Nuclear Waste Disposal

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In early December of 1942, Chicago was in danger of becoming the worlds’ first nuclear detonation site. The first use of nuclear fission was a government secret hidden to the public and even to some of the scientists working on the project. This was more secret than the Manhattan Project and thousands of times more dangerous. On December 2, 1942 the first instance of a self-sustained nuclear reaction occurred under the University of Chicago’s abandoned football stadium. The age of nuclear energy and weapons had begun with an experiment secretly held in a room underneath the stadium without the university president’s approval. Had the experiment gone wrong, an atomic explosion could have occurred or lethal doses of radiation could have leaked, both with the power of killing the scientists within the room and quite likely a large percentage of Chicago. Instead, after nearly four minutes the experiment was deemed a success, and the Atomic Age commenced.

In 1943 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a mere year following the first act of nuclear sustainability, the technology to reprocess nuclear waste was finally completed with the testing of the X-10, the codename for the nuclear reactor in Oak Ridge. After the fuel rods were spent scientists would take the “slugs” of uranium, dissemble them and dissolve them in order to get the uranium bit by bit (ornl.gov). This reprocessing allowed for the reuse of these spent nuclear fuel rods and meant that not all parts of the fuel rods had to be thrown into reservoirs. According to Melissa Savage of the National Conference for State Legislatures “Once nuclear fuel has been discharged from a reactor, about 96 percent of it can be recycled and used in a reactor again. The reprocessing or recycling of this spent fuel reduces the amount of waste significantly.” (Savage) Rather than continually using the spent reactor fuel for eternity, this process just allows for portions of the fuel to be reused until all available uranium and plutonium is used, leaving the volume of the nuclear waste much lower than after one use. This project was both viable and prevented significant amounts of threat to the environment caused by radiation. After four years after the first instance of nuclear self-sustainability, President Harry Truman signed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, allowing for the "utilization of atomic energy for peaceful purposes to the maximum extent consistent with the common defense and security and with the health and safety of the public." (Truman) The way to use nuclear energy peacefully is through the utilization of its tremendous ability to create energy, specifically in the form of electricity. The amount of power nuclear fission creates is massive when compared to the very diminutive amounts of energy produced by coal and other non-renewable resources. In 1954 the Atomic Energy Act of the United States was passed, allowing “…both the development and the regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States, declaring the policy that "the development, use, and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living, and strengthen free competition in private enterprise." Allowing the private sector to know the secret of atomic energy the U.S government had hidden since the dawn of the nuclear weapon allowed for nuclear reactors to be built in order to create a nation that would become self-sustaining with clean energy. However due to hegemonic and political turmoil between America and other nations, a clean and green United States was not to be. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act which effectively made the process of obtaining nuclear energy the government’s responsibility to handle. Along with this task came the decision to end nuclear reprocessing in order to prevent nuclear proliferation and the possibility of a terrorist...
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