Firing nuclear waste into the sun, placing it in Antarctic ice sheets so it sinks by its own heat to the bedrock, or putting it under Earth's crust so it is sucked to the molten core. These are three of the 14 options the government's advisers are considering to get rid of the UK's troublesome nuclear waste legacy.
All options are technically possible and many are potentially hazardous -- either to current generations or those yet unborn. Most also have political drawbacks and are expensive, around ?50 billion and counting, yet it is a problem the government has decided it must solve.
Last year it appointed a committee on radioactive waste management to re-examine all possibilities to find a publicly acceptable solution to the nuclear waste problem -- something that successive governments have failed to do for 50 years.
The committee's options range from the exotic to the well established. And most have their difficulties. For example, firing waste into the sun or into outer space may permanently rid Earth of the problem, but the possibility of rocket failure may make this seem too much of a gamble.
The Antarctica solution, allowing heat producing waste to bury itself in the ice, runs into the difficulty that the internationally agreed Antarctic Treaty bans such activity. The last pristine continent is supposed to be untouched by nuclear material.
Sub-seabed disposal, where waste is placed in a pre-dug hole or dropped in specially built penetrators to bury itself in the soft seabed, may be the best technical option. Even if the packages eventually rot and the radioactivity escapes it will be diluted by the sea water. But sea dumping is banned.
Some of the other ideas, such as placing it deep in the ground either to lose it in the Earth's mantle or in deep stratas where it would remain have been tried by Russians and Americans. The Swedes are successfully using a deep depository, but so far the UK has proved short of suitable geological formations. Exporting nuclear waste is also against government policy and likely to draw international protests.
All of the ideas remain on the table and none is yet a frontrunner. The present policy, by default, is storage -- but with a government committed to safeguarding the environment for future generations, this may be ruled out as an option too. Nuclear waste stays dangerous for 250,000 years and even the best-constructed concrete bunker is likely to need upgrading every 100 years or so.
A report to the committee says: "Fifty years of experience has proved the pursuit of 'the best' in the long term management of radioactive waste to be an illusory concept. The UK is currently engaged in a process, the success of which would be the identification of `the acceptable,' at a level which would allow the government to proceed with confidence."
Martin Forwood, of Cumbrians Opposed to Radioactive Environment, who is due to meet members of the government committee this week, was dismissive of the 14 ideas: "We thought all these madcap schemes had been junked donkey's years ago. The only sensible solution is to store it where it rightfully belongs -- in above ground custom-built concrete stores at the site of origin."
The government's estimates it will soon have 500,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste it has no home for, even if it never builds another nuclear power station. The even higher volume of low level waste is sent to a waste dump at Drigg, near Sellafield, in Cumbria, for disposal in specially-engineered trenches. By far the largest stores and the most dangerous high level heat-producing liquid wastes are at Sellafield, where Britain's major nuclear facilities were built and developed.
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