Since the 1980s the US has spent some $5 billion on storage facilities deep within the supposedly geologically stable Yucca Mountains in Nevada, and still issues arise over the ability to maintain an air- and watertight environment for the minimum 100,000 years. It seems that it will never accept any nuclear waste.
According to Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, there are vast amounts of nuclear waste waiting all over the US in ‘cooling ponds’ to be shipped off. Many of these cooling ponds are already filled to capacity, but no solution has come yet. She calculates that it would take 20 years of transporting 2000 tonnes of highly toxic and dangerous waste per year to clear the backlog, and within that 20 years another backlog would build, creating the scenario of endless nuclear waste shipments on the roads, on the oceans, with frequent accidents more likely than not.1
Shipping this nuclear waste requires enormous tanks that can contain the intensely radioactive and thermally hot waste. Excluding the apparent danger from terrorists, it is inconceivable that this kind of movement of nuclear waste from all over the world would not produce some accidents, and as Chernobyl showed so well, nobody gets to simply walk away from this kind of accident.
Historically the inland of Australia has been under water at some time or another, and now with global warming, sea levels are expected to rise, and possibly rise quite fast. According to Australian of the Year, Professor Tim Flannery, on the ABC’s Lateline recently, ‘… it is possible that the Arctic ice will be gone within 15 years unless drastic political and economic changes occur’.2 With such threats, it makes no sense for Australia, though a relatively geological stable continent but one that may well be largely under-water within the next 100, 1000, 10,000, or 250,000 years, to accept the world’s nuclear waste.
However, Prime Minister Howard says that we can store this waste in the Northern Territory. Can he guarantee that the geology of inland Australia will remain stable and above water for 250,000 years? Can he guarantee it for 50 years? For 10 years? France’s most recent nuclear dump in Champagne has reportedly begun to leak, after 10 years. The one at La Hague has been leaking into the groundwater for some years.3
Will the company that builds these dumps guarantee their work for 100,000 years? For 1000 years? For 100 years? For 20 years? And when something needs to be fixed, will that company that made the massive profits from constructing and running the power plants (largely from taxpayer subsidies) still be there to fix it? Not likely. So in effect we are sentencing the next 10,000 generations of Australians to possibly having to deal with a dump of the most toxic and dangerous substances in existence. It may well be that in the future people will be less energy rich than we are, and may not be able to afford repairing nuclear dumps that arose from our short-sightedness.
Published in Kindred, Issue 21, March 07
1. Dr Helen Caldicott. Nuclear Power is not the Answer to Global Warming or Anything Else
2. Lateline interview with Tim Flannery, ABC TV, 7/2/07
3. Greepeace. The nuclear waste crisis in France