When looking at the future of energy production in the United States, the fossil fuel sources loom high above the rest in percentages. With the increasing efficiency of several different renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaic cells and tidal turbines, we may see some of the pressure let off of the expendable carbon-based sources. Yet, one steady source of energy we’ve had for many years is that of Nuclear Fission. This source has been between 18%-20% of our total energy input for the last few decades, but it has always be marred by a doubtful public opinion and a continued fear of accidents like those of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Additionally, we must be wary of the waste that comes out of these plants and how we deal with the decaying radioactive materials. To continue to use nuclear fission as a source of energy, we must find ways to deal with the by-products, and to safety manage them well into their half lives.
With the current forms of nuclear fission using different plutonium and uranium isotopes, there are a plethora of different large nucleus radioactive materials left over. A large number of them have half-lifes longer than anyone will be alive, so the methods of contentment and storage must be strong enough to last generations. Currently the most common is onsite “temporary” storage, that is to say up to 60 years of storage time. Most of the materials are held in wet containment to cool for up to 10 years, and then in an advanced dry cask for many more years. These methods are good for the time being, but safety, security, and longevity are real issues.
I will display several of the most common spent fuel atoms and their half lives and how that can effect the way in which we store the materials. I plan to also show the amount of radiation a human body can handle and how long it will take until the spent fuel will be safe for human contact. All these things hold a very vital part to the design and needs of a long term storage facility.
Nuclear power is relative stagnant and does not look like it will be expanding much more without the advent of nuclear fusion. Yet when thinking about how will store these radioactive isotopes, and possibly finding a safe and secure way to store their materials, we may be able to move more of our needs in the direction of nuclear power, as our ability to make more fuel and its incredible energy density give it longevity and high capacity that no other energy source has.
1.Enrico Sartori, Nuclear data for radioactive waste management, Annals of Nuclear Energy, Volume 62, December 2013, Pages 579-589, ISSN 0306-4549, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anucene.2013.02.003.
2. Greenberg, Michael R. Nuclear Waste Management, Nuclear Power, and Energy Choices. Lecture Notes in Energy.
3. Background in Radioactive Waste. Nuclear Regulatory Council. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/radwaste.html