Impacts of nuclear waste

Nuclear wastes are normally classified as low, medium or high-level, according to the amount and types of radioactivity they contain. The high-level waste produced by nuclear reactors is the longest lasting contamination risk of a nuclear power plant.

The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) is a so-called ‘Generation III’ design of nuclear reactor, designed to use fuel more efficiently. But the amount of dangerous materials in spent nuclear fuel increases significantly with the time the fuel stays in the reactor. Studies have shown that nuclear fuel from EPRs will be up to seven times more hazardous per unit of electric output because of the drastic increases in the amount of easily released, dangerous and long-lasting isotopes such as iodine-129 (1) that that produced by existing nuclear reactors(2).

All of the options for handling nuclear waste have potentially large environmental and health impacts: waste disposal sites have the potential to contaminate the environment for hundreds of thousands of years(3) if the radionuclide dispersion barriers fail; transports of high-level waste or plutonium are at risk from accidents or deliberate attacks and reprocessing facilities have large routine emissions of radioactive substances.

The impacts of a chosen method of waste management should be included in the EIA; if one has not yet been selected then impacts of all possibilities – whether waste is buried on site, transported elsewhere for disposal or reprocessed - should be assessed.

The Jaitapur EIA report ignores the impact of nuclear waste, and questions raised about it during the public hearing have been given conflicting answers. Some say that the waste will be transported away from the site for reprocessing; others indicate that the government will later decide upon establishing a reprocessing facility on site. No assessment of the impacts of either of these is presented. Questions about high-level waste are answered with information about low and medium-level wastes.

 

Sources:

(1) The amount of iodine-129 instantly released, if and when the nuclear waste dump leaks, is seven times as large in the case of the high burn-up waste produced bythe EPR reactor, compared to typical currently operating world reactors.

(2) Posiva 2008, Environmental Impact Assessment Report, p. 137. www.posiva.fi/files/519/Posiva_YVA_selostusraportti_en_lukittu.pdf, Nagra (2004): Estimates of the Instant Release Fraction for UO2 and MOX Fuel at t=0.
www.nagra.ch/g3.cms/s_page/83220/s_name/shopproductdetail1/s_element/142590/s_level
/10190/s_product/20408/searchkey/Instant%20Release%20Fraction

(3) It takes 240,000 years for radioactive plutonium to decay to a level that is safe for human exposure http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/deadly-legacy/

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