This process causes DNA tobecome unstable and break. This can cause damage to almost all of the majorsystems in the body like the brain, lungs and even skin.
This can leaveirreparable damage to the body. Which is why it is a huge concern to publichealth and safety that exposure to radioactive materials is limited, and to do this we need to figureout how to safely dispose of nuclear waste. Besidesthe immediate negative consequences to public health, radioactive nuclear wastealso has many negative affects to the environment. Since currently the mostpopular way to store nuclear waste is to bury it in the ground. This method cannegatively impact the natural landscape of an environment, or the nuclear wastecan leak and contaminate the ground water. Also sincenuclear energy is becoming more and more popular there is an excess of nuclearwaste being accumulated. According to Myasoedoy “As a rule, a nuclear power plant creates 20 metric tons of nuclearfuel per year, and with that comes a lot of nuclear waste.
When youconsider each nuclear plant on Earth, you will find that that number jumps toapproximately 2,000 metric tons a year (Myasoedov 1).” That is more thanstorage resources are able to handle. The problem of storage is an issue forboth high level waste and low level waste. While low level waste can over timedecay to safe radioactive levels, it can take many years to reach safe levels,even upwards of a hundred years. Theamount of waste being accumulated is way exceeding the ability to dispose ofthis waste. This is a problem because there are limited places to put thiswaste.
It is especially difficult to find place to put the high level wastewhich often burns through the containers that it is in, since it is soradioactive. Thecurrent nuclear waste disposal methods have been relatively sufficient for theshort amount of time that we have been using nuclear energy. However, with theincrease in use of nuclear energy.
The current disposal methods are fallingshort. The most popular method of disposal is storage. In this method, theradioactive materials are put into bins to contain their radiation. They arethen placed in landfills where they will stay until they are less radioactiveand able to be properly disposed of. Radioactivewastes are stored “to avoid any chance of radiation exposure to people, orany pollution. The radioactivity of the wastes decays with time, providing astrong incentive to store high-level waste for about 50 years before disposal (“Radioactive Waste Management” 1).” The waste can be stored at thenuclear power plant but is usually stored in Landfills. Landfills can be harmfulto the environment, and the nuclear waste can seep into the landscape, or thewater sources, this can affect not only the environment but human health aswell.
These landfills also take up a lot of space since there is so muchnuclear waste, this space could be used for better things that would actuallybe useful for the public or helpful to the environment. The other form of nuclear waste disposalis geological disposal. This type of disposal is when the nuclear waste iscontained in bins and then burrowed into the ground and buried so that thewaste is away from human reach. This is an issue because it could disrupt thenatural landscape of the area. Some of the popular places to bury the waste isnatural habitats and can disrupt the animal and plant species that livethere.
Also, the seepage from thenuclear waste could contaminate water sources if it is not buried correctly(Nuclear Energy Review 1). If water is contaminated from the nuclear waste, itcan affect the plants and animals in the area. They can consume this contaminatedwater which in turn could kill off certain plants and animals. Alsocontaminated water is a big public health issue. If people were to drinkcontaminated water they would then be exposed to and consuming radiation.
Whichas was described before, can lead to diseases like cancer, or death. Currently the issue of nuclear wastedisposal is a political issue. However, there is not a lot of recent policychanges that have occurred, that take into account the issues with the currentmethods of nuclear waste disposal. The current law in place is the NuclearWaste Policy Act of 1982.
” The NuclearWaste Policy Act (NWPA) supports the use of deep geologic repositories for thesafe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste (EPA1).” This policy lookedinto and decided the proper ways to dispose of nuclear waste. In doing this theNuclear Waste Policy Act created a timeline for nuclear waste disposal, andassigned places for waste disposal. Made Yucca Mountain a permanent locationfor nuclear waste disposal (EPA 2) Yucca mountain is located in Nevada near theborder of California. Yucca mountain was a spent nuclear waste storagelocation. Which had become a point of contention because of the environmental consequencesof storing waste at Yucca Mountain (EPA 3). The Yucca mountain was also a siteof worship and sacred site for the Shoshone people.
