The first nuclear power plants started operating in the 1950’s. Now, nearly 12% of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power facilities. With all this power comes waste, and lots of it. The amount of waste from nuclear power plants annually is over 2,000 tons and there is over 270,000 tons of waste currently in storage. Where is all this dangerous waste stored? You might be surprised.
To give you a background on just what nuclear waste is, I’ll explain just how this hazardous material is formed. By splitting atoms scientists are able to harness large amounts of energy and power entire cities. They split these atoms by shooting neutrons at them in a process known as nuclear fission. After this process has run its course and can no longer be used to generate power a highly radioactive waste is left. There are two classifications of the waste, low-level and high-level wastes. Low-level waste is the garbage accumulated from cleaning and power plant maintenance. It is not that radioactive, but still dangerous to your health. High-level waste is the burnt out fuel cells that can no longer be used. They are the majority of the problem with waste disposal. This highly radioactive waste remains as such for over 50 years on average.
So if this waste remains extremely dangerous for 50+ years how do we handle the storage and disposal of this waste? The answer is so simple that some people might think you were kidding. We bury it. There are no high tech facilities with high security, simply a big hole in the ground. Now you might be wondering where these burial sites are, the answer might scare you. A mere 200 miles away from Reno, NV lies a mountain known as Yucca Mountain. What’s so special about this mountain? It’s planned to soon house over 100,000,000 Gallons of toxic waste. The current method of disposing of this waste in Yucca is to store then in steel-cased tanks filled with water. This form of storage is not effective as it’s only a temporary solution. In the 80’s the USDE (U.S. Department of Energy) selected Yucca Mountain as a potential deposit site. The Yucca Mountain Project has since been going through a number of speed bumps due to lack of funding and support.
The nuclear power companies seem fairly content with the temporary burial of the waste, as well as the government. They say that because there are few people who would ever go near Yucca Mountain that it’s safe. This is true, but does that make it safe? Just because humans don’t typically go near Yucca Mountain doesn’t mean there isn’t a number of species who live in and around the mountain. The mutations and deaths that are possible from the waste are unsettling. Also,...