Sunday, December 06, 2015


As of July 2015, 30 countries worldwide are operating 438 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 67 new nuclear plants are under construction in 15 countries. They produce approximately 11% of the world's electricity.  All these plants produce highly radioactive waste and, at present, there are no facilities that can permanently and safely store it. 

nuclear waste

This weekend Greenpeace were in action in Australia, to draw attention to a shipment of 25 tonnes nuclear waste from France on board an unsafe "dustbin ship" the BBC Shanghai. which they claim has been banned by the US government from carrying any kind of government cargo at all. 

Over the last twenty years, Australia has sent eight shipments of waste to France, the UK and the US for reprocessing to remove uranium and plutonium.  The waste sent to the UK will return in the second half of this decade and the shipments sent to the US will remain there.The  stabilised waste from France is being  housed at the Lucas Heights reactor in southern Sydney until a nuclear waste dump site is selected and built. 

Malcolm Turnbull's government has set a deadline of December 2016 to choose a location to dispose of the country's low and intermediate-level waste. The shortlist includes sites near Sally’s Flat in New South Wales; Hale in the Northern Territory; Cortlinye, Pinkawillinie and Barndioota in South Australia; and Oman Ama in Queensland. A 30-year saga to try and establish such a site at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory failed after a lengthy legal battle. This time the government is consulting more closely with the communities and offering a sweetener for the landowner - up to four times of the value of the property - and the community - access to a $10m fund for local infrastructure or other projects. The preferred site will be named after the federal election next year and is due to be operating by 2020. 

Currently Australia has the equivalent of two Olympic swimming pools of low-level waste - mainly contaminated laboratory items and material used in medical treatments - which is being stored at 100 sites including hospitals and universities.

Intermediate waste is stored at Lucas Heights which houses Australia's only nuclear reactor.
Its HIFAR reactor was opened in 1958 which was replaced eight years ago by an OPAL reactor that uses low enriched uranium. Run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) it conducts research in many different areas of nuclear science and technology

Thirty per cent of its business is the  production of nuclear medicine doses that are used to diagnose and treat many types of cancers, heart disease, neurological disorders and other conditions. It currently produces 10,000 doses a day for 250 hospitals in Australia but construction is underway on a new plant in order to ramp up production to 13 million doses which would meet a quarter of world demand. Nuclear medicines are responsible for 80% of the waste at the plant. Federal funds of $22.3m have been allocated to refit two waste storage facilities over the next four years.

The reactor site on the edge of Australia's largest city has been the focus of  safety concerns by anti-nuclear protesters for decades. In 2001, Greenpeace campaigners climbed the razor wire and scaled the old reactor.


Ina concurrent development, the South Australian Government established the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission on 19th March 2015 to undertake an independent and comprehensive investigation into the possible expansion of activities that form part of the nuclear fuel cycle. Commenting on this initiative the day after he named Dr Alan Finkel, a vocal advocate of nuclear power, as Australia's next chief scientist, Malcolm Turnbull was sceptical about the possibility of creating a domestic nuclear power industry.

“I was just talking about this with the cook in the cafe downstairs, when I was having some coffee and breakfast with Steve Marshall [the SA Liberal leader],” he told Adelaide radio station FiveAA. “As Brett, the chef, was saying, and I think a lot of South Australians feel like this and it’s a perfectly reasonable view: we’ve got the uranium [and] we mine it; why don’t we process it, turn it into the fuel rods, lease them to people overseas; when they’re done, bring them back – and we’ve got very stable geology in remote locations and a stable political environment – and store them? That is a business that you could well imagine here.”

ONKALO in landscape
Finland looks like becoming the first nation in the world to successfully launch a deep underground repository  on Olkiluoto, an island off the country's west coast which already has a nuclear reactor on it.  The Onkalo facility, which will cost 3 billion euros, is designed to hold up to 6,500 tonnes of uranium stored in copper canisters, packed in clay and lodged in a network of tunnels cut into the granite bedrock. The plan is to start storing the waste in 2023 and to seal the facility in 2120. Finland's case has shown that getting approval for a nuclear waste storage site requires not only a safe site but also a supportive local community willing to work with the developers to shape the project. 

According to a recent article in Nature by Elizabeth Gibley: 'Sweden has already used a similar engagement process, and its government is currently considering a licence to build a facility using the same technology. Last month the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority gave its formal backing to building a repository at the chosen site, in Forsmark, and a final decision is expected around 2017.'

Forsmark is already home to a nuclear power plant and a disposal site for intermediate-level radioactive waste. According to World Nuclear News 'The repository will have capacity to store 12,000 tonnes of used nuclear fuel in 6000 copper-cast iron canisters, which would be surrounded by bentonite clay to absorb any future leakage. At a depth of 500 metres depth in 1.9 billion year-old granite it will feature around 60 kilometres of disposal tunnels.'

