Nuclear waste overboard

Rusting barrels of nuclear waste dumped by UK between 1950 and 1963.

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Nuclear waste overboard

Nuclear waste

Nuclear waste is produced at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from uranium mining and enrichment, to reactor operation and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Much of this nuclear waste will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years, leaving a poisonous legacy to future generations.

Nuclear waste is often just dumped with little thought to safe storage.

Decommissioning nuclear facilities will also create large amounts ofradioactive wastes. Many of the world's nuclear sites will requiremonitoring and protection for centuries after they are closed down.

The global volume of spent fuel was 220,000 tonnes in the year 2000, and is growing by approximately 10,000 tonnes annually. Despite billions of dollars of investment in various disposal options, the nuclear industry and governments have failed to come up with a feasible and sustainable solution.

Most of the current proposals for dealing with highly radioactivenuclear waste involve burying it in deep underground sites. Whether thestorage containers, the store itself, or the surrounding rocks willoffer enough protection to stop radioactivity from escaping in the longterm is impossible to predict.

An example of where industry plans have been exposed as flawed is the proposed dump site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, US. After nearly 20 years of research and billions of dollars of investment, not one gram of spent fuel has so far been shipped to the site from nuclear reactors across the US. Major uncertainties in the geological suitability for waste disposal at the site remain, with on-going investigations into manipulation of scientific data and the threat of legal action by the State government.

In addition to high-level waste problems, there are numerous examplesof existing disposal sites containing low level waste which are alreadyleaking radiation into the environment. Drigg in the UK and CSM in LeHague, France being just two.

Currently no options have been able to demonstrate that waste will remain isolated from the environment over the tens to hundreds of thousands of years. There is no reliable method to warn future generations about the existence of nuclear waste dumps.

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