There was a story on the BBC last week about the proposed costs of shutting down and cleaning up the UK’s nuclear power stations. The story was the result of the first report by the relatively new (setup in April 2005) Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) who’s main job is ‘to take strategic responsibility for the UK’s nuclear legacy. Our core objective is to ensure that the 20 civil public sector nuclear sites under our ownership are decommissioned and cleaned up safely, securely, cost effectively and in ways that protect the environment for this and future generations.’ Their report announced a revised figure for how much they thought all this would cost. The new figure was £56bn, up from the previous estimate of £48bn.
First off, I didn’t even realise we had 20 nuclear sites in the UK. As for the increases, well, it’s not the NDA’s fault. This is the first time anyone has actually sat down and drawn up a coherent plan for all 20 sites, not to mention they want to move the timescale for closure from 125 years to 25 years.
The worrying thing is that no one has yet found a good, secure way to make the waste safe in the long term. Not to mention the ongoing costs of maintenance and security over the sites where they dump the waste. Now remember that this stuff stays fairly potent for up to 100,000 years, that’s a timeframe where you have to start worrying about geological shifts in the rock if you bury it. One of the current storage sites in the UK, Drigg in Cumbria, for example, is having it’s shoreline eroded and experts say the site could be flooded in between 500 and 5,000 years time. A long time, yes, but only between 0.5% and 5% of the lifetime of the waste.
The thing that worries me is governments are talking of building more reactors. Now, I don’t fear nuclear power, I don’t see it as all evil, but let’s start thinking about the future, because it’ll be our decendents who have to deal with our decisions.