11 Radioactive Waste Examples: Detailed Explanations


In this article we will discuss about Radioactive Waste Examples which are quite hazardous.Radioactive waste are the by product from different activities  like nuclear research, nuclear power plants, defence sectors, earth mining, hospitals etc.

Examples of Radioactive waste are listed below:

Radioactive waste mainly contains radioactive materials due to which the disposable and storage of these waste is an important matter of concern.

Production of radioactive waste should be avoided as much as possible. If the production of radioactive waste is unavoidable, then try to minimise the production rate.

radioactive waste examples
Low level Radioactive Waste Disposal; Image credit: flickr

What is a Radioactive Waste?

Radioactive waste should be always managed with care and following the restrictions as per the Government rules throughout its life cycle starting from arising to recognised end point.

Once the radioactive waste has been generated, its influence does not end until it is decayed naturally. Packaging of radioactive waste in containers doesn’t reduce their radioactivity and radioactivity reduction by dilution is an expensive option.

Most of the industries produce radioactive waste in large amount and these wastes should be disposed safely to avoid the spread of contamination. 

Low Level Waste; Image Credit: wikipedia

Radioactive Waste Examples in Details

Radioactive waste is considered as a serious threat to mankind as well as nature because of its long duration for decantation.

Wastes from Defence Activities

Radioactive waste produced from defence activities are similar to wastes produced from nuclear power plants, but the amount of waste produced is much less if we compare it with total amount of waste production. The sources of production are activities like Navy operations, decommissioning of nuclear powered submarines, clean up of disused military sites etc.

Mill Tailings

They are the by product during the milling process of certain ores to get uranium or thorium. Mill Tailings  consist of thorium, radium and small residual amount of uranium. Mill tailings are not highly radioactive due to the less amount of radioactive materilas but possess long half lives.

Transuranic waste

These type of waste are contaminated with alpha-emitting transuranic  radionuclides and have a half lives more than 20 years, but they are not classified as HLW. More caution is required for its disposable  than LLW and ILW due to the longer half live. Transuranic waste, sometimes called TRU are obtained generally from the manufacturing process of nuclear weapons.

Electricity Generation

Use of nuclear reactors to generate electricity is a major source of radioactive waste, which can be classified as HLW. The reactor operation results highly reactive fission products, uranium and plutonium produce transuranic elements which mix with used fuel.

Nuclear fuel cycle

The whole cycle of nuclear fuel starting from radioactive fuel extraction, processing, uses and finally disposal generate radioactive wastes. If the disposal process is not proper enough then the rate of waste production is quite high.

Reprocessing of used fuel

Used fuel also possess radioactivity because they still contain some amount of U-235,different plutonium isotopes, U-238, the amount can be resemble with 96% of original uranium content and almost half of the original energy content. These used nuclear fuel has been reprocessed to extract fissile materials and also to reduce the volume of HLW.

Mining through to fuel fabrication

Fine sandy tailings are generated from the uranium mining operation and these tailings contain all the radioactive elements which are available in uranium ore.  Generally tailings are kept under water in dams and after few months covered with a layer of clay and rock to prevent the leakage of radon gas.

Decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear reactors

Decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear reactorsand other nuclear facilities are also responsible for radioactive waste generation.

Waste from Nuclear Conflicts

Nuclear conflicts among different countries is a source of radioactive wastes on a large scale. In this case, due to the use of nuclear arms a vast area may be contaminated by radioactive materials and the effect of contamination in the soil remains for a quite long period of time which is really hazardous for human being, animal and for the whole atmosphere.

Natural nuclear waste sources

Crude oil, natural gas, coal etc are nuclear materials available in our nature. These radioactive materials generate radioactive waste during the industrial processes to extract them for commercial purposes. Coal power plants, oil refineries and drilling plants, gas industries produce radioactive by products like radium, radon etc.

Waste from Medical purposes

Medical  is one of the main sources of radioactive wastes, medical research for medicines and different medication facilities generate huge amount of radioactive wastes. For example, during  the surgery of  thyroid cancer, lymphoma, bone cancer etc radioactive wastes are produced. 

Classification of Radioactive Waste

Radioactive wastes are classified depending on the amount of radioactivity present and the heat produced by this radioactivity.

Radioactive waste are classified as below:

  • High Level Waste (HLW): Majority of radioactivity is associated with HLW, temperature may rise significantly due to their radioactivity, the storage and disposal of these wastes should be well planned. When the production of electricity has been completed, a huge amount of HLW is remaining in the form of  spent fuel inside the reactors. These are highly radioactive and emits heat, HLW always require cooling and shielding for disposal.  
  • Low Level Waste(LLW):Generally produced from reactor operations, medical, academic, factories and other commercial activities where radioactive materials are used. LLW are contaminated with radioactive materials and sometimes become radioactive through exposure to neutron radiation. Some LLW are wiping rags, mops, tools, papers, filters, clothing, medical tubes, injection needles which have small amount of short lived radioactivity. LLW may be stored on site by licensees until has been decayed away or disposed as common trash.
  • Intermediate Level Waste(ILW):They contain higher amount of radioactivity and need some shielding, more radioactive than LLW. But heat generation is less than 2 KW/m3, so design or selection for storage and disposal is not considered much. Contaminated materials from reactor decommissioning, chemical sludge, resins, metal fuel cladding etc typically considered as ILW.
  • Very Low Level Waste(VLLW):Amount of radioactive materials present in VLLW is not considered as harmful to people or surrounding environment. Examples of VLLW are demolished materials like concrete, plaster, bricks, metal rods, pipes, valves etc obtained during dismantling works on nuclear industrial sites. Food Processing, chemical, steel industries also produce VLLW, as small amount of radioactivity present in certain minerals used in their manufacturing processes.

Effects of Radioactive Waste

Major effects of Nuclear Waste are as follows:

  • Though great care is maintained for the transportation of radioactive waste, sometimes leakage or accident may occur. The leakage of radioactive waste during transportation will lead to soil contamination and make it unusable for cultivation, the effect remains for a long period of time because many of them have a long half lives. 
  • Radioactive waste can cause serious diseases for human being as well as animals which may lead to even death. In a long term it can change the DNA structure and alter the future generations.
  • The area which is used for storage purpose is fully polluted and becomes useless for any other activities.
  • Radioactive waste has a significant adverse effect on nature.
  • A significant effect can be observed in nature including plants and animals which in turn influence the human life through the food chain.
Radio active Waste Barrels; Image Credit: flickr
Nuclear Waste Storage System; Image Credit: Flickr

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Sangeeta Das

I am Sangeeta Das. I have completed my Masters in Mechanical Engineering with specialization in I.C Engine and Automobiles. I have around ten years of experience encompassing industry and academia. My area of interest includes I.C. Engines, Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics. You can reach me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sangeeta-das-57233a203/

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