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Radiation & Me

Low-Level Radioactive Wastes

Low-level radioactive wastes consist of radioactively contaminated items from research centers, hospitals, industries, power plants, and educational organizations. These items include paper, gloves, booties, protective gowns, paper or plastic bags, and empty containers (empty except that the walls of the container are radioactively contaminated). Generators of these wastes have done several things over the past decades to decrease the amount of waste to be shipped to a licensed waste-disposal site. Some ways to decrease the amount of waste include holding short half-lived material until the radioactivity is gone, separating nonradioactive items from radioactive items, using tools that can be decontaminated and reused, incinerating some waste items at licensed sites, and compacting the waste. Compacting the waste does not decrease the amount of waste generated, but by compressing the waste that is put into 55-gal drums for shipment, more waste can be put in a drum, decreasing the total number of drums to be shipped and buried.

If the wastes must be shipped to a licensed burial site, the wastes must be properly packaged and transported. Licensed burial sites, historically, have put the wastes into deep trenches which are then buried under clay. After a trench is full, it is capped with clay and, above that, some topsoil. Trenches are continuously monitored after they are closed.