Just about every company and industry that manufactures a product creates waste in the process. Add to that activities from mining and nuclear power, and there is all sorts of waste in our cities and countrysides.
Industrial waste types include substances like synthetic chemicals, acids, oils and metals. Industries that produce metals also produce scrap metal and slag (a byproduct of smelting ore). Mining processes leave behind rocks of no value called tailings. Nuclear plants, meanwhile, create radioactive waste, and manufacturing plants generate too many types of chemical waste to count.
Disposal of all kinds of wastes has become a major issue of modern industrial life. Some of the most common ways we dispose of industrial wastes are:
- Depositing them in landfills
- Releasing them into oceans
- Burial in underground caverns
- Deep-well injection, where wastes are injected into permeable rocks inside deep wells
- Finding new uses for byproducts of industrial processes
- Using waste products as fuel
All of the waste types we've mentioned spark concern from citizens, either for health or environmental reasons, or both. Of course, thanks to accidents such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, nuclear waste disposal is a sure bet to spark heightened concern. After all, the word "radioactive" tends to get the public's attention. So just what happens to nuclear plant waste at the nation's 104 sites? For starters, let's define what it is. "Used nuclear fuel" -- while it sounds spooky and evokes images of giant, seething cauldrons -- is comprised of ceramic uranium fuel pellets. As for how it's stored, most plants hold onto used nuclear fuel, stored on-site in steel-lined pools filled with water. The water keeps the used fuel cool as, over time, the radiation lessens, and the liquid provides a substantial barrier against anything harmful -- so much so that visitors to a nuclear facility could observe the pool in ordinary street clothing. The pool itself is hardened against earthquakes and other natural disasters to the same specifications as were used to build the plant itself [source: Nuclear Energy Institute].
Nuclear plants, however, were designed to be able to store used material on-site only for 10 to 20 years. Federal law enacted more than 10 years ago mandated that the U.S. Department of Energy start moving used plant waste from power plants, but that has not yet happened, and today some plants are running out of room for pool storage of their used fuel. Such plants keep their waste stored in huge, airtight steel canisters above ground [source: Nuclear Energy Institute].
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