Disposal Of Radioactive Waste
Radioactive waste disposal refers to the long-term removal of the waste, and is designed to have minimal contact with organisms and the ambient environment. The safe disposal of high-level and transuranic wastes from nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons facilities has been the center of vigorous debate for more than 50 years, and researchers and policy-makers have yet to come up with politically acceptable solutions.
The most widely supported plan involves the burial of high-level waste deep underground in a stable geological formation. Less-popular ideas include burial under a stable glacier, or dumping into a deep oceanic trench. Part of the problem with any of these ideas is that disposal requires that the site will be secure for tens of thousands of years. This probably exceeds the time for which present governmental and social institutions will persist, so far-future generations may have to deal with the high-level nuclear wastes of the present ones. Moreover, nature can be a changeable, unpredictable, and powerful force, so there are unknown risks associated with all disposal options, and long-term, absolute guarantees cannot be given.
From 1940–1970, most low-level wastes were placed into steel drums and dumped into the ocean or into pits on land. However, there has been inevitable leakage from the drums, and environmentalists and the public objected to this method of disposal. Since 1970, the United States has been disposing its low-level waste at government-regulated disposal sites. In June 1990, the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proposed that low-level radioactive waste be handled as regular garbage, due to its supposed low health risk. Epidemiologists calculated that implementing this policy might have caused 2,500 American deaths, but the NRC believed this risk was acceptable because it would save the nuclear power industry many millions of dollars every year. However, this proposal did not fully take account of recent research indicating that low-level radiation risks may be about 30 times higher than previously estimated.
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