In this project, I performed research in a topic of interest and created an annotated bibliography. The primary purpose is to show comprehension of reading scientific articles and conveying their findings to a larger audience. Each article listed was explicitly chosen for its significance and how it fits into the overall mapping of the field. The second purpose is to create a basis of research for a further project, utilyzing the information found here as a basis for further discussion.

Challenges Faced by Nuclear Waste Management Strategies

To date, the sixty-one nuclear power plants in the United States have generated nearly 80,000 metric tons of nuclear waste. By the year 2050, this number will skyrocket to 140,000 metric tons. This high-level waste is deadly to human health, as it emits hazardous doses of radiation and heat energy, and contains dangerous elements like plutonium, uranium, and trace actinides. Despite this, the United States government has no long-term plan to manage the waste. Instead, it is held indefinitely in temporary above-ground holding facilities, where the risk of exposure and environmental contamination is unacceptably high. In order to understand why no management plan has been accepted, this annotated bibliography presents current literature on topics related to nuclear waste. Anyone interested in understanding the current state of nuclear waste disposal and its implications may find the references useful. This may include politicians, members of the general public, and other technical professionals.

This annotated bibliography may be of particular interest to chemical engineers. While the problem undoubtedly beggars an interdisciplinary solution, by virtue of their education, chemical engineers will find many facets of the issue fall within their field. Heat management of temporary holding facilities, fuel assemblies, and borehole canisters are applications of thermodynamics and heat transfer. The analysis of nucleotide transmission and ion exchange in waste materials represent mass transfer principles. Reprocessing techniques are applications of separation principles. Chemical engineers can apply their knowledge of these topics to tackle the issue in a safe and effective manner. To that end, there are a variety of topics within the field of nuclear waste management where their knowledge can be in need.

The reader will find a compilation of three articles regarding the public perception of nuclear waste in the first section. Some themes — such as the NIMBY phenomenon and the knowledge gap between academics and the public — are internationally shared, despite different cultures and priorities. The second section describes methods of reprocessing nuclear waste. Reprocessing is an attempt to make the waste more manageable by altering its atomic structure, isolating recyclable components, and placing the material in stable matrices. This allows power plants to recycle useable components and increase their storage potential. The third section is an overview of geological storage. Geologic storage is a waste management solution that would place nuclear waste in boreholes deep underground. There are two technical overviews and a paper discussing the social impact of safety requirements in deep borehole technology. The fourth section documents a space disposal method. Since little research has been conducted on this style of management, a historical document is included as a comparison to a newer analysis. A final section is included for unannotated additional references in no particular order.

Public Perception

Gallardo, A.H., Matsuzaki, T., & Aoki., H. (2014). Geological storage of nuclear wastes: Insights following the Fukushima crisis. Energy Policy, 73, 391-400.

This research article explores the change in public perception on nuclear energy and waste disposal amongst college-aged Japanese youth after the tsunami causing the Fukushima disaster, as public perception and politics play key roles in the advancement on nuclear waste management. It has found that public fears of climate change are slowly persuading people to support nuclear power. After the disaster occurred, the authors have found public dread of “nuclear” increased, public trust in central government decreased, and that public knowledge is low. This article will help show the existence of a problem, and why it persists. It shows a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist, as the desired traits wanted in boreholes in japan are different than described by Bates. The article also shows an example of the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) phenomenon seen in nations across the world. But it offers some suggestions how to help decrease it.

Ramana. M. V. (2013) Shifting strategies and precarious progress: Nuclear waste management in Canada. Energy Policy, 61. 196-206

This is an overview of the state of nuclear waste management in Canada. It begins with nuclear management history and the organizations involved. It has found the first step in waste management is to identify public questions and expectations. The global community is also a large factor as knowledge is shared amongst researchers. The article identifies three problems that must be dealt with to go forward. The first is the politics of it: no one wants it near them, but they want the job creation it brings. The second is showing the process is safe. The third is addressing the desire for nuclear power without dealing with nuclear waste. This article describes the not in my backyard phenomenon seen all the by Gallardo in Japan as well. It also brings up the ways to help the government deal with a public not willing to work towards proper waste disposal options.

U. S. Government Accountability Office. (2014). Spent Nuclear Fuel Management: Outreach Needed to Help Gain Public Acceptance for Federal Activities That Address Liability. Washington, DC: United States Government Accountability Office.

