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Nuclear Waste Management

Essay by   •  February 16, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  955 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,655 Views

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The disposal of nuclear waste is quickly becoming the most important issue facing the environmental community today. Nearly twenty percent of our nation's electricity is being supplied by approximately 100 nuclear power plants that are operating in the United States. Currently, most of the nuclear waste created by these power plants is being housed temporarily in storage facilities and although the total amount of nuclear waste produced in one year is small, the need to find a permanent method of disposing this waste is rapidly growing.

The problem is everyone wants to live the lifestyle nuclear power provides, but no one wants to pay the price. Where do we put the waste and who should have to suffer so the majority of the population can prosper? Other questions that arise are why nuclear waste is so harmful and what can we do to stop it.

Nuclear waste is extremely difficult to handle. New technologies and advancement in waste treatment processes have made waste disposal safer, but it is still not absolutely safe. Not only do we as a society have to worry about treating and containing the wastes; we also have to find sites to store the waste that will not allow it to spread, even under the worst situations.

There are many classifications of waste. Spent nuclear fuel is the radioactive by-product of making electricity at commercial nuclear power plants. This form of waste contains hazardous chemicals and toxic heavy metals. It is also considered to be environmentally hazardous for thousands of years after it is used.

The current method of disposing of these waste materials is to store then in steel-lined concrete tanks filled with water. However, this form of storage is not permanent and the nuclear plants will eventually run out of storage space. In 1983, the U.S. Department of Energy selected nine locations in six different states for consideration as potential deposit sites. This was based on data collected for nearly 10 years. The nine sites were studied and results were reported in 1985. Based on these reports, the president approved three of the original six sites for intensive scientific study. The three selected sites were Hanford, Washington; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The Yucca Mountain Project is now being put through the necessary steps for completion. Yucca Mountain is located on government owned land in a remote area of Nevada. The proposed plan is the first national permanent waste facility and will cost an estimated 6.3 billion dollars. The project will include borrowing massive tunnels through the mountain's inner rock and then placing the storage tanks inside.

Obviously, there is much public concern over the project. One of the largest concerns is the possibility of seismic activity rupturing the tunnel and/or canisters. At present, the 104th US Congress, house Resolution 1924 proposed to make Hanford, Washington, the western US site for temporary storage, and it would be by default the permanent disposal place of spent nuclear fuel from US reactors. This resolution stemmed from a growing recognition that Yucca Mountains, in Nevada, is a less than brilliant location for this purpose. The US government has no fallback position should the project at Yucca Mountain fail. Yucca Mountain is not a sound solution for the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. The decision to site Yucca Mountain as a waste repository was based on politics, not science.

There continues to be much controversy over the issue and many questions regarding the collected data stating

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