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Deep Underground Waste Dumps for High Level Waste - A Final Resting Place?

The nuclear industry claims that disposal of its high level waste presents no problem. That the technology already exists. That it is only political will that is preventing the industry from going ahead. That the most dangerous nuclear waste can be placed in deep underground tunnels, surrounded by geologically stable rock where it will be safe for many thousands of years. So what is really happening?

At Sellafield the Rock Characterisation Laboratory was set up to do the research on such a tunnel. After spending $A 756 million the project was closed down last month without a result. The scheme is permanently postponed.

In the USA, Yucca Mountain was to be the permanent mausoleum for high level waste. Billions were spent on the research, development and construction of the site. Professor Shrader-Frechette of the University of South Florida reports that the project has stalled because it cannot meet the environmental and safety requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency. Its future is in doubt and its government funding has been cut. At the same time Congress is trying to pass a bill to make it an interim facility, a term used ad nauseum by the nuclear industry.

Closer to the surface, at Maxey Flats in the USA nuclear waste "experts" asserted that off site radioactive leakage would be no greater than half an inch in 24,000 years. In practice it leaked two miles in nine years and the site was closed down.

The Research Reactor Review referred to a cost estimate for a deep underground site at $US17 billion of which $US11 billion was for studies to establish the suitability of the site.

If Australia goes ahead with Minister McGauran's plan for domestic reprocessing of only ANSTO's spent fuel then the matter of a nuclear waste dump must be settled first. Should foreign waste reprocessing be considered, then the problem of an Australian dump would be increased many times.

The cost of safe and permanent nuclear waste disposal is enormous and results so far show that the technology does not match the optimism of the industry. In reality, it passes the problem on, like a Biblical curse, "Yea, unto the third and fourth generation (of nuclear scientists)".

What would the cost be for a deep underground disposal site in Australia?

How long would it take to find a site?

Which rural electorate would be its lucky recipient?

Who would guarantee its safety and for how long?

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