Exempt waste & very low level waste
Exempt waste and very low level waste (VLLW) contains radioactive materials at a level which is not considered harmful to people or the surrounding environment. It consists mainly of demolished material (such as concrete, plaster, bricks, metal, valves, piping etc) produced during rehabilitation or dismantling operations on nuclear industrial sites. Other industries, such as food processing, chemical, steel etc also produce VLLW as a result of the concentration of natural radioactivity present in certain minerals used in their manufacturing processes (see also information page on Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials). The waste is therefore disposed of with domestic refuse, although countries such as France are currently developing facilities to store VLLW in specifically designed VLLW disposal facilities.
Low-level waste (LLW) is generated from hospitals and industry, as well as the nuclear fuel cycle. It comprises paper, rags, tools, clothing, filters etc, which contain small amounts of mostly short-lived radioactivity. It does not require shielding during handling and transport and is suitable for shallow land burial. To reduce its volume, it is often compacted or incinerated before disposal. It comprises some 90% of the volume but only 1% of the radioactivity of all radioactive waste.
Intermediate-level waste (ILW) contains higher amounts of radioactivity and some requires shielding. It typically comprises resins, chemical sludges and metal fuel cladding, as well as contaminated materials from reactor decommissioning. Smaller items and any non-solids may be solidified in concrete or bitumen for disposal. It makes up some 7% of the volume and has 4% of the radioactivity of all radwaste.
High-level waste (HLW) arises from the 'burning' of uranium fuel in a nuclear reactor. HLW contains the fission products and transuranic elements generated in the reactor core. It is highly radioactive and hot, so requires cooling and shielding. It can be considered as the 'ash' from 'burning' uranium. HLW accounts for over 95% of the total radioactivity produced in the process of electricity generation. There are two distinct kinds of HLW:
HLW has both long-lived and short-lived components, depending on the length of time it will take for the radioactivity of particular radionuclides to decrease to levels that are considered no longer hazardous for people and the surrounding environment. If generally short-lived fission products can be separated from long-lived actinides, this distinction becomes important in management and disposal of HLW.
(Useful for UPSC General Studies, APPSC Group 1 Group 2 , Mains Material, Paper 1, Paper 4 Section 1 Section 2 Section 3, ROLE AND IMPACT OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF INDIA, GENERAL AWARENESS WITH THE MODERN TRENDS IN LIFE SCIENCES, DEVELOPMENT & ENVIRONMENT PROBLEMS)