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No prospect of relief from constant nuclear headache via Climate News Network

Keeping nuclear waste safe costs billions of dollars a year, but what to do with it in the long-term is still no nearer being resolved.

LONDON, 24 January, 2015 − 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.

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.

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Among the many other countries that have a serious unresolved nuclear waste problem are the US, Russia, China, India, Japan, France, Germany and Canada, as well as a number of eastern European countries that have ageing 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 US, 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.

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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.

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