World Nuclear Waste Report:
Final disposal of nuclear waste confronts governments with incalculable technical, logistical, and financial risks
Berlin/Brussels – The final disposal of high-level radioactive waste presents governments worldwide with major challenges that have not yet been addressed, and entails incalculable technical, logistical, and financial risks. This is the conclusion of the first “World Nuclear Waste Report – Focus Europe” presented today in Berlin.
According to the World Nuclear Waste Report, over 60,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel alone are stored in interim storage facilities across Europe (excluding Russia and Slovakia 1). Spent fuel rods are highly radioactive waste. To date, no country in the world has a repository for high-level waste from nuclear power in operation. Within the EU, France accounts for 25 percent of the current spent nuclear fuel, followed by Germany (15 percent) and the United Kingdom (14 percent).
In addition, more than 2.5 million m³ of low- and intermediate-level waste has been generated in Europe (excluding Slovakia and Russia). Over its lifetime, the European nuclear reactor fleet will produce an estimated 6.6 million m³ of nuclear waste. Four countries are responsible for most of this waste: France (30 percent), the UK (20 percent), the Ukraine (18 percent) and Germany (8 percent).
According to the World Nuclear Waste Report, many governments underestimate the costs of interim and final storage. No country has a consistent financing model to date in places. This poses further financial risk for taxpayers.
“Worldwide, the amount of nuclear waste is growing. But even 70 years after the start of the nuclear age, no country in the world has found a real solution for the legacies of nuclear power,” said Rebecca Harms, former Member of European Parliament for Alliance 90/The Greens and initiator of the report. “The biggest challenge is spent nuclear fuel. Although it accounts for only a smaller volume of nuclear waste, it is the most difficult part of the problem to solve because of its high and extremely long-lived radioactivity and heat generation,” Harms said.
Marcos Buser, a geologist and co-author of the report, said: “Increasing amounts of high-level waste have to be interim stored for ever longer periods of time, as no country in the world has yet commissioned a deep geological repository for such waste. The problem is that interim storage facilities have not been designed for such long-term use.” The Swiss nuclear expert warned that the storage facilities are already reaching the limits of their capacities. For example, storage capacity for spent fuel in Finland has already reached 93 percent saturation. Sweden’s decentralized storage facility CLAB is at 80 percent saturation. “The shutdown and decommissioning of many nuclear power plants will again drastically increase the quantities of nuclear waste,” warns Buser.
In addition to the safety aspects, the report identifies the enormous costs of interim storage and final disposal as another risk. “National governments and operators often significantly underestimate the costs of decommissioning, storage, and disposal of nuclear waste,” said Ben Wealer, co-author of the study and industrial engineer at the Technical University of Berlin. In many countries there is a large gap between the expected costs and the financial resources earmarked for them. The problem would be exacerbated by the fact that final disposal also involves incalculable risks, which could lead to enormous cost increases, as the German government experiences with the Asse repository illustrate.
Nearly every government claims to apply the polluter-pays-principle, which makes operators liable for the costs of managing, storing, and disposing of nuclear waste. In reality, however, governments fail to apply the polluter-pays-principle consistently. “No country in Europe has taken sufficient precautions to finance the costs of the final disposal of nuclear waste. There is a threat that the real, massive costs will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers,” Wealer warned.
The report shows that the eternal legacy of nuclear power can only be overcome with considerable effort, Rebecca Harms said. The former MEP from the Wendland region of Germany underlined: “After more than 40 years of dealing with the issue, I assume that it will still take several generations before a first repository can be put into operation that has been searched for and approved to the best of knowledge.” That is why she initiated this report: “It is important to pass on to the next generation not only the problem, but also the knowledge from the nuclear waste debate,” said Harms.
Ellen Ueberschär, President of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, said: “The numerous unsolved problems in dealing with nuclear waste show that nuclear power has no future. At the same time, the report makes clear that phasing out nuclear power is not enough. Insufficient financial provisions for disposing of nuclear waste must not undermine the care and safety of decisions for interim storage and final disposal. The search for a suitable final repository needs greater public attention. The report is intended to facilitate a qualified international debate.”
1 The calculations in the report cover all European countries that use nuclear power. Exceptions to this are Russia and Slovakia, as the data published by these two countries is inadequate.
The first World Nuclear Waste Report – Focus Europe provides an overview of the global challenges posed by growing volumes of nuclear waste. It was written by a dozen international scientists and focuses on Europe. The report complements the established World Nuclear Industry Status Report, which is published every year by a team of experts led by Mycle Schneider. This first edition of the World Nuclear Waste Report will be translated into French and Czech. The initiators intend to publish a follow-up edition in the coming years in order to identify trends and developments.
The report can be downloaded here: www.WorldNuclearWasteReport.org
The report is licensed under a Creative Commons License (CC-BY-SA).
Texts and figures can be used with indication of the sources.