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Waste Disposal Environmental Implications

            Fossil fuels have been staple
source of power since the industrial revolution. However more recently nuclear
energy has become more popular. Nuclear energy is created through a process
called 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 which
spins a turbine and creates electricity. The increase in nuclear energy use can
be attributed to the negative aspects of using fossil fuels. The problem with
fossil fuels is firstly the process in which they are mined. Which can be
dangerous and is bad for the environment (Add more about mining). Second is
that when fossil fuels are burned they release carbon dioxide, methane and
other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gas emissions are
the key culprits of climate change, and the rising temperatures that the earth
is experiencing (Nuclear Energy institute 1).

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  All of
the negative aspects of using power from burning fossil fuels. Has led to the
search newer cleaner forms of power. Nuclear energy has partially fulfilled
this request.

energy does not require the any fossil fuels, in fact it has nothing to do with
fossil fuels. The process of creating nuclear energy as mentioned above is done
through a process called fission. Fission is where you a uranium atom inside a
reactor. The energy that is harnessed from the fission process is used to heat
water, and that water is then turned into electricity (Nuclear Energy Institute
2). There is also a way to turn the energy from the process of Nuclear Fusion
into electricity. Nuclear fusion is the process of merging the nuclei of two
atoms together and getting the energy from to create electricity. However
nuclear fusion has its own problems. The process of getting nuclear fusion can
be very dangerous and the research to make it safer is very expensive. Because
of all of this nuclear fusion is not currently be utilized as a power source
(Duke Energy 1).

process of nuclear fission may seem like the perfect alternative to using
fossil fuels. However, it does not come without its issues. There are many
issues associated with nuclear fission. First nuclear fission requires uranium
for the process. This is a problem because in order to obtain uranium you need
to mine it. Uranium is also a finite resource meaning that it will eventually
run out. Uranium mining can be a dangerous process as is a form of mining. Also
there has been a connection between uranium miners and an increased risk of
getting lung cancer. This is because uranium is very radioactive. The process
of nuclear fission creates an excess amount of waste. This waste is
accumulating quickly. This problem is amplified by the fact that the waste
produced by nuclear fission is radioactive. Therefore, the waste cannot simply
be disposed of. The waste produced needs to be stored until the radiation
decays, and it is less radioactive. Because of this the waste is currently
stored in nuclear waste storage areas. These areas are either on the site of
the nuclear power plants, if there is not that much waste or if the waste is
not very highly radioactive. Waste that has less radioactivity will decay
quicker and will be able to be actually disposed of faster (World Nuclear
Association 2).  If the waste is highly
radioactive which most of it is, it is put into holes deep into the ground and
stays there for years, or however long it takes for it to become less
radioactive enough to be actually disposed of.

paper will look into, the different kinds of nuclear waste, how their disposal
impacts the environment, and the political implications of each.

As mentioned before there are two types of nuclear waste that are
created in the nuclear fission process, High-level nuclear waste and Low-level
nuclear waste.  High level radioactive
waste are radioactive materials that come from the reactions that occur in the
process 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 in
nuclear reactors. According to the World Nuclear Association “high level waste
accounts for just three percent of the volume of nuclear waste but only ninety
five percent of the total radioactivity of all the produced nuclear waste (“Storage
and Disposal of Radioactive Waste” 1).” There are two kinds of high level
waste, spent and waste material. Spent waste is used waste from reactor fuel
when it is accepted for disposal. Waste material is what is remaining after
spent fuel has been reprocessed (U.S. NRC 1).

         The other kind of nuclear waste is low
level waste is not necessarily just the waste that is created from the process
of making nuclear energy, while that can be part of it. Low level radioactive
waste is just that, it has a lower level radioactivity. Low level radioactive
waste can be generated by hospitals, industries, and of course through the
process of obtaining nuclear energy. Low level waste is usually comprised of
things such as rags, clothing, filters, and medical materials that have been
exposed to radiation. These objects have a range of radioactivity, that can
differ greatly from being very radioactive to having very low levels of
radiation. According to the U.S. NRC low level waste comprises ninety percent
of the volume of nuclear waste, but it only comprises one percent of the
radioactivity (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 is
stored there until it has decayed enough, meaning it has lower levels of
radioactivity that it can be thrown away like ordinary trash or waste. OR low
level waste is kept on site until there is enough of it for it to be moved to a
low level waste disposal site (U.S. NRC 3).  

