Given the large numbers of radioactive elements and wastes, understanding the properties of each waste is not an easy task as it would mean studying hundreds of compounds. The classification of radioactive wastes was developed to enable the grouping of similar compounds in similar groups thereby providing a simplified approach to the management of wastes. This paper looks at the systems of classification of radioactive wastes in Japan and the U.S. The paper also compares these systems of classification with those set by the IAEA.

The U.S. was the first country to generate a working nuclear reactor as well as to discharge a nuclear weapon (Lowenthal 2). Consequently, guidelines that regulated the operations of nuclear substances considered nuclear plants operated by the government. Initially, the classification of radioactive wastes in the US was based on attributes such as rate of exposure, the possibilities of spreading, and the mode of production of the waste. However, the need to take precautions when disposing of wastes led to the development of a novel classification system that considered the characteristics of the disposal site (Lowenthal 1). The shift implied that the disposal of radioactive wastes was a vital procedure that could have hazardous consequences if not carried out properly.

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Currently, the classification of wastes in the U.S. is based on various attributes, for example, according to statutes and regulations, worker hazards or transport, and method of disposal (Lowenthal 12). The classification of wastes according to regulations leads to the development of six groups of radioactive wastes. These groups are the high-level waste (HLW), spent nuclear fuel (SNF), transuranic waste (TRUW), uranium mining and mill tailings, low-level wastes, and naturally occurring and accelerator-produced radioactive materials (NORM/NARM) (Lowenthal 8).