Decommissioning Wind vs. Storing Nuclear Waste

At the recent meeting in Lion’s Head that had presentations from anti wind speakers, a question came from the audience about nuclear waste. The point was made that wind turbines can be taken down at the end of their lives, unlike nuclear plants, whose waste has to be stored. It was a good question. After all, it is not a decision between wind, and no wind. It is a decision between wind and something else. In Ontario, that something else has been nuclear, as it supplies about half of our power.

One of the speakers, a retired Bruce Power employee, gave an answer. He admitted that nuclear waste comes out of the reactor “hot”, both in temperature and radioactivity. He went on to point out that uranium is naturally occuring, and that after about 100 years, the “heat” of the waste would be much reduced, so much so that he made it sound like you could almost store it in your basement safely.

I listened to this in shock. If this were true, then I think we do have chance – but just a chance – to store nuclear waste safely. After all, 100 years isn’t that long – we just might survive as a society that long. What are all of the anti nuke groups talking about?

I wanted to know more. So I asked some people I know, who would be more expert than I.

They gave me a copy of the Final Study of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, a group tasked by government to find a solution to nuclear waste disposal. Here is what they say (page 341):

“After about 1 million years, the radioactivity used in fuel approaches that of natural uranium (AECL 1994: NWMO 2003: McMurray et al, 2003″.

Then later, it says: “After about 200,000 years, the decay heat from used fuel begins to approach that of natural uranium (McMurray et al. 2003).”

So, it is simply untrue that nuclear waste is not a problem after 100 years. It continues to be highly radioactive, and it is still hotter in temperature than natural uranium. We will need to continue to manage it for thousands of years, at unknown cost and risk.

You can’t have a debate about wind in isolation. If you don’t want wind, what do you want? I, for one, don’t want to leave unlimited liability to future generations. Where is the humanity in that?

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