Nuclear Energy Sellafield site including nuclear waste facilities

Published on November 8th, 2012 | by Chris Milton


Nuclear Waste Storage Facilities “Intolerable”

November 8th, 2012 by  

Nuclear waste stored in run-down facilities poses an “intolerable risk;” long-term planning has faced “historic neglect” and decommissioning costs have spiralled out of control.

That’s the damning conclusion of a report by the National Audit Office into the Sellafield nuclear power station, the largest and oldest in the UK.

Sellafield site including nuclear waste facilities

Nearly 20 million gallons of nuclear waste are stored on the site in ponds and silos for the 50-year period needed for nuclear waste to cool down. Many of these are themselves over 50 years old and have “deteriorated so much that their contents pose significant risks to people and the environment”.

There have been many plans to improve the facilities, the latest of which came to a halt last year because it was “unrealistic,” with 85% of the improvements attempted failing to achieve what they were meant to achieve.

One of these was meant to fully encapsulate the nuclear waste silos on the site but was scrapped in 2008 because construction had started before the design process had completed.  Work has now restarted on the project with costs rising 92% to over $2 billion.

The estimated cost of decommissioning the entire site by 2120 has risen by over 40% in just 3 years, and currently stands at $107 billion.

Co-incidentally, that’s exactly the same amount (40% that is) which Green Alliance and WWF estimated the UK could cut its energy demand by if it gave proper incentives for householders and businesses to generate their own renewable energy.

Instead, the UK Government made an unbelievable decision in 2008 to return to nuclear power and revealed plans last year to build another eight new nuclear power plants by 2025.

I just hope British children and taxpayers of the future will forgive them.

Picture Credit: Postcard of Sellafield by Leonora Enking (some rights reserved).

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About the Author

is a seasoned sustainability journalist focusing on business, finance and clean technology. His writing's been carried by a number of highly respected publishers, including The Guardian, The Washington Post and Scientific American. You can follow him on twitter as @britesprite, where he's one of Mashable's top green tweeters and Fast Company's CSR thought leaders. Alternatively you can follow him to the shops... but that would be boring.

  • Ronald Brak

    I was just reading about the B30 holding pool, or “dirty thirty” at Sellafield. I found it interesting that they don’t actually know how much radioactive waste is in it. You’d think they’d have a record of that somewhere, wouldn’t you? Maybe they lost the piece of paper they wrote it down on. And it’s hard to find out, as workers are limited to 2 minutes exposure by the edge of the pool due to nuclear waste apparently giving off radiation.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here at our shutdown reactor, Humboldt Bay, they’ve lost 3 fuels rod in the storage tank.

      They can’t find any record of them being shipped out. They haven’t been able to locate them in the tank. One of the Homers has suggested they fell apart and the pieces are in the bottom of the tank.

      Isn’t it the case if too much of this stuff gets piled up too thick water starts to boil away?

      Why, yes, that’s now we make steam to run the turbines.

      Actually, after a few years they moved about half the not-missing rods into a dry cask. Parked close to the Bay in the tsunami zone. The other half were sent somewhere as other people’s back yard problems….

      • Ronald Brak

        I wouldn’t worry about it. The missing fuel rods are probably in pieces at the bottom of the pond and almost certainly not in the back of a truck somewhere with 100 pounds of TNT strapped to them. And as for a criticality incident, not to worry, storage pools have a built in warning system that consisting of a spreading cloud of radioactive steam. But such an incident should be impossible. Building a holding pool where a critically incident could take place would be as crazy as building back up generators that could get flooded in a tsunami zone.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Thanks. I feel so much more relaxed now.

          I’ve been a bit jumpy since the spent fuel containment vessel fell off a truck about two miles from here. Yes, it was empty at the time, but….
          Nuclear, got to love it. Adds spice to ones life….

  • Bob_Wallace

    It’s very interesting watching this play out. Right now the nuclear industry wants the government to guarantee them a minimum price for their electricity. The nuclear industry is admitting that they can’t deliver cheap electricity, that they can’t compete in a free market.

    “Build us! We’ll charge you more for electricity. And then we’ll leave you with a massive cleanup and disposal problem.”

    (You sure the nuclear industry isn’t a stealth performance by Monty Python?)

  • Andy Miles

    “I just hope British children and taxpayers of the future will forgive them.” Forgive them we will not: Nuclear power is madness, and this current UK government are insane.

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