In 2017 the French nuclear waste agency Andra hopes to apply for get a licence for a 35 billion euro facility at a deep-storage site in Bure, in northeast France, where there is already a test facility. The aim is to bury highly radioactive waste 500m underground in thick layers of argillite rock. The plan faces resistance from local residents and environmental groups.

In a report released in July this year, Andra estimates that the amount of nuclear waste that will need to be stored in France will triple once all its nuclear stations have been decommissioned. The French utility EDF runs 58 nuclear reactors with an average lifespan of 50 years. A new reactor is under construction at Flamanville. They supply some 80% of France's electricity.

Total nuclear waste volumes at the end of 2013 were 1.4 million cu m. Andra estimates that this will rise to 2.5 million in 2030 and will eventually reach 4.3 million. The main bulk of this waste will be slightly radioactive building rubble, Andra's current low-level waste facility in Morvilliers, in the Aube region, is likely to be full  between 2020 and 2025. 

Highly radioactive, long-life waste represent just 0.2 percent of the volume but 98 percent of the radioactivity. This  volume is likely to rise from 3,200 cubic meters at the end of 2013 to about 10,000 cubic meters when all France's nuclear plants reach the end of their life. 

German nuclear activist
Foto: Holger Hollemann dpa/lni +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

In August 2015, the German cabinet yesterday adopted a draft national radioactive waste disposal program. For the final disposal of radioactive waste, the program proposes two locations: the former iron ore mine Konrad in Salzgitter for low- and intermediate-level waste and another as yet undetermined site for high-level waste [which] will need to accommodate all radioactive waste produced by 2022, when Germany's last nuclear power reactor is set to shut under the government's nuclear phase-out policy. In addition, the ministry has made a forecast of all the radioactive waste that will be generated in the country by 2080.

According to the ministry, there will be some 10,500 tonnes of used fuel from the operation of nuclear power plants, which could be stored in about 1100 containers. A further 300 containers of high- and intermediate-level waste are also expected from the reprocessing of used fuel, as well as 500 containers of used fuel from research and demonstration reactors.
In addition, some 600,000 cubic meters of low- and intermediate-level waste will need to be disposed of. This includes such waste from the operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants as well as from industry, medicine and research.

Under plans announced in 2010, some 200,000 cubic metres of mostly low-level waste are being removed from Germany's Asse radioactive waste disposal facility, a salt dome which has proven unstable. This waste, together with some 100,000 cubic meters of waste from uranium enrichment operations at Urenco's plant at Gronau, will also require disposal..
[Source: World Nuclear News]
Several smaller European countries have banded together to form a European Repository Development Organisation to work on the concept of a shared facility: Austria, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Italy, Lithuania, Romania, and  Slovenia

A new US Department of Energy (DOE) initiative on radioactive waste disposal in March 2015 announced three decisions:  that military nuclear wastes should be disposed of separately from power plant used fuel;  that  'a consent-based approach' would be adopted to find a location for military waste disposal; that it will create an interim storage facility for the power plant materials in the meantime.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 later saw Yucca Mountain in Nevada selected as the country's one-and-only disposal site for highly radioactive material. The project received $10 billion of industry funding and progressed to the point of having an approved design but the Obama administration put the project on ice in 2009. The US trade body the Nuclear Energy Institute claims that Yucca Mountain remains the legislated disposal site for used nuclear fuel. "That program is the law of the land and should be completed" says Marv Fertel, NEI's head.

Not everyone agrees. Yucca Mt.’s geology repeatedly failed to meet legal requirements, so the specs were repeatedly weakened. The Obama Administration killed the project because it could not be defended on scientific grounds. The selection of Yucca Mountain by the US Congress in 1987 was, from the outset, a political rather than a scientific choice.  Nevada is the third-most seismically active US state. 


According to a 2013 inventory report from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the body responsible for the clean-up of the UK's nuclear legacy, the UK has to manage 4.5 million cubic metres (4.9m tonnes) of radioactive nuclear waste - enough to fill Wembley Stadium four times over.

This figure is the total volume of radioactive waste that exists today or is forecast to be generated over the next century from existing facilities. Around 4.3 million cubic metres (96%) of this waste has already been produced.

The other 4% (around 160,000 cubic metres) of radioactive waste has yet to be produced.
This includes waste forecast from planned operations of existing nuclear power facilities, from ongoing defence programmes and from the continued use of radioactive material for medical and industrial purposes. 

In the long term, high-level radioactive waste (HLW) will need to be stored in a geological underground repository, but this isn't estimated to be ready until 2040. The process has already seen many delays, meaning the actual date could be much later..
Source: power-technology   

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