This is a link to a writing activity i did for one of my classes. The class was one that focused on global issues and i chose to do my work on nuclear waste. Of course you can find the rest of my work on the website as well as all of my peers work; however, not all of it has to do with nuclear energy.
There really isnt much insight i can provide on this article. It really isnt all that long, so give it a looksy :).
To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power:
As climate and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we are…
Austin Duncan's insight:
This is the note that was quoted in the previously posted article that was posted in the Huffington Post; titled: "Nuclear Power Needed To Slow Climate Change, Experts Say." This is just a better representation of what the climate specialists had to say regarding nuclear energy and climate change.
This is a fascinating article that focuses on the views of the people that lived in or around Carlsbad, New Mexico at the time of the establishment of the WIPP nuclear waste disposal site. When the WIPP was first proposed, there was a tremendous amount of opposition. However, over time, more and more people began to approve of it and eventually, the building was constructed and recieved its first shipment of waste in March 1999.
This article presented two very interesting bits of info. The first had to deal with the period of time from proposition to construction. As i mentioned before, people started out with a lot of disapproval. However, over time, with a substantial amount of tests and arguing, the majority of the people began to accept the WIPP. The second interesting fact had to do with the peoples location with respect to the disposal facility. Contrary to expectations, the article states that those who lived closer to the prospective site were more for the construction than those who lived further away!
Waste Management in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle - Appendix 2 Storage and Disposal Options.
Austin Duncan's insight:
Almost anything you need to know about disposal, you can find it here. Okay, maybe its not that extensive, but there is a lot of great info on this site. The two primary parts in this article have to do with near-surface disposal and deep geological disposal. These are the two primary forms of disposal. Near-surface disposal is used for the lower level waste and deep geological is reserved for high level waste.
Additionally, this article includes some other forms of disposal that have been tested or proposed. This information can be found near the bottom in a comprehensive chart. There are some very interesting theories listed there. For instance, one of the proposed solutions is to blast the waste off into space.
Radioactive waste management: nuclear power is the only energy-producing technology which takes full responsibility for all its wastes (radwastes) including nuclear waste disposal, management of radioactive waste and fully costs this into the...
Austin Duncan's insight:
This article is rather extensive, but it does possess lots of good information regarding nuclear waste. The two sections that should be focused on are the types of waste, and the managing high level waste sections.
The types of waste section provides a detailed discussion on the relative radioactivities and dangers of the different kinds of waste produced during the nuclear life cycle. The scale ranges from very low level waste (VLLW) to high level waste (HLW); the higher the danger, the higher the level.
The main piece of information that can be found in the managing high level waste section is the short discussion on reprocessing. This process consists of recyling some of the fuel and solidifying the rest. This is beneficial because it makes the waste easier to handle and it reduces the risk of spills.
Finally, this article has a great table near the bottom that lists out numerous countries and whether or not they practice reprocessing.
With each passing year, the atmospheric temperatures seem to steadily increase. The cause of this is generally attributed to global warming. In other words, it is related to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions come from a variety of sources, but the most substantial amount of gasses are produced from power plants; more specifically, from natural gas, oil, and coal burning plants. According to Jerald Schnoor, greenhouse gasses have been increasing drastically over the past 23 years. He states that the amount of gasses produced each year has increased from approximately 34 gigatons of carbon dioxide (one of the primary greenhouse gasses) to around 49 gigatons of carbon dioxide (Schnoor). Unfortunately this trend will only continue into the years to follow, resulting in a 3-4 degree Celsius increase each century unless something is done to turn the curve around.
