What happens to nuclear waste?

about 2 years ago
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Ever wonder what happens to all the nuclear waste which is left behind after fuel is generated? Well, even the countries using nuclear power are wondering about it as most do not seem to have a clue! The tsunami and earthquake which hit Japan and the damage it caused to the Fukushima nuclear plant should have ideally taught many lessons but sadly, not everyone seems to have learnt.

South Korea, is the world’s fifth largest user of nuclear power but sadly, it currently is very worried about the 70% or the 9000 tonnes of used fuel stacked in temporary storage pools. These pools were to hold waste for 5-6 years  and some sites are due to be full by 2016. But with no option left, the country will continue dumping more than stipulated while it hunts around for a more permanent solution. The 23 nuclear reactors in Asia's fourth-biggest economy add a total of 750 tonnes of spent fuel every year to the 13,300 tonnes that filled 71% of its wet and dry storage capacity as of last year. To make matters worse, it is building 11 more new plants, all set to go up by 2024.

One would wonder if the spent fuel could be reprocessed? Well, it can be but as per its Nuclear Agreement with USA, it cannot reprocess spent fuel as it costly and technologically challenging. Others like Britain and France have tried and discarded it. Public consensus is also currently being sought to build metal and concrete-covered dry casks, which could hold it for up to 100 years. But the country is small and people as such are worried about living close to existing nuclear plants. With North Korea constantly being a threat, the south Koreans do not want to take any chances and have shot down this idea.

The Govt is trying its level best to convince people to come around. In fact, on TV, along with ads for chocolates and cosmetics, there is an ad where the Public Engagement Commission Chairman Hong Doo-seung urges public consensus on working towards a solution to the storage crunch.  Different countries, different problems.

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