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* Nuclear waste is produced in many different ways. There are wastes produced in the reactor core, wastes created as a result of radioactive contamination, and wastes produced as a byproduct of uranium mining, refining, and enrichment. The vast majority of radiation in nuclear waste is given off from spent fuel rods.
* A typical reactor will generate 20 to 30 tons of high-level nuclear waste annually. There is no known way to safely dispose of this waste, which remains dangerously radioactive until it naturally decays.
* The rate of decay of a radioactive isotope is called its half-life, the time in which half the initial amount of atoms present takes to decay. The half-life of Plutonium-239, one particularly lethal component of nuclear waste, is 24,000 years.
* The hazardous life of a radioactive element (the length of time that must elapse before the material is considered safe) is at least 10 half-lives. Therefore, Plutonium-239 will remain hazardous for at least 240,000 years.
* There is a current proposal to dump nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.
o The plan is for Yucca Mountain to hold all of the high level nuclear waste ever produced from every nuclear power plant in the US. However, that would completely fill up the site and not account for future waste.
o Transporting the wastes by truck and rail would be extremely dangerous.
o For a more detailed analysis of the problems of and risks incurred by the plan, see Top Ten Reasons to Oppose the DoE’s Yucca Mountain Plan
* Repository sites in Australia, Argentina, China, southern Africa, and Russia have also been considered.
* Though some countries reprocess nuclear waste (in essence, preparing it to send through the cycle again to create more energy), this process is banned in the U.S. due to increased proliferation risks, as the reprocessed materials can also be used for making bombs. Reprocessing is also not a solution because it just creates additional nuclear waste.
* The best action would be to cease producing nuclear energy (and waste), to leave the existing waste where it is, and to immobilize it. There are a few different methods of waste immobilization. In the vitrification process, waste is combined with glass-forming materials and melted. Once the materials solidify, the waste is trapped inside and can't easily be released.