The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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The science of nuclear energy

4.1.6 Nuclear waste

In the following audio, Adam Rutherford talks to Professor Sue Ion, former Director of Technology at British Nuclear Fuels.

She discusses how the modern design of Hinkley means a much smaller volume of nuclear waste of all categories.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: ou_futurelearn_nuclear_energy_aud_1116.mp3
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Transcript

ADAM RUTHERFORD:
One of the big issues with nuclear power is what do we do with the waste? There’s low, intermediate and high level waste. The waste created by Hinckley C, how will we dispose of that?
PROFESSOR SUE ION:
For starts, one thing to try and get across is the fact that there’s much less waste created by modern-like water reactors than there was with our historic gas-cooled reactor types. For instance the pressure vessel at Hinckley, it’s only 5 metres, just under 5 metres in diameter, so that’s tiny and we get 1600 megawatts of power out of something that’s only 15 feet in diameter.
ADAM RUTHERFORD:
It’s smaller than this studio we’re sitting in.
PROFESSOR SUE ION:
Yeah it’s smaller than this studio we’re in, so it’s an incredibly dense source of electricity for us, so the waste volumes are much, much smaller in this type of reactor than they are in more traditional gas-cooled reactors.
ADAM RUTHERFORD:
Where’s it going to go though?
PROFESSOR SUE ION:
Well the vessel itself will be decontaminated and then cut up and packaged into concrete for disposal in the ILW repository and that will eventually be built here in the UK. And most of the rest of the IWL that is created in the course of reactor operations will be packaged in concrete, in concrete containers, or concrete in steel containers, again for destination to the repository.
ADAM RUTHERFORD:
We do have quite a big legacy of nuclear waste though in this country, how large is the stockpile, how much is Hinckley C going to contribute to that?
PROFESSOR SUE ION:
Hinckley C will only contribute a tiny amount of that. If we replace the whole of the nuclear fleet in the UK, it was only going to add 10 per cent to the overall waste inventory that we already have, so Hinckley’s only going to contribute 1 to 3 per cent of that total. Most of the legacy we’ve got to remember was generated partly as a result of the military programme back in the early days of nuclear energy and in development of the early prototype reprocessing plants and the reactors themselves. And the choice of Magnox – which needs reprocessing – as a fuel for our early type of reactors. So nearly all the legacy is contributable to those early years.
ADAM RUTHERFORD:
So you mentioned the geological repository, but we don’t really have concrete plans for that yet, we don’t know where it’s going to be built?
PROFESSOR SUE ION:
That’s true. So during the course of the reactor operations, which will last up to 60 years, all the wastes generated – intermediate level waste – will be stored on site in an engineered store and LLW – that’s low-level waste – that’s created will go as it always has done from UK nuclear power stations to the national low-level site up at Drigg in Cumbria.
ADAM RUTHERFORD:
And what about the high-level waste, so that’s things like the spent fuel rods, they are highly radioactive, what are the plans for storing them?
PROFESSOR SUE ION:
Well spent fuel rods will be stored on site for the duration of the reactor operations, so they’ll be on site for 60 years in the spent fuel storage pool.
End transcript
 
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