Nuclear Waste Classification

Léa Koob
January 24, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017

Fig. 1: Above shows a low-level waste dump at Maxey Flat, Kentucky. (Source: Wikimedia) Commons)

Generally, radioactive waste is classified based on the origin of the waste, not its physical and chemical properties. The only known way to somewhat "manage" nuclear waste is to put it in a dump (as shown in Fig. 1), keep people away, and let is burn out its radioactivity. No amount of processing can speed this up, so the waste basically has to sit around for 1000 years until it's not "hot" anymore. A universal factor across all categories of nuclear waste is the presence of at least some trace amount of long-lived nucleotides. Various categories of radioactive waste include the following:

Types of Nuclear Waste

European Nuclear Waste Classification

Nuclear waste is classified differently in different countries. In 2002, the European Commission established a more unified criteria to be used in the classification of nuclear waste. The following is what they proposed:

© Léa Koob. 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] M. D. Lowenthal, "Radioactive-Waste Classification in the United States: History and Current Predicaments," Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, UCRL-CR-128127, July 1997.

[2] R. C. Ausness, "High-Level Radioactive Waste Management: The Nuclear Dilemma," Wes. L. Rev. 1979, 707 (1979).

[3] A. Andrews, "Radioactive Waste Streams: An Overview of Waste Classification for Disposal," Congressional Research Service, RL32163, December 2006.