September 07, 2007

More green nonsense on the Nuclear issue

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Hands up who saw this one coming? Environmentalist groups have pulled out from the government’s nuclear power consultation, claiming an unfair and incomplete debate on the issue. As I understand it, their concerns relate specifically to the issue of nuclear waste and the ‘misrepresentation’ that it is an issue that has been dealt with. Well as far as I’m aware it has been. The vitrification plant has been open at Sellafield since 1991, which uses a proven technique of sealing high level wastes into a glass block, and then cooling the blocks until activity has died down. Many radioactive materials generated in the nuclear industry have much shorter half-lives than most people think, with in excess of 99% of activity decaying within 40 years of a reactor shutdown. Low level and intermediate level wastes, which make up over 95% of nuclear waste, are simple to deal with via direct shallow burial, or in some cases where medium wastes are active over longer periods by deeper burial.

High level waste, which is really only generated in the civil industry by reprocessing activities, represents less than 3% by mass of nuclear wastes (but over 95% of activity); a typical power station producing about 3 cubic metres of high level waste a year (after reprocessing and vitrification). There is space capacity in current facilities for over 100,000 tonnes of HLW, with around 12,000 tonnes a year generated by current activities; storage is currently therefore not an urgent issue. After a cooling off period of a few decades, HLW can then be transferred into secure long term underground storage facilities. Sweden is advanced in this area, with the KBS-3 geological disposal process designed to secure wastes for over 100,000 years, after which the wastes are no more radioactive than the ore from which they were mined. Natural fission reactors that occured millions of years ago demonstrate the security of nuclear reaction products even in rock formations that we would deem unsuitable and with extensive ground water present and no man-made containment around the wastes. The French are also investigating transmutation of wastes in their Phenix reactor.

In conclusion then, the technologies and processes for dealing with nuclear wastes are in fact highly developed and have in most cases been around for some years, and are well proven. This is unsurprising for an industry that has been operating and generating waste for over 50 years. An issue not dealt with? I highly doubt that.

Mr Hutton said the government had made a preliminary view about the nuclear issue but did not have a “closed mind”.

In reality, the closed mind belongs not to the government and the industry, but to those who oppose it.

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