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THE STORAGE / DISPOSAL OF RADIOACTIVE WASTE
PRODUCED BY NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS

V. Ryan 2006 - 2009

 

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The production of wastes by nuclear power, its storage and handling are of great concern to the public. There are three levels of nuclear waste, low activity or low level, intermediate activity or intermediate level and high activity or high level wastes.

 
   
LOW LEVEL WASTE
   

Low level waste include materials that are used to handle nuclear material such as radiation suits and laboratory equipment. They are normally stored for up to 15 years in secure storage and then, after careful packaging they can be disposed of as normal waste.
However, there is disagreement over the way the waste is disposed. For example, The British and Irish Governments do not agree on the disposal of low level radioactive material in the Irish Sea.

   
INTERMEDIATE LEVEL WASTE
   

These are much bulkier materials and are characterised by low heat emission. They contain metal fuel cladding, chemical sludges and other radioactive wastes.
The waste is first encased in resin or concrete and sealed in steel drums. The drums are then packed into concrete casks and placed in concrete trenches up to 18 metres deep. When completely filled the trenches are covered with a concrete slab, a layer of compacted clay and a reinforced concrete intrusion shield and a final layer of clay. Deep disposal of intermediate wastes also takes place, storing the wastes in a suitable geological formation at a depth of at least 100 metres

   
     
HIGH LEVEL WASTE  
   

High level waste is extremely radioactive and remains in this state for thousands of years. Safe and stable storage of this type of waste is of great concern. Modern storage methods include the use of glass vitrification. This involves combining the radioactive liquid waste with glass to form a solid compound. Because of the solid nature of the waste it is much less likely to contaminate the surrounding area. Unlike liquid waste, it cannot leak into the ground if the stainless steel container it is in becomes faulty. In theory, the highly radioactive waste can be stored indefinitely in deep stable formations such as caves and caverns.

   
   

QUESTIONS:

1. In you opinion, do you think producing electricity through nuclear power is safe?

2. Can countries that rely on oil, coal and gas to produce electricity ignore the need to develop nuclear power stations? Remember to consider - the green house effect, global warming, pollution and world politics when answering this question.

     
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