The spent fuel rods are the most radioactive of the wastes created in the nuclear industry. In the United States, they are stored in pools at the nuclear site in which they were used. There is currently no permanent site in the US to store these rods. The Yucca Mountain site in Nevada was being considered, but the Obama administration does not approve it.
Other countries reuse the rods. In Russia, France, the United Kingdom, India and Japan, they essentially recycle the spent fuel rods.
When a nuclear reactor is commissioned to be shut down, there are three potential options for waste disposal.
They can decontaminate (DECON), which requires that all components be properly cleaned and shipped to a waste disposal site or stored on-site temporarily. The process takes about 3-5 years and after this time part of the nuclear reactor site may be reusable.
Another option is safe storage (SAFSTOR) which keeps the entire plant intact but placing the system in storage where it is carefully monitored. The radioactivity of the plant decreases with time and the plant can be dismantled once the radiactivity reaches an appropriate level.
The last option is ENTOMB. This involves enclosing the nuclear structures in a long-lasting protective casing, such as concrete. As with SAFSTOR, the site would still be monitored until radiactivity reaches an appropriate level that is deemed safe.
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