What Is Radioactive Waste?
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
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.
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