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Nuclear power reactors do not produce direct carbon dioxide emissions

Unlike fossil fuel-fired power plants, nuclear reactors do not produce air pollution or carbonContent dioxide while operating. However, the processes for mining and refining uranium ore and making reactor fuel all require large amounts of energy. Nuclear power plants also have large amounts of metal and concrete, which require large amounts of energy to manufacture. If fossil fuels are used for mining and refining uranium ore, or if fossil fuels are used when constructing the nuclear power plant, then the emissions from burning those fuels could be associated with the electricity that nuclear power plants generate.
Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste.

Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste

The primary environmental concern related to nuclear power is the creation of radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, spent (used) reactor fuel, and other radioactive wastes. These materials can remain radioactive and dangerous to human health for thousands of years. Radioactive wastes are subject to special regulations that govern their handling, transportation, storage, and disposal to protect human health and the environment. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates the operation of nuclear power plants.

Radioactive wastes are classified as low-level waste or high-level waste. The radioactivity in these wastes can range from just above natural background levels, like in uranium mill tailings, to much higher levels, like in used (spent) reactor fuel or in the parts inside a nuclear reactor. The radioactivity of nuclear waste decreases over time through a process called radioactive decay. The amount of time it takes for the radioactivity of radioactive material to decrease to half its original level is called the radioactive half-life. Radioactive waste with a short half-life is often stored temporarily before disposal to reduce potential radiation doses to workers who handle and transport the waste. This storage system also reduces the radiation levels at disposal sites.

By volume, most of the waste related to the nuclear power industry has a relatively low level of radioactivity. Uranium mill tailings contain the radioactive element radium, which decays to produce radon, a radioactive gas. Most uranium mill tailings are placed near the processing facility or mill where they come from. Uranium mill tailings are covered with a sealing barrier of material like clay to prevent radon from escaping into the atmosphere, and then the barrier is covered by a layer of soil, rocks, or other materials to prevent erosion of the sealing barrier.

The other types of low-level radioactive waste are the tools, protective clothing, wiping cloths, and other disposable items that become contaminated with small amounts of radioactive dust or particles at nuclear fuel processing facilities and nuclear power plants. These materials are subject to special regulations that govern their handling, storage, and disposal so they will not come in contact with the outside environment.

High-level radioactive waste consists of irradiated or spent nuclear reactor fuel (i.e., fuel that is no longer useful for producing electricity). The spent reactor fuel is in a solid form, consisting of small fuel pellets in long metal tubes called rods.

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