In 2010 the Yucca mountainwas defunded as a nuclear waste disposal site due to the controversysurrounding it in 2010. However, it took almost thirty years since its creationfor this site to be closed down. TheUnited States Nuclear Regulation Committee regulates the disposal of nuclearwaste. By licensing nuclear power plants and storage facilities. The powerplants and facilities have to meet certain requirements to be licensed. Theserequirements include the container they store waste in and the methods of whichthey dispose of waste. (U.S.
NRC) Itwill take cooperation on both sides of the political spectrum to get this issueresolved. However, both sides have vastly opinions on what will be the bestsolution for this issue. Those on theleft more liberal end of the spectrum are more invested in new technology andmethods for nuclear waste. They are focused on cleaner forms of energy allsolutions that benefit the environment and the people. They are the ones comingup with new policies that can be used to create safer more environmentallyfriendly ways of disposing of nuclear waste. These route of looking for newtechnologies seems like the best course of action, so that we can work towardssolutions that create cleaner safer and cheaper means of disposing nuclearwaste. Those on the right, more conservative side, of the aisle are more likelynot to be concerned with the issues regarding nuclear waste disposal.
Ingeneral, this party is less concerned with environmental issues. And sinceNuclear energy is profitable they are more likely to ignore the environmentaldeterments. These legislators tend to be more economically focused when itcomes to creating policy. Research for safer nuclear waste disposal may be thevital option, but it is an expensive option. Research about this would need tobe funded from the government and the republican party is not as interested ingovernment spending and government involvement.
That being said currently withthe Trump administration the republican party has control of the house andtherefore is likely to get passed what they want, or block bills they do notagree with. This administration has also been very closed off when it comes toenvironmental issues in general. Includingalluding to the fact that climate change is not real, and taking down globalclimate change information and research from official government websites. Thisbeing said it can be assumed that this administration is not concerned with theenvironment, or the negative implications of that nuclear waste has on theenvironment. Even further we could assume that this administration might not beconcerned with nuclear energy in the slightest if they do not have an issuewith burning fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions that occur as a resultof such.
Nuclear waste disposal is not a problemthat will just go away on its own, especially if we continue to utilize nuclearwaste the way we have been for last few years. There needs to be a change thatoccurs among our policy makes that helps to alleviate the problem. These policychanges should include policies that fund research for safer disposal ofnuclear waste. Without funding from the government this research will neverhappen, and it is crucial if the nation is going to continue to use nuclearwaste in the same capacity as we have been.
Another solution would be fundingfor research of alternative sources of energy. If we could find an energysource that is cleaner, than both nuclear energy and fossil fuels, it wouldsolve a lot of issues that these forms of power have currently created. Thegoal of energy consumption should be to find an energy source that does notnegatively impact the environment or public health.
There have been some discoveries fornewer, cleaner, safer forms of nuclear waste disposal. These new methods fordisposing could solve some of the issues that the current methods of disposalare creating. On method is called reprocessing.
According to The Union ofConcerned Scientists reprocessing “isa series of chemical operations that separates plutonium and uranium from other nuclearwaste contained in the used fuel from nuclear powerreactors. The separated plutonium can beused to fuel reactors, but also to make nuclear weapons ((Unionof Concern Scientists 1)” What this means is that scientists are able to takesome of the waste created through nuclear fission and use it to create adifferent type of energy that would could fuel nuclear reactors. Throughreprocessing scientists are able to limit the amount of waste that is needs tobe stored and disposed of. Also through this process scientists are able toreuse what was once waste, and limit the amount of energy they need by usingwhat was reprocessed to power the nuclear reactors and perform more nuclearfission creating more electricity. This may seem like a perfect solution to thecurrent issue of nuclear waste disposal. This process could potentially use thealready created waste that is currently being stored for the reprocessingprocess.
This could begin to alleviate some of the excess waste that we currentlyhave. There are however some issuesassociated with reprocessing. The energy used for reprocessing can also be usedto create nuclear weapons. Meaning reprocessed nuclear waste would require alot of extra care and precautions. Also, while reprocessing would eliminate asignificant portion of the nuclear waste that is accumulating this processwould still result in some waste. Finally, research and development that wouldmake this helpful process possibly would be very expensive and funding for thiswould have to come from somewhere, most likely the government (Union of ConcernScientists 2). Another process that could be a potentially solution for nuclear wastedisposal is called transmutation.