           This paper has previously mentioned
some of the issues of nuclear waste and its disposal, however there are many problems
associated with the current methods of disposing of nuclear waste. First of
all, nuclear wastes are radioactive. Radioactive waste is waste is a byproduct
of nuclear energy and contains radioactive materials. Radioactive decay occurs
in unstable atomic nuclei (Choudri 1). Since the process of fission splits the
nuclei of uranium atoms, it leaves them unstable, this is what causes the
radioactivity.  There are many negative
effects of being exposed to radioactive materials. There are many correlations
between people who have been exposed to radioactive materials and people who
get cancer. Much like the people who mined uranium there is a high connection
between people being exposed to radiation and people who get lung cancer
specifically. Also, exposure to radiation can cause damage to tissues, and can
alter DNA. This occurs when human cells are exposed to DNA the proteins within
DNA are ionized and the electrons are forced out. This process causes DNA to
become unstable and break. This can cause damage to almost all of the major
systems in the body like the brain, lungs and even skin. This can leave
irreparable damage to the body. Which is why it is a huge concern to public
health and safety that exposure to radioactive materials  is limited, and to do this we need to figure
out how to safely dispose of nuclear waste.  

the immediate negative consequences to public health, radioactive nuclear waste
also has many negative affects to the environment. Since currently the most
popular way to store nuclear waste is to bury it in the ground. This method can
negatively impact the natural landscape of an environment, or the nuclear waste
can leak and contaminate the ground water.   
                      Also since
nuclear energy is becoming more and more popular there is an excess of nuclear
waste being accumulated. According to Myasoedoy “As a rule, a nuclear power plant creates 20 metric tons of nuclear
fuel per year, and with that comes a lot of nuclear waste. When you
consider each nuclear plant on Earth, you will find that that number jumps to
approximately 2,000 metric tons a year (Myasoedov 1).” That is more than
storage resources are able to handle.

         The problem of storage is an issue for
both high level waste and low level waste. While low level waste can over time
decay to safe radioactive levels, it can take many years to reach safe levels,
even upwards of a hundred years.  The
amount of waste being accumulated is way exceeding the ability to dispose of
this waste. This is a problem because there are limited places to put this
waste. It is especially difficult to find place to put the high level waste
which often burns through the containers that it is in, since it is so

current nuclear waste disposal methods have been relatively sufficient for the
short amount of time that we have been using nuclear energy. However, with the
increase in use of nuclear energy. The current disposal methods are falling
short. The most popular method of disposal is storage. In this method, the
radioactive materials are put into bins to contain their radiation. They are
then placed in landfills where they will stay until they are less radioactive
and able to be properly disposed of.  Radioactive
wastes are stored “to avoid any chance of radiation exposure to people, or
any pollution. The radioactivity of the wastes decays with time, providing a
strong incentive to store high-level waste for about 50 years before disposal (
“Radioactive Waste Management” 1).”  The waste can be stored at the
nuclear power plant but is usually stored in Landfills. Landfills can be harmful
to the environment, and the nuclear waste can seep into the landscape, or the
water sources, this can affect not only the environment but human health as
well. These landfills also take up a lot of space since there is so much
nuclear waste, this space could be used for better things that would actually
be useful for the public or helpful to the environment.

       The other form of nuclear waste disposal
is geological disposal. This type of disposal is when the nuclear waste is
contained in bins and then burrowed into the ground and buried so that the
waste is away from human reach. This is an issue because it could disrupt the
natural landscape of the area. Some of the popular places to bury the waste is
natural habitats and can disrupt the animal and plant species that live
there.  Also, the seepage from the
nuclear waste could contaminate water sources if it is not buried correctly
(Nuclear Energy Review 1). If water is contaminated from the nuclear waste, it
can affect the plants and animals in the area. They can consume this contaminated
water which in turn could kill off certain plants and animals. Also
contaminated water is a big public health issue. If people were to drink
contaminated water they would then be exposed to and consuming radiation. Which
as was described before, can lead to diseases like cancer, or death.