Of course, everyone’s proposed solution to the greenhouse gas problem is renewable energy sources; things such as solar, wind, or hydroelectric power. This is apparent in the 2013 World Nuclear Status Report which presents the global investment decisions from 2004-2012. Over this 8 year period, the amount of money flowing to the advancement of renewable energy sources increased from approximately 25 billion dollars to well over 250 billion dollars (Schneider 74). Investments in nuclear power paled in comparison. Over the same time frame, funding for nuclear power increased from about 5 billion dollars to around 25 billion dollars (Schneider 74). Advancing renewable energy sources is a great idea, but each has its disadvantages. Hydroelectric power plants are restricted to areas with moving bodies of water; windmills need large open spaces to function properly and generally, more than one is required; and finally, numerous solar panels are required to generate a substantial amount of energy, so they also require large open spaces with unrestricted access to sun light. Additionally, John Vienna from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, states that the “generation rate of electricity for these alternative sources is not constant and would require some sort of power storage to supply base power” (309). Furthermore, a joint letter, written by four climate change specialists was released by the Huffington Post and addressed anyone who had some sort of influence on environmental policy. In this letter, James Hanson, a former top NASA scientist; Ken Caldeira, a senior scientist at Carnegie Institution; Kerry Emanuel, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at the University of Adelaide all agreed that these forms of renewable energy were not going to be enough to turn the tides on global warming (Begos). Additionally, the letter states that “the global demand for energy is growing rapidly…and the need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions is becoming ever clearer at the same time” (Caldeira et al). As a response to this growing need, Caldeira and his associates propose “the development and deployment of safer nuclear power systems…They acknowledge that there are risks to using nuclear power, but say those are far smaller than the risk posed by extreme climate change” (Begos).
One of the biggest obstacles that plagues the minds of those against, and even those for, nuclear energy regards what is to be done with the waste produced from the nuclear reactions. There are some waste products that become relatively safe after mere days; however, there are others, such as uranium and thorium that can remain radioactive for thousands, even billions of years. According to Dr. Lana Aref, one of the longest lasting radioactive elements is uranium 238. She lists out that this uranium isotope possesses a half-life of approximately 4.5 billion years. Furthermore, Aref lists that uranium 234 has a half-life of 247 thousand years and thorium 230 has a half-life of 80 thousand years. These values have been cross checked with Wolfram Alpha and are consistent. The remainder of this paper will focus on what can be done with the waste. The sections to follow will consist of a discussion on the various types of waste, their origins, and various proposed solutions for disposal/storage.
In general, there are four broad types of waste: very low level waste (VLLW), low level waste (LLW), intermediate level waste (ILW), and high level waste (HLW) (Radioactive). Each type of waste is classified based on their physical properties, their half-lives, and their relative radioactivity; as radioactivity increases, so does the waste level. This classification is important because it dictates how the waste is handled and how it is processed and stored.
The first level of waste is the very low level waste. According to the World Nuclear Association, this VLLW is simply waste that is not considered harmful to people or surrounding environments (Radioactive). VLLW generally “consists of demolished material such as concrete, plaster, metal or piping, and is “produced during remodeling or destruction of nuclear industrial sites” (Radioactive). Since this waste poses such a low level of threat, it is usually just thrown into landfills with other domestic refuse (Radioactive).
The next level up is low level waste. This waste is primarily generated from hospitals and industry, but it can also originate from nuclear reactors. According to the World Nuclear Association, LLW is comprised of “paper, rags, tools, clothing, filters, and a number of other various materials” (Radioactive). Basically, LLW is a collection of materials that have come into contact with higher level waste; usually during the cleaning of reactor parts and during the decontamination of equipment. LLW contains small amounts of short lived radioactive elements and “comprises approximately 90% of the volume, but only 1% of the radioactivity of all radioactive waste” (Radioactive).
Following LLW is the intermediate level waste. The World Nuclear Association states that this type of waste makes up “approximately 7% of the volume and 4% of the radioactivity of all waste” (Radioactive). ILW is comprised primarily of “resins, chemical sludge, and metal fuel covers” (Radioactive). Because of the increase in radioactivity, these waste materials must be handled more carefully. Most of the materials require some form of shielding during transport or storage in order to protect people and the environment from the radiation. Although slightly more dangerous than LLW, ILW is still not the greatest concern when it comes to nuclear waste.
The final and most problematic of the waste types is the high level waste. This waste material only accounts for around 3% of the total volume; however, it is responsible for approximately “95% of the total reactivity produced from nuclear power plants” (Radioactive). HLW originates from “the ‘burning’ of the uranium fuel in the reactor” (Radioactive). This waste is highly radioactive, extremely hot, and possesses both long-lived and short-lived radioactive components. Because of these aspects, HLW is very dangerous, and requires careful handling during transportation and storage. Additionally, due to the long lives of the radioactive elements, the storage has to be relatively long term. These two stipulations, in tandem, play a key role in the basis of the nuclear waste issue. Because of the danger and the life time of the radioactive elements, it is difficult to find a suitable method and location for disposal/storage.
