During electricity generation in a nuclear plant—from uranium mining to reprocessing exposed nuclear fuel—high levels of nuclear waste are produced. This high-level radioactive waste remains hazardous for thousands or even millions of years. However, as part of the fuel mix consent, suppliers have to state only the amount of high-level radioactive waste created as a result of the generation of the electricity.
Nuclear electricity forms almost 15 percent of the global electricity production and as a result, tons of nuclear waste has to be managed. In a nuclear plant, there are three types of nuclear waste: high-level waste, intermediate-level waste and low-level waste.
High-level waste is the most dangerous one as it consists of fuel and the processed fuel. Comprising only three percent of the volume, it has 95 percent radioactivity. It contains highly radioactive fission products and some heavy elements with long-lived radioactivity. It also generates a significant amount of heat and requires cooling as well as special shielding during handling and transport. Medium and low-level waste requires storage or controlled disposal, but the fuel mix disclosure regulations are valid only for high-level waste.
Uranium is a non-renewable resource that is used in nuclear reactions for electricity generation. Neutrons from uranium atoms collide with each other, releasing heat and neutrons in a chain reaction. This heat is used to generate steam, which powers a turbine to generate electricity. In doing so, nuclear power generates a number of radioactive byproducts, including tritium, cesium, krypton, neptunium and forms of iodine.
Uranium tailings are the radioactive materials that remain after uranium is extracted from the earth. The most important radioactive component of uranium mill tailings is radium, which decays to produce radon.
What to do with America’s Nuclear Waste- An informational Video
All parts of the radioactive cycle in electricity generation produce hazardous radioactive substances. The main objective in disposing of radioactive waste is to protect people and the environment. This means isolating or diluting the waste so the rate or concentration of any radionuclides returned to biosphere is harmless. To achieve this, all nuclear wastes are contained and managed properly and many of them are buried deep in earth.
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