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Radioactive Waste

Civilian Radioactive Waste

Civilian nuclear activities such as electricity generation also produce wastes that are difficult to handle. Used fuel rods can be reprocessed, but there are still large quantities of radioactive waste materials waiting in temporary storage sites.

Since the 1960s, more than 200,000 tons of spent fuel have been produced by 400 reactors in 30 countries, and every year 10,000 tons are added. One much-debated method of nuclear waste disposal is burial. According to a submission by the Royal Society to Britain's House of Lords inquiry on nuclear waste, all countries with a nuclear waste problem are considering underground disposal as "the only viable long-term option". However, it appears that every country that has tried to find a safe burial site has failed. Cases in point include the United States at Yucca mountain in Nevada, Germany at Gorleben and Britain in Cumbria. In these cases, the countries were faced with more geological complexities and political opposition than expected (Edwards, 1999).

The environmental disadvantages of burial of nuclear wastes include the spread of radioactivity into the surrounding environment. If absorbed into the food chain, it can cause unpredictable genetic damage. Furthermore, some elements have a half-life of up to 100,000 years, and so the effects of nuclear contamination would be permanent and almost irreversible (Tengelsen, 1995).


Edwards, Rob.1999. "It's Got to Go". New Scientist, 27 March 1999 p 22.

Tengelsen, Walter E. 1995. "Environmentally sound disposal of wastes". Sea Technology, May 1995.


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