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Why it is: Unaffordable - Dangerous - Unnecessary - Bad For The Environment



Since the National Union of Seamen put a stop to the dumping at sea of radioactive waste from nuclear power stations, highly dangerous high level waste - plutonium and uranium - has been stored in ponds at Sellafield in Cumbria, awaiting a long term solution to its disposal. So far all attempts to find a safe solution have failed.


The nuclear programme in the UK over the last 70 years has left an enormous problem of accrued radioactive waste, some of which is highly radioactive and is still just sitting there waiting to be dealt with. The truth is there is no perfectly safe solution. Some of the waste will be active and dangerous for 100,000 years. So why would we want to create even more nuclear waste? 


 What is it? 


 High Level Waste (HLW) is very radioactive waste in which the temperature may rise significantly as a result of its radioactivity, so this factor has to be taken into account in the design of storage or disposal facilities.  

The National Decommissioning Agency 


The products of nuclear fission have long half lives, which means that they will continue to be radioactive – and therefore hazardous- for many thousands of years. This means that, if anything were to happen to the waste cylinders in which nuclear waste is stored, this material can be extremely volatile and dangerous for many years to come. Since hazardous nuclear waste is often not sent off to special locations to be stored, this means that it is relatively easy to find, and if anyone with ill intent were to look for nuclear waste to serve unpleasant purposes, they may well be able to find some and use it.


According to Wikipedia:

"High-level waste is full of highly radioactive fission products, most of which are relatively short-lived. This is a concern since if the waste is stored, perhaps in deep geological storage, over many years the fission products decay, decreasing the radioactivity of the waste and making the plutonium easier to access. The undesirable contaminant Pu-240 decays faster than the Pu-239, and thus the quality of the bomb material increases with time (although its quantity decreases during that time as well). Thus, some have argued, as time passes, these deep storage areas have the potential to become "plutonium mines", from which material for nuclear weapons can be acquired with relatively little difficulty. Critics of the latter idea have pointed out the difficulty of recovering useful material from sealed deep storage areas makes other methods preferable. Specifically, high radioactivity and heat (80 °C in surrounding rock) greatly increase the difficulty of mining a storage area, and the enrichment methods required have high capital costs."




How much is there in the UK? 


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National Decommissioning Agency


As you can see from the graph, High Level Radioactive Waste is a small percentage of all the nuclear waste in the UK, but it is still a huge amount – 1,390 cubic metres, about and the material to be buried is so radioactive that it is still physically hot, and will be for thousands of years 


How will the nuclear industry deal with it?


Many different storage methods have been discussed over the decades, with very few being implemented because of the problematic nature of storing such hazardous material that will remain radioactive for thousands of years. Among the suggestions that were considered were: above ground storage; ejection into space; ocean disposal and disposal into ice sheets. 


 Of these, only one was implemented – ocean disposal. This was the method – actually used by thirteen different countries, including the UK – of dumping radioactive waste into the oceans in order to get rid of it. Thankfully this practice is no longer implemented.


The issue of dumping nuclear waste at sea was highly pertinent on Severnside. 


Up until the 1980’s UK’s waste was put into concrete boxes to be disposed of at sea. It was taken on ships from Sharpness on the River Severn out to the Atlantic off Spain. The practice was only stopped following action by a brave man from Stroud who stood on scaffolding erected on the railway line to Sharpness docks, drawing national attention to the issue. Following this protest, the National Union of Seamen refused to carry out the work, effectively ending the practice in the UK. In Scotland they are still looking at the possibility of storing their highly radioactive waste by partial burial in a monitorable and retrievable position. This Policy enables options to be considered, which may require research or development, recognising that advances may be made over time to manage wastes for which long-term options are not currently feasible.

Scottish Government Publications


In England and Wales, High level radioactive waste is to be buried between 200 and 1,000 metres below the ground where it will be sealed and be irretrievable. 


 The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority believe this is the only possible action to be taken due to the extremely long lifetime of the material, although they accept that in hundreds of thousands of years there may not be the personnel required to monitor it and deal with it if there is a problem. 


Some of the material to be buried is so radioactive that it is still physically hot, and will be for thousands of years; and so tubes of it will need to be spaced apart by 5 -10 meters in rocks with very high thermal capacity. 


This means that a huge acreage of land will be required for a small amount of radioactive material. 


 Where will they put it? 


 Their first step is to find suitable geological sites – depending on rock type, ground water, rock structure, natural processes and resources. 


“The north-east port town of Hartlepool is one of the sites in the frame as a potential site for a geological disposal facility (GDF), while a former gas terminal point at Theddlethorpe, near the Lincolnshire coast, is another. Cumbria, where much of the waste is stored above ground, is also being considered.


 “The facility is intended to deal with the long-running problem of nuclear waste storage by providing a safe deposit for approximately 750,000 cubic metres of high-activity waste hundreds of metres underground in areas thought to have suitable geology to securely isolate the radioactive material. The waste would be solidified, packaged and placed into deep subterranean vaults. The vaults would then be backfilled and the surrounding network of tunnels and chambers sealed.


“The UK would be following the example of Finland, where a geological repository for high-level spent nuclear fuel is under construction at Olkiluoto. A handful of other countries are considering similar schemes in an attempt to tackle the long-term dilemma of radioactive waste management.


"Between 70% and 75% of the UK’s high-activity radioactive waste, which would be designated for the GDF, is stored at the Sellafield facility in west Cumbria. The sources of the waste include power generation, military, medical and civil uses.”

The Guardian


The second step will be to sell the idea to local communities that may want to consider the exploration of the suitability of a site. They accept they got it wrong in Cumbria (where the notion was rejected by Parish, District and County Councils). So the ‘community’ may not necessarily be a council, but a land owner or a village for example. 


The community will be paid £1,000,000 a year for the exploration years – putting down exploratory bore holes etc. Then they will get £2,500,000 per year for the years of actually making the repository. This, they say, is in acknowledgement that there may be some disruption due to extra traffic. (No mention of the hazard of the nuclear waste!) It is difficult to call this anything other than a naked – and desperate – bribe.


The Mayor of Copeland is encouraging all local residents to get involved in discussions about geological disposal, pointing out that much of the country's radioactive waste is already hosted in the area, at Sellafield.


It may be convenient – and lucrative – for Copeland, but with Sellafield on their doorstep, haven’t they had enough?!!


And the Geological Disposal Campaign are considering building a tunnel from Sellafield out under the sea bed and placing the waste there.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority



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Institute of Materials, Minerals & Mining


Why geological disposal it is not a good idea


The following is an extract from European Parliament - ITRE Committee: Hearing "Management of Radioactive Waste", Brussels, 1 December 2010 Detlef Appel: "Considerations on deep geological disposal" 


Why geological disposal? - disadvantages

Due to the long time span to be considered:
    • long-term monitoring impossible / limited
    • long-term maintenance and repair impossible
    • not sustainable (particularly SF) (spontaneous fission)
    • correctness of long-term safety demonstration cannot be verified in terms of natural science / mathematics: predictions of future development of the disposal system, particularly of barrier behaviour, show uncertainties (incomplete acquisition and evaluation of system properties, deficiencies in process under- standing, prognostic uncertainties, ...)
    • wrong site decision (if identified at all) cannot be corrected after waste emplacement / closure ("irreversible")
European Parliament document


Future generations 


 The HLW will be stored underground forever – or until it leaks out - containers degrade, ground water gets in and pollutes a river ….. 


What will future generations make of the waste? How will they know what it is? What are we doing to our planet????



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