Nuclear Waste Management

Calvin Dsouza
March 17, 2012

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2012


This article is intended to provide the general public a very basic introduction to some concepts regarding nuclear waste and its disposal. The world uses nuclear power to satisfy a sizeable proportion of its energy needs. As of November 2003, there were 440 nuclear reactors the world over with a combined generating capacity of 360 gigawatts-electric (GWe) of energy. [1] Numerous authors and agencies attempt at classifying nuclear waste. This article will provide an overview of the types of radioactive waste and talk briefly about some concepts regarding disposal of waste. Radioactive waste can be broadly divided into the following categories: Low Level Waste (LLW), Intermediate Level Waste (ILW) and High Level Waste (HLW). [2] Some nuclear waste substances fall into another category called Exempt Waste which are considered to be negligible in their impact and are excluded from nuclear regulatory control. [3] We are concerned here with the Low Level, Intermediate Level and High Level categories of waste for which responsible management techniques must be undertaken. Sound handling of this material is of prime importance.

Low and Intermediate Level Waste (LILW) Management

LILW is produced by "contamination of various materials with the radionuclides generated by fission and activation in the reactor core or released from the fuel or cladding surfaces." [4] These articles could be wide ranging including tools, equipment, filters, paper towels or even mops. Volume reduction of this category of waste is considered to be highly effective due to the large quantities of low intensity radioactive waste that reactors generate. General techniques of housekeeping would be very valuable towards this end. [4]

High Level Waste (HLW) Management

HLW are the most radioactive of all categories of nuclear waste. The term HLW applies to spent fuel that was used in the core of the reactor and to the wastes that remain after fuel has been reprocessed. [5] These substances show high levels of heat generation. [2] Waste management techniques are focused on cooling of materials and shielding against radioactive emissions. [2] Due to the hazards of HLW radiation that persist for long periods of time, any disposition method must take into account the requirement for long term isolation of this category of waste.


Since the need for sound nuclear waste management is very pressing, the author argues for a strong effort towards development of more effective methods to achieve the same. The storage sites and facilities must be able to provide a strict quality of protection over protracted periods of time. Given the importance of safeguarding the environment and human health, there is a strong case for endeavors that seek to advance the state of nuclear waste management.

© Calvin Dsouza. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Bodansky, Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices and Prospects, 2nd Ed. (Springer, 2004).

[2] P. D. Riley, Nuclear Waste: Law, Policy and Pragmatism, 1st Ed. (Ashgate Publications Limited, 2004).

[3] T. M. Letcher and D. A. Vallero, Waste: A Handbook for Management," (Academic Press, 2011).

[4] Efremenkov, "Radioactive Waste Management at Nuclear Power Plants," IAEA Bull 31, No. 4, 37 (1989).

[5] Disposition of High-Level Waste and Spent Nuclear Fuel: The Continuing Technical and Societal Challenges (National Academies Press, 2001).