How nations are tackling nuclear waste storage

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 14, 2014 at 7:32 am •  Published: July 14, 2014
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TOKYO (AP) — For years, Japan has struggled to find a site to safely store highly radioactive waste from nuclear power plants for as long as 100,000 years.

Tens of thousands of tons of spent fuel stored at nuclear power plants will remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years — a vexing problem that nuclear-powered nations around the world face. After decades of studies, scientists now agree that underground storage is the best option, but finding a community willing to host a radioactive dump site is difficult.

Here is how some countries have tackled the issue:

—JAPAN: Despite trying to find a storage site for more than a decade, Japan still doesn't have one. It seeks to continue its fuel recycling program and envisions an underground facility that can store more than 40,000 vitrified waste cylinders, each weighing half a ton and enclosed in a thick steel canister and an additional thick layer of clay, at a site 300 meters (990 feet) underground or deeper. The 3.5 trillion yen ($35 billion) repository is planned for launch by 2040, but a delay is likely given the lack of site candidates.

—UNITED STATES: A plan to dispose of spent fuel rods from commercial power plants and high-level waste from the country's weapons program at a 500-meter-deep (1,640-foot-deep) underground site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada failed in 2009 after more than $90 billion was spent. The government is now looking at extending the use of interim "dry cask" storage for spent fuel to buy time until it can find a new site for a possible 2048 launch.

—FINLAND: One of the world's most successful models, a current test site, called Onkalo, which means "cave," will be used as a final repository starting around 2020 to dispose of 9,000 tons of spent fuel without reprocessing, to be stored in protective casks. The site will be located as deep as 450 meters (1,480 feet) underground on hard crystalline bedrock.