Common Concerns

Nuclear waste is often alleged to be the industry’s insoluble problem. The common perception is that the highly radioactive spent fuel is vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks during transportation. Besides, underground disposal of nuclear waste may cause contamination to the environment for generations.

Compared with fossil fuel waste, which is large and unmanageable to be contained and must be dispersed into the environment, nuclear waste volume is minimal and can be safely managed without harm to people or the environment.

Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

Nuclear materials have been transported safely, with the primary assurance being the way in which they are packaged. Containers that store waste during transportation are designed to ensure shielding from radiation and containment of the waste, even under the most extreme accident conditions.

The nuclear industry is dependent upon the transportation of nuclear components and materials (Uranium, fresh fuel, nuclear spent fuel and Plutonium). Radioactive materials are carried by sea, rail, road and air. So even if you do not live near a nuclear power station, you may be near a transport route without even knowing about it.
“Since 1971, there have been more than 20,000 safe shipments of highly radioactive used fuel and high-level wastes (over 50,000 tonnes) over more than 30 million kilometres with no property damage or personal injury, no breach of containment, and very low radiation dose to the personnel involved.” by World Nuclear Association (read more)

Photo: U.S. Department of Energy

All categories of radioactive waste are monitored and treated with great care and subject to planned safe management practices. Prior to long-term disposal, high-level waste is safely contained in interim storage facilities. This is to provide an appropriate environment and sufficient duration for the heat and radioactivity of the waste to decay before proceeding to long-term geological underground disposal. Compared with other industrial wastes, the amount of spent fuel is relatively small. The estimated amount of spent fuel produced yearly from all the world’s reactors would fit inside a two-storey structure built on a basketball court.

After reprocessing, the remaining waste of spent fuel will be packaged into specially designed structure for underground disposal. To ensure the radioactivity is well managed, most high-level wastes are held in form of stable ceramic solid or vitrified glass. The special designed ceramic or glass would be effective in retaining the radioactive substance resulting from the nuclear reaction. Furthermore, this kind of special material would be very difficult to disperse by terrorist in which the threat of “dirty bombs” could be minimised.

Much of this nuclear waste will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years, leaving a poisonous legacy to future generations.

European leaders are being misled over the safety of underground disposal of highly dangerous nuclear waste which could poison ground waters for centuries
“In fact, the radioactivity of nuclear wastes naturally decays progressively and has a finite radiotoxic lifetime. The radioactivity of high-level wastes decays to the level of an equivalent amount of original mined Uranium ore in between 1,000 and 10,000 years. Its hazard then depends on how concentrated it is. Compare this to other industrial wastes (e.g. heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury), which remain hazardous indefinitely.” by World Nuclear Association (read more)

Photo: Daya Bay Nuclear Power Operations &
Management Co., Ltd.

Photo: J Leclercq, The Nuclear Age, 1986