What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell Us

What should be done with nuclear waste?

Christopher Werth Dec 18, 2010

What should be done with nuclear waste?

Christopher Werth Dec 18, 2010


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.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.