2003 Photo Contest, Science & Technology, 1st prize

Peter Essick

National Geographic

05 April, 2001

Spent nuclear reactor fuel is kept sealed in steel cylinders behind glass walls, at a government facility. A long-awaited cleanup is underway at 114 of the US's nuclear facilities. The nuclear age has produced 52,000 tons of spent fuel from commercial, military and research nuclear reactors, as well as some 91 million gallons of waste from plutonium processing - both are classified as high-level waste, the most dangerously radioactive kind. Radioactivity can last for millions of years. Depleted uranium, contaminated tools, and plutonium itself are among other products of the nuclear industry requiring safe storage. High-level waste in the USA is accumulating at a rate of more than 2,000 tons a year. In addition to waste storage, nuclear reactors must be decommissioned and contaminated soil and groundwater cleaned up.

About the photographer

Peter Essick

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