Nuclear wastes refer to the by-products and residues created after nuclear fuel is burned in a reactor or during the development of a nuclear weapon. The waste is highly radioactive and possesses a significant threat to both living animals and the environment. Most of the radioactive wastes found in nuclear plants encompass small amounts of uranium pellets stored in alloy fuel rods, which take thousands of years to decay. As such, the proper and safe disposal of these wastes is necessary, and so is the need for well-developed and advanced service providers dedicated to handling it. The number of these service providers has significantly grown in the past decade, creating what is now known as the nuclear waste management services market.
Nuclear Wastes Management
Nuclear waste management concerns how radioactive materials created during the production of nuclear weapons and nuclear power are dealt with. Radioactive waste encompasses a mix of short and long-lived nuclides. In 2002, Abdel-Karim’s et al report revealed that there was over 50,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste in the U.S alone (392). The majorities of studies focus on the inherent problems associated with nuclear waste and very few highlight the emerging nuclear waste management market, which already accounts for $5.7 billion in the global economy (Prnewswire). As such, this paper focuses on the emerging market for global nuclear waste management. The topic is significant because it comes at a time when the demand for nuclear waste management services is projected to double in relation to the increase in investments in nuclear power for the next decade. Moreover, the demand for these services will continue growing due to the mounting pressures from environmentalists coupled with the strict government regulations aimed at minimizing harmful radioactive emissions into the ecosystem.
The Spent Fuel and Nuclear Waste Management Market
Although the volume of nuclear waste generated from the production of nuclear power is relatively small compared to other alternatives such as thermal power, the safe and proper management of radioactive waste is of utmost importance for the local and global environment. However, practically all nuclear waste must be contained and managed through deep and even permanent interment (burial). Even so, the investments in nuclear plants and research are expected to double by 2050, thereby increasing the volume of radioactive waste. Currently, the position of the international consensus regarding nuclear waste management is that waste should be disposed geologically (Mordorintelligence). One of the primary factors driving the waste management market is the ongoing and upcoming nuclear plant clean-up activities across the world. Consequently, the demand for nuclear waste management services will continue rising to reflect the current global trends.
The safe disposal of spent fuel generated by nuclear power plants is one of the most essential steps in the nuclear fuel cycle. However, although 30 percent of the spent fuel produced globally is often reused, most of it is stored until a decision on whether to further process or dispose of it is made (Ewing, Robert, and Bruce 234). However, there are a few companies that are entirely dedicated to managing radioactive wastes; as such, most of the nuclear plants are responsible for managing their own wastes. Ewing, Robert, and Bruce argue that with the expected growth in nuclear plants, more companies are likely to commit towards the safe, secure, and sustainable management of the spent fuel, which involves the storage after withdrawal from the plant’s core followed by either its processing or final disposal (236). Consequently, the growth of the nuclear waste management market is contingent on the expected increase in investments in nuclear power. Figure 1 shows the market size and demand forecast for 2021, 2022, and 2023. The market is expected to continue growing as plants are forced to adhere to the strict government regulations as well as due to calls from environmentalists to minimize harmful radioactive emissions into the environment.
Figure 1. Shows the Market Trends in Managing Radioactive Emissions (Mordorintelligence)
The growing need for clean energy from nuclear power plants significantly augments the growth in the radioactive waste management market. As environmentalists and governments across the world continue imposing stringent requirements among nuclear plants to minimize the waste amounts, the services of radioactive waste managers becomes more apparent. Grambow further adds that the stringent requirements and norms are reinforced by the government regulations developed to inhibit toxic radioactive emissions (239). As such, the increased need for reliable energy mandates more investments in clean nuclear power projects, which in turn drive the global nuclear waste management market. Ewing, Robert, and Bruce note that there is an inherent risk associated with the management of nuclear waste, involving the high cost of treatment and transportation which significantly undermines the market growth (233). However, the emerging trends in technology have and will continue being instrumental in mitigating the factors that undermine the growth of the market. For instance, the development of sturdy containers that leverage the latest technology to shield radioactivity waves from escaping helps mitigate the challenges associated with transportation.
The demand for nuclear waste management services is projected to double in the next decade in relation to the increase in investments in nuclear power. Most of the investments will be made in the pressurized water reactors segment, which will hold the maximum share of the nuclear waste management market. The majorities of the future reactors will come into operation in the coming years between 2023 and 2026 (Figure 2). As a result, the overall demand for nuclear waste disposal sites and services will significantly increase. This will, in turn, drive growth in the radioactive waste management market growth, especially in the pressurized water reactors segment. High-level waste accounts for over 92 percent of the radioactive waste management market (Maximizemarketresearch). Most of the high-level waste can have short and long-lived components based on the time it takes for the nuclear waste to decay to sustainable levels, which pose little to no threat to living things and the surrounding environment.
Figure 2. Shows the Nuclear Waste Management Market Size (Maximizemarketresearch)
Industries such as defense, mining, medicine, nuclear power generation, and scientific research are the biggest producers of radioactive waste. Consequently, the need for nuclear waste management services has never been greater since each industry is expected to experience significant growth in the next decade. For instance, governments across the world are constantly seeking novel ways in which they can increase their defense spending and investments in the healthcare sector and scientific research. Moreover, the expected rise in the demand for energy from emerging economies, such as India and China, coupled with the increased levels of greenhouse gases emissions has forced nations across the globe to invest in alternatives, such as nuclear power generation. These trends have and will continue spurring growth in the global nuclear waste management market.
Most researchers have shied away from investigating the growth in the nuclear waste management market. Moreover, the analysis confirms the argument that the demand for nuclear waste management services is projected to double in the next decade in relation to the increase in investments in nuclear power. Moreover, the demand for these services will continue growing due to the mounting pressures from environmentalists in addition to the strict government regulations aimed at minimizing harmful radioactive emissions into the ecosystem. The future studies should focus on identifying the underlying implications of the expected growth in the nuclear waste management market from a social and environmental perspective.
Abdel-Karim, Abdel-Aal M., et al. “Experimental and modeling investigations of cesium and strontium adsorption onto clay of radioactive waste disposal.” Applied Clay Science, vol. 132 (2016), pp. 391-401.
Ewing, Rodney et al. “Geological disposal of nuclear waste: a primer.” Elements, vol. 12, no. 4 (2016), pp. 233-237.
Grambow, Bernd. “Geological disposal of radioactive waste in clay.” Elements, vol.12, no. 4 (2016), pp. 239-245.
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