The perception of radioactive waste as a major problem for the industrial world has developed only recently. Four decades ago the disposal of such waste was regarded as a relatively minor matter. Those were the heady days when nuclear fission seemed the answer to the world's energy needs: the two wartime bombs had demonstrated its awesome power, and now it was to be harnessed for the production of electricity, the excavation of canals, even the running of cars and airplanes. In all applications of fission some waste containing radioactive elements would be generated of course, but it seemed only a trivial annoyance, a problem whose solution could be deferred until the more exciting challenges of constructing reactors and devising more efficient weapons had been mastered. So waste accumulated, some in tanks and some buried in shallow trenches. These were recognized as only temporary, makeshift measures, because it was known that the debris would be hazardous to its surroundings for many thousands of years and hence that more permanent disposal would someday be needed. The difficulty of accomplishing this more lasting disposal only gradually became apparent. The difficulty has been compounded by uncertainty about the physiological effects oflow-Ievel radiation, by the inadequacy of detailed knowledge about the behavior of engineered and geologic materials over long periods under unusual conditions, and by the sensitization of popular fears about radiation in all its forms following widely publicized reactor accidents and leaks from waste storage sites.
Table of Contents1 Introduction.- 1.1 Industrial waste and radioactive waste.- 1.2 Radiation.- 1.3 Radioactivity.- 1.4 Kinds of radioactive waste.- 2 High-level waste: the problem.- 2.1 Generation of high-level waste.- 2.2 Storage, disposal, containment, and isolation.- 2.3 Is immediate disposal necessary?.- 2.4 Amounts and composition of high-level waste.- 3 Strategies for solving the problem.- 3.1 Alternatives for disposal.- 3.2 Requirements for mined geologic disposal.- 3.3 Engineered barriers.- 3.4 Geologic barriers.- 3.5 Retrievability.- 4 Models of radionuclide release.- 4.1 Models and scenarios.- 4.2 Solubility.- 4.3 Sorption.- 4.4 Alternative models.- 5 Critique of disposal models.- 5.1 Questions from a skeptic.- 5.2 Uncertainty in solubilities and retardation factors.- 5.3 Initial oxidizing conditions.- 5.4 Effects of heat.- 5.5 Effects of radiation.- 5.6 Geologic and meteorologic events.- 5.7 Human error and equipment failure.- 5.8 Human intrusion.- 6 The geology of repository sites.- 6.1 General requirements.- 6.2 Crystalline rock in Sweden.- 6.3 Bedded salt in Texas.- 6.4 Tuff in southern Nevada.- 6.5 Summary.- 7 Natural analogs.- 7.1 Uses of analogs.- 7.2 Analogs for canister materials.- 7.3 Analogs for bentonite in backfill.- 7.4 Analogs for the waste form.- 7.5 Analogs for radionuclide movement.- 7.6 Oklo.- 7.7 Discussion.- 8 The subsea-bed option.- 8.1 The ocean as a dumping-ground.- 8.2 Finding a disposal site in the ocean.- 8.3 Techniques of subsea-bed disposal.- 8.4 Problems of subsea-bed disposal.- 8.5 High-level waste: general summary.- 9 Waste that is not high-level.- 9.1 Low-level waste: problems of definition.- 9.2 Low-level waste: problems of disposal.- 9.3 TRU waste.- 9.4 Uranium mill tailings.- 9.5 Low-level waste: summary.- 10 Institutional aspects of waste disposal.- 10.1 The politics of repository siting.- 10.2 National institutional arrangements.- 10.3 International organizations.- 11 Some questions of policy.- 11.1 Introduction.- 11.2 Surface storage versus underground disposal.- 11.3 To reprocess or not to reprocess?.- 11.4 Waste isolation: how effective and for how long?.- 11.5 Disposal in the near future versus delay.- 11.6 Is more research needed?.- Further reading.