Nuclear Waste Disposal

December 3, 1976

Report Outline
Management of Radioactive Wastes
Search for Waste Disposal Solution
Future of Plutonium Reprocessing

Management of Radioactive Wastes

Concern Over Nuclear Waste Accumulation

The nuclear industry is beset by a host of unsolved problems—preventing accidents, protecting plants from terrorist attacks, making nuclear energy economically feasible, preventing the secret diversion of nuclear material into weapons. One of the most unsettling problems concerns the handling of radioactive wastes from the federal government's weapons program and from commercial nuclear reactors. Although such wastes have been accumulating for more than 30 years, there still is no plan for their permanent disposal.

Both critics and defenders of nuclear power agree that the problem must be solved. President-elect Jimmy Carter, himself a nuclear engineer, told a United Nations conference on nuclear energy on May 13 that it was time for the United States “to cut through the indecision and debate about the long-term storage of radioactive wastes and start doing something about it.” As a first step, Carter said, the United States “could begin by preparing all high-level wastes currently produced from our military programs for permanent disposal.”

Nuclear power advocates generally contend that the technology necessary for the safe management of nuclear wastes already exists. H. A. Bethe, a Nobel prize-winning physicist wrote early this year: “It seems to me virtually certain that a suitable permanent storage site will be found.” Dixy Lee Ray, former chairman of the old Atomic Energy Commission and the newly elected governor of Washington, said in a recent interview: “Technologies do exist for handling the waste, for being able to take care of the waste, for being able to store the waste … safely and completely for as long as it needs to be done.” According to Ray, “The United States has not decided which of several technologies it will use, because we don't have to start doing anything with the waste from nuclear power plants until nearly the middle of the 1980s.” That means, she went on to say, “We have got at least five years still to conduct research and maybe improve the techniques that are available today.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Nuclear Power
Jun. 10, 2011  Nuclear Power
Jan. 28, 2011  Managing Nuclear Waste
Jan. 2007  Nuclear Proliferation
Mar. 10, 2006  Nuclear Energy
Jun. 08, 2001  Nuclear Waste
Jan. 22, 1993  Nuclear Fusion
Feb. 22, 1991  Will Nuclear Power Get Another Chance?
Dec. 05, 1986  Nuclear Reactor Safety
Jul. 29, 1983  Nuclear Power's Future
Dec. 04, 1981  America's Nuclear Waste Backlog
Sep. 12, 1980  Nuclear Fusion Development
Aug. 10, 1979  Determining Radiation Dangers
Dec. 03, 1976  Nuclear Waste Disposal
Aug. 22, 1975  Nuclear Safety
Aug. 04, 1971  Nuclear Power Options
Jun. 10, 1964  Atomic Power Development
Feb. 12, 1958  Radiation Hazards
Feb. 27, 1957  Atomic Power Race
Mar. 29, 1955  Atomic Energy for Industry
Apr. 24, 1946  Control of Atomic Energy
Hazardous Substances and Nuclear Waste
Nuclear Energy