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Glossary of terms

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Nuclear waste

A nuclear reactor "burns" uranium in a nuclear fission chain reaction, under controlled conditions so that the heat output can be harnessed to generate steam used to power turbines and thus produce electricity. All commercial reactors are currently thermal reactors of this type.
 
A nuclear power plant produces some 3 m³ (25 to 30 tonnes) of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel per year. Nuclear waste consists of spent fuel and all other contaminated items (buildings, equipment, clothing, tools, etc.)
 
Nuclear waste is categorised as:
  • High-level waste (HLW). This is highly radioactive material arising from nuclear fission. It requires very careful handling, storage and disposal.
  • Low-level waste (LLW) is mildly radioactive material usually disposed of by incineration and burial.
 
After 300 years waste remains radioactive even if reprocessed, that is after separation of transuranic elements for further usage in a power plant, and is considered as hazardous waste.
 
Transuranic elements, like plutonium and curium, have very long-term radioactivity. Only after more than 10,000 years will waste cease to be a threat to public health or safety.
 
In 2008, no solution exists to dispose of waste effectively, although the consensus points in the direction of geological entombment. For this reason, waste is kept stored, pending further research and advancement of long-term waste disposal projects currently under way.