Number 325 (Story #2), June 11, 1997 by Phillip F. Schewe and Ben Stein|
NUCLEAR WASTE FOREVER. You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs, and the same is true of nuclear power. Cranking out decades of reactor-based electricity has meant breaking a lot of nuclei---the leftover consists of 30,000 tons of spent fuel rods in the US. Preparing for (or preventing) nuclear war has spawned its own trove of nuclear-unstable matter: 400,000 cubic meters of high-level radioactive waste; the biggest repositories are at Hanford (WA) and Savannah River (SC). The June issue of Physics Today looks at the problem of nuclear waste from a variety of angles: for example, turning the waste products into a more manageable form such as glass; studying the feasibility of permanent storage sites such as the proposed vault at Yucca Mountain (NV); and comparing the disposition of waste worldwide. The current stock of spent reactor fuel is concentrated largely in only a few countries. The biggest inventories are in the US (18.3%), UK (16.6%), Canada (15.4%), France (14.9%), and the former USSR (9.9%).