Fact File: Waste
Nuclear waste is not nearly so big of a problem as many of us have been led to believe. Volumetrically speaking there’s surprisingly little of it. As is shown in Pandora’s Promise, if you took all of the nuclear waste created by all the commercial nuclear power plants in the United States and gathered it together in one spot, it would fill one football field from end to end to a height of about 8 feet. The long-lived waste, the stuff that remains radioactive for many thousands of years and that everyone fears and deplores, would only fill the one-yard line.
More importantly, all of the waste from today’s Light Water Reactors can be used as fuel for the next generation of reactors that will hopefully be coming on line in the coming decades. In fact, that football field’s worth of waste described above, if used in next generation fast reactors, could power everything in the United States (including the entire transportation sector) for a thousand years! In other words we need never to mine any uranium again. Britain has enough nuclear waste to power the entire United Kingdom for 500 years! So we should not think of this material as waste at all – it’s fuel. The small amount of waste that’s left over from using next generation fast reactors has a half-life of only a few hundred years.
The argument that nuclear power is immoral because we’re leaving a toxic legacy for a hundred thousand years is simply no longer true. The real toxic legacy we’re leaving is the rapid build up of atmospheric CO2 and the irreversible damage to the climate that will ensue if we don’t reverse this trend within our lifetime.