The recent closure of five US power stations is forcing the industry to confront big questions about radioactive waste, writes Paul Brown. Who is to pay the mounting costs of managing the wastes and keeping them secure? And precisely where will be their final resting place?
Long-term employment is hard to find these days, but one career that can be guaranteed to last a lifetime is dealing with nuclear waste.
The problem and how to solve it is becoming critical. Dozens of nuclear power stations in the US, Russia, Japan, and across Europe and Central Asia are nearing the end of their lives.
And when these stations close, the spent fuel has to be taken out, safely stored or disposed of, and then the pressure vessels and the mountains of concrete that make up the reactors have to be dismantled. This can take between 30 and 100 years, depending on the policies adopted.
In the rush to build stations in the last century, little thought was given to how to take them apart 40 years later. It was an age of optimism that science would always find a solution when one was needed, but the reality is that little effort was put into dealing with the waste problem. It is now coming back to haunt the industry.