Eli5 why can’t radioactive waste be used again? Why is it waste?


Eli5 why can’t radioactive waste be used again? Why is it waste?

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It can, but doing so requires a fair amount of extra work as well as specialized nuclear reactors which could also be used to make bombs.

So, instead waste is thrown out.

The way that a nuclear reaction works is that a stable nucleus absorbs an extra neutron, and that causes the nucleus to become unstable, thus undergoing radioactive decay – becoming a different element, releasing more neutrons, and releasing a bunch of energy.

In a nuclear power plant, it’s desirable to have a chain reaction, where you have sufficient amounts of the radioactive material so that each decaying atom launches a neutron at another nucleus, causing it to delay in turn.

What makes the waste, well, waste, is that it will still undergo radioactive decay, but it won’t sustain a chain reaction, and it won’t produce enough energy to power the reactor.

When nuclear fuel decays it will break apart into lighter atoms. There is a whole cascade of different elements they go through by decaying further and yes this does release more heat.

At some point they turn into stuff that is still radioactive but only decaying very slowly. That means the energy output is extremely low, and it will take very long until it stops being radioactive.

We have spent fuel treatment centers. What they do is seperating that crazy mix of different decay stages in reusing the parts that are still usefull while sealing away the parts that are useless and just a hazard

In nuclear fission, the fissile atom splits into smaller atoms, releasing energy in the process. The smaller atoms have too many neutrons so they arent super stable but they kind of pass the extra neutrons around and remain radioactive, launching neutrons and gamma rays out of the spent fuel for like 10,000 years. It’s waste because the smaller atoms aren’t fissile and they are too radioactive to be used in most chemistry. I failed physics and chemistry so dont quote me.

While the other posters are correct and that nuclear waste has far less nuclear fuel then it started with, It still has more fuel than a uranium mine will have. So I think your question is a good one. This is the answer:

> [In 1977, the President decided to indefinitely defer commercial nuclear spent fuel reprocessing in the United States because of the risks of nuclear technology and/or materials being diverted from such plants.](https://www.gao.gov/products/emd-80-38)

I think that is silly.