Tag Archives: Nuclear Waste

Nuclear legacy is a costly headache for the future

How do you safely store spent nuclear waste? No-one knows. It’ll be a costly headache for our descendants.

LONDON, 28 June, 2021 − Many states are leaving future generations an unsolved and costly headache: how to deal with highly dangerous nuclear waste.

The decision to start closing down the United Kingdom’s second generation of nuclear power stations earlier than originally planned has highlighted the failure of governments to resolve the increasingly expensive problem of the waste they leave behind them.

Heat-producing radioactive spent fuel needs constant cooling for decades to avoid catastrophic accidents, so future generations in countries that have embraced nuclear power will all be paying billions of dollars a year, every year, for at least the next century or two to deal with this highly dangerous legacy.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its Nuclear Energy Agency looks at 12 member countries facing the problem: Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

The report shows that none of the 12 has yet got to grips with the legacy bequeathed by producing nuclear waste. None has any means yet of disposing of it. It says every country must quickly realise that the money the industry has put aside to deal with the problem is inadequate, leaving successive future generations with the bill for keeping themselves safe.

Failure to progress

Finland is closest to dealing with the internationally preferred route for making spent nuclear fuel safe: building an underground repository in rocks deep underground to store and ultimately seal up the waste in this final burial place.

The Finns have actually started building such a facility and regard it as the complete solution to the problem, even though it is still decades away from completion.

Finland’s progress is a shining example to the rest of the nuclear world. International rules require countries that create nuclear waste to deal with it within their own borders − yet most governments have failed to make progress on doing so. Some have spent decades looking for a suitable site and have failed to find one.

This has often been because local opposition has forced governments to abandon a chosen location, or because scientists judge the site too dangerous to store wastes for the required 100,000 years or so, because of poor geology. They may suspect a risk that the radioactivity could leak into water supplies, or rise to the surface and kill unwary future generations.

The funding shortfall has become much more problematic because of low inflation and the current Covid pandemic. Governments previously put money aside on the assumption that economies would constantly grow and positive interest rates would create massive long-term investments.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for nuclear wastes.

But the current low or negative return on government bonds means investments made in the past and designed to pay huge future bills will no longer be enough to deal with the cost of spent fuel and other high-level wastes.

The report says governments’ assumptions have proved optimistic. It is not directly critical of governments, but points out that “the polluter pays” principle is not being applied. New funding needs to be found, it says, if future generations are not to be saddled with this generation’s expensive and life-threatening legacy.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for past and present nuclear wastes.

As early as 1976, in the Flowers Report on nuclear power and the environment, the UK was warned that it should not build any more nuclear power stations until it had found a way of getting rid of the waste. The government agreed.

Since then, for more than 40 years, successive governments have been looking for a repository to make good on their promise. But none has yet been found, and none is expected until the current target date of 2045.

True cost unknown

Yet the OECD says the original nuclear weapons programme, plus the first generation of nuclear stations, now all closed, are costing today’s taxpayers US$4.58 billion a year (£3.3bn) just to manage the waste and keep the population safe. The cost is around $185bn (£133bn) for 17 sites over 120 years. There could be liabilities of another $200bn (£144bn) to restore the installations to greenfield sites.

The second generation of nuclear stations can call on the Nuclear Liabilities Fund, set up by the UK government when the French company EDF took over the newer British advanced gas cooled reactors (AGRs) in 2009 so that money from electricity sales could be invested to pay for de-fuelling and decommissioning at the end of their lives. The first of these, Dungeness B, on the English Channel coast, started de-fuelling this month.

The cost of dismantling this generation of reactors is estimated at $28.57bn (£20.59bn) by EDF  $10bn more than the Nuclear Liabilities Fund provides for. This shortfall is almost certainly a large under-estimate because the actual cost of closing the stations and storing the waste is unknown, let alone that of restoring the sites to greenfield conditions.

Partly this is because AGRs have never yet been taken out of service before there is a disposal route for the waste. If none is found, taxpayers will have to pay to keep it safe in closely managed stores for many decades.

Despite this, the current UK government is now building a new nuclear station at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and wants to build many more. Meanwhile the mounting financial liabilities for future generations who will need to keep the waste safe in a time of climate change are left unresolved. And so the costly headache remains for countless generations to come. − Climate News Network

How do you safely store spent nuclear waste? No-one knows. It’ll be a costly headache for our descendants.

LONDON, 28 June, 2021 − Many states are leaving future generations an unsolved and costly headache: how to deal with highly dangerous nuclear waste.

