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Nuclear Wastes and the Hydrologic Cycle

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  • 1 Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ont., Canada M5S 1A4
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Nuclear wastes now accumulating at power stations in Canada and the United States are spent fuel (which contains fission products and actinides, both intensely radioactive) and reactor wastes (which are the lower grade contaminated accessory items). Both countries will soon have to decide whether to reprocess the rods, and thereby create high-level liquid wastes akin to those of the military plutonium program. Either spent fuel or immobilized high-level wastes will eventually require disposal in underground repositories. The risk that they may reach man and ecosystems is almost entirely via the hydrologic cycle—basically, groundwater movement, retarded by sorption of most radionuclides. This danger calls for fully integrated, multidisciplinary study of the complete cycle for the basin containing the repository. Hence, the hydrometeorologist and hydrologist have key roles to play in this vital environmental problem.

1 Notes for the luncheon address at the Second Conference on Hydrometeorology of the American Meteorological Society and the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, Toronto, Ont., Canada, 26 October 1977.

Nuclear wastes now accumulating at power stations in Canada and the United States are spent fuel (which contains fission products and actinides, both intensely radioactive) and reactor wastes (which are the lower grade contaminated accessory items). Both countries will soon have to decide whether to reprocess the rods, and thereby create high-level liquid wastes akin to those of the military plutonium program. Either spent fuel or immobilized high-level wastes will eventually require disposal in underground repositories. The risk that they may reach man and ecosystems is almost entirely via the hydrologic cycle—basically, groundwater movement, retarded by sorption of most radionuclides. This danger calls for fully integrated, multidisciplinary study of the complete cycle for the basin containing the repository. Hence, the hydrometeorologist and hydrologist have key roles to play in this vital environmental problem.

1 Notes for the luncheon address at the Second Conference on Hydrometeorology of the American Meteorological Society and the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, Toronto, Ont., Canada, 26 October 1977.

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