As of right now, there are a couple of accepted and implemented methods of disposal, and there are several more that are being investigated for possible use. However, before any final resting place is determined for the waste, there is another process that it can be subjected to; this process is known as reprocessing. Several countries, such as China, France, Japan, Russia, and the U.K. are currently practicing reprocessing (Radioactive). This technique accomplishes two things; it allows for the recycling of some of the highly radioactive elements and it immobilizes the HLW. In the first step, uranium and plutonium are removed from the waste so that they can later be used to refresh depleted uranium to make fresh fuel (Radioactive). Once all recoverable elements are gathered, the waste is “vitrified into borosilicate (Pyrex) glass and encapsulated in heavy stainless steel cylinders” to wait for eventual disposal (Radioactive). This method appears to be beneficial because it reuses some of the waste and it makes it so the rest is solid and easier to work with. This vitrification process reduces the likelihood of having a catastrophic leak or spill. Unfortunately, the World Nuclear Association states that the United States currently practices direct disposal which is just the collection, packaging, and storage of the waste (Radioactive). Nothing is done to it before it is sealed up and packed away. However, it is also stated that the U.S. is reconsidering their position and may be moving towards reprocessing (Radioactive). This advancement is apparent in John Vienna’s article where he discusses the work that is being done here in the U.S. to perfect the vitrification process. Vienna also lists out some of the issues that need to be addressed within the technique. For instance, he mentions that the glass composition has to vary depending on the elements that are being vitrified (Vienna 318). Also, when dealing with high heat isotopes, the glass transition temperature must be monitored carefully, as well as the canister dimensions and the cooling configuration (Vienna 318).
After it is decided whether or not the waste will undergo reprocessing, it is time to determine the proper disposal/storage method. The two primary methods of disposal/storage are either near surface disposal or deep geological disposal. Near-surface disposal is generally reserved for LLW and some ILW; HLW on the other hand is usually subjected to deep geological disposal, but only when the proper location has been determined. This determination of a proper disposal location is a very delicate task, and will be discussed further momentarily; first off, near-surface disposal.
Near-surface disposal is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as “the disposal of waste with or without engineered barriers” (Storage). According to the IAEA, there are two types of near-surface disposal facilities; those at ground level and those that are in caverns just below ground level (Storage). According to the World Nuclear Association, Near-surface disposal facilities are used for wastes with a maximum half-life of approximately 30 years (Storage). Anything over this 30 year mark is put into what is known as interim storage where it waits for its final resting place to be decided.
Interim storage is a kind of half-way point for high level waste (HLW) and highly radioactive intermediate level waste (ILW) that has a long half-life. These interim storage facilities can be found on the surface, or they can be sub surface; either way, they are usually found on site at most nuclear power plants. The World Nuclear Association emphasizes the fact that these facilities are “not a final solution – something still remains to be done with the waste” (Storage). Once a location for deep geological disposal is agreed upon, the waste will be moved from interim storage to that location.
So what goes into selecting a deep geological disposal site? A desirable location consists off an area with reasonably stable rock, minimal to no ground water flow, and the ability to excavate to depths between 250m and 1000m. The whole idea behind this is to “provide isolation through a combination of engineered and stable, natural barriers” (Storage). The World Nuclear Association says that the natural barriers will make it so there is “no obligation for future generations to actively maintain the facility” (Storage). The natural barriers will act as secondary protection should the man-made barriers deteriorate. The radioactive elements would run out of energy before they could penetrate to the surface.
At the moment, there is only one functional deep geological repository accepting radioactive waste, and it is here in the United States. Located in Carlsbad, New Mexico, there is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) where defense related ILW is stored in an underground salt formation (Storage). The location of the WIPP proves to be very beneficial because the salt environment has a very low rate of ground water flow and actually possesses a self-sealing capability (Storage). Because the salt in this area is “plastic/malleable,” the salt will slowly “creep” around the storage containers and buildings until each container/structure is completely isolated and encased in salt (Storage).
At first, the opening of this facility was highly disputed. According to Jenkins-Smith, it took nearly a quarter of a century to get the WIPP facility up and running (631). In the years spanning from 1974 to 1999, there was an ample amount of “wrangling over regulatory processes and there was extensive scientific evaluation of the site;” but finally, in March 1999, the facility received its first shipment of waste (Jenkins-Smith 631). Interestingly, Jenkins-Smith’s data indicated that there was a gradual increase in acceptance over the 25 years (634). This can likely be attributed to the witnessing of the thorough site evaluations and the realizations that the likelihood of a catastrophic incident was slim to none. Also, the persistent arguments from the proponents may have helped a bit. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that Finland, Sweden and the U.S. are currently in the advanced stages of planning for the disposal of spent fuel; Canada and the U.K. on the other hand are in the process of selecting the best disposal site.
