Germany Is Closing Nuclear Power Plants — But What To Do With the Waste For A Million Years?

Photo: Bloomberg

Where does one store nearly 2,000 containers of high-level radioactive waste that is absolutely unbreakable and guaranteed to never leak? That is the challenge facing a team of German scientists tasked with figuring out how to safely close down all of Germany’s nuclear power plants by 2031 — and the bar is high — they are aiming for a site that will provide “the best possible safety and security for a period of a million years,” according to CNN.

Why This Matters:  Talk about kicking the can down the road!  Currently, all the spent nuclear fuel is in dozens of temporary storage sites scattered around Germany, but they were only designed to hold it for a few decades and some of the current locations do not meet the current safety standards.  Now the government is looking for a safe place to bury it at least 1 kilometer below the surface in solid rock — but Germany has very little solid “bedrock” to work with.  This is something they probably should have thought about sooner.  The U.S. is not in much better shape, however.  According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), here “nearly all spent nuclear fuel is currently stored on-site at commercial nuclear power plants and only a very small amount, less than 1%, has been shipped to away-from-reactor, off-site facilities.”  This is why new nuclear power plants are so controversial.

How Hot Is It?

Spent nuclear fuel is still really, really hot and deadly.  The German lead scientist told CNN that “If you opened up a canister with those fuel rods in it, you would more or less instantly die,” and the rods are “so incredibly hot, it’s very hard to transport them safely.” So, for now, they must be stored in containers where they can first cool down over several decades before being buried.  One important consideration is designing a way to ensure that wherever they put the nuclear graveyard will be clearly marked to explain to future generations thousands of years from now — when language might be completely different — that they must not disturb the site.  And no communities have stepped up to say that storing the waste in their midst would be accepted regardless of the safety standards.

How Many Nuclear Plants Are Left?

Germany’s 7 remaining nuclear power plants will be phased out by 2022 — they decided to phase out the remaining plants after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 in Japan, with public concern in Germany about their safety growing.  Worldwide there are still more than 400 operating nuclear power plants but many nearing the end of their operating lifetimes, and so the issue of waste storage will only become more urgent.  According to the EIA, “as of October 1, 2019, there are 58 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 96 nuclear reactors in 29 U.S. states.”

To Go Deeper:  Read this CNN Business article about how to demolish a nuclear reactor without causing a nuclear explosion!

 

Up Next

Trump Administration Wants to Ditch Energy-Efficient Dishwashers

Trump Administration Wants to Ditch Energy-Efficient Dishwashers

The Trump Administration announced its intention to roll back yet another climate change efficiency standard.  The Hill reported that the Energy Department is planning to allow faster-cleaning dishwashers that do not comply with current energy efficiency standards, which will overturn years of progress on making these appliances energy efficient.

Why This Matters:  Many Americans will give thanks on Thursday for their dishwashers. And most do not object to the time it takes for them to operate – they just want clean, safe dishes. 

Continue Reading 389 words
Trump Administration Approves Four New LNG Terminals for South Texas

Trump Administration Approves Four New LNG Terminals for South Texas

Moving full speed ahead on new fossil fuel infrastructure, the Trump Administration’s federal regulators approved permits for three new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals in the Rio Grande Valley and the expansion of another in Corpus Christi, according to the Houston Chronicle.  They do not have financing and final approvals yet, and a coalition of environmentalists, Native Americans, shrimpers, fishers, and communities working under the banner Save RGV From LNG are fighting the  Brownsville projects due to safety and environmental concerns.

Why This Matters:  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with President Trump’s appointees at the helm have sped through 11 LNG projects in the last 9 months alone.

Continue Reading 528 words
CA Governor Halts Fracking Permits, NY Governor In Standoff Over Natural Gas

CA Governor Halts Fracking Permits, NY Governor In Standoff Over Natural Gas

Governors on both coasts are going to battle with oil and gas companies over climate change. Continuing his strong environmental protection agenda, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday announced new regulations putting in place a moratorium on fracking and curbed steam-injected oil drilling in the state, which environmentalists have long opposed.  Meanwhile, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo […]

Continue Reading 497 words