The decision to start closing down the United Kingdom’s second generation of nuclear power stations earlier than originally planned has highlighted the failure of governments to resolve the increasingly expensive problem of the waste they leave behind them.

Heat-producing radioactive spent fuel needs constant cooling for decades to avoid catastrophic accidents, so future generations in countries that have embraced nuclear power will all be paying billions of dollars a year, every year, for at least the next century or two to deal with this highly dangerous legacy.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its Nuclear Energy Agency looks at 12 member countries facing the problem: Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

The report shows that none of the 12 has yet got to grips with the legacy bequeathed by producing nuclear waste. None has any means yet of disposing of it. It says every country must quickly realise that the money the industry has put aside to deal with the problem is inadequate, leaving successive future generations with the bill for keeping themselves safe.

Failure to progress

Finland is closest to dealing with the internationally preferred route for making spent nuclear fuel safe: building an underground repository in rocks deep underground to store and ultimately seal up the waste in this final burial place.

The Finns have actually started building such a facility and regard it as the complete solution to the problem, even though it is still decades away from completion.

Finland’s progress is a shining example to the rest of the nuclear world. International rules require countries that create nuclear waste to deal with it within their own borders − yet most governments have failed to make progress on doing so. Some have spent decades looking for a suitable site and have failed to find one.

This has often been because local opposition has forced governments to abandon a chosen location, or because scientists judge the site too dangerous to store wastes for the required 100,000 years or so, because of poor geology. They may suspect a risk that the radioactivity could leak into water supplies, or rise to the surface and kill unwary future generations.

The funding shortfall has become much more problematic because of low inflation and the current Covid pandemic. Governments previously put money aside on the assumption that economies would constantly grow and positive interest rates would create massive long-term investments.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for nuclear wastes.

But the current low or negative return on government bonds means investments made in the past and designed to pay huge future bills will no longer be enough to deal with the cost of spent fuel and other high-level wastes.

The report says governments’ assumptions have proved optimistic. It is not directly critical of governments, but points out that “the polluter pays” principle is not being applied. New funding needs to be found, it says, if future generations are not to be saddled with this generation’s expensive and life-threatening legacy.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for past and present nuclear wastes.

As early as 1976, in the Flowers Report on nuclear power and the environment, the UK was warned that it should not build any more nuclear power stations until it had found a way of getting rid of the waste. The government agreed.

Since then, for more than 40 years, successive governments have been looking for a repository to make good on their promise. But none has yet been found, and none is expected until the current target date of 2045.

True cost unknown

Yet the OECD says the original nuclear weapons programme, plus the first generation of nuclear stations, now all closed, are costing today’s taxpayers US$4.58 billion a year (£3.3bn) just to manage the waste and keep the population safe. The cost is around $185bn (£133bn) for 17 sites over 120 years. There could be liabilities of another $200bn (£144bn) to restore the installations to greenfield sites.

The second generation of nuclear stations can call on the Nuclear Liabilities Fund, set up by the UK government when the French company EDF took over the newer British advanced gas cooled reactors (AGRs) in 2009 so that money from electricity sales could be invested to pay for de-fuelling and decommissioning at the end of their lives. The first of these, Dungeness B, on the English Channel coast, started de-fuelling this month.

The cost of dismantling this generation of reactors is estimated at $28.57bn (£20.59bn) by EDF  $10bn more than the Nuclear Liabilities Fund provides for. This shortfall is almost certainly a large under-estimate because the actual cost of closing the stations and storing the waste is unknown, let alone that of restoring the sites to greenfield conditions.

Partly this is because AGRs have never yet been taken out of service before there is a disposal route for the waste. If none is found, taxpayers will have to pay to keep it safe in closely managed stores for many decades.

Despite this, the current UK government is now building a new nuclear station at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and wants to build many more. Meanwhile the mounting financial liabilities for future generations who will need to keep the waste safe in a time of climate change are left unresolved. And so the costly headache remains for countless generations to come. − Climate News Network

Nuclear waste gets expensive

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE When countries embrace nuclear power to combat climate change the problem of disposing of the radioactive waste seems far away, but the costs will be enormous. LONDON, 13 February – Nothing divides environmental campaigners as much as nuclear power. Some have always believed renewables offer cleaner power while avoiding the dangers of radioactivity and nuclear waste disposal. Others, including new converts who now support the industry, believe the threat of climate change is so terrifying that the drawbacks to nuclear power are far outweighed by its potential for producing large quantities of low-carbon electricity. All governments who have nuclear power stations have to deal with practicalities and have a problem that so far is unresolved: how to get rid of all the radioactive waste their existing nuclear plants have produced. It is a contentious issue even in countries that are phasing out nuclear power, like Germany, because no communities want to be blighted by being a nation’s nuclear waste dump. But it is worse for countries that share this unresolved nuclear waste problem yet want to add to it by building a new generation of power stations. An example is Britain, where the Government stated four years ago it was unacceptable to build a new generation of atomic power stations while having no depository to get rid of the existing waste. It was confident its Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) would solve the problem of old power stations and increasing quantities of badly stored radioactive waste. The NDA has failed to do so. The stumbling block has been that, so far, no community in the United Kingdom has been prepared to accept a waste depository.

