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The 4 Types of Nuclear Waste – UK Radioactive Waste Examples

Radioactive Waste Examples and UK Decommissioning

Learn about the 4 Types of Radioactive Waste (Radioactive Waste Examples) : Our info-graphic image explains what the 4 types of nuclear waste are (High Level Nuclear Waste, Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste, Low Level Nuclear Waste, Very Low Level Nuclear Waste)

Infographic image shows the 4 types of nuclear waste as radioactive waste examples.The 4 types of nuclear waste (copyright free image)

In this post we have included a copy of our info-graphic image which explains what the 4 types of nuclear waste are (High Level Nuclear Waste, Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste, Low Level Nuclear Waste, and Very Low Level Nuclear Waste).

Our source is an extract from part of the excellent article about progress in nuclear decommissioning in the UK, by Magnox senior manager Dr John Collinson, which was published in the CIWM Journal in September 2013.

For those that may be reading this from an email, or a device which does not show the image, the following is a short extract from the article, which includes the statistics on decommissioning which are included at the bottom of our info graphic:

“In the UK (2012), the total amount of radioactive waste (including radioactive waste expected to arise from existing nuclear facilities) is about 4.7m m3, or around 5m tonnes. A further 1m m3 has already been disposed of. Of the UK's total radioactive waste, about 94 percent (ie, about 4.4m m3) falls into the LLW category. About six percent (290 000 m3) is in the ILW category, and less than 0.1 percent (1 000 m3) is classed as HLW. Although the volume of HLW is relatively small, it contains about 95 percent of the total inventory of radioactivity.”

We hope that you find our graphic (above) interesting and informative! (If you cannot see the info-graphic image, we recommend that you click through to the original publication page to see it.)

2018 Update:

Radioactive Waste Examples and UK Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning

What is Radioactive Waste and Types of Radioactive Waste

Radioactive waste is nuclear fuel that is produced after being used inside of a nuclear reactor. Although it looks the same as it did before it went inside of the nuclear producer it has changed compounds and is nothing like the same.

What is left is considered radioactive material and is very dangerous to anyone. This is very dangerous and remains this way for not just a few years but for thousands of years. It must be handled in the right manner so not to cause a ton of devastation in the world. It could take just seconds to die from exposure to radioactive materials. In short, radioactive waste is a kind of waste in gas, liquid or solid form that contain radioactive nuclear substance. via What is Radioactive WasteRadioactive Waste Description

Radioactive waste can vary greatly in its physical and chemical form. It can be a solid, liquid, gas, or even something in between, such as sludge. Any given radioactive waste can be primarily water, soil, paper, plastic, metal, ash, glass, ceramic, or a mixture of many different physical forms. The chemical form of radioactive waste can vary as well. Radioactive waste can contain radionuclides of very light elements, such as radioactive hydrogen (tritium), or of very heavy elements, such as uranium. Radioactive waste is classified as high, intermediate, or low level. Depending on the radionuclides contained in it, a waste can remain radioactive from seconds to minutes, or even for millions of years.

via RadioactiveWaste Effects

Radioactive Waste Examples – Examples of Radioactive Waste Sources

Radioactive waste comes from a number of sources. In countries with nuclear power plants, nuclear armament, or nuclear fuel treatment plants, the majority of waste originates from the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear weapons reprocessing.

Other radioactive waste examples, are from sources which include medical and industrial wastes, as well as naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) that can be concentrated as a result of the processing or consumption of coal, oil and gas, and some minerals, as discussed below. via Radioactive waste – Wiki

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle –  Key to Understanding Decommisioning Radioactive Waste

Front end

Waste from the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle is usually alpha-emitting waste from the extraction of uranium. It often contains radium and its decay products.

Uranium dioxide (UO2) concentrate from mining is a thousand or so times as radioactive as the granite used in buildings. It is refined from yellowcake (U3O8), then converted to uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6). As a gas, it undergoes enrichment to increase the U-235 content from 0.7% to about 4.4% (LEU). It is then turned into a hard ceramic oxide (UO2) for assembly as reactor fuel elements.

