Radioactive and Nuclear Waste Disposal
Radioactive and nuclear waste are some of the most serious types of hazardous materials. Strict regulations and procedures must be followed when handling and disposing of such waste to protect human health and the environment from harm. These apply whether you’re disposing of used nuclear fuel or clothing contaminated with radioactive materials.
Generating nuclear power is the main process that creates radioactive waste, which must be stored, transported, and disposed of safely. Contaminated items also class as radioactive and nuclear waste. This means any organisation that works with nuclear and radioactive materials may produce such types of hazardous waste that require proper management.
Call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online today for a free quote for radioactive and nuclear waste removal. Get in touch with our expert team for further help and advice about nuclear and radioactive waste disposal anywhere in the UK.
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Types of radioactive
and nuclear waste
Radioactive and nuclear waste can be either solid or liquid waste. There are generally three different categories of radioactive and nuclear waste:
- Low-level radioactive waste (LLW) – around 90% of all radioactive waste is LLW, which only accounts for 1% of the total radioactivity of all waste. Radioactive waste below 4 giga-becquerels per tonne (GBq/t) of alpha activity or 12GBq/t of beta-gamma activity class as LLW.
- Intermediate-level radioactive waste (ILW) – about 7% of all radioactive waste is ILW, accounting for 4% of the total radioactivity of all waste. It produces a higher level of radiation than LLW but not as much heat as HLW, with examples including metal fuel cladding.
- High-level radioactive waste (HLW) – only 3% of radioactive waste is HLW, but it is responsible for 95% of the total radioactivity of all waste. Radioactive waste that produces more than 2 kilowatts per metre cubed of heat due to radioactivity classes as HLW. Examples include used nuclear fuel.
Businesses and organisations that produce nuclear waste should know the radioactivity levels and type to inform the proper storage and disposal procedure. This is essential to avoid exposing humans to radioactivity and causing pollution. Some of the main examples of radioactive and nuclear waste that fit into all three categories include:
- Radioactive source – any nuclear or radioactive fuel that has been used. This is HLW and is produced by nuclear power plants and any other institutions that use nuclear power. Such businesses should have storage and disposal measures in place.
- Equipment – the most common types of radioactive equipment are x-ray machines, used in hospitals, dentists, vets, and other healthcare settings for humans and non-humans. As they produce radiation these must be disposed of as radioactive waste at the end of their life.
- Contaminated clothing – any clothing such as gowns, masks, and gloves that come into contact with radioactive or nuclear materials must be disposed of properly to avoid further contamination. These are often a type of LLW, though it depends on where they have been used.
- Consumer products – some daily items contain small amounts of radiation, including smoke detectors and microwaves. Older watches, clocks, monitors, TVs, sun lamps, and EXIT signs may also contain trace amounts of radioactive materials. It’s best to check before disposing of these safely where possible.
Radioactive waste emits radioactive particles that pose a severe risk to human health and the environment when exposed. Nuclear waste also takes anywhere from a few hours to hundreds of thousands of years to break down, depending on the exact elements. For example, plutonium can remain radioactive for thousands of years.
These factors make the disposal of nuclear waste challenging. There are various disposal methods for radioactive and nuclear waste. The most appropriate disposal will depend on the type of nuclear waste and the facility, but each one is designed to prevent radioactive exposure to humans or the environment. A few common methods of radioactive waste disposal include:
- High-temperature incineration – a safe and common method to dispose of many types of hazardous waste is through incineration. Certain kinds of nuclear and radioactive waste such as contaminated clothing and other LLW can be placed in special high-temperature incinerators to destroy all radioactive elements.
- Evaporation – some liquid radioactive waste can be disposed of through evaporation methods. This can concentrate the waste before it’s either solidified and destroyed or placed in storage before disposal.
- Conditioning – nuclear waste can be conditioned through various techniques to slow the release of radionuclides. Often it’s solidified in cement, bitumen, or glass, and over-packed in special containers before being transported and disposed of safely.
- Near-surface disposal – LLW can be compacted into steel barrels or canisters, which are stored in concrete vaults underground. The vaults are deep enough to ensure no radiation reaches the surface after they’re sealed, covered, and left. They’re left to break down and dispose of over time.
- Deep geological disposal – ILW and HLW can be placed in vaults between 250 and 1,000 metres below ground level. HLW may be combined with glass and stored for 50 years so heat dissipates first. Then they’re placed in secure canisters and barrels in these deep vaults, where the soil and rock above them act as a barrier to the radiation.
The type of nuclear waste you produce will affect the safest and most efficient disposal method. We can advise on how your nuclear and radioactive waste will be disposed of – call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online for expert help and advice.
Who needs radioactive and
nuclear waste collection?
It’s not just nuclear power plants that create radioactive and nuclear waste that needs removing and disposing of safely. Many other organisations produce various types and volumes of radioactive waste that must be stored, removed, and disposed of properly. Some places that may need radioactive waste disposal include:
- Hospitals – old X-ray machines, PPE contaminated with radioactive materials
- Laboratories – any nuclear fuel or radioactive materials used in experiments
- Dentists – x-ray machines and clothing contaminated with radioactive elements
- Vets – old and broken X-ray machines and any contaminated materials
- Schools – any radioactive materials used in experiments
How does radioactive and nuclear waste
collection and disposal work?
