I am in Upsala, Sweden, as a guest of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC). It has nearly 200 000 paying members, a full-time staff of about 90, and produces a magazine every two months for its members. It has been an interesting first day in Stockholm, with a lot to take in.
Sweden generates about half of its electricity from nuclear power, and, like all countries with nuclear power, the country is wrestling with the issue of what to do with the spent nuclear fuel, or in technical terms, the high level waste. This remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years, and disposing of it safely is a huge engineering challenge.
There was one thing that made me think of South Africa, and particularly the proposed sites near Hermanus and St Francis Bay. The Swedish authorities started to look for a place to dispose of the spent fuel in the mid 1980’s, and later limited the search to sites close to the existing nuclear plants. This was for two reasons: firstly the local authorities and communities have already become accustomed to the idea of nuclear facilities close by, and secondly, this would minimise the risk of an accident or leak during transport.
South Africa has no plan for its spent nuclear fuel, and it is being stored at Koeberg near Cape Town. So far nearly 1000 tons have accumulated, and thirty tons per year is added to this. Since there is no plan, no disposal site has been identified, although there has been talk from Eskom officials of disposing of it at Vaalputs in the Northern Cape.
If the new plants are built, that would involve about one truck per week leaving Hermanus and Cape St Francis with low and medium level waste, and also some method of transporting the much more dangerous high level waste. It is likely that the same thought will occur in South Africa: that it would be much less dangerous to find a disposal site near the reactors.
So those who live near the proposed sites should bear in mind that a nearby nuclear plant would not be the only concern. It is likely that their area is also likely to become a favoured location for a dump site for radioactive waste.