Did This Country Just Solve The Problem Of Nuclear Waste?


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Finland may have finally solved its radioactive waste problem by burying the stuff deep underground on an island to prevent political backlash.

Finland’s two major nuclear-power companies started digging a massive tunnel system capable of housing 6,500 tons of spent uranium for the next 100,000 years. The system is being constructed 100 stories underground and could be finished as soon as 2020.

The country has managed to prevent local political opposition to the waste storage site, largely by touting its economic benefits. The facility will give the local government roughly $17.2 million in annual tax revenue each year, preventing serious political backlash.

“I would congratulate the Finns on having made the progress to get to this point,” Dr. Peter Swift, a senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, which heads the U.S. attempts to store waste, told The Wall Street Journal. “They’ve gotten further than anyone else has.”

Most of the world’s nuclear fuel is stored in cooling pools at reactor sites or in steel casks sheathed in concrete. However, both of these methods cannot permanently store nuclear waste, as both methods are costly and vulnerable to natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

Difficulties in disposing of nuclear waste was one of the biggest environmentalist objections to nuclear power, even though huge advances in waste reprocessing and disposal have occurred in recent years.

In the U.S., former Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid thwarted  attempts to create a secure and permanent site to store radioactive nuclear waste, single-handedly preventing America’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site from getting enough money to open.

The Department of Energy submitted its proposal to build Yucca Mountain in June of 2008, and the project met the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) safety standards in October of 2014. The NRC released a report in May determining that the site would have no adverse environmental impact on the local groundwater, soil, ecology or public health for a period of 1 million years.

New Russian nuclear reactors are theoretically capable of eliminating the production of radioactive waste, achieving a “closed loop” of nuclear power generation where waste would fuel other reactors. Testing has already begun on components needed to reprocess waste into fuel, as has the construction of reactors to use it. The first of the new reactors should be completed by 2025.

Australia is considering a big change in its nuclear energy policy by building an enormous storage facility for nuclear waste in the country’s south, according to a report by an Australian royal commission.

A large multi-national nuclear waste storage facility would offer huge economic benefits to southern Australia and would be much more efficient than smaller national waste storage facilities, according to the report. The country’s government estimates that building the facility could earn Australia $262 billion, which is far more than the proposed costs of about $106 billion.

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