Buried Deep: A Clear Plan for the Disposal of Nuclear Waste | Chennai News

By SP Udayakumar
When we build a house, do we install the closet in the toilet, lay the drain pipes and wait for them to fill before building a septic tank? Or do we consider waste management as an integral system and plan the whole structure? If so, then can the country’s nuclear waste management be different?
It’s a mess now in Kudankulam. The Union Government and its Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) along with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) are planning to build the mid-stream storage facility called ‘Away From Reactor’ ( AFR) for units under construction 3 and 4 leaving the AFRs for units 1 and 2 running high and dry. Authorities say the final resting place for all of the country’s accumulated nuclear waste, a deep geological repository (DGR), is not an immediate necessity.
But we anti-nuclear activists and other civil society organizations argue that the country must have a clear plan for the ambitious nuclear program and cannot be haphazard or vague in the management of nuclear waste. The DGR should be planned and prepared before the establishment of the AFRs at Kudankulam and other reactor sites across the country.
When the Supreme Court gave a green signal to Kudankulam Reactors 1 and 2, it laid down 15 conditions for the nuclear department to meet and the construction of a DGR by 2018 was one of them. When there was no progress on this, the NGO Poovulagin Nanbargal (Friends of the Earth) in Chennai again approached the SC and the nuclear department asked for more time. On July 2, 2018, the SC granted time until April 30, 2022. But nothing has happened on the DGR front so far.
We receive three types of waste from a nuclear power plant: low, medium and high level waste. Very low level waste such as mops and gloves could be disposed of in landfill type sites. Low-level waste that includes low concentrations of long-lived radionuclides and high concentrations of short-lived radionuclides can be buried within the exclusion zone in sealed underground facilities such as concrete vaults/trenches/tile holes of reinforced cement. It is the medium and high level waste that must be sequestered in the DGR.
The heat-emitting and highly radioactive spent fuel rods are typically kept in reactor spent fuel pools for five years of operation and cooled with borated water which absorbs neutrons and stops the chain reaction that had taken place. produced inside the reactor. As the pool fills, the spent fuel rods are moved to the AFR and reprocessed.
According to the Site Assessment Report (SER) of the Kudankulam project, “160 to 180 cubic meters per year of cemented waste, including spent absorption materials, 40 cubic meters per year of compacted waste and 5 cubic meters per year of cemented ashes will be generated. of a reactor.
In accordance with the October 1997 agreement, the spent fuel rods would be brought back to Russia, but on June 21, 1998, another agreement was signed between Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov and DAE chief R Chidambaram which stipulated to preserve the “national good”. ‘ in India. There was no discussion of who changed the earlier decision or why or how.
It is important to note that spent fuel rods in halfway houses such as AFR contain as much, if not more, radioactivity than fuel rods in nuclear power reactors. These rods contain a more toxic mixture of radioisotopes and are not protected in secondary containment structures such as in nuclear reactors. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster reveals that radioactivity from storage sites is more damaging to the public.
The financing of the expensive waste management technology, the costs of implementation, the transport of the waste and the associated risks, the construction, the operation, the safety of the AFRs and the DGRs and, above all, the unforeseeable future liabilities are some of the important factors governments need to consider when planning nuclear waste management. Long-term radiological threats, possible explosions, impact on groundwater, air contamination and disease are some of the dangers faced by surrounding populations.
Yet nuclear authorities assure of their scientific and technological prowess, allay fears and doubts with haughty nuclearists, and casually assert that “we’ll cross the bridge when we get there.”
If Union and State governments, scientists and technocrats have failed to clean up the dangerous Bhopal waste that has been lying there for 38 years, how are they going to convince us of nuclear waste management? Nuclear waste management must be planned from the start and not as it happens.
(The writer the organizer of the popular movement against nuclear energy)

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