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Nuclear waste

Related Terms

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Background

  • Nuclear waste, also called radioactive waste, is produced by nuclear power plants or other facilities or vehicles that contain a nuclear reactor, factories that process nuclear fuels or materials such as uranium, and some research and medical institutions. Nuclear waste is a by-product of nuclear materials used to generate electricity, diagnose and treat disease, build weapons, and power ships, as well as of other nuclear-related activities. Nuclear waste is often hazardous and is strictly regulated by the government.
  • Nuclear waste is radioactive. Radiation describes the process by which a body emits energy that travels through space and is absorbed by another body. Ionizing radiation displaces the electrons in atoms, which can cause damage to cells. Radioactivity can cause damage by being directly absorbed by tissues or by being ingested, inhaled, or injected.
  • Examples of ionizing radiation are alpha (a helium nucleus), beta (an energetic electron), gamma (high-energy photons), and x-rays (photons with somewhat less energy than that of gamma radiation). Different types of ionizing radiation carry varying levels of energy and can thus penetrate different substances more or less effectively. Beta particles, for example, can penetrate paper but not aluminum, while gamma radiation may only be stopped by lead.
  • Radiation is measured in curies (Ci) or becquerels (Bq), both of which measure the rate of radioactive decay. Radioactive decay is the process by which an unstable nucleus emits radioactive particles, such as electrons, until the parent atom becomes stable. One becquerel equals one nuclear decay per second. One curie is equal to 37 billion disintegrations per second. The dose of radiation absorbed by human tissue is measured in rads or grays (Gy), the latter of which are SI units. The likelihood that a person will be negatively affected by radiation exposure is measured in rems or the SI unit sievert (SV). One rem is equal to 1,000 millirems (mrem). According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission NRC, the average American receives around 360mrem of ionizing radiation annually, including 60mrem from man-made sources. A dental x-ray emits about 3mrem of radiation, and a mammogram 170mrem. Living near a nuclear power plant subjects residents to about 0.1mrem annually. Chances of acute exposure to high doses of radiation are low, for the most part; however, the probability of radioactive damage is cumulative, so restrictions have been enacted to limit exposure via medical exams or to workers who labor near nuclear materials.
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Technique

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Theory/Evidence

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Health Impact/Safety

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Future Research or Applications

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.