The main by-product of enrichment is depleted uranium (DU), principally the U-238 isotope, with a U-235 content of ~0.3%. It is stored, either as UF6 or as U3O8. Some is used in applications where its extremely high density makes it valuable such as anti-tank shells, and on at least one occasion even a sailboat keel. It is also used with plutonium for making mixed oxide fuel (MOX) and to dilute, or downblend, highly enriched uranium from weapons stockpiles which is now being redirected to become reactor fuel.

Back end

The back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, mostly spent fuel rods, contains fission products that emit beta and gamma radiation, and actinides that emit alpha particles, such as uranium-234 (half-life 245 thousand years), neptunium-237 (2.144 million years), plutonium-238 (87.7 years) and americium-241 (432 years), and even sometimes some neutron emitters such as californium (half-life of 898 years for Cf-251). These isotopes are formed in nuclear reactors.

It is important to distinguish the processing of uranium to make fuel from the reprocessing of used fuel. Used fuel contains the highly radioactive products of fission (see high level waste below). Many of these are neutron absorbers, called neutron poisons in this context.

These eventually build up to a level where they absorb so many neutrons that the chain reaction stops, even with the control rods completely removed. At that point the fuel has to be replaced in the reactor with fresh fuel, even though there is still a substantial quantity of uranium-235 and plutonium present.

In the United States, this used fuel is usually “stored”, while in other countries such as Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and India, the fuel is reprocessed to remove the fission products, and the fuel can then be re-used.

The fission products removed from the fuel are a concentrated form of high-level waste as are the chemicals used in the process. While these countries reprocess the fuel carrying out single plutonium cycles, India is the only country known to be planning multiple plutonium recycling schemes. via Radio-waste

Medical Sources – Radioactive Waste Examples

Radioactive medical waste tends to contain beta particle and gamma ray emitters. It can be divided into two main classes. In diagnostic nuclear medicine a number of short-lived gamma emitters such as technetium-99m are used. Many of these can be disposed of by leaving it to decay for a short time before disposal as normal waste. Other isotopes used in medicine, with half-lives in parentheses, include:

Examples of Radioactive Waste Produced by Industry

Industrial source waste can contain alpha, beta, neutron or gamma emitters. Gamma emitters are used in radiography while neutron emitting sources are used in a range of applications, such as oil well logging. via Radioactivewaste

What do we currently do with our nuclear waste?

In practice, the spent fuel is never unshielded. It is kept underwater (water is an excellent shield) for a few years until the radiation decays to levels that can be shielded by concrete in large storage casks. Options for final disposal include deep geologic storage and recycling. (The sun would consume it nicely if we could get into space, but since rockets are so unreliable, we can’t afford to risk atmospheric dispersal on lift-off.)

How much nuclear waste does nuclear energy create?

To quantify how much radioactive waste is produced let us explain by giving one of the most graphic US radioactive waste examples.

If all the electricity use of the USA was distributed evenly among its population, and all of it came from nuclear power, then the amount of nuclear waste each person would generate per year would be 39.5 grams. That’s the weight of seven U. S. quarters of waste, per year! via WhatNuclearWaste

US Classification – Examples of Low-level Radioactive Waste

In the United States, radioactive waste is divided into five categories. The radioactive waste examples are:

  1. high-level radioactive waste
  2. uranium milling residues
  3. radioactive waste with greater than specified quantities of elements heavier than uranium
  4. naturally occurring radioactive materials, or radioactive materials produced in an accelerator; and
  5. low-level radioactive waste.

A Fact Sheet defines low-level radioactive waste, gives examples of low-level waste, discusses classes of low-level waste, and provides information on low-level waste that need to be disposed of. You can download it … via LLRadioactiveWaste

Is Radioactive Material Natural to Our environment?

Radioactive materials are all around us. Some are beneficial, while others may cause us harm.

Most people think of radioactive materials as harmful, man-made materials, but quite the opposite is true. In fact, most radioactive materials occur naturally in the environment and have been around much longer than humans!

Most of the radiation we're exposed to on Earth comes from the sun and stars in outer space. We are constantly bombarded with this radiation but we're partially protected from it by the atmosphere around us. Those at sea level are more protected than those at higher altitudes because the protective atmosphere thins with increasing elevation.

In fact, someone in a place like Denver [sited directly over bedrock] receives twice as much of this type of radiation than someone at sea level!