This is a government report in order to examine the current state of nuclear waste management in the United States. A background is offered on nuclear waste and the rate of accumulation of waste in the US. It then goes into the liability held by the federal government because the Department of Energy (DOE) did not begin disposal of spent nuclear fuel by the 1998. The DOE failed to meet its goals for four reasons: a lack of legislative authority, lengthy licensing process, transportation woes of the spent fuel, and societal challenges. The GAO has suggested a coordinated public outreach program be implemented to educate and persuade, but focus will be difficult if a plan is not set. The report makes some similar conclusions seen in Gallardo’s research article. However, here the GAO gives a suggestion in using social media as part of a coordinated knowledge campaign.


Herbst, R. S., Baron, P., & Nilsson, M. (2011). Standard and advanced separation: PUREX processes for nuclear fuel reprocessing. In Nash, K. L. & Lumetta, G. J. (Eds.), Advanced Separation Techniques for Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing and Radioactive Waste Treatment (pp. 141-175). Cambridge, UK: Woodhead Publishing

This chapter is dedicated to explain the current state of the art in the PUREX process. The authors begin by describing the general process chemistry to remove plutonium and uranium from nuclear fuel sources, such as high level waste. The following section examines the global industrial applications of the PUREX process. Analyzed here are the variety of methods for each step of the process, and modifications made in order to avoid extraction of other waste actinides. The final section discusses the direction that the process is heading, such as removing neptunium or decreasing the number of steps. The chapter provides a technical overview of the most commonly applied method of waste reprocessing, along with an idea of what countries are utilizing it to give a global perspective. In particular, the authors show the ever-changing demands placed on the field by discussing why certain improvements are sought due to political reasons.

Lee W. E., Ojovan, M. I., Stennett, M. C., & Hyatt, N. C. (2013). Immobilisation of radioactive waste in glasses, glass composite materials and ceramics. Advances in Applied Ceramics, 105 (1), 3-12. DOI: 10.1179/174367606X81669

This article provides an overview of immobilization of nuclear wastes, primarily focused on the United Kingdom. The first section describes immobilization in glass, describing the properties of existing solutions to store high level wastes. The following section is an overview of ceramics as a storing matrix.  The final section describes glass composite materials, which have properties between glass and ceramics. Currently, glass is the primary matrix for storing the wastes but the other materials are being researched to find alternatives which can better prevent leaking of radioactive materials. The importance of vitrification as a part of the solution is emphasized. The article help show the importance for the field to constantly innovate and search for new solutions, as changing laws can invalidate the current method and require more stringent safety controls. It also shows how the solution is a multistep process, as the parameters for vitrification depend on the preprocessing done, such as PUREX.

Vienna, J. D., Ryan, J. V., Gin, S., & Inagaki, Y. (2013). Current Understanding and Remaining Challenges in Modeling Long-Term Degradation of Borosilicate Nuclear Waste Glasses. International Journal of Applied Glass Science, 4 (4), 283–294. DOI:10.1111/ijag.12050

This article explores the corrosion rates of glass used in the vitrification process.  Despite being considered an important method of reprocessing, not enough is known about glass corrosion to accurately model vitrified waste over time. The author analyzes three models believed to be valid over extended periods and the reasons why. The author has also examined the key factors of glass corrosion: the composition, the environment surrounding the glass, the types of radiation, and the surface area. The authors urge for more fundamental studies to understand glass properties. This article shows that the management processes are interrelated. An inability to accurately model glass corrosion of vitrified high level waste impedes the ability to ascertain the safety of geologic methods. It also shows proving stability over long time periods is rife with issues, as there are times where factors are ignored in the short term that becomes significant in the long term.

Kailas, S., Hemalatha, M., Saxena, A. (2015). Nuclear transmutation strategies for management of long-lived fission products. Pramana, 85 (3), pp. 517-523. DOI: 10.1007/s12043-015-1063-z

An alternative method of processing spent nuclear fuel is through transmutation, a method where an unstable isotope of an element is converted to a more stable one. The authors of this article explore several potential methods of transmutation, through neutron, proton, and photon bombardment. In each method, the goal of transmutation is to decrease the ratio of unstable to stable atoms. The nature of this method lends itself towards the processing of minor actinide wastes present in spent nuclear fuel. The authors then look at each common isotope found in high level waste and examine the benefits and risks of applying these methods to each. The article concludes that each method should be researched as each has benefits for certain isotopes. The article shows in reprocessing, technologies researched fulfill niches. Unlike the PUREX method discussed by Herbst, this method focuses on the non-recyclable portion of waste.

