Is There a Long term Strategy for Nuclear Waste?

Alexander Barakat
March 26, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Containers for nuclear waste. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Nuclear waste is one of the most dangerous and expensive aspects of the nuclear energy process. The most used strategy currently for waste management is simply to bury the waste underground. While supposedly placed in leak proof, nondegradeable containers (see Fig 1.), there are many who worry about the potential contamination the waste could cause. While some efforts have been made to investigate possible alternatives such as space or ocean disposal, these ideas have been dismissed as either too dangerous, too expensive, or both. Moreover, the tactics devised in the 1987 Amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act have not created a solution for dealing with some of the world's most hazardous radioactive materials. [1]

2013 Report

Given theses concerns, in 2013 the Department of Energy released a report entitled "Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste." [2] This document outlined a three step plan for short and long term management of nuclear waste.

The first step is to create a pilot interim storage facility which would mainly receive nuclear fuel from reactors that have already been shut down. The goal of this facility is to have a short term storage facility to begin the process of accepting waste, while simultaneously developing protocol and procedures for all the moving pieces of the waste managements system.

The second step is the establishment of a larger scale interim facility, with more capacity. This purpose of this is that it "provides the needed flexibility in the waste management system and allows for important near-term progress in implementing the federal commitment." [2]

The third step is the creation of a permanent geologic repository for the disposal of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. While this may not actually pose a solution to the dangers of hazardous nuclear waste,"there is international consensus that geologic repositories represent the best known method for permanently disposing of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, without putting a burden of continued care on future generations.


With the world pushing more and more for a low-carbon energy source, and many more sustainable fuel methods still far from being economically viable, nuclear energy will continue to be a crucial part of the nation's resources moving forward. While the strategy above might provide a partial solution, it has been blocked from being implemented as there is no country or area that actually wants nuclear waste in their soil! As such, there is currently no long term strategy for the US to store nuclear waste.

© Alexander Barakat. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. 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] "Report to the Secretary of Energy," Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, January 2012.

[2] "Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste," U.S. Department of Energy, January 2013.