New nuclear reactor’s waste is seven times more hazardous, Greenpeace exposes

Press release - January 31, 2009
Greenpeace has uncovered evidence that nuclear waste from the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), the flagship of the nuclear industry, will be up to seven times more hazardous than waste produced by existing nuclear reactors, increasing costs and the danger to health and the environment.

The revelation comes soon after President Sarkozy's decision to build a second EPR in France.

The alarming evidence was buried in the environmental impact assessment report from Posiva, the company responsible for managing waste at the world's first EPR under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland, and in EU-funded research (1).

"This means that not only will spent nuclear fuel produced by the EPR be more dangerous than is acknowledged by the French nuclear industry, but also storage and disposal will be more expensive than the industry and governments proclaim, and will increase the overall cost of nuclear energy. The French nuclear companies Areva and EDF, which aggressively market the EPR as safe and cheap, have completely ignored the implications of the increased hazards," said John Large, an independent nuclear consultant.

No appropriate waste facilities exist or are being planned in Finland, France, or any of the countries considering buying the EPR, including the UK, the US, Canada and India. In Finland the plans awaiting approval for burying the nuclear waste are inadequate for preventing interim and long-term health risks and will pass on huge financial liabilities to future generations.  

"Nuclear energy is fast becoming the most expensive way to produce electricity and its highly radioactive waste poses an ever-increasing problem. Despite the French government's global marketing of the EPR as cheap and safe, the evidence proves otherwise," stressed Dr. Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner.  

The EPR is designed to extract more energy from nuclear fuel than any commercially operating reactor (high burn-up), in order to maximise electricity output. This causes the amount of readily released radioactive substances in spent fuel to increase disproportionately (2). The storage of the hazardous waste will be more costly for a range of reasons including required greater distances between canisters increasing the repository size, more extensive and longer-term monitoring and increased security.

"Nuclear power is nothing more than an out-of-date, expensive and failed technology from the last century. Governments that are serious about tackling climate change need to invest in renewables and energy efficiency solutions as outlined in Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution scenarios, to ensure people have a clean energy future free from the dangers of hazardous waste," (3) concluded Rianne Teule.

Other contacts: Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International Nuclear Campaigner, +31 (0) 650 640 961Beth Herzfeld, Greenpeace International Press Officer, +44 (0) 7717 802 891

Notes: (1) See page 137, Posiva’s Expansion of the Repository for Spent Nuclear Fuel, Environmental Impact Assessment Report (2008) http://www.posiva.fi/publications/Posiva_YVA_selostusraportti_en_lukittu.pdf Technical Report 04-08, Nagra (2004). http://www.nagra.ch/documents/database/dokumente/%24default/Default%20Folder/Publikationen/e_ntb04-08.pdf (2) If the fuel is disposed of by burying it in an underground nuclear waste dump, in the long-term, the largest health hazard comes from iodine-129. The amount of iodine-129 instantly released, when the nuclear waste dump eventually leaks, is seven times as large in the case of the high burn-up waste produced by the EPR, compared to typical currently operating reactors.(3) See Greenpeace’s Energy [R]evolution at http://www.energyblueprint.info