When the massive tsunami smacked into Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power plant was stacked high with more uranium than it was originally designed to hold. . . . the equivalent of almost six years [almost 4,000] of the highly radioactive [spent] uranium fuel rods produced by the plant . . . stored in deep pools of circulating water built into the highest floor of the Fukushima reactor buildings.
. . . reports Reuters.
The pile-up of used radioactive fuel stored at Fukushima underscores a dilemma that the nuclear power industry has faced in Japan and in the United States for decades: there is no easy answer to the question of where to store radioactive nuclear fuel after it has been used to produce power. In the United States, industry planners had once assumed that spent fuel rods would be moved to the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada. But political opposition in that fast-growing state helped put the plan on hold, meaning spent fuel has largely piled up in on-site cooling ponds.
Just the Vermont Yankee nuclear energy plant alone, reports Christian Parenti at the Nation “has a staggering 690 tons of spent fuel rods on site.”
Increasingly, spent fuel rods — with the half lives of their radioactive elements running into the tens of thousands of years — are finally taking a star turn in the leading role of nuclear risk. For those who advocate nuclear energy as a “bridge” technology to more carbon-free fuel, or as the devil we know, or for those who, with unapologetic counterintuitiveness, declare (I’m talking to you, George Monbiot) “the crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power,” what do you propose that we do with all the spent fuel rods?
As one frankly biased toward the possibility of life on other plants (at however far a remove), it helps me to provide perspective by asking, “How did they handle it on another planet?” With the financial crisis, I can’t help but conclude that capitalism was but a blip in their history. But that’s another story. If, because of the dilemma disposal of nuclear waste poses, nuclear energy was also a blip, what did they do with their spent fuel rods?
Why shove them over the edge of a black hole, of course. But it may have been 10,000 years after their nuclear period that they developed the technology to ship their fuel rods out of sight and out of mind. Unless we want to wait until that time when we too can dispatch space freighters to black holes, perhaps we should consider whether we want to consider using an energy technology that produces such lethal waste.