Nuclear Waste Disposal: How to Make Everything Green

We have one major problem in the world today. It’s called nuclear waste disposal and while it’s definitely not the only thing wrong with what humans are doing to the Earth, it’s certainly the one with the most dire prospects. Think of it this way: what’s more important than not poisoning the earth we’re on?

So, in the following article, we’re going to check out some of the worst nuclear waste disposal examples in the world, as well as providing answers for how these procedures could undergo change for the better. It may seem that this is a pretty straightforward issue. However, did you know there are a lot of legal loopholes that have plants dumping nuclear waste directly into rivers, gulfs, or straight into the ground? More on this further on.

graphic illustration of nuclear waste disposal

Brief Nuclear Waste Disposal History Lesson

The complicated bit comes in when we try to reason what is nuclear and what isn’t. While most of us would think that it’s only about uranium and plutonium waste, the truth is not that simple. Greenpeace defines it as:

Nuclear waste is the result of every stage in the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining and enrichment, to reactor operation and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

So, while of course, the uranium and plutonium waste makes up a big part of the danger, it’s the whole process that’s harmful. Nuclear weapons are under testing all the time – and where do they think it’s okay to do that? Of course, in the ocean. And with this, we’ve only scraped the surface of the issues involving nuclear waste.

First, we had all the historical disasters of the 20th century…

Throughout the last century, it seems that the USSR, the UK, and the US (among many others) raced each other not only in going to space. They also dumped incredible amounts or nuclear waste straight into the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. When you add it all up to the meagre dumps by other countries, the result is 982,394 cubic meters – simply harrowing.

Countless tests, experiments, and nuclear disasters turned the USSR to poison its own people. Today, people in Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and even as far as Japan suffer the consequences of the Soviet leadership’s decisions to brand low-population areas as “uninhabited.”

Second comes the Hanford nuclear waste disposal site…

Hanford, USA was the place where all the plutonium for the atomic bombs was made. After those bombs, the Cold War scare ramped up the production of nuclear weapons. Of course, the waste was simply buried, leaving it to seep into groundwater in the area.

The once flourishing community is now a disaster – there’s no way around it. The tanks containing plutonium waste are still active. The worst part is that they’re only protected by a single wall (which is basically nothing when dealing with nuclear waste disposal). So, the more the government chooses to ignore the problem, the worse it will get.

Then there’s the fracking waste in the Gulf of Mexico…

We know that this grand mass of water is full of fracking wells. Then again, it’s a fact that the nuclear waste disposal from these wells goes straight into the water. While not directly radioactive, fracking wastewater is made up of chemicals that have been hidden for millions of years, forced to react with each other in ways that dramatically increased their radionuclide count.

So, dumping wastewater from the fracking process does not mean directly dumping uranium residue into the ocean (or soil, in some other cases). We should still be worried, however, as this type of nuclear waste disposal has been mostly ignored for a long, long time.

photograph showing differences between green environment and fallout

How to Handle Nuclear Waste Disposal the Right Way

The most difficult part of dealing with nuclear waste it that it doesn’t go away. It’s like something that you sweep under the carpet because, somehow, in an odd way, it’s the most responsible thing to do. Let’s observe the options, however:

Could reprocessing nuclear waste be the solution?

An old-timey option, reprocessing is pretty popular. It basically means that the nuclear waste disposal involves splitting the residue into its prime elements – plutonium, uranium, and others. These elements could then be reused safely. The problem? This doesn’t really make for a permanent solution. Not even a short term one. For starters, the waste essentially increases exponentially. Secondly, the elements lose their purity in time and by then the amount of waste has essentially gone through the roof.

Our verdict: reprocessing is the lazy, profit-oriented solution to something needing a permanent one.

Maybe dry casks could represent a solution?

Dry casks are cylinders in which we dump nuclear waste. These cylinders then stay together in a giant room until they’re cool enough to be taken into a more permanent enclosure. So where’s the problem? If the amount of waste is not dangerously high, this short-term solution could be very effective. However, due to the fact that most nuclear waste quantities come in massive numbers, the cooling rooms do get a bit overcrowded.

Our verdict: dry casks are great for small amounts of radioactive waste, yet are only a short-term answer to nuclear waste disposal.

So we’re stuck finding a permanent repository?

The Federal Government was tasked with permanently eliminating the nuclear waste disposal problem way back in 1982. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act said that we should find a permanent underground site for building this repository. This repository would remain there for thousands of years until the nuclear waste would become completely non-reactive.

The problem? The act above was supposed to have nuclear waste disposal in the deep underground beginning in 1998. Of course, that never happened. In fact,  the government couldn’t even come to an agreement on where the location for the permanent repository should be. Missing deadlines? At least we’re not worse at it than US politicians.

Our verdict: yes, a permanent repository is the best solution. However, the federal government doesn’t seem to be too keen on finding a good location for it.

pipe dripping nuclear waste

Conclusion

We don’t have to tell you how big of an issue nuclear waste disposal is. We hope we’ve shed some light on this with this short review. In the end, we should remember that while history makes us bow our heads in shame, it’s important that we keep the future from being so bleak.

Image sources: depositphotos.com.

Show Your Friends!
William E. Eubanks
 

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments