. Like all industries, the generation of electricity produces waste. Whatever fuel is used, the waste produced in generating electricity must be managed in ways that safeguard human health and minimise the impact on the environment.For radioactive waste, this means isolating or diluting it such that the rate or concentration of any radionuclides returned to the biosphere is harmless. To achieve this, practically all radioactive waste is contained and managed, with some clearly needing deep and permanent burial. From nuclear power generation, unlike all other forms of thermal electricity generation, all waste is regulated – none is allowed to cause pollution.
Radioactive waste includes any material that is either intrinsically radioactive, or has been contaminated by radioactivity, and that is deemed to have no further use. Government policy dictates whether certain materials – such as used nuclear fuel and plutonium – are categorised as waste.
Every radionuclide has a half-life – the time taken for half of its atoms to decay, and thus for it to lose half of its radioactivity. Radionuclides with long half-lives tend to be alpha and beta emitters – making their handling easier – while those with short half-lives tend to emit the more penetrating gamma rays. Eventually all radioactive waste decays into non-radioactive elements. The more radioactive an isotope is, the faster it decays. Radioactive waste is typically classified as either low-level (LLW), intermediate-level (ILW), or high-level (HLW), dependent, primarily, on its level of radioactivity.