Quantcast
Energy

Still No Solution to Storage of High-Level Radioactive Nuclear Waste

A private consortium formed to deal with Europe’s most difficult nuclear waste at a site in Britain’s beautiful Lake District has been sacked by the British government because not sufficient progress has been made in making it safe.

Highly radioactive waste, dangerous for as long as 200,000 years, has to be isolated and guarded in every country that has dabbled in nuclear energy. Cartoon credit: www.sanonofresafety.org/nuclear-waste/

It is the latest setback for an industry that claims nuclear power is the low-carbon answer to climate change, but has not yet found a safe resting place for radioactive rubbish it creates when nuclear fuel and machinery reaches the end of its life.

Dealing with the waste stored at this one site at Sellafield—the largest of a dozen nuclear sites in Britain—already costs the UK taxpayer £2 billion a year, and it is expected to be at least as much as this every year for half a century.

Hundreds of people are employed to prevent the radioactivity leaking or overheating to cause a nuclear disaster, and the cost of dealing with the waste at this site alone has already risen to £70 billion.

Dangerous to humans

This extraordinary legacy of dangerous radioactive waste is present in every country that has adopted nuclear power as a form of electricity production, as well as those with nuclear weapons. No country has yet solved the problem of how to deal with waste that remains dangerous to humans for thousands of years.

Among the many other countries that have a serious unresolved nuclear waste problem are the U.S., Russia, China, India, Japan, France, Germany and Canada, as well as a number of eastern European countries that have aging Russian reactors. Only Sweden seems to have practical plans to deal with its nuclear waste, and these are years away from completion.

Many countries, including Germany and Italy, have rejected nuclear power, partly because they cannot find a solution to the waste problem. But many others—including the UK, India and China—intend to go on building them even though it stores up a dangerous radioactive legacy for future generations.

The problem began after the Second World War when, in the rush to build atomic weapons, the governments of the U.S., Russia and the UK gave no heed to the high dangerous nuclear waste it was creating in the process. This problem continued, even in non-weapon states such as Germany and Japan, when nuclear power was seen as a new, cheap form of electricity production.

Ill-founded hope

The belief was always that science would find some way of neutralising the dangerous radioactivity, and then it could be buried as simply as any other rubbish. This hope has proved to be ill-founded.

Highly radioactive waste, dangerous for as long as 200,000 years, has to be isolated and guarded in every country that has dabbled in nuclear energy. At Sellafield, huge water tanks filled with unknown quantities of radioactive rubbish have yet to be emptied.

The only bright spot is Sweden, which has a deep depository to dispose of short-lived waste in stable granite formations. Other similar depositories are planned along the same lines for more dangerous spent fuel, but these are still at the planning stage.

Long-term problem

Constructing these is likely to take another 30 years, so even in Sweden storing the waste is still a long-term problem. The argument is that once the depositories have been built and sealed, the granite will be stable for millions of years—long enough for the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

Unfortunately for most countries, they do not have these stable granite formations. Britain has granite in the Lake District, but the rock is fractured and water filters through it, raising the possibility of radioactivity leaching out.

The British government promised four years ago it would not build any more nuclear power stations until it had found a solution to this 50-year-old problem. But it has abandoned the promise because it is no nearer building a Swedish-style depository, even though it is now offering financial bribes to communities to host an underground cavern.

The official position is that Britain is still on course for finding a Swedish-style deep depository for nuclear waste, but no one can say where or when it could be built.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Nukes Fade As Wind and Solar Soar

Activists Permanently Shut Down Vermont Yankee Nuke Plant

Renewables Help Push Nuclear Giants to Brink of Collapse

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
A train at Metro-North Railroad's Croton-Harmon station, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 30, 2012. Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York / CC BY 2.0

The Big Apple Loses to Big Oil as Judge Dismisses Climate Liability Suit

A federal judge ruled on Thursday in favor of a motion by five big oil companies to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them by New York City, which demanded they pay the costs of adapting the city's infrastructure to climate change, The New York Times reported.

The ruling comes nearly a month after a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed a similar case brought by the cities of Oakland and San Francisco.

Keep reading... Show less
GMO
Brian Smith and his cousin Hughes, both fifth generation soybean farmers in Mississippi County, Arkansas, stand in soybean fields their family tend to that show signs of having been affected by dicamba use in August, 2017. Getty Images

New Dicamba Drift Estimate: 1.1 Million Acres Damaged Already in 2018

A University of Missouri report released Thursday estimates that drift damage from the pesticide dicamba has occurred across 1.1 million acres of agricultural crops, trees and other plants so far this year.

This comes less than a year after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many states introduced additional restrictions meant to prevent off-target damage from the pesticide. Last year dicamba drift wreaked havoc on a reported 3.6 million acres of soybean crops not genetically engineered to resist the notoriously drift-prone pesticide.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Andreas Gücklhorn

Most Popular Energy Source? Everyone Loves Solar

By John Rogers

A recent survey shows yet again that solar panels (and wind turbines) have a level of bipartisan popularity that would be the envy of any politician. That means we'll have something safe to talk about at the next barbecue after all.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Moon with orange-colored troposphere band, the lowest and most dense portion of the earth's atmosphere. NASA

‘Powerful Evidence’ of Global Warming’s Effect on Seasons Found in Troposphere

By Daisy Dunne

Scientists studying the troposphere—the lowest level of the atmosphere—have found "powerful evidence" that climate change is altering seasonal temperatures.

A study published in Science finds that climate change has caused an increase in the difference between summer and winter temperatures across North America and Eurasia over the past four decades.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Susan Hedman, administrator of EPA's Region 5 during the Flint water crisis, testifies before congress. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

EPA Watchdog Finds Agency Failed in Flint Water Crisis

A report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) internal watchdog organization published Thursday argued that the EPA needed to step up its monitoring of state drinking water in the aftermath of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, CBS reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Emilie Chen / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Against All Odds, Mountain Gorilla Numbers Are on the Rise

By Jason Bittel

The news coming out of East Africa's Virunga Mountains these days would have made the late (and legendary) conservationist Dian Fossey very happy. According to the most recent census, the mountain gorillas introduced to the world in Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey's book and the film about her work, have grown their ranks from 480 animals in 2010 to 604 as of June 2016. Add another couple hundred apes living in scattered habitats to the south, and their population as a whole totals more than 1,000. Believe it or not, this makes the mountain gorilla subspecies the only great apes known to be increasing in number.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Animals
The Florida manatee is one of the animals currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. USFWS / Southeast

Trump Administration Announces Sweeping Proposal to Weaken Endangered Species Act

A week after House Republicans announced legislation intended to weaken the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Trump administration joined the attack with a proposal environmentalists say would favor developers over vulnerable plant and animal species.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
Denver will get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Robert Kash / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Denver to Go 100 Percent Renewable by 2030

Denver became the 73rd city in the U.S. to commit to 100 percent renewable energy when Mayor Michael Hancock announced the goal in his State of the City speech Monday, The Denver Post reported.

The commitment is part of the city's larger 80×50 Climate Action Plan unveiled by Hancock Tuesday, which seeks to reduce Denver's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2050.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!