Radioactive Waste……

11 Jan

Whatever Happened To…….


When I was a teenager hardly a day went by when the Rainbow Warrior and GreenpeaceImage activists didn’t feature in the news trying to stop the dumping of radioactive waste, ‘sealed’ in oil drums somewhere in the mid Atlantic.  Those images are no longer a feature of the daily news but the issue of where to put the waste from nuclear fusion reactors is still with us.  Having bowed to public pressure most of our nuclear waste has either been sent to a far away 3rd world country, more interested in making money for corrupt despots than public health or, stored ‘on site’ at Sellafield in giant pools of water, surrounded by multiple barbed wire fences, private security firms and armed police officers.  Given that Sellafield only has finite resources for storing radioactive waste another solution is needed……


Storing up Trouble for the Future……


Some of the waste left over from nuclear fusion is what professional physicists would call Image‘pretty nasty stuff’!  There’s Plutonium, Curium, Uranium, Californium, Thorium, Caesium and Polonium to name but a few from the KGBs cocktail cabinet.   Some have relatively short radioactive half-lives, others can have a half-life in the order of thousands or even millions of years.  Since radioactive decay follows the half-life rule, the rate of decay is inversely proportional to the duration of decay. In other words, the radiation from a long-lived isotope like Iodine-129 will be much less intense than that of a short-lived isotope like Iodine-131.  However, when you do the calculations, the waste from our nuclear industries will remain a danger to human health for many generations to come.  As the generation of electricity using nuclear fusion is Carbon neutral, HMG is already considering building several new nuclear power stations in order to meet CO2 emissions targets……


The Current Proposal……


Cumbria appears to be the favoured Guinea Pig when it comes to experiments in nuclear power.  Having already suffered the effects of the Windscale air cooled reactor [bad idea. Ed], which came dangerously close to a meltdown in the 1950’s, it is now the preferred location for an underground storage facility for the country’s nuclear waste.


Three councils in Cumbria are due to vote on proposals to find a suitable’ site to create a new underground dump to deal with the existing, and future, waste.  A spokesperson for the nuclear industry said a ‘no’ vote would be ‘an injustice to future generations’; to hazard a guess I would say that spokesperson doesn’t live in Cumbria.  Lord Hutton, who is now the chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, having found that our invasion of Iraq was perfectly legal despite the knowledge that Saddam Hussein did not have any WMDs, said plans for a permanent solution [for Britain’s nuclear waste] were at a ‘critical’ stage.  He said ‘We must not continue to pass the buck’, adding ‘a permanent geological solution’, or, a hole in the ground as the rest of us would call it, was ‘the only responsible way to proceed’.  I assume Lord Hutton doesn’t live in Cumbria either and we know we can trust him……


The Way Forward……


However you look at it we have what would have been described by Apollo 13 as ‘a problem’ with no easy solution.  We already have a huge quantity of radioactive waste languishing in the pools at Sellafield and one which is only going to get bigger, especially if we build new nuclear facilities.  Due to the length of time required before it’s safe to spread on our rose beds, it is only natural to entrust the safety of everybody’s future to HMG, after all they always come up with a safe, practical and cost effective solution to our problems.  The nuclear industry may consider burying it underground as a practical solution but none of us are able to predict the future.  As the Japanese found at Fukishima, you can plan for ever eventuality but it isn’t foolproof.  No one can say what will happen to the geology of Cumbria in five thousand years time.  On the scale of a human lifetime mountains don’t move but over thousands of years they do.  Unless science can find a way of decontaminating radioactive waste [unlikely], producing power without creating it in the first place or a workable solution for generations to come, we will have to live with it.


Until nuclear fission becomes a reality the arguments will continue and nobody can accuse the residents of the Cumbrian countryside of being NIMBY’s.  The arrogance of the human race in its assumption that it is the dominant and most intelligent species on Earth never fails to amaze me.  As Douglas Adams put it, ‘Humans thought they were the most intelligent life form because they invented the wheel, democracy and wars; and Dolphins thought they were, for exactly the same reasons’.  I’m quoting from memory before all the anal Douglas Adams fans start to bombard me, but you get the point.  I propose that all the nuclear waste is divided up equally and buried under the politicians houses that cost the tax payer so much money, thereby, literally, killing two birds with one radioactive stone….!



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