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Where to put nuclear waste

Highly toxic radioactive waste is produced daily in nuclear power plants, medical facilities and the military. To the question " Where to put the radiating waste?“but the countries that use civil or military nuclear technology have only thin answers so far. “70 years after entering nuclear technology, not a single country in the world has a deep geological repository for nuclear waste, “notes the first” World Nuclear Waste Report”. Nobody wants foreign garbage, many have plans, finished is nothing and it will be expensive in any case, so his conclusion.

Only Finland is building a Repository. Sweden and France have decided on locations. Germany is still looking for it, the search should be finished in 2031. Switzerland has so far agreed on three potential sites. Until a Repository is available, so the authors of the report estimate that it will take at least until mid-century. You can expect a satisfactory strategy for dealing with radioactive waste in two to three generations. Hundreds more generations will have to manage the radiating waste heap.

A Croatian repository on the border with Bosnia? The Bosnian population is resisting.

Nuclear waste is underrepresented in the public debate

The work focuses on the USA as well as the European countries without Slovakia and Russia, since the latter do not have sufficient data. In the future, the nuclear waste Report, which was prepared by several nuclear waste experts on behalf of the German Greens and several NGOs, will be regularly prepared or updated to measure progress and examine key areas. The report was financed by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the EU greens, among others.

In the end, the site in the German town of Asse was not suitable for nuclear waste disposal.

The 148 - page report has become longer than planned, the authors admit right at the beginning. The dangerousness of nuclear waste is underestimated, they complain. Judging by the size of the task, the topic is underrepresented in the public discussion. Possibly because it sounds so technical. On the technical level alone, however, The Associated questions could not be answered. The storage of radioactive waste is a task whose complexity is “massively underestimated”, stress the authors.

The radiant mountain of waste grows

Currently, 60,000 tonnes of high-level radioactive waste are being collected in European intermediate storage facilities (excluding Russia and Slovakia), which are either not safe and some of their capacities will be exhausted in the foreseeable future. Most of this waste is located in France. Many tons will be added by the decommissioning of power plants. In Switzerland, the current interim storage capacities are still sufficient. However, according to the National Cooperative for the storage of radioactive waste (Nagra), a repository for high-level radioactive waste will not be available until 2060 at the earliest.

Finding places where nuclear waste can be safely stored, not stolen and not reached by terrorist attacks is a challenge for all governments involved. Storing spent fuel elements on site in decaying tanks, as is the case in Gösgen, for example, is the most dangerous of all possibilities, the experts warn. If the cooling fails or the cooling water escapes, for example due to a plane crash or a terrorist attack, disaster can occur. Many states have legally excluded the Export of radioactive waste to other, possibly far less safe, countries.

There have been many ideas over the past decades about what should happen to the deplorable nuclear waste. For example, shooting the radiant garbage into space, burying it under the seabed, and even proposing to “burn it down in a controlled manner”. Most experts now agree that a deep geological Repository is the best option. It would have to exist up to a Million Years – A hardly imaginable period. For comparison: the Second World War is only 70 years ago.

A political and social minefield

The search for a repository has so far produced a considerable list of failures, for example in the German town of Asse, into which groundwater entered, in Gorleben, which is politically controversial, or in “Yucca Mountain” in the USA, where the rock turned out to be too porous. According to the USA, however, the camp was closed for political reasons.

The Swiss scientist Marcos Buser, who contributed to the Report, even pleads for refraining from the idea of a repository and focusing on a secure temporary repository in the short term. “Short-term” in this context means: over several hundred years. Everything, he agrees with his colleagues, is better than storing radioactive waste on the surface.

Among the radiating substances at stake are flammable components, dusts and liquids, which must be stored safely for at least hundreds of thousands of years until the radiation has subsided. Their management and control must be planned for a very long period of time. Last but not least, there must be a possibility to clear a “repository” if problems arise. Politically and socially this is a very demanding process.

A plan for hundreds of thousands of years - and there are not even uniform Standards

In fact, the measurement and classification of nuclear waste and the assessment of its dangerousness in individual countries already differ from each other. With a few exceptions, every potential site defends itself against the radiating contaminated sites. In addition to the misjudgments at previous sites, the claims of countries that have not yet used nuclear power to generate electricity come up. Several African countries have announced, for example, that they want to use nuclear power until a resilient energy supply from renewable sources is built up, reports “Deutsche Welle”. The repository question would thus multiply.

It is clear: it will be expensive

There is a great deal of uncertainty about what the handling of nuclear waste should ultimately cost, the Report notes. What is certain is that it will be expensive, probably more expensive than expected. Many governments are “over-optimistic” about the expected costs, say the authors. So far, there is no country that has accurately estimated the costs of disposal and storage and closed the gap between available resources and costs.

Sweden has covered about two-thirds of the necessary funds, the UK less than half, Switzerland less than one-third. What happens, for example, should Axpo have to declare bankruptcy, is to some extent predictable: although the polluter pays principle applies in almost all countries, in the end taxpayers will have to pay for the costs of storage.