Nuclear or radioactive waste is the leftover product after the treatment of nuclear material. These are often used in the medical field for diagnosis and treatment and to produce energy. The nuclear waste is highly radioactive and it can remain say for decades. Also known as spent fuel, this waste is usually kept underwater until the radiation wears off and it can be disposed off safely.
There is little argument about the fact that disposal of nuclear waste is highly hazardous. The main aim is to protect people and the environment from its toxic effects. To ensure the radiation does not harm anyone, it is contained and managed. Besides underwater disposal areas, some are buried deep underground permanently.
Depending on the type of nuclear waste that is being worked with, workers have 4 options when it comes to its disposal. This includes:
– This waste is the leftover product from a nuclear reactor in which nuclear fuel is used to generate energy. It can take the form of small pellets or fuel rods.
– this nuclear waste includes material that is hazardous and should be stored away but it does not need to be cooled down beforehand. Most abandoned nuclear plants display this radioactivity level and the waste is treated according to the time it takes to rot away.
Low level waste
– This waste material is usually used during a nuclear process that has high levels of contamination. This includes rags that have been used for cleanup, tubes that used to hold toxic material as well as contaminated clothing and tools. Hospitals usually produce this kind of waste but it is one of the easiest to dispose of.
Mill tailings waste
– This is nuclear material such as uranium and thorium which originates from a specific extraction process that is used to remove them from natural ore. Mill tailings are a type of residue that is produced when the ore is being treated for extraction.
Since nuclear waste can literally take hundreds of years to lose its radioactivity, proper disposal is essential. Otherwise, the remnants affect people, animal and plant life in the area surrounding the waste site.
The human population can be impacted significantly with exposure to those high radiation levels the effects of which can extend to future generations. This can take the form of birth defects and developmental disabilities of parents who live near nuclear waste sites. Some of the conditions that can result from exposure include thyroid cancer, Down syndrome etc.
The Chernobyl disaster is a prime example of the devastation nuclear waste exposure can render on surrounding wildlife. Even after 3 decades, the animals in the area show signs of radiation through physical deformities, reduced brain sizes among other issues that has compromised the survival of several species.
Similarly, local fauna is also susceptible to nuclear waste that is not disposed of properly. After the Chernobyl disaster, a forest of pine trees had to be destroyed because it had turned radioactive. Soil and plants that is affected by radiation
prevents growth of new flora and dissuades bees from pollinating the area. This impacts future generations leading to an infertile wasteland.
Lastly, nuclear workers are the ones who are the most at risk due to their close proximity with the nuclear waste. Nuclear reactor accidents may be rare, but the ones that occur lead to multiple fatalities. This includes both workers who are caught in the aftermath and those who have been exposed to radioactive material during research and testing phases or because of improper storage solutions.
Whatever the case may be, exposure leads to a number of debilitating conditions with time. However, this can be prevented if a certified environmental specialist is hired onsite to ensure proper storage solutions are maintained.
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