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Nuclear Waste from Unused Weapons Is Being Safely Turned to Glass After Leaking for Years

in Enviroment 86 views

A public-private partnership will soon see one of the world’s largest nuclear waste treatment facilities begin operations, as liquid and solid waste is turned into large bricks of non-radioactive glass.

The Hanford nuclear cleanup site in Washington state, commissioned by the Department of Energy and built by Bechtel National, takes nuclear waste and mixes it with traditional glass-forming materials at high temperatures to make solid glass that can be safely stored underground.

Some people are concerned about the environmental and human health risks of nuclear power plants, but a much greater risk yet less discussed risk over the years has come from all the plutonium produced for nuclear warheads during the Cold War.

The runaway nuclear arms race during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s produced 56 million gallons of radioactive plutonium and other materials in both solid and liquid forms from now-decommissioned warheads, a veritable hot potato that the Department of Energy has been trying to deal with for decades.

When heated to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit at the Hanford site, radioactive waste mixes with the glass material in a molten state before being poured into stainless steel canisters where it cools to become stable and storable.

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