        Currently the issue of nuclear waste
disposal is a political issue. However, there is not a lot of recent policy
changes that have occurred, that take into account the issues with the current
methods of nuclear waste disposal. The current law in place is the Nuclear
Waste Policy Act of 1982. ”    The Nuclear
Waste Policy Act (NWPA) supports the use of deep geologic repositories for the
safe storage and/or disposal of radioactive waste (EPA1).” This policy looked
into and decided the proper ways to dispose of nuclear waste. In doing this the
Nuclear Waste Policy Act created a timeline for nuclear waste disposal, and
assigned places for waste disposal. Made Yucca Mountain a permanent location
for nuclear waste disposal (EPA 2) Yucca mountain is located in Nevada near the
border of California. Yucca mountain was a spent nuclear waste storage
location. Which had become a point of contention because of the environmental consequences
of storing waste at Yucca Mountain (EPA 3). The Yucca mountain was also a site
of worship and sacred site for the Shoshone people. In 2010 the Yucca mountain
was defunded as a nuclear waste disposal site due to the controversy
surrounding it in 2010. However, it took almost thirty years since its creation
for this site to be closed down.

United States Nuclear Regulation Committee regulates the disposal of nuclear
waste. By licensing nuclear power plants and storage facilities. The power
plants and facilities have to meet certain requirements to be licensed. These
requirements include the container they store waste in and the methods of which
they dispose of waste. (U.S. NRC)

will take cooperation on both sides of the political spectrum to get this issue
resolved. However, both sides have vastly opinions on what will be the best
solution for this issue.  Those on the
left more liberal end of the spectrum are more invested in new technology and
methods for nuclear waste. They are focused on cleaner forms of energy all
solutions that benefit the environment and the people. They are the ones coming
up with new policies that can be used to create safer more environmentally
friendly ways of disposing of nuclear waste. These route of looking for new
technologies seems like the best course of action, so that we can work towards
solutions that create cleaner safer and cheaper means of disposing nuclear

Those on the right, more conservative side, of the aisle are more likely
not to be concerned with the issues regarding nuclear waste disposal. In
general, this party is less concerned with environmental issues. And since
Nuclear energy is profitable they are more likely to ignore the environmental
determents. These legislators tend to be more economically focused when it
comes to creating policy. Research for safer nuclear waste disposal may be the
vital option, but it is an expensive option. Research about this would need to
be funded from the government and the republican party is not as interested in
government spending and government involvement. That being said currently with
the Trump administration the republican party has control of the house and
therefore is likely to get passed what they want, or block bills they do not
agree with. This administration has also been very closed off when it comes to
environmental issues in general.  Including
alluding to the fact that climate change is not real, and taking down global
climate change information and research from official government websites. This
being said it can be assumed that this administration is not concerned with the
environment, or the negative implications of that nuclear waste has on the
environment. Even further we could assume that this administration might not be
concerned with nuclear energy in the slightest if they do not have an issue
with burning fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions that occur as a result
of such.

         Nuclear waste disposal is not a problem
that will just go away on its own, especially if we continue to utilize nuclear
waste the way we have been for last few years. There needs to be a change that
occurs among our policy makes that helps to alleviate the problem. These policy
changes should include policies that fund research for safer disposal of
nuclear waste. Without funding from the government this research will never
happen, and it is crucial if the nation is going to continue to use nuclear
waste in the same capacity as we have been. Another solution would be funding
for research of alternative sources of energy. If we could find an energy
source that is cleaner, than both nuclear energy and fossil fuels, it would
solve a lot of issues that these forms of power have currently created. The
goal of energy consumption should be to find an energy source that does not
negatively impact the environment or public health.

          There have been some discoveries for
newer, cleaner, safer forms of nuclear waste disposal. These new methods for
disposing could solve some of the issues that the current methods of disposal
are creating. On method is called reprocessing. According to The Union of
Concerned Scientists reprocessing “is
a series of chemical operations that separates plutonium and uranium from other nuclear
waste contained in the used fuel from nuclear power
reactors.  The separated plutonium can be
used to fuel reactors, but also to make nuclear weapons ((Union
of Concern Scientists 1)” What this means is that scientists are able to take
some of the waste created through nuclear fission and use it to create a
different type of energy that would could fuel nuclear reactors. Through
reprocessing scientists are able to limit the amount of waste that is needs to
be stored and disposed of. Also through this process scientists are able to
reuse what was once waste, and limit the amount of energy they need by using
what was reprocessed to power the nuclear reactors and perform more nuclear
fission creating more electricity. This may seem like a perfect solution to the
current issue of nuclear waste disposal. This process could potentially use the
already created waste that is currently being stored for the reprocessing
process. This could begin to alleviate some of the excess waste that we currently
have.  There are however some issues
associated with reprocessing. The energy used for reprocessing can also be used
to create nuclear weapons. Meaning reprocessed nuclear waste would require a
lot of extra care and precautions. Also, while reprocessing would eliminate a
significant portion of the nuclear waste that is accumulating this process
would still result in some waste. Finally, research and development that would
make this helpful process possibly would be very expensive and funding for this
would have to come from somewhere, most likely the government (Union of Concern
Scientists 2).

