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Fuel & Energy Resources - Where Nuclear Waste is Stored in the U.S.


Nuclear waste is a major concern for the entire world and not just one country here or there. It is the responsibility of all who use it to follow the different regulations there are for disposing of the waste. The agencies that control the regulations in the United States are the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the EPA. There are four different categories of nuclear waste and those are:

  1. Low level waste
  2. High level waste
  3. Uranium mine tailings
  4. Waste that's incidental to reprocess
The soon to be completed Yucca Mountain facility in the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada will be the first and only high level waste site in the United States.

The things that are included in low level waste disposal would be contaminated clothing, different tools, rags, medical tubing, water from reactor treatment residue, luminous dials, animal carcasses as well as tissues. This type of waste has to stay stored until it has totally decayed and can be then thrown away with normal trash. For example, since low level items have a very short half life an hospital can store their waste on site until it's decayed and then can throw it in with the regular trash.

High level waste is a lot different and can include used fuel rods from a nuclear reactor. These used rods have to be tested, monitored and then stored properly and a protective shield must be used at all times so that the contamination is kept away from humans at all times. The shield or barrier needs to be made of concrete, lead or steel. Water can also be used to protect those who work with this material.

The byproduct of uranium mining is called uranium mine tailings. This waste is generally taken from the mine to a very remote impound site to be disposed of. This kind of waste cannot be stored anywhere near a fault line or where there is any kind of earthquake threat. It also cannot be near anyplace that is in the route of a river's flood plain and it cannot be a threat to the ground water.

The fourth category of reprocessing is actually defunct now. Because of how expensive it is and how dangerous it is, reprocessing of radioactive waste products has not been done since back in the days of the President Ford. During the time of Carter it became a banned procedure.

Once Yucca Mountain is in full gear it will be holding all of the high level waste. The Department of Energy is going to be in charge of building the facility as well as handling the administrative duties of the facility once it is open. The EPA and the Regulatory Commission will be responsible for making sure all regulations are followed and that proper licensing is given to them before they will be able to open up operations.



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