Finland Finds a Place for Nuclear Waste

SCIENCE

Other countries have hit political roadblocks in finding a lasting fix to the world’s nuclear waste problem. Finland, meanwhile, has been quietly breaking ground. (Wall Street Journal)

What is nuclear waste? Use our great resource to better understand nuclear energy and its discontents.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Reinforced stainless-steel containers of radioactive cesium-137 sit in a 4-meter (13-foot) deep pool at the Hanford Site, a nuclear facility in Richland, Washington. Cesium-137, a nuclear fission product, must sit underwater for ten years until it is cool enough to be removed to a nuclear-waste storage site. Photograph by Emory Kristof, National Geographic

Reinforced stainless-steel containers of radioactive cesium-137 sit in a 4-meter (13-foot) deep pool at the Hanford Site, a nuclear facility in Richland, Washington. Cesium-137, a nuclear fission product, must sit underwater for ten years until it is cool enough to be removed to a nuclear-waste storage site.
Photograph by Emory Kristof, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The Wall Street Journal article describes a new nuclear waste facility in Finland. What is nuclear waste? Read through the “Nuclear Energy and People” section of our encyclopedic entry for some help.
    • Nuclear waste describes material left over from the operation of a nuclear reactor. (A nuclear reactor is a type of electrical power plant.) Nuclear waste is often divided into two types.
      • tools and clothing. Most nuclear waste is tools and protective clothing worn by power plant workers.
      • nuclear fuel, fission products, and nuclear poison.
        • Nuclear fuel describes pellets of material whose atoms split during the energy-generating process of nuclear fission. Uranium and plutonium are the most common nuclear fuels.
        • Fission products are particles released during nuclear fission that cause other nuclear fuel atoms to split. Cesium is a common fission product.
        • Nuclear poison describes rods of material that can adjust how fast or slow the nuclear fission reaction will be, and so how much electricity will be generated. Xenon is a common nuclear poison.

 

  • Why is nuclear waste a concern?
    • It’s radioactive. Radioactive material is a collection of unstable atomic nuclei. Unstable atomic nuclei are atoms that have an unbalanced number of protons or neutrons and lose energy by emitting radiation and subatomic particles. Radioactive material can be extremely toxic, causing burns and increasing the risk for cancers, blood diseases, and bone decay.

 

 

  • Why is nuclear waste so controversial?
    • Nuclear waste storage facilities are environmentally and technologically difficult to construct. The facilities must be located hundreds of meters beneath the ground, and need to withstand current pressure, as well as the crushing pressure of future glaciations. (That’s right, these materials need to be isolated into the next ice age.) During glaciations, thick ice sheets can deform rock and entire landscapes.
    • NIMBY—Not In My Backyard. Many communities vehemently oppose construction of nuclear waste storage facilities in their neighborhoods. Radioactive waste is extremely toxic and needs to be completely isolated from ecosystems for thousands of years. Politicians and community members fear radioactive leaks into local groundwater supplies, soil, or air.

 

 

TEACHERS TOOLKIT

Wall Street Journal: A 100,000-Year Tomb for Finland’s Nuclear Waste

Nat Geo: What is nuclear energy?

5 responses to “Finland Finds a Place for Nuclear Waste

  1. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: This Week in Geographic History, March 27 – April 2 | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  3. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned This Week | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  4. Thanks NATGEO but in order to read the Wall Street Journal report, you have to subscribe.

    *Susan Duncan* *Library/Media Specialist* *The Benjamin Lower/Middle School* *11000 Ellison Wilson Road* *North Palm Beach, FL 33408* *561-472-3455* susan.duncan@thebenjaminschool.org

    On Wed, Jan 25, 2017 at 8:17 AM, Nat Geo Education Blog wrote:

    > carylsue posted: “SCIENCE Other countries have hit political roadblocks in > finding a lasting fix to the world’s nuclear waste problem. Finland, > meanwhile, has been quietly breaking ground. (Wall Street Journal) What is > nuclear waste? Use our great resource to better unde” >

    Like

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