How much does nuclear waste storage cost?

18 July 2010

Question

How much does nuclear waste storage actually cost and with that factored in, is nuclear energy still cheap?

Answer

We put this question to Professor Swadesh Mahajan from the Institute for Fusion Studies at the University of Texas in Austin....

Swadesh: - Yes. The Yucca mountain site which was designed by the US folks - of course not with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm - was expected to cost about $90 billion to $100 billion and it would've stored waste of about 40 years of operation of 50 to 100 nuclear reactors. So if you really try to just divide it to all over, I think it adds just a few cents to the cost of electricity.

Chris: - And, of course, you've got to factor in the environmental impact which is that we're not releasing CO2 as Ian Farnan said. We're sparing, for every ton of uranium, the equivalent in CO2 terms, of a million tons of coal.

Swadesh: - Right. The very important thing of course is that it's very difficult for us to be able to engineer too many such repositories with 10,000 to 200,000 years of lifetime. So I think we should have a minimum number of them and if nuclear energy is going to have a renaissance, we really must destroy this before we store it. Destroy as much as we can, if we reduce it to 10% or to 1%, the better it gets. We are not going to be able to get a hundred Yucca mountains if the nuclear energy were to take off for instance, which is what will be needed if we try to store untreated waste. That's a political as well as a physical impossibility. So we must destroy this.

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