What should be done with nuclear waste?

Steam billows from the cooling towers at Exelon's nuclear power generating station in Byron, Ill.


Globally, the amount of power from nuclear plants is expected to quadruple over the next twenty years. The UK is among the countries open to building new nuclear reactors. Which raises an important question: what to do with all that radioactive waste?

From London, reporter Christopher Werth has more on the debate.

Beeping at nuclear facility

Christopher Werth: For workers at this nuclear facility in Northern England, that slow, constant beep of the plant's monitoring system is a reassuring sound.

Carl Steele: So this makes sure that no radiation escaped from the plant.

Carl Steele is with Sellafield Limited, the company that operates this site within the scenic Lake District. He says if that steady beep turns into an alarm, I should run as fast as I can.

Steele: Yeah, don't wait for me, just run, yeah.

This plant reprocesses most of the U.K.'s most dangerous, high-level nuclear waste. That waste will remain in this building for the next 50 to possibly even 100 years.

The question is: then what? Britain hopes to build what's known as a geological repository for radioactive waste, deep below the earth's surface, much like what the U.S. has tried and failed to do at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Cherry Tweed is with the U.K.'s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. She says the waste would stay there for a long, long time.

Cherry Tweed: Hundreds of thousands to possibly a million years.

I caught up with Tweed at this local community meeting in Keswick, a tourist town not far from the nuclear plant. Residents here are discussing the possibility of building an underground repository nearby. So far, this area around the facility has been the only place to express an interest in hosting a repository.

Tweed: Getting the support of the local community will be absolutely key to the process.

But it won't be easy to persuade locals like Yvette Kahane, even though she's lived alongside the nuclear industry for most of her life.

Yvette Kahane: But I'm not sure as to whether actually deep disposal is the safest way to deal with it.

Among people's concerns are worries that waste could contaminate ground water. But underground storage does seem to be the way Europe is heading. Last month, the European Union required all member countries to develop programs for building nuclear repositories.

In Cumbria, England, I'm Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

Log in to post4 Comments

A Canadian has the only safe solution to store al types of nuclear wastes and at less cost than it costs just to guard what is out there to day the US Government Department of Engergy knows about this innovation but is looking for other ideas before they make a decision purely a political game at the cost of lives

Waste? Let see, we could
1) send the high level waste to Yucca and blend it into glass or
2) we could do like the European countries do and reprocess the spent rods back into reusable rods, but Congress thought that is too dangerous.

The low level waste is much less of a problem.

Tobe Ornottobe is the mindless idiot here. First, Marketplace comes to us from American Public Media, not NPR. The program states this during every broadcast. Second, the report addresses Yucca Mountain within the first minute: "Much like what the U.S. has tried and failed to do at Yucca Mountain in Nevada." Tobe Ornottobe is typical of extremists of all kinds: unable to hear what's actually being said due to the dull, hollow ringing inside their empty heads. This person is clearly frustrated by his/her inability to listen and think critically. Faced with such humiliating intellectual isolation, he/she is attacking others as a reaction to his/her inability to contribute meaningfully to society.

Note of correction. This is APM, not NPR. secondly, Yucca isn't a solution, it simply puts off the problem for a few centuries. Unless we are using nuclear power to get off this planet, we better think about how and where we are pooping in this nest of ours.

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