Geologic Storage

Bates, E.A., Driscoll, M.J., Lester, R.K., & Arnold, B.W. (2014). Can deep boreholes solve America׳s nuclear waste problem?. Energy Policy, 72, 186-189.

This is a literature review by a MIT professor of the nuclear engineering department. The review is broken down into three sections discussing deep borehole disposal. The first is regarding the required geology for a successful borehole to properly store the radioactive material. The second discusses the benefits of having multiple, small disposal sites. The third section discusses the costs and technological feasibility. What’s useful about this article is the fact it combines all of the most recent advancements into one place to give a good overview of the current state of the art. While having a pro-borehole bias, it is also critical of it in its shortcomings and what has to be done to make it a more viable solution.

Beswick, A. J., Gibb, F. G. F., & Travis, K. P. (2014) Deep borehole disposal of nuclear waste: engineering challenges. In Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. London, UK: Institution of Civil Engineers Publishing.

This conference proceeding is authored by a drilling professional and materials science and engineering professors. It explores the technical aspects of applying conceptual ideas created by nuclear researchers. The forms in which waste is stored is examined. Next, the process of drilling boreholes is discussed, and the technologies available. It has found boreholes still need sealing and support matrices developed. The different methods of putting the waste at the bottom of the borehole is explored, such as wireline and drill pipe. The authors suggest that technology is close enough that a sample borehole be made. They suggest that by doing so, concerns in the technology can be dealt with and the plan made viable. The authors offer a view of constructing the borehole and its challenges, but also suggest the main obstacle is no prior examples. If one is built, the technology will be quickly accepted.

Grambow, B., Bretesché S. (2014). Geological disposal of nuclear waste: II. From laboratory data to the safety analysis – Addressing societal concerns. Applied Geochemistry, 49, 247–258.

Rather than looking at borehole design, this article explore looks at the safety standards that have to be met by borehole designs and the laboratory tests that attempt to prove them. The author discusses the validity of models, finding that most models in literature are, at best, only partially validated. The authors then go into the areas where safety analyses have not yet been made, leaving wholes in literature. Finally, the author delves into the societal meaning of the safety standards legally required. For example, what implications are made when a solution must prove 10,000 year stability? The author concludes the reason why models are used is because of a lack of communication with the public, and argues for the inclusion of social sciences to decision making. While other focus on improving technical aspects, this one reevaluates the criteria mandated. The authors also agree with the USGAO regarding the need for communication with the public.

Space Disposal

Burns, R. E., Causey, W. E., Galloway, W. E., & Nelson R. W. (1978).  Nuclear Waste Disposal in Space. Huntsville, Al: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

This study builds on the original 1973 study. The first report demonstrated technological feasibility, but this one expands on the original criteria and compares problems inherent in various options to recommend the best alternatives. The study concludes sending all high level waste into space is impractical, but when the reusable components are separated the method is feasible. The best location for the waste is on the moon’s surface or in a solar orbit. The waste containers will need to rely on engineering for thermal control, but materials exist where it should be possible. It has found that overall, space disposal is not an attractive option. The study distinguishes the key problem geological storage and space disposal. The risk in space disposal is getting the waste to its location. This study has since become the baseline for the rejection of space disposal, and statistics from it are still used to contradict space disposal.

 Kim, H., Park, C., & Kwon, O.J. (2016). Conceptual design of the space disposal system for the highly radioactive component of the nuclear waste. Energy, 115 (1), 155-168.

The last significant original proposal for space disposal of nuclear waste was in 1973 by NASA. Technology has changed since then and this article proposes a new space disposal system accounting for the new knowledge known. In this article, the author performs thermodynamic calculations, designs potential flight trajectories, determine a drop-off location, and calculating safety risks. The author makes the claim that space disposal of waste is a viable method of disposal that should be revisited by the nuclear community. This article is notable as disagreement with the majority of the scientific community. The current consensus is that geologic storage is the best path to follow, but here the author suggests space disposal is not fairly viewed because of outdated information and a lack of research. It is also the only modern peer-reviewed article on the topic. The author also disagrees with lunar surface storage, opting for a heliocentric option.

Other references

Bingham, P. A. & Hand, R. J. (2006). Vitrification of toxic wastes: A brief review. Advances in Applied Ceramics, 105 (1), 21-31. DOI: 10.1179/174367606X81687

Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, 42 U.S.C. §§ 10101-10270 (2015).

Tsukada, T., Takahashi, K., & Yoshiki, N. (2008). Behavior of Uranium in the Partitioning Process of PUREX Reprocessing. Journal of Nuclear Science and Technology,45 (2), 179–194