PETALING JAYA, 15 June 2010: The world still has no permanent solution to safely dispose nuclear waste, a German energy expert said.
“The nuclear waste is sealed and stored at a disposal site to wait for it to decompose or be recycled. However, the storage sites may be sabotaged, while the process of recycling spent fuel produces plutonium that is highly toxic and can be used to make atomic bombs,” said Dr Hartmut Grewe, energy and ecology consultant from German foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
Plutonium takes hundreds of thousands of years to no longer be radioactive.
Grewe was responding to questions after presenting a keynote address at a talk on Greener Governance, hosted by the Institute for Policy Research in Petaling Jaya on 7 June.
The Nut Graph asked Grewe to comment on Malaysia’s plan to construct the first nuclear power plant in Southeast Asia. Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin Kah Fui announced on 5 May 2010 that the plant would start operating by 2021.
Chin said in Parliament a month later that the plant would cost between US$2 and 4 billion. The government has yet to release its study on the feasibility of nuclear power in Malaysia or how it plans to deal with the radioactive waste.
Grewe said there has been growing opposition to nuclear plants from citizens and activists in Germany who are concerned about radiation leaks from disposal sites.
There are currently 17 nuclear reactors in Germany, which help to generate one quarter of its electricity. Radioactive waste is either stored at interim storage sites in the country or sent to France to be reprocessed.
Like the rest of the world, Germany still has no permanent solution to treating radioactive waste.
“As for the option of recycling the spent fuel, there is also the issue of transporting it to reprocessing plants, which exposes it to the danger of terrorist attacks,” Grewe told The Nut Graph in a follow-up phone interview.
He said one of the advantages of a nuclear power plant was that it virtually emits zero carbon dioxide, which is the main culprit of climate change. Despite this, the challenge of treating radioactive waste remains an issue.
Grewe added that nuclear fusion was a much better solution than nuclear fission technology, because nuclear fusion would generate much less radioactive waste.
Nuclear fission works by splitting atoms of elements such as uranium to release a large amount of energy. Fusion works in the opposite way, by fusing two atoms into one.
“The ultimate solution would be to use nuclear fusion, but it will take another three to four decades before the technology is mature enough to be used in commercial nuclear reactors to generate electricity,” Grewe said.
According to the European Nuclear Society, there are currently 437 nuclear reactors worldwide as of March 2010, and all of them are fission reactors.
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