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May 1, 2013 Positive Attitude. Virtuoso: someone who excels in the technique of an art, especially a musical performer Do Now: What does this symbol mean to you?. Radioactive Waste. What is the primary concern associated with solid or liquid radioactive waste?

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may 1 2013 positive attitude
May 1, 2013 Positive Attitude
  • Virtuoso: someone who excels in the technique of an art, especially a musical performer
  • Do Now: What does this symbol mean to you?
radioactive waste
Radioactive Waste
  • What is the primary concern associated with solid or liquid radioactive waste?
  • Remember – there are different types of nuclear radiation with different penetration energies (see slide)
radioactive waste1
Radioactive Waste
  • Important consideration: the radioactive material’s half-life
  • Half-life – the time required for half of the radioactive atoms present to decompose; half-lives of radioactive elements vary from fractions of a second to billions of years! (see slide)
radioactive waste2
Radioactive Waste
  • The more energetic the nuclear radiation and the longer a radioactive substance’s half life the greater the disposal problem
  • E.G., Plutonium has a half-life of ~ 24,000 years and emits highly energetic nuclear radiation; plutonium waste would require at least 10 half-lives isolated storage for even modest amounts to have the radioactivity reduced to “safe” exposure levels
radioactive waste3
Radioactive Waste
  • Radioactive waste possesses another significant environmental and economic problem to the U.S. (see slide)
radioactive waste4
Radioactive Waste
  • Radioactive waste classification is imprecise; two broad categories recognized: Low-level radioactive waste: low-energy radioactivity emission; nearly 90% of all radioactive waste (e.g., certain medical waste, smoke alarms, protective clothing and filters from nuclear power plants) High-level radioactive waste: high-energy radioactivity emission (e.g., depleted U-fuel rods, most nuclear plant waste)

Although nearly 90%

of radioactive waste

is “low-level”,

the highest energy

radiation is

associated with

“high-level” waste,

especially depleted

(spent) nuclear fuel

radioactive waste disposal
Radioactive Waste Disposal
  • No permanent repository exists anywhere in the world for high-level radioactive waste; very few sites have been constructed to accept low-level radioactive waste
  • The U.S. government created the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to store transuranic waste (a type of nuclear waste with low-energy radioactivity emission but very long half-lives) produced during more than 50 years of nuclear weapons research and production
radioactive waste disposal1
Radioactive Waste Disposal
  • The waste will be deposited about 2,150 feet underground in tunnels and chambers dug into 225 million-year-old thick salt deposits
  • By law, no other low- or high-level radioactive waste can be deposited at the WIPP
  • The WIPP facility started receiving waste late in 2000 and should be able to store 6 million cubic feet of transuranic waste during its 35 year life expectancy (see slides)






WIPP waste vessels are mechanically emplaced

into holes bored into salt walls

radioactive waste disposal2
Radioactive Waste Disposal
  • Suggestions for high-level radioactive disposal:
  • 1) Space disposal
  • 2) Ice sheet disposal (Antarctica)
  • 3) Deep seabed disposal
  • 4) Subduction zones
  • 5) Bedrock caverns (e.g., like WIPP) or bedrock disposal (Yucca Mountain, Nevada?)
  • See slide illustrating multibarrier approach of bedrock disposal (most likely to be employed in the U.S. for commercial high-level radioactive waste)

Example of bedrock

disposal for

high-level radioactive

nuclear waste

radioactive waste disposal3
Radioactive Waste Disposal
  • The Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) of 1982 mandated the establishment of two high-level radioactive waste disposal sites for commercial waste
  • In 1987 this Act was amended: only Yucca Mtn., Nevada was authorized to be investigated as a possible repository
  • The Yucca Mountain site has been beset by delays in the mandated Environmental Assessment and by legal challenges by state and local governments and individuals (see slide of Yucca Mtn. region seismicity)
yucca mountain nevada
Yucca Mountain, Nevada

Location of major faults

Significant earthquakes

radioactive waste disposal4
Radioactive Waste Disposal
  • The NWPA of 1982 mandated the government open a permanent storage facility for high-level radioactive waste by 1998 – if the Yucca Mountain site is completed it will likely not open to 2015 or beyond! The 2010 budget eliminated all funding for Yucca Mountain!
  • The average nuclear power plant in the U.S. produces about 500 pounds of plutonium per year and 30 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste each year!
  • Where is this high-level radioactive waste stored now? (see slide for example)


The Russian government (2006)

proposed storing, for payment,

high-level radioactive waste like spent

fuel rods. A good idea?

radioactive waste disposal5
Radioactive Waste Disposal
  • Technical and legal problems have also plagued construction of a new generation of low-level radioactive waste dumps – federal law is being violated
  • Discuss Michigan’s withdrawal from the Great Lakes compact on low-level radioactive waste disposal
radioactive waste disposal6
Radioactive Waste Disposal
  • We need to also worry about radioactive material contamination of the environment from other sources (e.g., a Russian nuclear-powered submarine with nuclear missiles sank in the northern Atlantic Ocean in 1986 with about 200 pounds of plutonium - an unknown amount leaked into the ocean)
  • Two broad waste disposal philosophies exist:
  • Dilute-and-Disperse (i.e., “The solution to pollution is dilution”.); example – ocean dumping
  • Concentrate-and-Contain (i.e., concentrate waste and isolate it from the environment); example – secure landfills, bedrock disposal of nuclear waste

Remember – neither of these approaches is risk free