Nuclear energy has been an ambivalent form of energy because of the large amounts of radioactive waste generated and for which a mode of permanent disposal has yet to be found in most countries and because the peaceful use of nuclear energy could be diverted for the making of nuclear weapons.
Today there is a renewed interest in the use of nuclear energy because it is a clean form energy in comparison with fossil fuels that have been considered responsible for climate change. However, three issues loom over the use of nuclear power: --One of the them has to do with the disposal or further treatment of high level nuclear wastes generated by the industry that remain active for million of years and, thus, will affect future generations. ---Another issue concerns the possible diversion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy for the production of nuclear weapons. This is an issue that is at the heart of recent dispute between the United States and Iran. ---A yet another issue pertains to the safety of nuclear power and the fears of serious accidents in nuclear powered facilities. No matter the claims about the safety of today's nuclear power reactors the public's conscience has been scarred by nuclear accidents such as the Chernobyl and the Three Mile Island Accident.
The disposal of radioactive waste is an issue of concern because, first, there is disagreement of what constitutes radioactive waste. Some claim that spent fuel produced in nuclear power facilities should be treated as waste and should be buried permanently in deep underground repositories. Others claim that spent fuel could be reprocessed and reused. The problem with preprocessing,though, is that its byproduct is plutonium that can be used for the production of nuclear weapons. Furthermore, in terms of disposal of radioactive waste, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has argued for permanent underground disposal in order to ensure that wastes will be buried permanently. Others prefer that wastes be disposed of on-the-ground facilities so that they can be monitored. Given the long life of high-level radioactive wastes, however, this option puts an excessive burden on future generations in case the institutional controls fail, something that cannot be foreseen today given the millions of years life-span of nuclear wastes. Overall the burial of radioactive wastes has created controversy and, in most countries, the location of repositories for a permanent burial of radioactive wastes has been the source of public opposition. In 1990, the IAEA adopted guidelines for the transfers of nuclear wastes for which no use is foreseen not for spent fuel that is destined for re-processing. Further the Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management entered into force in 2001. The convention clearly specifies that the prime responsibility for the safety of spent fuel or radioactive waste rests with the holder of the relevant license. If such license is not available, the state, within the jurisdiction of which spent fuel or radioactive waste management takes place, must be responsible.