Nuclear waste poses a significant risk to human health and the environment. A study published by the European Union in 1999 reveals that nine out of ten Europeans are concerned about the impact of radioactive waste on local environments and the safety of generations to come.
The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that 228,300 metric tons of nuclear waste have been produced worldwide. Almost ninety percent of this waste is highly radioactive.
Most of this waste is generated from the power plants. However, nuclear weapons are also capable of producing nuclear waste. In addition, medical institutions are also able to produce this type of waste.
Many nuclear power plants have spent fuel stored on site for the entire life cycle of the plant. Because of its high radioactivity, this waste must be safely confined until it decays.
The waste is made up of iodine, zinc, iron, and other elements. It is a byproduct of nuclear fission. When one atom of uranium breaks, it splits into two fission byproducts. As a result, these are highly unstable nuclei that lose energy in the form of radiation.
Transmutation is a process that changes long-lived actinides into shorter-lived nuclides. This is done in nuclear reactors. But the process creates as much waste as it destroys.
While transmutation is a promising technology, it does not eliminate the need for final disposal. Additionally, it cannot guarantee that the waste would be inert and that there would be no contaminating effects from the repository.