With 20 nuclear reactors already closed down because they are no longer economic or have safety problems the issue is becoming urgent, but there is still no solution in sight.

A century’s work

Despite these problems, ministers have decided the issue of climate change is so pressing that Britain must carry on building nuclear power stations, even though its plans to bury the waste have been postponed for at least half a century.

But while Britain is one of the few old industrialised countries that want to build new nuclear stations, many developing countries including India, China and Vietnam are keen to meet increasing energy demand with this technology. They might do well to look at the issues they will face. Across Europe and North America the problem of decommissioning existing stations is huge, and the cost astronomical. As a result a new decommissioning industry is growing very rapidly. The attraction for the industry is the enormous amount of taxpayers’ money that will have to be found to deal with the problem. Already the British Government is spending £3 billion (about US $5 bn) a year across 19 sites just to begin a process that is expected to cost £100 billion. That is the Government’s own estimated cost of dismantling the old power plants, with the added cost of disposing of the waste. Across Europe there are 144 reactors in operation, of which one third will have started their decommissioning process by 2025. There is enough work to keep thousands of people employed for more than a century. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that the total value of the decommissioning and waste management market is £250 bn ($416 bn) – a figure that is bound to rise.

Suitable venue

In May 200 of the world’s senior nuclear experts and waste management executives will meet to discuss progress in this difficult area. The meeting, in Manchester in England, is being held close to Sellafield, which has one of the most intractable nuclear waste problems on the planet. It has dozens of disused nuclear facilities dating back to the 1950s, heavily contaminated with plutonium and other dangerous nuclear substances. Meanwhile it continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for European and Japanese utilities with no clear plan about what to do with the associated high-level waste. Whatever happens, the site will take more than a century to make safe. Although the industry gathering in Manchester will see the nuclear cleanup as a business opportunity, some British politicians are angered at the apparent incompetence, delays and rising costs of the companies involved. Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the House of Commons’ powerful Public Accounts Committee, said the costs of cleaning up Sellafield were rising to “astonishing levels.” She accused the private company hired to clean up the site, Nuclear Management Partners, of missed targets, delays and cost over-runs, and her committee has demanded that the company should be stripped of its contract if its performance does not improve. Tom Zarges, the chairman of Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium of nuclear cleanup groups, denies the accusations. He said: “The first term of our contract has been characterised by many successes but also a number of disappointments and areas for improvement.

Ethical questions

“Our job now is to build on our experience of the last five years to safely and reliably deliver our customers’ mission, while further accelerating the pace of change and providing value for money to the NDA, the Government and the UK taxpayer.” It appears that when countries embark on a nuclear power programme the problem of the waste it will produce seems far away. But eventually the issue comes back to haunt them. Pete Wilkinson, former member of the Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) and newly appointed director of the Nuclear Information Service, said the current state of affairs regarding the UK’s nuclear waste was intolerable. It was wrong to go ahead with a new nuclear power programme when the problem of dealing with waste was unsolved. He said: “For government to single-mindedly and wilfully push ahead with its new nuclear build programme when a repository remains a mere aspiration and when even the waste it produces cannot be guaranteed to be disposable is nothing short of irresponsible and is a measure of the desperation of a country and a government in crisis over energy policy.” He said the Government’s waste management organisation had failed to resolve hundreds of technical and scientific issues, never mind ethical problems, to do with new build nuclear waste depositories. “It may be that disposal is not, after all, technically feasible or ethically acceptable. Meanwhile new nuclear build is threatening to give us and generations yet to come a future nuclear waste problem of disastrous proportions”, he said. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE When countries embrace nuclear power to combat climate change the problem of disposing of the radioactive waste seems far away, but the costs will be enormous. LONDON, 13 February – Nothing divides environmental campaigners as much as nuclear power. Some have always believed renewables offer cleaner power while avoiding the dangers of radioactivity and nuclear waste disposal. Others, including new converts who now support the industry, believe the threat of climate change is so terrifying that the drawbacks to nuclear power are far outweighed by its potential for producing large quantities of low-carbon electricity. All governments who have nuclear power stations have to deal with practicalities and have a problem that so far is unresolved: how to get rid of all the radioactive waste their existing nuclear plants have produced. It is a contentious issue even in countries that are phasing out nuclear power, like Germany, because no communities want to be blighted by being a nation’s nuclear waste dump. But it is worse for countries that share this unresolved nuclear waste problem yet want to add to it by building a new generation of power stations. An example is Britain, where the Government stated four years ago it was unacceptable to build a new generation of atomic power stations while having no depository to get rid of the existing waste. It was confident its Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) would solve the problem of old power stations and increasing quantities of badly stored radioactive waste. The NDA has failed to do so. The stumbling block has been that, so far, no community in the United Kingdom has been prepared to accept a waste depository.

