Is any waste generated in a nuclear plant?« Back to Questions List

Nuclear energy is the energy from the nucleus of an atom. When this energy gets released, it can be used to generate electricity. This release could happen in two ways – fission reaction and fusion reaction. Fusion reaction involves atoms fusing (combining) together to form a larger atom and release energy. Fission happens when atoms are split apart to form smaller atoms, releasing energy.


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Nuclear power plants use steam to generate electricity. The fuel used is uranium which is a radioactive element. Uranium produces a lot of heat energy when a nuclear reaction occurs. This heat energy heats up water to produce steam which helps produce current. Every nuclear power plant has its own waste processing facilities. The release of nuclear wastes into the environment is strictly monitored and is bound to many rules to avoid polluting the nature with harmful substances.

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Solid nuclear wastes are of thee types – high level, intermediate level and low level wastes. Low level nuclear wastes are slightly less radioactive waste produced from cleaning materials like gloves, plastic containers etc used for cleaning or any other maintenance activity inside the plant. It accounts for 90% of total wastes volume. These are shipped to disposal centre where they are packaged, buried in trenches and covered with soil.

Intermediate level wastes consist of reactor components and products from reprocessing. It normally takes years to decay and contributes to about 7% of total wastes volume. These wastes are solidified in concrete and placed in special containers where it is confined for a long time. It is then stored in special structures at plant sites.  

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High level wastes comprises of waste from the ‘fuel’ rods used which can no longer help in nuclear reaction. It accounts for 3% of total volume of wastes. This kind of wastes from spent fuel is radioactive and very dangerous because it may even take few years to stop being radioactive. They are generally put inside a very deep pool of water for years together in order to get cooled. Finally they are put inside big concrete barrels and taken to proper disposal sites where these barrels are buried.

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The routine activity that takes place everyday generates liquid and gaseous wastes. Waste treatment processes treat these wastes before releasing them into nature. For instance, liquid wastes are mixed, diluted and treated before discharging them into the sea. Gaseous wastes are treated using gas treatment plants before releasing into the air.