For A Nuclear Waste Solution, The UK Looks To Sweden

Years’ worth of high-level nuclear waste are buried 40 meters (130 feet) beneath the Swedish countryside in ponds that are remarkably clear and blue-lit.It is a strangely lovely but unsettling sight. Near Oskarshamn, on Sweden’s Baltic coast, rows upon rows of large metal containers packed with leftover nuclear fuel from the nation’s reactors are submerged.Both extremely dangerous and completely safe, it.Lethal due to the material’s high radioactivity; safe due to its location 8 meters under water, which acts as an excellent radiation shield.For decades, waste can be stored in this manner. In actuality, it must be.Strong radioactivity produces a lot of heat, thus it must be cooled for a lengthy time before the item can be removed for storage.

But many governments, including that of the UK, have been debating the issue of what to do with it afterward for years.Quantity is not the issue.Although there are several hundred thousand tonnes of intermediate-level trash that must also be dealt with, the UK only has a small stockpile of the most dangerous high-level waste after roughly 60 years of commercial and military programs.The main problem is time.Prof. Neil Hyatt, principal scientific consultant to the UK’s Nuclear Waste Services, says that used fuel assemblies are highly radioactive and that radioactivity takes a very long time to decay.”Around 10% of the initial radioactivity is remained after roughly 1,000 years, and that slowly decays away over about 100,000 years or so.”This presents particular challenges.According to Prof. Hyatt, “We can’t rely on institutional control over timescales much longer than a few centuries.””About 500 years were covered by the Roman Empire. A little over 10,000 years ago, the last ice age ended.”Therefore, the rate at which the radioactivity in this used nuclear fuel can decay is far slower than the rate at which the Earth’s surface and human civilizations change.Sweden has come to its own conclusions previously. It intends to permanently bury its garbage in a rock far beneath.Geological disposal is the procedure in question, and scientists in the nation have spent decades researching various implementation strategies.

The Aspo Hard Rock Laboratory, a facility constructed close to Oskarshamn in the south of the nation, has hosted a large portion of the study.A network of enormous man-made caves has been bored through the rock hundreds of meters beneath the surface.It is being utilized in tests to examine how wastes might be contained and interred as well as how the materials might deteriorate over time.Thousands of years ago, old brine that had moved from the Baltic Sea high above began to flow through fissures in the bedrock here.A actual disposal facility would not be appropriate in such a soggy setting. However, Ylva Stenqvist, a project director at the nation’s nuclear operator SKB, claims that it is ideal for testing.She continues, “This spot was chosen since it is fairly moist.”Because we have to wait a very long time for any kind of results if we do our studies in a very arid place.We purposefully chose this location in order to speed up some of the experiments, properly test our materials, and see how our methodologies hold up in this hostile environment.

The Swedish government earlier this year approved the construction of a real geological disposal facility (GDF) at Forsmark, around 150 kilometers north of Stockholm.Though it will take decades to complete, the project is projected to cost roughly 19 billion Swedish kroner (£1.5 billion; $1.8 billion) and provide 1,500 employment. In Finland, work on a comparable project got under way in 2015.

The UK, which also plans to construct a GDF, is closely monitoring these developments. However, repeated efforts to find a suitable location have been thwarted by political intransigence, as well as by vehement opposition from local protesters and environmentalist.A “consent based” strategy is currently being used to find a location and a population willing to house it. Under this strategy, the government body Nuclear Waste Services forms partnerships with nearby communities to involve them in the process.When those areas sign up, £1 million in funding is provided for local initiatives as a perk, and if deep drilling operations occur, £2.5 million is provided.Four of these relationships have been established since this process started in 2018.

The third is in Cumbria. They include the stretch of coastline where the Sellafield nuclear reactor and many of its employees already reside. Thedlethorpe, in Lincolnshire, was the site of the fourth and most recent.Deep geological disposal is currently not supported by the Scottish government, and Scotland is not a participant in this process.Strong opposition persists even in the regions where partnerships have been established.Radiation Free Lakeland of Cumbria declares, “We are passionately opposed to the geological disposal of hot, heat-generating nuclear waste.”She maintains that the garbage should stay in a location where it can be monitored, repackaged, and collected if something terrible happens. “There would be no hope at all of containment below ground if a leak occurred.”

A location for a UK GDF is not likely to be chosen for at least another 15 years. But some industry professionals wonder if it should ever be constructed at all.

Dr. Paul Dorfman, the chairman of the Nuclear Consulting Group and an associate fellow at the University of Sussex’s science policy research center, is one of them.

He clarifies that “geological disposal is a notion, not a reality.” “There is significant scientific ambiguity over the ability of the proposed materials to withstand the ravages of time.”

He thinks the government is rushing to construct a GDF because it is excited about building additional nuclear power plants.


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