What Is Waste Vitrification?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2019
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Vitrification stabilizes nuclear waste for secure storage. In this process, the waste is mixed with glass and heated to form bonds. The liquid glass mixture is poured into canisters where it is allowed to solidify into a solid column. Technicians seal the canisters, check the exterior for contamination, and then secure them in storage facilities. This technique for handling nuclear waste is used in a number of countries, some of which process nuclear materials for countries that don’t have appropriate facilities for handling it.

The use of nuclear materials to generate energy generates a relatively small volume of waste, but it adds up over time. Much of this waste can be reprocessed to remove useful elements, leaving behind a minimal amount of material with highly concentrated and dangerous radiation. Nuclear power producers need a way to effectively control it over generations, until the material emits enough radiation to return to a more neutral state. Waste vitrification offers a number of advantages.

Finished columns of glass resist incursion by water and other elements, which makes them less subject to degradation. Waste vitrification is much safer than keeping waste in storage ponds and underground bunkers, where it can leach into the environment and cause problems. Firms can also cut down on the volume of excess material with this technique, which makes it easier to set up and secure facilities for storage. The vitrified waste is still dangerous, but it can be effectively controlled inside the storage canisters.


Nuclear power producers may opt to use waste vitrification for spent nuclear fuel and other waste in several different ways. One is to establish facilities on site to process their own extra nuclear material. This may include a backlog of stored material that isn’t yet secured, in the case of facilities that have been relying on temporary storage. Another option is to ship it in secure containers to another location where waste vitrification can be performed. If this involves crossing international borders, the processed waste may be later returned to the country it originated from for final disposition.

Handling nuclear waste is a complex topic. Waste vitrification doesn’t resolve the radioactivity problem, only securing the waste in a reasonably safe manner. Nuclear fuel users need to think about the impacts of processing and storage over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. This requires considerations like building appropriate storage facilities and creating effective warning signs and notices that can be understood by future generations.



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