There are currently no permanent storage options for radioactive or nuclear waste; most waste is instead in temporary storage, primarily at nuclear power plants. The first step is to limit the amount of waste produced, which can be done through compaction and incineration (of low-level waste). One of the primary reasons that storage is temporary is that it is safer to immediately store nuclear waste at the site so as to reduce exposure to workers, through both handling on-site and transport to permanent storage. Radioactivity decreases with time, so often waste can eventually be disposed as “non-radioactive”. Uranium waste is buried within a barrier of clay to prevent leaking of radon. The biggest problem with permanent storage is the perception of the public of its safety and integrity. And this can also change over time, meaning a site once accepted by the public may not be so 20 or 50 years later. The latest thought by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is that nuclear waste can be stored securely in steel and concrete containers, above the ground, for at least 120 years. This would provide an option to Yucca Mountain, which is still being debated as a permanent storage site.
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