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Key Issues Nuclear Energy Issues Nuclear Waste

Nuclear Waste

Introduction:

One of the biggest problems related to nuclear energy is how to manage the nuclear waste produced. Ideas have included reprocessing used fuel to minimize the quantity of waste and storing waste in locations like Yucca Mountain and even the moon. Currently, the United States has no long-term solution to this problem, but it vital that one is found because, irrelevant of the future of nuclear technology, the waste already exists.


Reprocessing, which recycles used fuel in an attempt to lower the amount of total waste, has not had much success in the United States because it is highly uneconomical and it greatly increases the risk of proliferation. Commercial-scale reprocessing facilities handle so much radioactive spent fuel that it is difficult to accurately keep track of in a timely matter. Stolen material could go unnoticed for years. Some claim that reprocessing technologies are “far more proliferation-prone than direct disposal.” The Department of Energy estimates that it would cost $40 billion to reprocess all of the spent fuel in the United States – a heavy burden for tax payers or energy users.


Finding a more permanent disposal site for nuclear waste has been a challenging task for governments. Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the main proposed nuclear waste repository site, has been a highly controversial topic. Concerns have been raised by environmentalists and by those concerned with transporting the waste to the site, and, as with any domestic location, terrorist attacks. This has even caused some people to suggest the moon as a repository site, though that carries with it another collection of problems.


The links in this section give different, and oftentimes conflicting, views on how to address the problem of nuclear waste. It will be a difficult solution find, but it is our duty to make sure we do not “unduly restrict the freedom of choice of future generations.”