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High-Level Waste is the actual spent fuel, or the residual waste from reprocessing spent fuel. The U.S. does not reprocess its spent fuel. Therefore, all the highly radioactive isotopes remain within it, and the whole fuel assemblies are treated as high level waste. The disadvantage of this “once-through” fuel cycle is that partially used nuclear fuel is treated as waste, thereby increasing the volume and complexity of disposal.
High level waste is very radioactive and, therefore, requires special shielding during handling and transport. It also needs cooling, because it generates quite a lot of heat because of the high radioactivity level.
A typical large nuclear reactor produces 25-30 tons of spent fuel per year. If the fuel were reprocessed and vitrified, the waste would be only about 3 cubic meters per year.
Center for Nuclear Science and Technology Information of the American Nuclear Society
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