“Electricity is but the fleeting byproduct from nuclear reactors. The actual product is forever deadly radioactive waste.”
—Michael Keegan, Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes
Highly radioactive wastes include solid irradiated nuclear fuel assemblies (euphemistically called “spent” or “used” by the industry that creates them) and liquid high-level radioactive wastes resulting from the “reprocessing” (extraction of fissile plutonium and uranium) of solid irradiated fuel rods. The vast majority of highly radioactive wastes generated in the U.S. come from commercial nuclear power reactors.
Irradiated nuclear fuel rods discharged from commercial nuclear power plants are highly radioactive, a million times more so than when they were first loaded into a reactor core as “fresh” fuel. If unshielded, irradiated nuclear fuel just removed from a reactor core could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to a person standing three feet away in just seconds. Even after decades of radioactive decay, a few minutes unshielded exposure could deliver a lethal dose. Certain radioactive elements (such as plutonium-239) in “spent” fuel will remain hazardous to humans and other living beings for hundreds of thousands of years. Other radioisotopes will remain hazardous for millions of years. Thus, these wastes must be shielded for centuries and isolated from the living environment for hundreds of millenia.
Highly radioactive wastes are dangerous and deadly wherever they are, whether stored at reactor sites (indoors in pools or outdoors in dry casks); transported on the roads, rails, or waterways; or dumped on Native American lands out West.
NIRS strives to prevent the generation of highly radioactive wastes in the first place, and to isolate what’s already been generated from the living environment.