Daily Archives: December 22, 2011

State of the World: Nuclear Waste

With more than 400 nuclear power plants in 32 countries, nuclear waste disposal is no longer an afterthought…  No nation yet has opened a permanent geological repository. But plans are well advanced in some countries, notably Finland and Sweden.  Canada plans to open a deep repository for high-level waste around 2035, though much work lies ahead, including finding a suitable site. Transferring the estimated four million spent fuel bundles into the vault will take an additional 30 years…

In the United States, the Obama administration’s recent decision to cancel the 2015 opening of a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada’s remote desert country has left jittery and angry American nuclear power producers sitting on enormous amounts of spent fuel crammed into interim storage for an indefinite additional period. The country’s 104 commercial power reactors churn out more every day. Cancellation of the project, which cost an estimated $9 billion and involved more than 20 years of research, is widely considered to have been based on political, not technical, concerns.But so was the original siting process. Washington in 1987 unilaterally deemed the waste was going to Yucca without seriously considering other potential sites. Not surprisingly, Nevada citizens have railed against the top-down plan ever since.

If the government doesn’t bow to pressure and reverse its decision, U.S. nuclear waste planners will be going back to the drawing board for what promises to be another very prolonged and expensive exercise.

The World Nuclear Association says deep geological disposal is the preferred option for several other countries, too, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea and Spain.

FINLAND: Olkiluoto, on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia in western Finland, was chosen and excavation and construction was started in 2004 by Posiva Oy, a nuclear waste management company. The repository is named Onkalo. Scheduled to open in 2020, spent nuclear fuel packed in copper canisters will be embedded in bedrock at a depth of around 400 metres. Onkalo will be the world’s first permanent nuclear waste crypt.

FRANCE:  Almost 80 per cent of France’s energy comes from 59 nuclear power reactors…The French radioactive waste disposal agency, Andra, is designing a deep geological repository in clays at Bure in eastern France for its disposal, as well as long-lived intermediate level waste. Andra expects to apply for a construction and operating licence in 2014.

GERMANY:  In May, as the enormity of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex disaster became clearer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to phase-out nuclear power from the country’s 17 reactors by 2020.  Like France, Germany reprocesses its waste — but at reprocessing facilities in France, Russian and Britain. The reprocessed waste is then shipped back to Germany and stored in a former salt mine in the northern town of Gorleben.  In 1979, Gorleben was selected as a temporary nuclear waste site, but the government recently resumed research to make it into a permanent storage site. In November, thousands of protesters clashed with police in an unsuccessful bid to halt a Gorleben-bound train of reprocessing waste from France.

RUSSIA: Used fuel from 27 reactors is reprocessed for plutonium. Four geological disposal facilities are planned to begin operation in 2025-2030.

INDIA: Spent fuel from 14 reactors is stored in pools, then reprocessed. A geological repository is planned but not sited.

SWEDEN: Forsmark, on the east coast of Uppland and site of a nuclear power plant, has been chosen, When open in 2023, it is to safely hold spent fuel 500 metres underground for 100,000 years.

SWITZERLAND: The country had been reprocessing its high-level waste abroad in France and Britain, but enacted a 10-year reprocessing moratorium in 2006. Spent fuel is now kept at the country’s five reactor sites.  Two sites are under investigation as possible locations for two national waste repositories, one for low- and medium-level waste and one for spent fuel.  In June, meanwhile, the country resolved not to replace any reactors and phase-out nuclear power by 2034.

BRITAIN: Used fuel from its 31 reactors is reprocessed and the vitrified waste is stored above ground for 50 years.  In 2003, the government established the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to investigate options for a long-term management approach. In 2008, the committee recommended deep geological disposal, which the government endorsed.

Excerpts, By Ian MacLeod, The global nuclear waste race,The Ottawa Citizen December 20, 2011