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Nuclear Wastes

(Luzern, Switzerland - Alvin Wei-Cheng Wong)


Nuclear waste is the material that nuclear fuel becomes after it is used in a reactor. From the outside, it looks exactly like the fuel that was loaded into the reactor - assemblies of metal rods enclosing fuel pellets. But since nuclear reactions have occurred, the contents aren’t quite the same. Nuclear energy is released when a nuclear fuel atom snaps into two. The key component of nuclear waste is the leftover smaller atoms, known as fission products.

Regulated Radioactive Waste


[World Nuclear Association]: The most significant high-level waste from a nuclear reactor is the used nuclear fuel left after it has spent about three years in the reactor generating heat for electricity. Low-level waste is made up of lightly-contaminated items like tools and work clothing from power plant operation and makes up the bulk of radioactive wastes. Items disposed of as intermediate-level wastes might include used filters, steel components from within the reactor and some effluents from reprocessing.


Volume Radioactive Content
High-Level Waste 3% 95%
Intermediate-Level Waste  7% 4%
Low-Level Waste 90% 1%


[U.S.NRC]: Radioactive Waste - Regulated Waste


  • Low-level waste (LLW) includes radioactively contaminated protective clothing, tools, filters, rags, medical tubes, and many other items.
  • Waste incidental to reprocessing (WIR) refers to certain waste byproducts that result from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, which the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has distinguished from high-level waste.
  • High-level waste (HLW) is "irradiated" or used nuclear reactor fuel.
  • Uranium mill tailings are the residues remaining after the processing of natural ore to extract uranium and thorium.
 [More to come ...]

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