In June 2008, the U.S. department of Energy submitted an application to construct a repository in Yucca Mountain. Located out in a line of mountains near the southern edge of Nevada, the “repository would be constructed 300 meters underground in an unsaturated layer of welded volcanic rock” (Storage). This area is very stable, well isolated, and would provide a good location for a permanent repository. However, there is a significant amount of opposition from not only concerned citizens, but from policy makers regarding this decision. This opposition is clearly portrayed in a Congressional Research Service Report written by Todd Garvey, a research attorney. In this report, Garvey explains in detail how the Obama administration proceeded to cut all funding from the Yucca Mountain project in 2011, 2012, and 2013 (3). However, Garvey also alludes to the fact that the fight for Yucca Mountain is far from over. In the report he mentions that there are a number of leading, Republican House members, including the Speaker of the House, that strongly oppose the shutting down of the project (28).
Near-surface and deep geological disposal are not the only methods that have been proposed. There are several other ideas which have come up; some of which have already been rejected, but there are a few which are still under scrutiny and could be possible solutions. The various ideas are as follows: long-term above ground storage, disposal in outer space, deep boreholes, rock-melting, disposal in subduction zones, sea disposal, sub seabed disposal, disposal in ice sheets, and direct injection (Storage).
The first proposed solution, above ground storage, is generally considered no more than an interim storage method. This was rejected because the containers would be subjected to the elements, and they would require regular maintenance. The objective of the storage is to see to it that future generations will not be required to take care of the waste repositories (Storage).
The next possible solution, disposal in outer space, actually entails a couple solutions. One is just to launch the waste out into the vast emptiness of space; the other is to direct the waste at the sun (Storage). There are two main issues with both of these proposed solutions; the first of which involves cost. It would be very expensive to build an appropriate space craft to carry the waste out of our gravitational pull and away from our planet. The other issue is the risk of launch failure (Storage). It would be catastrophic if a rocket carrying nuclear waste was to explode, mid-air, over a city.
Third on the list is the use of deep boreholes. This method consists of first digging holes several kilometers deep into the surface. Next, waste containers would be dropped into the holes and the last couple kilometers at the top would be filled with asphalt or concrete. This method continues to be investigated by several countries, but it has been abandoned by many others do to a relatively higher cost to dispose of larger quantities of waste (Storage).
The fourth proposed method is known as rock melting. This is a rather fascinating method. Basically, high level waste would be put into a deep borehole which would then be sealed. Over time, the heat would build up to the point where it would melt the surrounding rock. This would allow the waste to diffuse out and dilute within the rock which, after solidifying, would then immobilize the waste. This method was abandoned due to the inability to control the movement of the waste once it is placed in the hole. It is possible that it would simply continue to move through the Earth’s crust, or it may find its way into a ground water system (Storage).
The fifth possibility is disposal at subduction zones. In other words, they proposed that the waste be dumped at the regions where one portion of the Earth’s crust is passing underneath another. Again, this method was rejected because it would be impossible to know where the waste would actually go once it was dumped into the trench. Additionally, some of the subduction zones are located under the sea and it is not permitted to dispose of waste in the sea; this would be blatant pollution (Storage).
The sixth and seventh proposals both pertain to some form of disposal at sea. The sixth is just direct disposal at sea where the waste is basically dropped into the ocean where it is allowed to be diluted by the water. The seventh proposal, sub seabed disposal, consists of burying the waste containers at the ocean floor. This method also presents the possibility of leaking waste into the water. Both of these methods are not permitted due to international agreements (Storage).
The eighth possible solution, disposal in ice sheets, is also not implemented anywhere due to the signing of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. This method proposed allowing containers full of hot HLW to melt into ice sheets until they sunk far enough that a thick layer of ice refroze over top. This was abandoned due to the potential threat it posed to the Arctic (Storage).
Finally, the ninth proposed solution, direct injection, is still being investigated by some countries; however, it was abandoned by the United States in favor of deep geological repositories. The main stipulation to this method is that the waste has to be in liquid form. The liquid is mixed with some form of cement or grout and injected directly into a layer of rock deep below the surface of the Earth. This cement mixture would then solidify underground and would minimize the likelihood of any migration. This method is currently still used in Russia and was at one point used in the U.S. However, the U.S. is currently focusing its efforts on deep geological disposal (Storage).
