The new geological disposal facility is a vast underground bunker, to be buried around 500m below the Earth’s surface. It is intended to safely store approximately one Wembley Stadium’s worthof highly radioactive waste that has been generated over the past 70 years. Here, it will be isolated from the biosphere—and human populations—for the 100,000 years it will take for the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.
Radioactive waste is generated from nuclear energy, military uses and also the extensive use of isotopes in medicine. The most highly radioactive portion comes from spent nuclear fuel—the used uranium fuel from inside nuclear reactors and the materials produced through recycling of spent nuclear fuel. The latter includes fission products that are transformed to glass and plutonium (which is currently neither a resource nor a waste).
These materials contain radioactive isotopes that have half-lives (the amount of time taken for half of the radioactivity to decay) of tens to hundreds of thousands of years. This means any storage solution must be extremely long-lived. That’s a significant challenge—the oldest known man-made materials are of the order of several thousands of years old.
The UK is not the only country opting for this solution. In Finland, construction of the Onkalo facility has already begun. A license application has even been made to start disposing of spent nuclear fuel.
But progress in other nations has stalled: in France protesters surround the disposal facility in the village of Bure, while in Sweden, the
Environmental Court has rejected the construction license for a facility near the coastal town of Forsmark, due to safety concerns over the corrosion resistance of copper canisters.
In the U.S., senators are suing the Federal Government for not building a disposal facility. The lack of a disposal facility has meant that thousands of metric tonnes of spent nuclear fuel, have built up—stored temporarily in dry casks at sites across the country.
The first step on the road to a solution is to initiate a public conversation about what we should do with the world’s most dangerous materials in the long term. If you are interested, a good first step could be to watch the video above and start discussing the topic with your friends, family and local authorities.
Read more at Nuclear waste is piling up: Governments need to stop dithering and take action