Nuclear waste & pointing fingers

On 17th October 1956, the Queen gave nuclear power the royal nod by flicking the switch on the UK’s first power station. Skip 60 years forward and 19 of the reactors call the UK their home. And what have they got to show for themselves? A fifth of our electricity is what.

Find out more here.

There’s one gripe about nuclear power that consistently gets top billing though. Coping with the waste.

But before I get onto the subject of waste, I’ve got an important point to make – so listen up. Not all nuclear waste has a sinister side. Low-level waste like contaminated clothes can usually be compacted, buried and be left to its own devices to decay safely. It’s the high-level waste that has its haters and it’s easy to see why.

Hot and full of radiation the waste at the top end of the scale is harmful for thousands of years. It’s so dangerous it even demands respect when being stored.

After being vitrified (that’s combined with glass) to stop it from dissolving in water, it’s then sealed in a steel barrel to be kept safely above ground. One school of thought is to plant these steel drums underground, but before that idea is given the green light, thought needs to go into where underground. If water corrodes the barrel or an earthquake happens nearby, it’s game over.

It’s not just about dealing with where to store the waste. Producing less waste is where we need to kick things off. And thankfully for all our futures, minds are getting down and dirty on the task.

Plans to turn nuclear waste into nuclear fuel are well on the way. See what you make of it:
www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/dec/23/scienceofclimatechange.climatechange
Dealing with the issues surrounding nuclear power are important for all our futures. If you want to do your bit, you could become:

  • nuclear engineer researching ways to make nuclear power more efficient with less waste
  • public relations officer ensuring the public understands the issues involved in nuclear power
  • health and safety officer protecting the safety of people working in a nuclear power plant
  • security officer securing the fuel, buildings and workers
  • geoscientist finding regions where it is safe to store nuclear waste
  • civil or structural engineer ensuring storage chambers for nuclear waste are stable and safe
  • An ecologist ensuring nuclear power and waste has a the minimum impact on the environment
  • civil servant advising the Government on the legal implications of nuclear waste storage and ensuring community involvement
  • physicist looking at the fundamentals of nuclear physics to find ways to modify nuclear waste