Start by contacting us about the type and amount of radioactive and nuclear waste you need removed and disposed of – call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online. We’ll need details about the type of radioactive waste you have, how much, where and what it’s stored in, where in the UK you are, and when you want it removed.
Based on this information (and any other details requested), we can provide a free no-obligation quote for the collection and removal of your nuclear waste. This includes the delivery of free containers to store the waste if required. If you’re happy with the quote then we can book a time and date for our experts to remove your nuclear waste.
We’ll arrange for the required vehicles and specialist equipment to come out to your premises, with all vehicles driven by licensed waste carriers. Proper procedures will be followed to remove and load the radioactive waste into the vehicle. Protective clothing will be worn, and steps taken to avoid the risk of exposure and contamination.
Once the nuclear waste is safely in the vehicle it will be transported to a nearby facility that manages nuclear and radioactive waste disposal. The process for disposing of nuclear waste will depend on the type and amount you’re getting rid of. Our team can advise on this, and you’ll receive a free duty of care certificate and relevant documentation.
Regulations for nuclear waste
disposal in the UK
The Radioactive Substances Act 1993 covers the legal measures required for the use and disposal of radioactive waste in the UK. This includes the registration, authorisation, enforcement, and offences. The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 replaced some of the act.
These regulations cover when permits are required for radioactive substance activities including storage and disposal of radioactive waste. The Environment Agency grants permits for any such activities. The UK government has also published radioactive substances regulation (RSR) guidance to help businesses understand the permitting and other requirements specific to RSR.
Find out more with the UK government’s nuclear waste services.
Containers for radioactive
and nuclear waste
Specially engineered containers are normally used for safe storage and transportation of nuclear and radioactive waste. The best container depends on the type and volume of nuclear waste produced, including whether it’s solid or liquid. We can arrange delivery of radioactive and nuclear waste containers to your premises for safe and legal storage.
Steel barrels are often used to store LLW, while IBC containers can contain certain types of liquid radioactive waste. Speak to our expert team about the type of nuclear and radioactive waste you have for advice on the best containers for storage before disposal. Or find out more about some common containers we can provide:
Arrange nuclear waste disposal
Get a free no obligation quote for nuclear waste collection and disposal anywhere in the UK with Business Waste. Provide key details about the type and volume of nuclear waste you have, your current storage facilities, where you’re based, and when you need it removed. Our experts can advise on the next steps.
We can arrange delivery of special containers to store any type and amount of radioactive and nuclear waste. If your nuclear waste is already stored safely then we can help arrange removal and disposal. You’ll receive a free duty of care certificate and all relevant documentation confirming the safe and legal disposal of your nuclear waste.
Radioactive and nuclear
What is nuclear waste?
Nuclear waste is any type of waste that has nuclear or radioactive elements and properties. It’s a type of hazardous waste containing highly poisonous chemicals such as plutonium and uranium. Often nuclear waste is a by-product of nuclear reactors, fuel processing plants, hospitals, and research facilities.
Nuclear and radioactive waste are essentially the same, as most nuclear waste is radioactive. The levels of radioactivity of nuclear waste vary, which affects how long it takes to break down and the best disposal method.
Can nuclear waste be recycled?
Some nuclear waste can be recycled. Used nuclear fuel can be recycled to form fresh fuel and by-products in some cases. The UK government is committed to recycling at least 50% of nuclear waste from decommissioning. However, nuclear waste recycling doesn’t happen in all countries as the process is expensive and dangerous.
What is the biggest problem with radioactive waste?
The biggest problem is that improper radioactive waste management poses a risk to human health and the environment. This is because radioactive waste is incredibly hazardous as it emits radioactive particles. These can harm human health, add to pollution, and contaminate other waste.
Radioactive contamination can spread quickly and pollute land, water, and air. If it spreads into ecosystems then humans, animals, and plants can experience health damage of varying degrees of severity. Cleaning up radioactive waste is an expensive and time-consuming task as well.
How much nuclear waste is stored in the UK?
In total, the UK currently has a reported volume of around 4,580,000m³ of radioactive waste stored. Of this about 94% is low and very low-level waste. Almost three-quarters of all nuclear waste is also currently stored at Sellafield in the UK. The volume and mass of nuclear waste are expected to increase in the UK.
Can you destroy nuclear waste?
Technically, there is currently no way to destroy nuclear waste. No known chemical or mechanical process can destroy its radioactive elements (radionuclides). However, radio-decay and nuclear transmutation can reduce the length of their radioactivity. As radioactive waste can take thousands of years to break down, methods of nuclear waste disposal don’t destroy it.
Instead, nuclear waste management is about ensuring such waste is handled and disposed of safely. This could involve speeding up its breakdown or simply ensuring it poses no harm to humans or the environment through its disposal method.
Get a fast and free quote
Get a fast FREE quote for radioactive waste removal
- Free quote within 1 hr
- Any type of hazardous waste
- FREE bins and delivery
- We cover all of the UK