Why worry about nuclear waste? What has the future ever done for us? via Ecologist

The long term problems of what to do with nuclear waste remain entirely unsolved, writes Andrew Blowers. Yet governments and the nuclear industry continue to peddle their untenable ‘bury and forget’ policy of deep geological disposal, which only unloads the toxic legacy of modern day nuclear power and weapons onto uncountable future generations.


Yet the problem of dealing with waste and contamination that follows nuclear activity as night follows day afflicts not only those generations that get the dubious benefit of nuclear electricity, but also imposes burdens of effort, risk and cost on generations into the far and unforeseeable future.

That burden will be disproportionately borne by those communities already hosting nuclear facilities as they will be the most likely recipients of any new nuclear development.

There are two primary reasons for neglect of this issue. One is that, in today’s world, there is an emphasis on the short run, on security and jobs and investment for the present and foreseeable future of our children and grandchildren.


That is not to say that the need to care for the future is entirely neglected. Indeed, in the case of the nuclear industry the rhetoric of sustainable development is routinely expressed. For instance, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) puts it succinctly: “Radioactive waste shall be managed in such a way that will not impose undue burdens on future generations.” (IAEA, 1995, Pinciple 5).

Thus, geological disposal has become axiomatic, a scientific solution that will “isolate the waste deep inside a suitable rock formation to ensure that no significant quantity of radioactivity ever reaches the surface environment.” (Defra, 2007), p.15).


Displacement therapy?

Nowhere yet is there a repository receiving the most dangerous and long-lived high-level wastes and spent fuel. Far from making progress, disposal programmes have invariably proved to be slow, tedious and unsuccessful.

Moreover environmental, social and economic conditions in the far future are simply indeterminable. Certainly, the present state of knowledge is no basis for creating more waste in addition to the legacy that will exist from past and present nuclear activity.

The contemporary emphasis on geological disposal as the long-term, final solution to the problem is a form of displacement therapy, diverting attention from the real solution for the foreseeable (next two generations) future. The problem and the priority is the safe and secure management of the existing nuclear legacy here and now. This legacy exists and continues to grow.

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