Nuclear Power Dossier: Nuclear Waste
1st June, 2006
5000 years ago the English Channel didn't exist - so where are we going to bury our nuclear waste that will be safe for up to one million years...or more?
When spent fuel is removed from the reactor core, it is a pulsating mass of radioactivity, containing uranium, plutonium, cesium, strontium, technetium and neptunium among other elements. If unshielded, it would kill a person standing three feet away in seconds. Even after decades of radioactive decay, a few minutes’ unshielded exposure could deliver a lethal dose.
While the spent fuel only accounts for around three per cent of the volume of all waste from a nuclear facility, it holds 95 per cent of the radioactivity and is deemed to be high-level waste. Certain radioactive elements, such as plutonium, will remain hazardous to humans and other living beings for hundreds of thousands of years. Each 1000-megawatt nuclear power reactor produces about 30 metric tonnes of such high-level waste a year.
After being removed from the reactor, the spent fuel rods are stored in pools at the nuclear facility to cool down. The spent fuel rods remain hot because fission energy continues to be released as the radioactivity decays, so the pools contain boric acid to slow the process down. It should spend between 6-18 months cooling before being removed to a permanent disposal site. As yet none has been permanently...
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