With 20 nuclear reactors already closed down because they are no longer economic or have safety problems the issue is becoming urgent, but there is still no solution in sight.

A century’s work

Despite these problems, ministers have decided the issue of climate change is so pressing that Britain must carry on building nuclear power stations, even though its plans to bury the waste have been postponed for at least half a century.

But while Britain is one of the few old industrialised countries that want to build new nuclear stations, many developing countries including India, China and Vietnam are keen to meet increasing energy demand with this technology. They might do well to look at the issues they will face. Across Europe and North America the problem of decommissioning existing stations is huge, and the cost astronomical. As a result a new decommissioning industry is growing very rapidly. The attraction for the industry is the enormous amount of taxpayers’ money that will have to be found to deal with the problem. Already the British Government is spending £3 billion (about US $5 bn) a year across 19 sites just to begin a process that is expected to cost £100 billion. That is the Government’s own estimated cost of dismantling the old power plants, with the added cost of disposing of the waste. Across Europe there are 144 reactors in operation, of which one third will have started their decommissioning process by 2025. There is enough work to keep thousands of people employed for more than a century. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that the total value of the decommissioning and waste management market is £250 bn ($416 bn) – a figure that is bound to rise.

Suitable venue

In May 200 of the world’s senior nuclear experts and waste management executives will meet to discuss progress in this difficult area. The meeting, in Manchester in England, is being held close to Sellafield, which has one of the most intractable nuclear waste problems on the planet. It has dozens of disused nuclear facilities dating back to the 1950s, heavily contaminated with plutonium and other dangerous nuclear substances. Meanwhile it continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel for European and Japanese utilities with no clear plan about what to do with the associated high-level waste. Whatever happens, the site will take more than a century to make safe. Although the industry gathering in Manchester will see the nuclear cleanup as a business opportunity, some British politicians are angered at the apparent incompetence, delays and rising costs of the companies involved. Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the House of Commons’ powerful Public Accounts Committee, said the costs of cleaning up Sellafield were rising to “astonishing levels.” She accused the private company hired to clean up the site, Nuclear Management Partners, of missed targets, delays and cost over-runs, and her committee has demanded that the company should be stripped of its contract if its performance does not improve. Tom Zarges, the chairman of Nuclear Management Partners, a consortium of nuclear cleanup groups, denies the accusations. He said: “The first term of our contract has been characterised by many successes but also a number of disappointments and areas for improvement.

Ethical questions

“Our job now is to build on our experience of the last five years to safely and reliably deliver our customers’ mission, while further accelerating the pace of change and providing value for money to the NDA, the Government and the UK taxpayer.” It appears that when countries embark on a nuclear power programme the problem of the waste it will produce seems far away. But eventually the issue comes back to haunt them. Pete Wilkinson, former member of the Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) and newly appointed director of the Nuclear Information Service, said the current state of affairs regarding the UK’s nuclear waste was intolerable. It was wrong to go ahead with a new nuclear power programme when the problem of dealing with waste was unsolved. He said: “For government to single-mindedly and wilfully push ahead with its new nuclear build programme when a repository remains a mere aspiration and when even the waste it produces cannot be guaranteed to be disposable is nothing short of irresponsible and is a measure of the desperation of a country and a government in crisis over energy policy.” He said the Government’s waste management organisation had failed to resolve hundreds of technical and scientific issues, never mind ethical problems, to do with new build nuclear waste depositories. “It may be that disposal is not, after all, technically feasible or ethically acceptable. Meanwhile new nuclear build is threatening to give us and generations yet to come a future nuclear waste problem of disastrous proportions”, he said. – Climate News Network