Nuclear waste: in Sweden, Finland, USA communities want spent fuel storage facilities

There’s a secure solution to America’s energy problem buried under booming Carlsbad, N.M. If only Washington would get out of the way.

French and US polls that I’ve read consistently show that people who live near nuclear power stations want to have more nuclear, not less. That perspective is almost impossible to find in the usual sensational media coverage. But this recent Forbes article is different. Carlsbad New Mexico is the site of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP ).

(…) Since opening in 1999, WIPP has operated so smoothly and safely that Carlsbad is lobbying the feds to ­expand the project to take the nuclear mother lode: 160,000 more tons of the worst high-level nuclear waste in the country

(…) Carlsbad has a different take. “It’s really a labor of love,” says Forrest. “We’ve proven that nuclear waste can be disposed of in a safe, reliable way.”

This attitude—“Yes in my backyard,” if you will—has brought near permanent prosperity to this isolated spot that until recently had no endemic economic engine. Unemployment sits at 3.8%, versus 6.5% statewide and 8.5% nationally. And thanks to this project—euphemistically known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP—New Mexico has received more than $300 million in federal highway funds in the past decade, $100 million of which has gone into the roads around Carlsbad. WIPP is the nation’s only permanent, deep geologic repository for nuclear waste. The roads have to be good for the two dozen trucks a week hauling in radioactive drums brimming with the plutonium-laden detritus of America’s nuclear weapons production.

As recommended by the Obama administration’s blue ribbon commission, community involvement is essential to the successful siting and operation of a spent fuel storage facility. A similar story is found in the Swedish town of Östhammar a town of 22,000 inhabitants a two-hour drive north of Stockholm. Spiegel May 19, 2011 Why One Swedish Town Welcomes a Waste Dump. The towns of Östhammar and Oskarshamn competed for the new storage facility:

(…) For years, local officials were worried that another town with a nuclear power plant — Oskarshamn, which is 465 kilometers away and was also vying to be the site of the repository — would end up winning the contest. The two towns decided to make a deal. The company building the repository, Svensk Kärnbränslehantering (SKB), would provide two billion Swedish krona, or about €223 million ($312 million), of which the runner-up would receive 75 percent and the winner only 25 percent.

Some might say it was an attractive incentive for one of the towns to step on the brakes and come in second place.

The decision was made on a rainy summer day in 2009. Edelsvärd remembers the day very clearly. Östhammar town officials were sitting at the town hall, watching a live broadcast of the showdown in Stockholm. When the name of their community appeared on the screen, Edelsvärd says that “people weren’t cheering the way they would at a football match, but you could sense the feeling of elation in the room. It was a very Swedish way of expressing joy.”

Another case of good decisions resulting from competent community consultation is Finland’s new repository at Onkalo.

Please remember that what the media and Greenpeace call “nuclear waste” is actually incredibly valuable fuel for power generation. E.g., in the case of England, the UK DECC chief scientist David MacKay supported estimates that all of England’s electrical needs can be supplied for 500 years by burning the existing UK “waste”. This is in the context of Duncan Clark’s article on deployment of fast reactors such as the GE Hitachi PRISM being proposed to burn the UK “waste plutonium”.

(…) According to figures calculated for the Guardian by the American writer and fast reactor advocate Tom Blees, this alternative approach could – given a large enough number of reactors – produce enough low-carbon electricity from Britain’s waste stockpile to supply the UK at current rates of demand for more than 500 years.

MacKay confirmed this figure. “As an upper bound on what you could get from those resources in fast reactors I think it’s a very reasonable estimate. In reality you’d get all kinds of issues so you wouldn’t achieve the upper bound but I still think it’s a reasonable starting point.”

1 thought on “Nuclear waste: in Sweden, Finland, USA communities want spent fuel storage facilities

  1. The solution is to recognize that there is very little waste.

    What is often considered nuclear waste is actually unused fuel. Our current nuclear technology is incapable of burning the unused fuel which is wrongly considered to be waste. In fact, our current reactors get less than one percent of the available energy from the fuel; therein lies the problem.

    The solution is to use the “waste” as fuel by implementing a nuclear technology that can use the “waste” as fuel. If we continue to use uranium in such an inefficient manner, we will soon run out of it but, if we use it more efficiently, it will last for centuries.

    Better yet, don’t use uranium for nuclear fuel. Instead, use thorium, in the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR).

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