High School Physics

How is nuclear waste stored?

Nuclear waste

Nuclear wastes consist either of fission products formed from the splitting of uranium, cesium, strontium, or krypton, or from transuranic elements formed when uranium atoms absorb free neutrons.

Wastes from transuranic elements are less radioactive than fission products; however, these elements remain radioactive far longer—hundreds of thousands of years.

The types of waste are irradiated fuel (spent fuel) in the form of 12-foot (4-meter) long rods, high-level radioactive waste in the form of liquid or sludge, and low-level waste (non-transuranic or legally high-level) in the form of reactor hardware, piping, toxic resins, water from the fuel pool, and other items that have become contaminated with radioactivity.

spent nuclear fuel & radioactive waste storage in the United States

Currently, most spent nuclear fuel in the United States is safely stored in specially designed pools at individual reactor sites around the country. If pool capacity is reached, licensees may move toward the use of above-ground dry storage casks.

The three low-level radioactive waste disposal sites are Barnwell located in South Carolina, Hanford located in Washington, and Envirocare located in Utah. Each site accepts low-level radioactive waste from specific regions of the country.

Most high-level nuclear waste has been stored in double-walled, stainless-steel tanks surrounded by 3 feet (1 meter) of concrete. The current best storage method, developed by the French in 1978, is to incorporate the waste into a special molten glass mixture, then enclose it in a steel container and bury it in a special pit. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 specified that high-level radioactive waste would be disposed of underground in a deep geologic repository.

[ Ref: The handy Science Answer Book]

Scroll to top