Radiation also comes from other things like rocks and minerals. Because of this, those who live in houses made of brick, concrete, or stone receive a greater amount of radiation than those who live in houses made of wood. … via RWDefinitionExample

UK Nuclear Decommissioning Plan 2018 – NDA's Main Points

Cleaning up the UK’s nuclear legacy is a long-term environmental challenge that requires different skills in different locations at different times. It’s vital, based on the foresight we have, that we create an environment now that encourages people, no matter at what stage of their career, to develop the right skills for our mission.

The next 3 years will bring a number of landmark achievements across the estate, demonstrating major inroads into the NDA's decommissioning mission. In their report the UK's NDA gives the following action plan for the period 2018 to 2021, as radioactive waste examples in UK nuclear decommissioning:

Complete THORP reprocessing 2018

Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) takes spent nuclear fuel from EDF Energy’s operational power stations and from foreign customers.

The closure of THORP in 2018 remains on track. It will avoid the expense of replacing many of the plants that support its operation. This means we can focus our resources on the primary task of decommissioning and remediation. The end of reprocessing operations in THORP provides a clear transition point for Sellafield.

The site will move from commercial operations to decommissioning and continued management of spent fuel and waste.

Magnox reprocessing complete by end of 2020 Closure of the Magnox Reprocessing Plant at Sellafield is based on the latest Magnox Operating Programme and subject to the completion of defueling and the performance of ageing facilities that were built many decades ago.

As a result of completing reprocessing, a series of products will be suitable for interim storage pending disposal or reuse. The conclusion of reprocessing also benefits the environment and complies with the UK Strategy for Radioactive Discharges.

All Magnox reactors defueled and fuel transferred by 2019

Of the 11 sites that have Magnox reactors, only 2 have yet to complete defueling: Wylfa in Wales will complete in 2018; Calder Hall on the Sellafield site is scheduled to complete in 2019. All fuel will be transferred for reprocessing, conditioning and/or storage at Sellafi eld site.

This represents the culmination of a complex, logistical and procedural challenge. By 2018 the radiological hazard on all Magnox sites across the UK will have been reduced by 99%. These sites will prepare to enter a period of quiescence known as the Care and Maintenance phase.

Retrievals from the high hazard facilities – Pile Fuel Cladding Silo and Magnox Swarf Storage Silos by 2020-2021

The Pile Fuel Cladding Silo is one of the oldest facilities at Sellafield. Retrieval of waste from the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo at Sellafield is scheduled to start 2 years earlier than forecast.

A simplified, ground-breaking approach also reduces the cost of this work by almost £250 million pounds. Low Level Waste Repository – PCM dealt with by 2019 A series of concrete bunkers that once stored Plutonium Contaminated Materials (PCM) look set to be demolished at least 4 years earlier than expected – and for £30 million less than expected.

Located at the Low Level Waste Repository near Drigg, Cumbria, the bunkers (cited as radioactive waste examples) were known as magazines and stored PCM generated from operations at Sellafi eld in the 1950s-1960s.

First NDA site Moves into Care and Maintenance Phase by 2019

Bradwell in Essex is set to be the UK’s first Magnox site to reach the stage of Care and Maintenance, when its two reactors and ILW store will be sealed. This period of reduced activity will last for several decades. Appropriate management arrangements will be required for a regime of site security, monitoring, maintenance and records management. via GOV.UK via Nuclear Decommissioning Authority – GOV.UK

Conclusion to our Long Article on Radioactive Waste Examples and UK Reactor Decommissioning

We hope you found this long post provided you with up-to-date information on the UK classification of the 4 Types of Radioactive Waste and radioactive waste examples. In addition we have also provided a background of information curated from various online articles and web content.

If you did learn about radioactive waste examples, from this page, please let us know by commenting below:

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    • Louis Mcdonald
    • 20 April 2018

    U r born for making these articles and videos recycling, waste, trash, excentric things…. U r awesome

    • Teresa
    • 24 April 2018

    For me to understand this and to be useful, it needs a lot of hardwork reading and i am lazy!! Make easier please.

    • Brian Owens
    • 24 April 2018

    Boring article i donot like this very complicated?

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