Transmutation is when the highly radioactiveparticles which will take a long time to decay will not be safe for disposalfor a long time in nuclear waste are converted by fission to less radioactiveparticles (Belgian Nuclear Research Center 1). This process would make highlevel nuclear waste less radioactive quicker from this fission like process.Meaning that nuclear waste that is less radioactive will not need to be stored,and higher level nuclear waste will not need to be stored for as long. Thismeans that the nuclear waste disposal sites would be less full if nuclear wastedoes not need to be there for as long. If the nuclear waste does not need tospend as much time in these storage areas then more waste can be put theresooner.
Also if nuclear waste is less radioactive in general there may nolonger be a need for geological disposal of nuclear waste. Which is currentlyused for high level radioactive waste that is going to be stored for a longperiod of time. If there isn’t as much high level waste than we do not need toutilize this method of disposal, which is considerable more dangerous anddetrimental to the environment.
There are also issues associated withtransmutation. Firstly, since it is new technology research and development ofthis process will need to be funded and carried out. This is unlikely tohappen. Also, this process does not actually dispose of any nuclear waste itonly makes it easier to dispose of nuclear waste. At the rate, we are at theremay already be too much waste for this process to help solve this problem inthe short term, perhaps in the long term it will be very effective. The third type of technology that is a potential solution for thenuclear disposal process is called space disposal.
Space disposal is prettyself-explanatory, space disposal consists of packaging the nuclear waste andthen launching it into space to be disposed of. This solution would Spacedisposal- nuclear waste would be packaged and then launched into space to bedisposed of. (world-nuclear.org) This process would be significantly resolve alot of the problems associated with nuclear waste disposal.
Firstly, if spacedisposal were to work it could potentially remove all the current nuclear wastefrom the storage sites and the geological disposal site. After this is done,the nuclear waste that continues to be created could be immediately sent tospace to be disposed of. This would eliminate all of the nuclear waste, itwould also eliminate the need for nuclear waste storage all together. Without nuclearwaste the problems associated with nuclear waste disposal and storage would goaway. This would allow us to focus on fixing the problems that nuclear wastehad already caused. An issue with this type disposal is, similarly to the othernew types of nuclear waste disposal, cost. As seen in the news getting to spaceand space exploration is astronomically expensive.
So much so that much of the fundingthat space programs used to get has ceased. Sending all the nuclear waste tospace would be incredibly expensive. Especially considering the amount ofnuclear waste that we have currently accumulated that is being stored, and theamount of nuclear waste that we are constantly created.
Something important that needs to be lookedinto a way to cease using nuclear energy all together. If scientists were ableto create a new form of energy that creates less harmful waste and does not requirefinite resources to create, there would be huge benefits for the entirepopulation. However, this is a in no way an easy task. Besides the issue of moneyand funding for this type of research and development. There is an issue ofcreating this type of technology, which would require a lot of money,attention, and resources.
While it might be difficult it is possible, and withinour life time there is a change that we will have an all new type of energysource. Perhaps scientists will have looked into dangers of fusion and find away to make fusion for energy use safer. If this were to happen it would createa lot more energy than fission.
And fusion creates little to no waste from itsprocess. While all of these proposed solutionscan be better for the environment, there are pros and cons for each of them.All of them will increase the amount waste that is currently being storedeither by physically removing it, or by limited the amount of time it takes forit to be properly disposed of. However, all of these solutions will be verycostly. There is a lot more research and development that needs to go intomaking these processes either realities or more widely utilized and feasible.There are many hurdles that stand in the way of this research and developmentbeing funded, mostly from the side of the government.
The real answer to thisproblem will only come with more research and by continuing to search for morealternatives to nuclear energy and for safer methods for disposing of nuclearwaste. Nuclear energy through its creation has solved many problems that were occurringfrom the use of fossil fuels. In doing this however nuclear energy caused moreproblems in terms of waste. And while there is no easy solution currently,there are glimmers of hope that are becoming more well known, and more accessible.
If these solutions get developed further there are so many problems that can beresolved, and so many environmental and public health concerns that can befixed. Currently however, the most important thing that needs to happen is findinga way to stop the immediate threats from nuclear waste that are affectingpeople’s health and the environment.