Nuclear waste has been an intractable problem ever since nuclear power was developed over 60 years ago. It has become a very expensive and politically embarrassing issue all around the world.
Not that the Johnson Government would admit this. Many in it still argue that nuclear power is the answer to climate change, conveniently forgetting that they are passing the waste buck onto future generations. To those in power, the solution to the waste problem is always just around the corner, to be resolved just beyond their term of office. But the history of nuclear over the last six decades, across the globe, is of dozens of failed schemes.
Currently the UK is undertaking its sixth search in 42 years for a nuclear waste dump site. Yet again wrestling with the problem of years of public consultations, planning inquiries and geological investigations, only to be finally rejected, even as scientists warn that continued neglect of the issue is placing citizens in increasing danger.
The problem is that civil nuclear industries, especially when, as in Britain, they are combined with a weapons programme, produce plutonium and other by-products in spent fuel that take as long as 100,000 years to decay. International law requires the country that produced the waste to dispose of it within its own boundaries. Identifying somewhere to put this waste, where they could be safe for that length of time, requires stable geological formations that are very hard to find anywhere.
One favoured site, at Sellafield in Cumbria, next to the country’s two vast reprocessing facilities, was rejected on geological grounds – the rock it was to be built into has far too many cracks to keep the waste from leaching into the water supply.
So, the Government is still struggling to find a community somewhere in Britain willing to take the waste, in return for a very large bribe in the form of cash to develop schools, roads, industries and anything else that takes their fancy. Just as long as they host the nation’s nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years. It remains to be seen whether there will ever be any takers.