WHAT A WASTE
Let's not waste nuclear waste!
Currently, despite the publics perception, used nuclear fuel is safely stored and managed. But it still contains enormous amounts of energy.
It can be recycled, in advanced reactors known as a fast breeder reactors, and used to provide a future of abundant clean energy.
Nuclear waste is called waste, because we intend to waste it. Let's do better.
In our latest report by lead author Mark Lynas, we quantify how existing nuclear materials stockpiles currently considered ‘waste’ can instead be repurposed to provide energy to support wind and solar in achieving a net zero economy in Europe.
Nuclear waste is the byproduct of nuclear power generation, nuclear medicine, and nuclear weapons production. It refers to any material that contains radioactive elements that have reached the end of their useful life and are no longer needed for their original purpose.
Some examples of nuclear waste include spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, protective gown, gloves and tools from nuclear research or medical facilities, and materials from decommissioned nuclear weapons.
Low-level radioactive waste has a lower level of radioactivity and is typically generated from various sources such as medical facilities, research institutions, and industries that use radioactive materials in their processes. Examples of low-level radioactive waste include contaminated materials from hospital rooms, laboratory instruments, and protective clothing. This type of waste is less hazardous and can be managed and disposed of in less specialised facilities, such as landfills designed for low-level radioactive waste. It's storage containers are sometimes the type of (yellow) barrels you'll see depicted in popular depictions of nuclear waste, however, this waste is neither unique to nuclear power, nor is it a serious hazard.
In contrast, highly radioactive waste, such as spent fuel from nuclear power plants or nuclear weapons production, is extremely radioactive and can remain hazardous for thousands of years. It is typically a solid ceramic, not the leaky green glowing goo from the Simpsons. This is the waste that has given rise to the question 'what about the waste?'.
This type of waste, spent nuclear fuel*, requires careful handling, transport, and storage, typically in special facilities designed for high-level radioactive waste. The radioactivity levels of highly radioactive waste are so high that it requires shielding to protect workers and the environment from exposure. This type of waste is either stored in pools on site to cool of, or in big metal/concrete canisters as you'll see in our video.
* This is also the kind of waste that can be recycled and turned into energy.