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Nuclear waste is the really most serious problem

nuclear waste lasts forever. That’s the real horror of Fukushima – that the spread of radioactive material could make an entire chunk of Japan uninhabitable. We could afford to be smug if we knew how to deal with our nuclear waste. But we don’t.

Forget meltdowns. The real nuclear problem is waste, Thomas Walkom , 21 March 11, For Canada, the danger of nuclear power lies not in a Japanese-style meltdown. When industry boosters say such an event is unlikely here, they are right.

But what the boosters don’t talk about is radioactive waste.

That’s the main hazard, the part of the nuclear question that has never been properly addressed. No one knows what to do with nuclear fuel rods that remain highly radioactive for thousands of years.

The industry talks of burying them. But this is not a real solution. Sealed containers leak. Ground shifts. Over decades, unforeseen events occur.

That’s why the federal Nuclear Waste Management Organization, which is charged with disposing of these used fuel rods, has so far been unable to find a place willing to take them.

The industry-dominated body says that over 40 years Canadian nuclear power stations, (most of them in Ontario) have already stockpiled 48,000 metric tonnes of used radioactive fuel. An additional 2,000 metric tonnes are added to these stockpiles annually.

Used fuel is toxic and dangerous. It’s the spent fuel atop one of the reactors at Japan’s ill-fated Fukushima nuclear plant that keeps catching fire and spewing radioactive particulate into the air.

Canadian power plants also keep their used fuel rods on site. First they plunk them into pools of water until they cool down. That can take ten years. Then they put them in silos, hoping that – eventually – someone will figure out what to do with them.

Since Japan’s nuclear disaster started to unfold, the industry and its friends have been quick to assure the public that such a thing couldn’t happen here…….

Any significant shift away from nuclear power in Ontario is inconceivable to politicians. Both Premier Dalton McGuinty’s governing Liberals and the opposition Conservatives are committed to building new nuclear plants. The New Democrats are opposed – although it’s worth remembering that when the NDP won power in Ontario 21 years ago, their critique of nuclear energy quickly evaporated.

Friends of the nuclear industry like to point out that every energy source has risks. Windmills make noise; gas-fired turbines contribute to global warming; even hydro dams interfere with the environment.


Walkom: Forget meltdowns. The real nuclear problem is waste –

March 22, 2011 - Posted by | Canada, wastes


  1. Hmmm. This is some kind of a joke article, right? I mean, isn’t any waste disposal fraught with equal hazards? I don’t necessarily see how depleted fuel causes far greater hazards. In the event of an earthquake at the storage facility (typically located underground) casings may be damaged, but this is unlikely to lead to a catastrophic disaster approaching that of a complete nuclear meltdown. Keeping in mind that Fukashima is ‘containing’ a nuclear meltdown, its hard for me to draw a comparison to a ‘partial nuclear meltdown’ and dangers from depleted fuel. Additionally, radioactive stores should carry some advantages.

    Comment by James Martin | March 22, 2011 | Reply

    • The issue with the storage of waste is the government will be holding the waste and the tax payer paying for them to secure it. We would hope that they would be strong enough to hold up to earthquakes but in the event that they didn’t that waste would begin to enter our water table. Imagin the Yucca Mountain site where they have plans to place the waste. If that began to leak it would run into the water table that flows into Las Vegas, Arizona, Southern Cali, and eventually Mexico or out to the ocean. That would be more catastrophic then any nuclear disaster to date.

      Comment by Cole Hardwick | April 21, 2011 | Reply

  2. In the case of at least one of the Fukushima reactors, the spent fuel storage is above the reactor, and therefore particularly vulnerable to any leak.

    The nuclear fuel rods cooling ponds are at risk if the water is lost for some reason – risk of overheating and then behaving exactly like a “dirty bomb”. Indeed, the original plan for the Manhattan project was to use radioactive spread as a weapon, – before they decided to make an actual bomb.

    Nuclear cooling ponds are very suitable targets for terrorism. And earthquakes are not the only natural threat – there are also floods, fires, hurricanes, tsunamis – all ,likely to be more frequent and more severe as the planet warms.
    Radioactive isotopes carrying some advantage?
    Tell that to the thousands of people suffering cancers from Chernobyl, or from the affects of atomic bomb testing, or from being “downwinders” fromThree Mile Island.

    Comment by Christina MacPherson | March 22, 2011 | Reply

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