Nuclear waste

Radioactive or nuclear waste management necessitates particular scrutiny because of its long-term threat to human and environmental health.

All nuclear industry activities, from nuclear medicine through to nuclear power and weapons, produce nuclear waste. Any object can become radioactive waste by being exposed, such as gloves from medical proceedures such as radiology, protective clothing from workers in medical or nuclear facilities, the walls of the reactors, vehicles used in cleanup operations, nuclear fuel rods, reactor components, decommissioned nuclear weapons. The problem of nuclear waste is huge and growing alarmingly as the nuclear industry gains momentum around the world.

The biggest problem with nuclear waste however is the lack of a long term viable solution to storing it safely. All nuclear waste requires time to break down and reduce its radioactivity. For some types of nuclear waste, that time may be decades, but high level waste will take thousands of years to break down. The problem of long-lived nuclear waste is unprecedented: no human institution can guarentee to last the thousands of years required to keep this posionous legacy safe and isolated from people and the environment.

MAPW suggests that best-practice radioactive waste management would involve:

  • minimization of waste generation
  • increased research and development of non-reactor technologies for the production of medical isotopes
  • minimization of transport: waste management should be done on-site, in a retrievable and secure fashion
  • secure, monitored, above ground storage which responsibly addresses the need to maximise long-term safety and does not preclude any improved storage options which become available in the future
  • community acceptance of the management system (according to the principles promoted by the International Atomic Energy Agency - IAEAi)
  • informed consent from communities where nuclear waste will be stored. 

Essential reading: