Nuclear Waste Disposal Essay

1278 words - 5 pages

Nuclear Waste Disposal

For over the last half century, the production and exploit of nuclear technology has spread into many areas of the current modern society and affects each individual in one way or another. Nuclear technology has become relevant in areas of the advancement of energy production, national defense, and also the medicinal field as well. But, along with the use of nuclear technology comes an added burden: nuclear waste. As defined, “Nuclear waste is the type of waste that results from the use and production of nuclear materials. As nuclear materials are produced and use up, one by-product of the process is a large amount of dangerous chemical elements.” In short, nuclear wastes are generated from spent nuclear fuel, dismantled weapons, and other products which many include the most dangerous chemical element, plutonium. As nuclear energy is being a more reliable source, we must find a way to properly dispose of it just like any other energy waste.

The most important design item that we must consider in storage of nuclear waste lies in the shielding of its radiation. Currently, nuclear waste is stored in specially-designed, water-filled basins or dry casks at commercial power reactor sites or at one away-from-reactor storage facilities in 43 different states.. But as these are only temporary, The Bush Administration and the U.S Department of Energy have proposed a design for a permanent waste disposal which will place steel canisters containing the spent fuel to be stored within other steel canisters and buried horizontally in chambers 300 meters below the earth’s surface. In February of 2002, President Bush chose the site of Yucca Mountain (90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada) as the place to entomb up to 77,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel which have been estimated to remain radioactive for 10,000 years. But as of July 2004, a federal appellate court has ruled in favor of environmental groups and the state of Nevada finding that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) illegally issued inadequate environmental and public health standards for the proposed Yucca Mountain site. The state of Nevada and other groups have asked the court to require EPA to revise its environmental and health standards for the site which have “sent the EPA back to the drawing board.” Efforts to utilize Yucca Mountain as a set site will probably take a few more years.

Besides efforts of bury the waste in Yucca Mountain, other ideas to dispose the waste are being under consideration. The first of which is the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel burning method which is done by mixing plutonium with uranium and producing a slightly different fuel which is done in order to burn up the plutonium by nuclear fission. The result of this allows for more of the initial plutonium to be used as an energy source and creates excess plutonium which is far less dangerous to the environment and global community than the initial plutonium. Even though...

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