One of the biggest problems involved in working with nuclear materials is figuring out what to do with these materials when they have outlived their usefulness. Things like spent nuclear fuel from power plants and military operations can be very dangerous, but they have no practical use, forcing governments and environmental agencies to come up with nuclear waste disposal methods which are safe and effective. Failure to handle nuclear waste properly can result in serious problems, such as environmental degradation.
Sometimes, nuclear waste disposal can be accomplished by reprocessing the waste so that it can be used for something else. Reprocessing will generate some waste, but it reduces the overall amount of waste, and it can generate substantial savings by freeing up usable material which would otherwise be discarded. Some industries use reprocessing to break nuclear waste down into different components to make it easier to handle during the nuclear waste disposal process.
Nuclear waste can't be set out on the curb with the garbage because it generates radiation. One of the most common techniques for permanent nuclear waste disposal is burial. When radioactive waste is buried, it is stored in large drums which are designed to outlast the radioactivity. The drums are buried deep underground in a seismically stable area, where the nuclear waste breaks down into less volatile components over the course of centuries. This approach to nuclear waste disposal is somewhat problematic, because the drums could fail, causing pollution, or future civilizations could unearth the site, not realizing that it contains dangerous materials.
Some people have advocated shooting nuclear waste out into space. Space already has a great deal of background radiation, so nuclear waste is unlikely to cause a radiation problem in space, but the thought of leaving drums of spent nuclear materials drifting across the universe is unpleasant to some people. Concerns have also been raised about the safety of having numerous discarded objects floating in space, as these objects could become a navigation hazard at some point.
Nuclear waste management is a critical issue around the world, especially with the rise of nuclear power plants as a popular energy generation alternative. Nuclear power does not generate emissions, making it appealing from an environmental standpoint, and many nations rely heavily on nuclear power for energy. As a result, nuclear waste has begun to accumulate in some regions of the world, raising questions about how environmentally friendly nuclear power really is.