|| Step 1||| Step 2||| Step 3 |||Step 4 |||Step 5 |||Step 6 |||Step 7 |||Step 8 |||Step 9 ||
Radioactive waste (sometimes referred to as nuclear waste or 'radwaste') is the solid, liquid or gaseous waste produced by nuclear power stations, nuclear fuel production, reprocessing of spent fuel, weapons manufacture and nuclear plant decommissioning. Limited amounts of radioactive wastes are also generated by industrial, research and medical establishments.
|Click on this image to open a map showing the locations of the sources of nuclear waste. The waste is categorised according to the amount and type of radioactivity it contains. There are three basic types: 1.
Low-Level Waste (LLW) consists mostly of rubbish such as lightly contaminated clothing, paper towels and laboratory
|Much material, classified as
Intermediate-Level Waste (ILW) consists of heavily contaminated materials such as used fuel rod casings, used ion exchange resins and parts of decommissioned reactors. This waste can be extremely radioactive but does not require that the heat generated by radioactive decay is taken into account as this is small compared to HLW.
|Due to the large amount of radioactivity present, ILW requires heavy shielding. The radioactive contaminants present in ILW may have very long half-lives and so require isolation for many thousands of years. This picture shows simulated
|High-Level Waste (HLW) consists of spent nuclear fuel and highly radioactive reprocessing liquors.
This waste is the most concentrated and radioactive of the three categories and requires very heavy shielding. As a result of intense radioactive decay processes a large amount of heat is generated which needs to be taken into account in its storage and ultimate disposal. Materials included in the
Current practice is to store these wastes, encapsulate them in glass, store them in
Each of these wastes represents a different potential level of hazard and so require different forms of treatment and handling. Some of the wastes are intensely radioactive and heat generating and so require heavy shielding and cooling. Others require no shielding or cooling but will remain hazardous for millions of years. Others contain such low levels of radioactivity that they could be disposed of virtually anywhere without special controls. In practice all types of radioactive waste are regulated to varying degrees depending on their type.
No one really wants radioactive waste. Unfortunately we already have lots of waste to deal with generated by over 50 years of nuclear power generation and weapons manufacture. Finding a way to dispose of this waste may very well encourage its further production, but its presence is a fact that will not disappear whatever happens to the nuclear industry. There will also be a great deal of material produced in the future, as part of the decommissioning of present power stations. We must deal with this material in some manner.
By far the largest waste category in terms of volume presently produced is
By 2030 Britain will have generated approximately 1.4 million cubic metres of LLW, 260 thousand cubic metres of ILW and three thousand cubic metres of HLW. In terms of the total amount of radioactivity, however, HLW is the largest category, followed by ILW and then LLW. All of this waste must ultimately be disposed of somewhere, or stored in perpetuity. Ignoring the problem is not an option; the waste now exists and needs proactive management. It will not go away on its own.
You can find out much more information once you get to the 'Making your Decisions' section, where a comprehensive online information system is provided.