Nuclear power has been around since the first atomic plant was made operational on December 2, 1942. These plants are an efficient way of producing electricity. They can power every electric item we use today, from TV’s to computers and every thing in between. As great as they may seem, how do we deal with the radioactive waste left over? The answer is, we don’t. Until we, as a civilization, find a better way of dealing with this waste, we should hold off on converting fossil fuel plants to nuclear.
As of today, there is no real way to dispose of nuclear waste. While theories of ridding our earth of this harmful radioactive substance vary, the many attempts, have included every thing from simply burying it, to sending it out of our orbit into space. The most popular method to date seems to be “long term storage.” But what, exactly, does the “long term storage” mean? It means storing air tight barrels of nuclear waste in facilities until they lose their potency. As good as this method may sound on paper, the process I’ve just described to you can take up to 20,000 years. This means that the waste storage facilities will have to be secured from robbers, terrorists, and the effects of nature for a period of time in which not only their designers will die, but also, quite possibly the countries in which they are located will crumble.
Other, more reasonable methods include transmutation: a process in which toxic elements are transformed into less toxic substances. For instance, plutonium can be turned to uranium. This is done by using “fast consumer” reactors, which use the discarded radioactive isotopes of nuclear reactors and “consume” them, leaving isotopes which are less dangerous and have only about half the life and potency of the original waste. Another method is short term storage. This method can significantly reduce the potency of spent nuclear fuel. In this method, waste is stored for ten years. Since nuclear waste decays in exponential increments, it would take another hundred years to do the work of the first ten. Short term storage, however, does not in any way reduce the threat that these substances pose to our environment.