Radioactive Waste

What Is Radioactive Waste?

The Definition

Radioactive waste is waste that contains radioactive material. Radioactive waste is usually a by-product of nuclear power generation and other applications of nuclear fission or nuclear technology, such as research and medicine.


The Chernobyl Disaster

What Happened

The Chernobyl disaster, also referred to as the Chernobyl accident, was a catastrophic nuclear accident. It occurred on 25–26 April 1986 in the No. 4 light water graphite moderated reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the now-abandoned town of Pripyat, in northern Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Soviet Union, approximately 104 km (65 mi) north of Kiev.

The Event

The event occurred during a late-night safety test which simulated a station blackout power-failure, in the course of which safety systems were intentionally turned off. A combination of inherent reactor design flaws and the reactor operators arranging the core in a manner contrary to the checklist for the test, eventually resulted in uncontrolled reaction conditions. Water flashed into steam generating a destructive steam explosion and a subsequent open-air graphite fire.[note 1] This fire produced considerable updrafts for about nine days. These lofted plumes of fission products into the atmosphere. The estimated radioactive inventory that was released during this very hot fire phase approximately equaled in magnitude the airborne fission products released in the initial destructive explosion. This radioactive material precipitated onto parts of the western USSR and Europe.

radioactive waste

A Globe Threat

There is a potential terrorist threat to the large volumes of radioactive waste currently being stored and the risk that this waste could leak or be dispersed as a result of terrorist action. HLW is kept in secure nuclear facilities with appropriate protection measures.

Common Questions

There are three types of solid nuclear wastes classified in terms of its radioactivity (i.e. low, intermediate and high-level wastes). Low-level waste (LLW) consists of daily refuse such as paper, gloves, plastic containers, disposable overalls and overshoes with low radioactive contamination.

In terms of radioactivity, the major source arising from the use of nuclear reactors to generate electricity comes from the material classified as HLW. Highly radioactive fission products and transuranic elements are produced from uranium and plutonium during reactor operations, and are contained within the used fuel.

Low-level radioactive waste, such as contaminated gloves, can be disposed of in landfill sites. Higher level waste, which may be dangerously radioactive, is more difficult to dispose of. It can be reprocessed to extract nuclear fuel or encased in glass and left deep underground.

Radioactive isotopes eventually decay, or disintegrate, to harmless materials. Some isotopes decay in hours or even minutes, but others decay very slowly. Strontium-90 and cesium-137 have half-lives of about 30 years (half the radioactivity will decay in30 years). Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years

Waste Management

Radioactive Waste Management

Supporting Documents

Supporting document created by BBC on nuclear waste

Supporting Documents

Supporting document from world nuclear waste on what nuclear waste consists of

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