Nuclear energy is a controversial alternative to traditional power generation through such sources as coal. Nuclear energy is expected to become a common consideration as the world tries to cope with global warming. One of the reasons nuclear energy is controversial is due to the problem of storing the spent nuclear fuel. Such waste is said to take at least one million years to breakdown and it is highly radioactive.
This is currently a topic of discussion in the European Union. Of the twenty-seven countries in the EU, fourteen of them currently have nuclear power plants. In total, the EU has 143 nuclear power plants with the most residing in France, which has 58 power plants. These facilities produce more than 247,000 cubic feet of radioactive waste a year.
The European Commission is now requesting formal plans for future storage sites for nuclear waste. Currently no permanent storage sites have been finalized in the EU. The EU has also banned exporting the radioactive waste for storage elsewhere. One of the main problems is the storage facilities the EU currently has are only able to store the waste for less than 100 more years.
Approximately 200 scientists have suggested that the EU store the radioactive waste underground. The most likely course of action by the EU will be using vitrification, which essentially involves placing nuclear waste with molten glass in steel containers. These containers would then be placed deep underground as to avoid potential spills and other such disasters.
Overall, permanent waste locations are supposed to be in existence in Finland by 2020, Sweden by 2023 and France by 2025. The EU is considering this to be an important matter for all countries within the EU. EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger stated: “Safety is indivisible. If an accident happens in one country, it can have devastating effects also on others.”
These discussions in the EU may influence nuclear energy generation and storage elsewhere, including in the United States. The United States is expected to increase their nuclear facilities in the future as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.