As we near the end of the century, the disposal of nuclear waste is becoming a concern. Many nuclear power plants around the world are nearing the end of their operating lives. This is particularly true in the United States where most nuclear power plants are approaching the end of the operational time period allowed in their licenses. Locally the Ginna power plant, 20 miles northeast of Rochester, on Lake Ontario, is attempting to deal with these issues. The close of the cold war has left us with radioactive waste from decommissioned nuclear missiles.
The disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and nuclear missiles is as politically intense an issue as the plants and missiles themselves. Yet the three issues have remained curiously separate in spite of their close physical ties. Few debates on nuclear power or nuclear weapons discuss the problems of waste disposal should the power plant or missile be decommissioned. Few debates on nuclear waste disposal discuss the opportunities to close nuclear power plants or get rid of nuclear weapons a disposal site would afford.
Nuclear waste can be generally classified a either "low level" radioactive waste or "high level" radioactive waste. Low level nuclear waste usually includes material used to handle the highly radioactive parts of nuclear reactors (i.e. cooling water pipes and radiation suits) and waste from medical procedures involving radioactive treatments or x-rays. Low level waste is comparatively easy to dispose of. The level of radioactivity and the half life of the radioactive isotopes in low level waste is relatively small. Storing the waste for a period of 10 to 50 years will allow most of the radioactive isotopes in low level waste to decay, at which point the waste can be disposed of as normal refuse.
High level radioactive waste is generally material from the core of the nuclear reactor or nuclear weapon. This waste includes uranium, plutonium, and other highly radioactive elements made during fission. Most of the radioactive isotopes in high level waste emit large amounts of radiation and have extremely long half-lives (some longer than 100,000 years) creating long time periods before the waste will settle to safe levels of radioactivity. This area will describe some of the methods being under consideration, for dealing with this, high level, waste. These include short term storage , long term storage, and transmutation.
Some general nuclear links:
Yahoo's Nuclear Engineering Directory
Todd's Nuclear Server
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission
The Nuclear Energy Institute
The American Nuclear Society
Ezra Gold email@example.com
Nuclear Waste Disposal