Despite over 75 years of concentrating radioactive matter and then generating waste from it, safely disposing of radioactive refuse has not been mastered.
The first nuclear reactor was made in 1942. Its developers were instrumental in building the first nuclear weaponry.
After the war, radioactive decay was put to work boiling water to generate electricity. The USSR built the first nuclear power reactor in 1951.
Largely sponsored by the US, the International Atomic Energy Agency was created in 1956 to engender the spread of nuclear power. As so little raw material was needed for fuel, there was tremendous optimism that radioactively generated electricity would be “too cheap to meter.”
Nuclear power’s problems begin with lack of foresight and planning. Owing to uranium’s toxicity by proximity, atomic power is a much more complex undertaking than other electrical generation. Compared to dirty coal, nuclear energy is a high-risk venture which pays off only if you disregard sound economics and ignore radiation, both of which are admittedly invisible.
The Union of Concerned Scientists posit the most vexing problem of nuclear power: “The challenge of making nuclear power safer doesn’t end after the power has been generated. Nuclear fuel remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years after it is no longer useful in a commercial reactor.” By contrast, The World Nuclear Association would have you think that: “Nuclear waste is neither particularly hazardous nor hard to manage relative to other toxic industrial waste.”
The only decent depository for radioactive wastes is for them to be buried deep underground. America and other countries have had trouble developing such sites, more from political resistance than geological suitability.
So, vast volumes of radioactive debris have been stored in ‘temporary’ receptacles for decades. Recent research shows that containment technology is not as confining as thought. American materials scientist Gerald Frankel: “The US plan for high-level nuclear waste includes the immobilization of long-lived radionuclides in glass or ceramic waste forms in stainless-steel canisters for disposal in deep geological repositories. Severe localized corrosion can be significantly accelerated at the interfaces of different barrier materials, which has not been considered. The accelerated corrosion can be attributed to changes of solution chemistry and local acidity/alkalinity within a confined space, which significantly alter the corrosion of both the waste-form materials and the metallic canisters.”
Nuclear residue is only the most energetic example of technological pollutants which last for centuries after electricity production has ceased. Whether harvesting the Sun or wind in falsely advertised ‘clean’ energy technologies or blatantly polluting by burning fossil fuels, the environmental costs of industrialized energy production far outweigh economic assessment. The defect in reckoning flows from fatally flawed economic price theory coupled to greed and childish optimism.
Ishi Nobu, The Fruits of Civilization, BookBaby (2019).
Xiaolei Guo et al, “Self-accelerated corrosion of nuclear waste forms at material interfaces,” Nature Materials (27 January 2020).
“Nuclear waste,” Union of Concerned Scientists (22 April 2016).
“Radioactive waste management,” World Nuclear Association (April 2018).
Ishi Nobu, “The myths of photovoltaic power,” (7 December 2019).
Ishi Nobu, “Wind power,” (2 December 2019).