The final disposal of high-level radioactive waste presents governments worldwide with major challenges that have not yet been addressed, and entails incalculable technical, logistical, and financial risks. This is the conclusion of the first "World Nuclear Waste Report ‒ Focus Europe" launched in Berlin in November.
The World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR) is a project by a group of renowned international experts who want to draw more attention to radioactive waste as a significant and growing challenge with no long-term solutions yet available. The project was initiated by Rebecca Harms, and the original outline was produced by Wolfgang Neumann, Mycle Schneider (coordinator of the annual World Nuclear Industry Status Reports) and Gordon MacKerron. Numerous experts have contributed to the first edition of the WNWR (including former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chair Allison Macfarlane).
The WNWR aims to make a substantial contribution to understanding nuclear waste challenges for countries around the world. It does so by describing national and international classification systems, the risks posed by specific radioactive waste forms, generated and estimated future waste quantities, the waste management and disposal strategies of governments and their financing mechanisms.
According to the WNWR, over 60,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel alone are stored in interim storage facilities across Europe (excluding Russia and Slovakia). Spent fuel rods are highly radioactive waste. To date, no country in the world has a repository for high-level waste from nuclear power in operation. Within the EU, France accounts for 25 percent of the current spent nuclear fuel, followed by Germany (15 percent) and the United Kingdom (14 percent).
In addition, more than 2.5 million cubic metres of low- and intermediate-level waste has been generated in Europe (excluding Slovakia and Russia). Over its lifetime, the European nuclear reactor fleet will produce an estimated 6.6 million cubic metres of nuclear waste. Four countries are responsible for most of this waste: France (30 percent), the UK (20 percent), the Ukraine (18 percent) and Germany (8 percent).
According to the WNWR, many governments underestimate the costs of interim and final storage. No country has a consistent financing model to date in places. This poses further financial risk for taxpayers.
Marcos Buser, a Swiss geologist and co-author of the report, said: "Increasing amounts of high level waste have to be interim stored for ever longer periods of time, as no country in the world has yet commissioned a deep geological repository for such waste. The problem is that interim storage facilities have not been designed for such long-term use."
The Swiss nuclear expert warned that the storage facilities are already reaching the limits of their capacities. For example, storage capacity for spent fuel in Finland has already reached 93 percent saturation. Sweden's decentralized storage facility CLAB is at 80 percent saturation. "The shutdown and decommissioning of many nuclear power plants will again drastically increase the quantities of nuclear waste," warns Buser.
In addition to the safety aspects, the report identifies the enormous costs of interim storage and final disposal as another risk. "National governments and operators often significantly underestimate the costs of decommissioning, storage, and disposal of nuclear waste," said Ben Wealer, co-author of the study and industrial engineer at the Technical University of Berlin.
In many countries there is a large gap between the expected costs and the financial resources earmarked for them. The problem would be exacerbated by the fact that final disposal also involves incalculable risks, which could lead to enormous cost increases, as the German government experiences with the Asse repository illustrate.
Nearly every government claims to apply the polluter-pays-principle, which makes operators liable for the costs of managing, storing, and disposing of nuclear waste. In reality, however, governments fail to apply the polluter-pays-principle consistently. "No country in Europe has taken sufficient precautions to finance the costs of the final disposal of nuclear waste. There is a threat that the real, massive costs will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers," Wealer warned.
Ellen Ueberschär, President of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, said: "The numerous unsolved problems in dealing with nuclear waste show that nuclear power has no future. At the same time, the report makes clear that phasing out nuclear power is not enough. Insufficient financial provisions for disposing of nuclear waste must not undermine the care and safety of decisions for interim storage and final disposal. The search for a suitable final repository needs greater public attention. The report is intended to facilitate a qualified international debate."
World Nuclear Waste Report https://worldnuclearwastereport.org/
World Nuclear Waste Report 2019 ‒ Focus Europe: https://worldnuclearwastereport.org/wp-content/themes/wnwr_theme/content...
Reprinted from No2NuclearPower (with additional text by Nuclear Monitor), nuClear news No.119, Nov 2019, http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/NuClearN...