Nuke waste a long-term prob­lem

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

IN THE ar­ti­cle “No gold at the end of nu­clear rain­bow” (Week­end Ar­gus De­cem­ber 4), En­ergy Min­is­ter Dipuo Peters was re­ported as sup­port­ing nu­clear power as a so­lu­tion to South Africa’s sup­posed base load prob­lem.

How­ever his depart­ment was also re­ported as say­ing: “There’s no end­point de­cided, as yet, for high-level nu­clear waste.”

I un­der­stand that Koe­berg’s high­level waste is stored on site in two fuel pools, and that 32 tons is gen­er­ated an­nu­ally, mean­ing that be­tween 800 and 850 tons is now on site.

While the ra­dioac­tiv­ity on a por­tion of this waste de­cays in 1 000 years, the iso­topes of ura­nium and plu­to­nium re­quire 10 000 , which, to put it in per­spec­tive, is about the same length of time from the build­ing of the first known hu­man city at Jeri­cho un­til now.

Dur­ing this time, the resid­ual heat from the spent fuel rods will need to be re­moved. In 2000 it ap­pears that there was not enough space left in the fuel pools and spent fuel rods were placed in spe­cial con­tain­ers made of cast iron each weigh­ing over 97 tons and hav­ing walls 358mm thick.

The space prob­lem was even­tu­ally solved by in­stalling high den­sity racks in the fuel pools, which had not been part of the orig­i­nal de­sign. So how much space is now left in the fuel pools?

As far as the on-site safety at Koe- berg is concerned, I won­der if Min­is­ter Peters is aware of that hap­pened to Andries Swart and Ron Lock­wood and that 91 em­ploy­ees were found to have been con­tam­i­nated with cobalt 58 in late Septem­ber this year?

Does Min­is­ter Peters re­ally have the right to make self­ish de­ci­sions that will bur­den fu­ture gen­er­a­tions with look­ing af­ter our ex­tremely dan­ger­ous ra­dioac­tive waste?

I think South Africa should fol­low the lead of Aus­tralia and New Zealand and have noth­ing to do with nu­clear power. Then, at least, we will not be putting our de­scen­dants at risk.

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