How do you store something for one million years? That’s the sort of question scientists have to consider when disposing of the spent fuel from nuclear power plants. To put that timespan into context: one million years ago, homo sapiens didn’t yet exist and the world was still locked in an ice age.
Sixty years after the birth of the nuclear power industry, countries around the world – from Australia to Germany – are wondering how to safely dispose of radioactive waste. France, the country in the world with the largest share of electricity produced by nuclear power (58 reactors meeting 75% of France’s electricity needs), produces enough radioactive waste annually to fill 120 double-decker buses.
Until a 1993 ban, some nations dumped nuclear waste into the ocean. In the 1970s, NASA investigated the possibility of blasting nuclear waste into space and storing it on the moon (though concluded space storage was not an “attractive option”). Some scientists want to use lasers to reduce the half-life of toxic radioactive material to a more manageable timespan.
The more mundane solution is to bury it. However, nobody wants to live near buried nuclear waste, so potential sites need to be isolated (not to mention geologically stable). So far, only Finland is moving ahead with plans to excavate a long-term storage facility to bury spent nuclear fuel underground (at a cost of 3.5 billion euros).
What should we do with radioactive nuclear waste? Should we bury it deep underground? Can science find a solution? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!