Another process that could be a potentially solution for nuclear waste
disposal is called transmutation. Transmutation is when the highly radioactive
particles which will take a long time to decay will not be safe for disposal
for a long time in nuclear waste are converted by fission to less radioactive
particles (Belgian Nuclear Research Center 1). This process would make high
level 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. This
means that the nuclear waste disposal sites would be less full if nuclear waste
does not need to be there for as long. If the nuclear waste does not need to
spend as much time in these storage areas then more waste can be put there
sooner. Also if nuclear waste is less radioactive in general there may no
longer be a need for geological disposal of nuclear waste. Which is currently
used for high level radioactive waste that is going to be stored for a long
period of time. If there isn’t as much high level waste than we do not need to
utilize this method of disposal, which is considerable more dangerous and
detrimental to the environment. There are also issues associated with
transmutation. Firstly, since it is new technology research and development of
this process will need to be funded and carried out. This is unlikely to
happen. Also, this process does not actually dispose of any nuclear waste it
only makes it easier to dispose of nuclear waste. At the rate, we are at there
may already be too much waste for this process to help solve this problem in
the short term, perhaps in the long term it will be very effective.

The third type of technology that is a potential solution for the
nuclear disposal process is called space disposal. Space disposal is pretty
self-explanatory, space disposal consists of packaging the nuclear waste and
then launching it into space to be disposed of. This solution would Space
disposal- nuclear waste would be packaged and then launched into space to be
disposed of. ( This process would be significantly resolve a
lot of the problems associated with nuclear waste disposal. Firstly, if space
disposal were to work it could potentially remove all the current nuclear waste
from the storage sites and the geological disposal site. After this is done,
the nuclear waste that continues to be created could be immediately sent to
space to be disposed of. This would eliminate all of the nuclear waste, it
would also eliminate the need for nuclear waste storage all together. Without nuclear
waste the problems associated with nuclear waste disposal and storage would go
away. This would allow us to focus on fixing the problems that nuclear waste
had already caused. An issue with this type disposal is, similarly to the other
new types of nuclear waste disposal, cost. As seen in the news getting to space
and space exploration is astronomically expensive. So much so that much of the funding
that space programs used to get has ceased. Sending all the nuclear waste to
space would be incredibly expensive. Especially considering the amount of
nuclear waste that we have currently accumulated that is being stored, and the
amount of nuclear waste that we are constantly created.

  Something important that needs to be looked
into a way to cease using nuclear energy all together. If scientists were able
to create a new form of energy that creates less harmful waste and does not require
finite resources to create, there would be huge benefits for the entire
population. However, this is a in no way an easy task. Besides the issue of money
and funding for this type of research and development. There is an issue of
creating this type of technology, which would require a lot of money,
attention, and resources. While it might be difficult it is possible, and within
our life time there is a change that we will have an all new type of energy
source. Perhaps scientists will have looked into dangers of fusion and find a
way to make fusion for energy use safer. If this were to happen it would create
a lot more energy than fission. And fusion creates little to no waste from its

        While all of these proposed solutions
can 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 stored
either by physically removing it, or by limited the amount of time it takes for
it to be properly disposed of. However, all of these solutions will be very
costly. There is a lot more research and development that needs to go into
making these processes either realities or more widely utilized and feasible.
There are many hurdles that stand in the way of this research and development
being funded, mostly from the side of the government. The real answer to this
problem will only come with more research and by continuing to search for more
alternatives to nuclear energy and for safer methods for disposing of nuclear
waste. Nuclear energy through its creation has solved many problems that were occurring
from the use of fossil fuels. In doing this however nuclear energy caused more
problems 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 be
resolved, and so many environmental and public health concerns that can be
fixed. Currently however, the most important thing that needs to happen is finding
a way to stop the immediate threats from nuclear waste that are affecting
people’s health and the environment.

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