BBC News: ‘Time to act’ on nuclear waste

Posted in , Energy, Society at 10:09 by RjZ

The United Kingdom has just noticed that it doesn’t have a satisfactory plan for dealing with nuclear waste. For over 30 years they have been producing this deadly poisonous hazardous waste from power plants with no effective way to keep it out of harm’s way. It’s about time they started doing something about it!

Just look at the numbers:

High-level waste – 2,000 cubic metres
Intermediate-level waste – 350,000 cubic metres
Low-level waste – 30,000 cubic metres
Spent fuel – 10,000 cubic metres
Plutonium – 4,300 cubic metres
Uranium – 75,000 cubic metres

All together that’s 471,300 cubic meters of waste in 30 years. This chunk of waste has to be transferred to an, as yet not completed, underground facility that will likely cost more £10 billion to build.

Concerned yet?

This block of waste, and we’re including all of its hazardous packaging material, is 77 meters on a side. 30 years of waste would be an impressive block that would cover a Wrigley field in Chicago almost a 179 feet high (54.5 m). That’s six feet per year. The underground facility that must be built to house all this waste and whatever else produced for 65 years in the future. £10 billion ain’t cheap, but it’s about £105 million / year and that barely even shows up on budgets like the U.S. where we’ve spent more than $50 billion per year on the Iraq war (more than 250 times as much).

These aren’t tiny numbers. I don’t have an extra £105 million this year, nor a backyard with a six foot deep lake that’s the size of Wrigley field, but this is the nation’s entire nuclear output, all packaged up and ready to go. Compare this to the volumes of coal being consumed by a single coal plant (about 105 coal cars per day.) Maybe we shouldn’t be that worried about it after all.

Nuclear waste, by its sheer volume alone is vastly more manageable than fossil fuel for a nation’s energy needs. We’re spending $50 billion per year to rid Iraq of terrorism while we continue to be our own greatest threat.


  1. Hedda said,

    August 1, 2006 at 2:51

    well said. and oil companies are profiting more than ever, although they claim their earnings are far less on the dollar than the banking industry, and that they put more money back into “research.”

    You can help by supporting alternative forms of energy. Build your own nuclear power plant like I did. or (easier) bike to work. And check out sites like http://www.terrapass.com.

  2. Mark said,

    August 9, 2006 at 21:14

    This is sort of related, at least energy use wise. There is a new kick ass electric car you can check out at teslamotors.com. Great name eh? It’s not cheap but it’s a start in the right direction of high performance cleanliness.

  3. Dave K. said,

    August 10, 2006 at 17:02

    How many cubic meters of waste are produced by solar power? I bet it’s huge! I have heard a that people are putting solar cells on the roofs of their houses. Where is all the waste from those going to go? I am sure it will be way bigger than that nuclear stuff.

    Just think, if they had started developing solar power back in the seventies during the first oil crisis, we would be in big trouble now. Another crisis avoided, for now.

  4. RjZ said,

    August 10, 2006 at 17:24

    I sure wish people has started putting them on their houses. I’ve been writing a bit about this for a while and you may have missed previous posts on this topic. Catch up check out:

    Keep the lights on

    “Currently renewables make up less than 1% of the U.S. power consumption. Probably the biggest reason for this is that it’s expensive! According to a Stirling Energy Systems “Photovoltaic technology is generally not abundant enough or cost-effective enough to meet any large scale demands.” Other solar energy is in the 10¢ per KW range. Coal meanwhile is in the 2 – 5¢ range. Of course we’re not paying for the environmental impact of coal–yet!”

    Also: Is conservation the answer?

    and A new energy policy

    My current job gives me a lot of contact with energy policy and utilities and I am, of course, pro solar and wind power, but if we think it’s a viable alternative today or even in the near future, we’re dreaming. Costs are much higher for solar energy (at least short term costs, but well, someone’s got to pay for energy today!) It has no baseload capability (how will you have power during shady time?, batteries?) Really this isn’t enough for the nations actual needs; see my caves comments) And it isn’t even cheap to install. Coal is killing us like the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. Nuclear really needs to be added to this mix, even if it’s not as lovely, clean and perfect as solar or wind.

    Oh, and I’ll have to research it, but solar panels are filled with all manner of caustic crap and only last about 10 years. There actually is plenty of waste (altough nothing compared to nuclear or coal.)

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