Radioactive Waste – Nuclear Waste

Radioactive waste is waste that contains radioactive material.  Nuclear waste, the waste from nuclear fuel after it has been processed through a nuclear reactor, is a common example of radioactive waste.  Nuclear waste is extremely dangerous to humans and the environment.  Exposure to unshielded nuclear waste can give you enough radioactive exposure to kill you in a few days from radiation sickness.

Nuclear waste looks very similar to the nuclear fuel before it is used in a reactor – a casing of metal rods stacked in ceramic pellets – but the nuclear waste has a much different chemical buildup from the original nuclear fuel.

To keep the radiation from being emitted from nuclear waste, spend nuclear fuel is kept submerged in water for a few years after use, then is moved into large concrete castings.  Once in the concrete castings, the disposal of nuclear waste becomes difficult, because it needs to be stored somewhere while it takes thousands of years to stop being radioactive.

Currently, most radioactive waste is stored in underground and underwater storage units near the nuclear power plants that created the waste.

Recently, chemists have made huge steps towards making nuclear waste a little bit cleaner.  They are testing ideas using metal-organic-frameworks (MOFs) to locate and remove radioactive materials from nuclear waste.  The MOFs are trained to target and attach to certain gas molecules in order to eliminate or store them safely.

Imagine if advances in science made nuclear energy much cleaner and safer?  If there were no risk of nuclear waste exposure or a nuclear meltdown, then nuclear energy could be the answer to the world’s energy problems.