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Radioactive Waste



High-Level Waste Disposal

High-level radioactive wastes are the highly radioactive materials produced as a byproduct of the reactions that occur inside nuclear reactors. High-level wastes take one of two forms:

  • Spent (used) reactor fuel when it is accepted for disposal

  • Waste materials remaining after spent fuel is reprocessed

Spent nuclear fuel is used fuel from a reactor that is no longer efficient in creating electricity, because its fission process has slowed. However, it is still thermally hot, highly radioactive, and potentially harmful. Until a permanent disposal repository for spent nuclear fuel is built, licensees must safely store this fuel at their reactors.

Location of Yucca Mountain

The map to the left shows the location of Yucca Mountain. It is the proposed site for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Yucca Mountain is located on Federal land in Nye County in southern Nevada, approximately 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Las Vegas.




According to, "The President has made clear that Yucca Mountain is not an option for waste storage."

So where do we put the waste?


Locations of Low-Level Waste Disposal Facilities

The three active, licensed low-level waste disposal facilities are located in Agreement States (see map). Additional information about the facilities may be found at the Web sites maintained by the respective Agreement States.

  • EnergySolutions Barnwell Operations, located in Barnwell, South Carolina
    Currently, Barnwell accepts waste from all U.S. generators except those in the
    Rocky Mountain and Northwest Compacts. Beginning in 2008, Barnwell will only
    accept waste from the Atlantic compact states (Connecticut, New Jersey, and
    South Carolina). Barnwell is licensed by the State of South Carolina to receive
    wastes in Classes A-C.

  • U.S. Ecology, located in Richland, Washington
    Richland accepts waste from the Northwest and Rocky Mountain compacts. Richland
    is licensed by the State of Washington to receive wastes in Classes A-C.

  • EnergySolutions Clive Operations, located in Clive, Utah
    Clive accepts waste from all regions of the United States. Clive is licensed by the State of Utah for Class A waste only.

Spent Fuel Pools

The water-pool option involves storing spent fuel rods under at least 20 feet of water, which provides adequate shielding from the radiation for anyone near the pool. The rods are moved into the water pools from the reactor along the bottom of water canals, so that the spent fuel is always shielded to protect workers.

About one-fourth to one-third of the total fuel load from the pools is spent and removed from the reactor every 12 to 18 months and replaced with fresh fuel.

Current regulations permit re-racking of the spent fuel pool grid and fuel rod consolidation, subject to NRC review and approval, to increase the amount of spent fuel that can be stored in the pool. Both of these methods are constrained by the size of the pool.


So where do we put the waste?

So where do we put the waste?


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