Years’ worth of high-level nuclear waste are buried 40 meters (130 feet) under the Swedish countryside in ponds that are remarkably clean and blue-lit.
It is a strangely lovely yet unsettling sight. Near Oskarshamn, on Sweden’s Baltic coast, rows upon rows of large metal containers packed with leftover nuclear fuel from the nation’s reactors are submerged.
Both very dangerous and completely safe, it.
Lethal due to the material’s high radioactivity; safe due to its location 8 meters under water, which acts as an excellent radiation shield.
For decades, waste may be stored in this manner. In actuality, it must be.
Strong radioactivity produces a lot of heat, thus it must be cooled for a lengthy time before the item can be removed for storage.
But many governments, including that of the UK, have been debating the issue of what to do with it thereafter for years.
Quantity is not the issue.
Although there are several hundred thousand tonnes of intermediate-level trash that must also be dealt with, the UK only has a small stockpile of the most hazardous high-level waste after around 60 years of commercial and military programs.
The main problem is time.
Prof. Neil Hyatt, principal scientific consultant to the UK’s Nuclear Waste Services, says that used fuel assemblies are highly radioactive and that radioactivity takes a very long time to decay.
“Around 10% of the initial radioactivity is remained after roughly 1,000 years, and that slowly decays away over about 100,000 years or so.”
This presents particular challenges.
According to Prof. Hyatt, “We can’t depend on institutional control over periods much longer than a few centuries.”
“About 500 years were covered by the Roman Empire. A little over 10,000 years ago, the last ice age ended.
Therefore, the pace at which the radioactivity in this used nuclear fuel may decay is far slower than how rapidly the Earth’s surface and human civilizations evolve.
Sweden has come to its own conclusions previously. It intends to permanently bury its garbage in a rock far beneath.
Geological disposal is the procedure in question, and experts in the nation have spent decades researching various implementation strategies.
The Aspo Hard Rock Laboratory, a facility constructed close to Oskarshamn in the south of the nation, has hosted a large portion of the study.
A network of enormous man-made caves has been bored through the rock hundreds of meters under the surface.
It is being utilized in tests to examine how wastes may be contained and buried as well as how the materials would deteriorate over time.
Thousands of years ago, old brine that had moved from the Baltic Sea high above began to flow through fissures in the bedrock here.
A actual disposal facility would not be appropriate in such a soggy setting. However, project director Ylva Stenqvist of the nation’s nuclear operator SKB asserts that it is ideal for testing.
She continues, “This spot was chosen since it is fairly moist.
“Because we must wait a very long time for any type of results if we do our studies in a very dry environment.
We purposefully picked this location in order to speed up some of the tests, properly test our materials, and see how our methodologies hold up in this hostile environment.
The Swedish government earlier this year authorized the construction of a true geological disposal facility (GDF) at Forsmark, around 150 kilometers north of Stockholm.
Though it will take decades to complete, the project is projected to cost roughly 19 billion Swedish kroner (£1.5 billion; $1.8 billion) and provide 1,500 employment. In Finland, work on a comparable project got under way in 2015.
The UK, which also plans to construct a GDF, is closely monitoring these developments. However, repeated efforts to identify a suitable site have been thwarted by political inertia, as well as by vehement resistance from local demonstrators and environmentalists.
A “permission based” strategy is now being used to identify a location and a population willing to house it. Under this strategy, the government entity Nuclear Waste Services forms relationships with nearby towns to include them in the process.
When those areas join up, £1 million in funding is provided for local projects as a perk, and if deep drilling operations occur, £2.5 million is provided.
Four of these relationships have been established since this process started in 2018.
The third is in Cumbria. They include the stretch of coastline where the Sellafield nuclear reactor and many of its employees already reside. Thedlethorpe, in Lincolnshire, was the site of the fourth and most recent.
Deep geological disposal is presently not supported by the Scottish government, and Scotland is not a participant in this process.
Strong resistance persists even in the regions where partnerships have been established.
Radiation Free Lakeland of Cumbria declares, “We are passionately opposed to the geological disposal of hot, heat-generating nuclear waste.”
She maintains that the garbage should stay in a location where it can be monitored, repackaged, and collected if anything terrible happens. “If a leak happened below earth, there would be zero prospect of containment.”