This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.
I can understand that solving the nuclear waste problem once and for all will be an expensive business. I'm puzzled however by the astronomical figures that are quoted (£70 billion). Has anyone any idea how these sums are arrived at and why they should be so large?
I understand America has been storing waste in New Mexico (Carlsberg Salt Caverns) for years. A new site is proposed in Nevada (Yucca Mountain) and an
almost beyond belief 8 billion dollars has been spent to date.Seemingly 12 sites are under consideration for the UK,
The £70 billion is not associated with nuclear waste disposal, this figure is for decommissioning (by complete dismantling) of UK 'nuclear legacy sites'. Most of the nuclear legacy is associated with the historical nuclear R & D programme. We had a substantial nuclear R & D programme, one of the biggest in the world, partly due to developing our own home-grown gas-cooled nuclear reactor system. About a quarter of the £70 billion is for decommissioning the first generation of commercial nuclear power stations, the Magnox stations. When the government first tried to privatise nuclear electricity generation about 15 years ago, they couldn't get a private company to accept the liability for decommissioning the 11 Magnox stations, which are regarded as a nightmare to decommission. Private companies would only take on the liability for decommissioning the 7 AGRs and 1 PWR, and that's the current arrangement with British Energy. The government eventually accepted the liability for decommissioning the Magnox stations itself because they were designed by a UK government agency, The UK Atomic Energy Authority.
I agree with you Ed that the £70 billion figure is astronomical, the bill could be substantially reduced by using the cheaper entombment method. But from a politician's viewpoint, it's more 'voter friendly' to completely get rid of these nuclear legacy sites by dismantling them rather than doing something more cost-effective and still have the Greenies on their back.
However I can make some comments which might make the £70 billion more 'palatable':
(a) The timescale for the nuclear legacy decommissioning is that the work is spread out over 135 years, starting in 2010 and finishing in the year 2145. The Greenies, and their fellow travellers the Lib Dems, give the impression that the £70 billion is going to be spent in the next 10 years or so (which might possibly be the case if the Lib Dems got in power and speeded up the decommissioning).
(b) The nuclear legacy decommissioning has no relevance to future or current nuclear electricity generation. Nuclear power is a mature technology, so ther's no need to do any more nuclear R & D, and there aren't going to be any more Magnox stations.
(c) The £70 billion may not be completely funded by the taxpayer. The funding arrangement for nuclear legacy decommissioning includes use of the idea of a 'segregated fund' which is a sort of pension fund type arrangement to generate cash for the project over multi-decade timescales.
When it comes to nuclear waste disposal (like Yucca Mountain), I don't think we've done anything on that in the UK in terms of building any facilities. The Greenies make so much fuss over nuclear waste that UK politicians avoid doing anything. I think UK politicians are deliberately dragging their feet in order to see how the situation with international nuclear waste disposal develops. There is talk of a few international sites for nuclear waste like Australia, Siberia and more recently, Chernobyl. The Greenies exploit the apparent delay by claiming the nuclear waste problem has 'no technical solution', giving the impression that there is a team of boffins working on it somewhere but scratching their heads and getting nowhere. The Greenies also seem to be trying to kill off the idea of international nuclear waste disposal through one of their 'ethical principles' that they seem to make up when it suits them, they have invented some principle that each nation should only take responsibility for its own nuclear waste.
Thanks,Dave-most informative as usual.Now I'll be able to further bore my Greenie young friends down the pub when the topic next comes up-like most of the time.
I think a good way of making that £70 billion nuclear legacy clean-up figure look a lot better for your Greenie friends is to compare it with other clean-up costs. I don't personally know any Greenies myself. We don't get too many of them in the North of England as David Cameron found out when his "Vote Blue Go Green" local election campaign floundered up here.
The £70 billion is currently intended to be spread out over 135 years which makes it an average clean-up cost of £520 million per year.
Now that doesn't look bad if you compare it with the cost of UK chewing gum clean-up which is currently £150 million per year (reference: http://www.tvlsn.org/tvls/index.php?p=news.tem&rn=anej6maa )
or UK graffiti clean-up which is currently £1 billion per year (reference:
http://www.encams.org/campaigns/main2.asp?pageid=34 ) I couldn't find a figure for UK asbestos clean-up but I would expect it to be at least £ several billion per year.