It is clear that there is a pressing need to find a means of advancing away from the use of oil, gas, and coal burning plants. Each year, the atmospheric temperatures rise and this can be attributed to greenhouse gases that are produced from fossil fuel burning power plants. Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, or hydroelectric power are possible solutions to this growing problem; however, each of them have their own respective issues, and all of them have wavering reliability. This means that the next best option is to further the advancement of nuclear power. The biggest obstacle standing in the way of this is the radioactive waste. Because of its danger and relatively long life span, figuring out what to do with it is a long, delicate, and grueling process. There have been numerous proposed solutions, but there is still much work to be done. However, at this current point in time, the preferred course of action is to reprocess the high level waste, solidify it, and store it deep in a secure and isolated location where it will be safe and undisturbed for many millennia to come.
Aref, Lana. “Nuclear Energy: the Good, the Bad, and the Debatable.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 21 November 2013.
Begos, Kevin. “Nuclear Power Needed to Slow Climate Change, Experts Say.” Huffington Post 3 November 2013. Web. 20 November 2013.
Caldeira, Ken, et al. “To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power.” Letter. Huffington Post 3 November 2013. Web. 20 November 2013.
Garvey, Todd. “Closing Yucca Mountain: Litigation Associated with Attempts to Abandon the Planned Nuclear Waste Repository.” Congressional Research Service (4 June 2012): 1-28. Web. 5 November 2013.
Jenkins-Smith, Hank, et al. “Reversing Nuclear Opposition: Evolving Public Acceptance of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility.” Risk Analysis 31.4 (2011): 629-644. Web. 5 November 2013.
“Radioactive Waste Management.” World Nuclear Association. World Nuclear Association, 2012. Web. 9 November 2013.
Schneider, Mycle, et al. “World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013.” Mycle Schneider Consulting (2013): 1-140. Web. 21 November 2013.
Schnoor, Jerald. “Nuclear Power: The Last Best Option.” Environmental Science & Technology 47 (2013): 3019. Web. 5 November 2013.
“Storage and Disposal Options: Radioactive Waste Management Appendix 2.” World Nuclear Association. World Nuclear Association, 2013. Web. 9 November 2013.
Vienna, John. “Nuclear Waste Vitrification in the United States: Recent Developments and Future Options.” International Journal of Applied Glass Science 1.3 (2010): 309-321. Web. 5 November 2013.
Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Research Company, n.d. Web. 21 November 2013.
Austin Duncan's insight:
This is a paper that i wrote for one of my advanced Chemistry classes. It deals primarily with nuclear waste, but i intro with the need to move away from oil, coal, and gas power.
This article was provided to me by a friend on facebook. I am not entirely sure what the whole thing entails, and i am pretty sure that it started out as an assignment for some students somewhere. However, it does possess a nice table with the known half-lives of various elements.
Unfortunately, the article does appear to be rather old, so I cross checked the half-life values with Wolfram Alpha. All of the half-lives matched up fairly well.
PITTSBURGH -- PITTSBURGH (AP) — Some of the world's top climate scientists say wind and solar energy won't be enough to head off extreme global warming, and they're asking environmentalists to support the development of safer nuclear power as one...
Austin Duncan's insight:
Many people, including myself, believe that alternative energy, such as solar, wind, or hydro power are the answers to global warming. However, these climate specialists believe that these forms of energy will not be enough. They believe that we need something else; something that will provide much more energy. They acknowledge that nuclear power in not the cleanest and certainly not the safest, but it is the next best solution compared to coal, oil, and gas plants.
Solar, wind, and hydroelectric power all have their limitations, and they are not always reliable. Nuclear energy of course has its own set backs, but it can provide a substantial amount of energy at a constant, reliable rate.
Read a National Geographic magazine article about nuclear waste and get information, facts, and more about radioactive garbage.
Austin Duncan's insight:
This is merely an interesting article that was posted by National Geographic. It was written by MIchael E. Long. Based on this article, he appears to be an opponent of nuclear reactors, but he tries to maintain some level of distance near the end when he mentions that it is each individuals decision as to whether they are for or against nuclear power.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, protecting people and the environment.
Austin Duncan's insight:
This is another great source from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) containing a lot of information about waste and procedures for disposal. There are numerous links built in that allow for the continuous accumulation of knowledge.
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