Where Do We Put A Lifetime’s Worth Of The Planet’s Nuclear Waste?

Quite riveting story from Mairead Dundas of France24 English about the realities of dealing with the waste from nuclear energy.

Sat on what appears to be a typical French field, the camera pans out as she notes she is sat, quite literally, above hundreds of thousands of cubic metres (actually 527,225 square metres) of nuclear waste – not the really radioactive stuff, but the lower level waste made up of things like tools and clothing. 

This waste, which makes up 97% of radioactive material, is held in metal and concrete canisters, covered in a synthetic membrane, then sand, then bitumen, and finally soil. It will be monitored for the next 300 years.

However, the other three percent of the waste, the high-level waste, made up mostly of the used fuel in the reactor itself needs to be stored securely and in isolation for much longer than 300 years, certainly well into the tens of thousands of years.

‘the geology is made up chiefly of a claystone that can “imprison radioactivity” underground’

This permanent storage, and the various options for where and how it can be carried out successfully are a massive problem. According to the report the French are likely to spend 25 billion Euros on their own solution, a controversial 500m deep labyrinth of storage tunnels below the area of Bure, in Eastern France. This area is seen as especially good for long term storage of nuclear waste as the geology is made up chiefly of a claystone that can ‘imprison radioactivity’ underground.

Above ground at Bure there have been protests at the proposals – but this problem is not just limited to France – as each nuclear energy producing nation is attempting to best find its own solution.

Of course, if we are burying highly radioactive waste today, the big question is: how will future generations in 2,000, 6,000, or 10,000 years from now even know where it is located or the danger it poses?