Britain is paying dearly for neglecting its nuclear waste via The Economist

SWILLING around murky ponds in the oldest part of Sellafield, a nuclear research and reprocessing centre in Cumbria, is a soupy, radioactive sludge. For years boffins working on Britain’s first military and civil nuclear programmes abandoned spent fuel and other nastiness into the pools and tanks, which now grow decrepit. Though perhaps not the “slow-motion Chernobyl” which some environmental campaigners make out, the site is subject to one of the most complex nuclear clean-ups in the world.

The NDA has “learnt lessons” from Sellafield, says Bill Hamilton, a spokesman. No one expects the sites in its latest contract—which include shuttered power stations at Hinkley Point, Sizewell and Dungeness—to prove nearly as complicated. Its chosen contractor will remove some of the nastiest waste and demolish superfluous buildings, but will not have to dismantle the reactors themselves, which will stand idle, and toxic, for up to 70 years.

That will give some of the remaining radiation time to dissipate, making the final demolition a little easier. But this slow process is also a way of putting off the bill. Stephen Thomas of the University of Greenwich would prefer a speedier clean-up, which might reduce the likelihood of future leaks and also ensure the skills needed to safely dispose of the stations will not decay. He regrets that each year NDA has only enough money to do “the minimum needed to keep them out of court”.

Shaving decades off the decommissioning periods would indeed probably save money in the long run. Yet that depends on authorities swiftly finding a place to hold the radioactive rubble. At present shallow vaults in newer parts of Sellafield hold Britain’s most troublesome waste, but that is an expensive and temporary solution, and not a good way to secure the many thousands of tonnes of additional toxic debris that would be produced by taking apart Britain’s reactors.

Read more.

This entry was posted in *English and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply