Some people believe that Nuclear energy is the only source of energy that can meet the increasing energy demands especially in industrialized countries. On the other hand, others are concerned about the effects of nuclear waste on people and the environment. This waste is a radioactive material that comes from nuclear activities. Scientists have done research on the best disposal methods of nuclear waste. Governments in various parts of the world that produce nuclear power and international bodies dealing with nuclear power have tried to come up with policies on nuclear waste management. Among the methods considered on disposal of nuclear waste include: leaving the waste at the nuclear site, using various ways to dispose it and making it safer through the use of advanced technologies. The United States Government has been forking for the last two decades to eventually store all nuclear waste in a geological respiratory. (Westinghouse)
Most nuclear wastes in America are temporarily stored at the site above ground at different locations in about thirty nine states. If this mode is accepted as a long term storage even for a few decades, its disadvantages will be enormous. Though as a temporary measure, it can provide more time for scientists to research on safer disposal methods of nuclear waste that could be adopted in the future. Besides, these sites can be isolated thus minimizing human contact with the waste. It can however cause dangerous effects to the environment and people. What about global warming that could cause oceans to rise, something that is already happening? This waste would cause great devastation to human and other forms of life. Moreover, these sites are normally located near densely populated areas and since nuclear plants require a lot of water, they are also located near rivers and waterways. A human error or accident can introduce these materials to rivers and underground water systems. (Lattefer)
An approach on nuclear waste disposal that is gaining a lot of support from countries facing problems with large nuclear waste disposal is geological disposal method. Geological disposal has become a national policy for the United States. Under this method, nuclear waste is stored in an underground facility called a respiratory. Yucca Mountain has been identified as possessing some scientific and technical characteristics for the development of a respiratory. Further studies still need to be done before the development of a respiratory at the site. (Lattefer)
Yucca Mountain is located a distance of about 100 miles north east of Las Vegas. The respiratory would be located on a solid rock about 300 meters above the surface and about an average of the same distance above underground water level. (Vandenbosch & Susanne) Before disposal, the waste would be converted to complete solid form. It would then be put in double shelled metallic containers before it is deposited in one of the respiratory tunnels. One of the advantages in using this method is that the disposal of nuclear waste would be centralized hence easy management of all nuclear waste from the country. The location is also safe for disposal. Besides, the waste would be saved for future generations since it is easy to retrieve it. These future generations could take advantage of new technologies to dispose the waste. (Rao 123)
Reprocessing nuclear waste, which could be an option instead of geological disposal, presents a number of problems. First, the by product produced is highly radioactive and it could lead to proliferation of nuclear material. This by product is in liquid form and it must be mixed with sand and other materials and then heated to form vitrified glass before storage. (Lattefer)
Geological disposal presents a dual safety solution. Under this arrangement, nuclear waste would be buried deep underground in a respiratory. The radioactive waste is active for thousands of years. In case the man made casings would not hold for that long, rocks would provide a natural barrier to the radioactive waste. (Rao 124)
It is arguably a safer method of disposal than the current arrangement where nuclear waste is left on site. It is also good to know that the government is at least concerned about nuclear pollution and is taking some remedial measures to rectify the problem. Countries that do not use nuclear power will tend to support this method of disposal since it is less likely to pollute their environments. (Vandenbosch & Susanne)
Geological method of nuclear waste disposal presents a number of problems. It may be necessary to ask why the government has been pushing for it. We have seen even in other cases that the environment is hardly considered before wealth and the economy. The government would therefore consider factors like the cost of electricity which would rise from expensive but reliable nuclear waste management methods like reprocessing and transmutation. For example, if there are other countries of smaller economies that are implementing and trying these methods, what is preventing the United States from doing the same? Besides, we are also postponing problems by storing radioactive waste instead of solving the issue at hand-treating the waste or separating it completely from our environment. Since the dynamics of the world are fast changing, future generations may not even have the economical capacity to dispose this waste. (Rao 124)
Seismic movements, volcanic activity and water percolation around Yucca area which have a chance of occurring could alter a respiratory. This could have adverse effects on man and the environment. Our water sources could be polluted if this waste finds its way into underground water systems. Underground forces on a great scale can even expose us to these radioactive materials. (Babu &Karthik)
The risk involved in transporting nuclear waste from 139 different sites around the country to one location is enormous. This is especially true with terrorist threats that our country is facing. Although nuclear materials have been transported in our country with no reports of accidents or terrorist attacks, large scale transportation will obviously be more risky. (Lattefer)
This dump site is a kind of experimental site. No dump site so large and expected to last for a thousand years has been built anywhere in the world. Radioactivity from this site would be so extreme that a billionth of an ounce of contact would affect someone adversely. We cannot therefore rely on data provided by the department of energy to assure our safety. The risks involved are far too many and too great. (Babu & Karthik)
There are scientific uncertainties over the safety of nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain. After carrying out research, a number of federal government scientists and independent contractors have said that it is unsafe to store nuclear waste material at Yucca Mountain. One is likely to feel that a lot of assumptions have been taken. Even the safety of caskets used to store this waste cannot be guaranteed. Scientists have been limited to computer models which cannot give us reliable information. This is especially because we cannot really test their strength under varying conditions over thousands of years practically. (Vandenbosch & Susanne)
Geological disposal of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain has been facing opposition from many quarters. This includes people from the State of Nevada where Yucca Mountain is located. Some distinguished scientists in our country have also opposed this plan. Recently, the Obama administration cut funding for all Yucca projects. This could signal a different policy for nuclear waste management. (Lattefer)
The development of nuclear power has created many problems as much as many benefits have come from it. A major problem is that people want to enjoy the benefits only without seriously considering and solving the problems that come with these benefits. One of these problems is environmental degradation from nuclear waste. Storing nuclear waste in a geological respiratory would be a big step forward provided strict measures are taken to ensure that this waste does not find its way to our environment at all means.
However, as long as the waste is still there, it remains a big threat to us. We will be doing an immoral act to wait for future generations to clear this waste. We therefore need to come up with new technologies that transform this waste to non radioactive materials among other safer methods of disposal. This will be the only way to safeguard our environment. We also need to encourage other methods of generating power especially green methods that do not pollute our environment like solar power, wind power, geothermal and hydroelectric power generation among others.
Babu, B.V., and S. Karthik. “Energy Education Science and Technology”. An overview of waste from the nuclear fuel cycle 14.1 (2005):93-102.
Lattefer.P.Arnold.Nuclear Waste Research: Siting, Technology and Treatment.(ed.). Nova Publishers.2008.Print.
Rao, K.R. “Radioactive waste: The problem and its management”, Current science 81.12, 25 (2001): 101-158.
Vandenbosch, Robert, & Susanne E. Vandenbosch. Nuclear waste stalemate. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007.
Westinghouse. What is Nuclear Energy? N.d. Web.