Nuclear Waste

Low and medium level waste from Koeberg is dumped at Vaalputs.  The people who live around Vaalputs were not consulted when this site was selected.

About once a week a truck containing radioactive  waste travels from Koeberg to Vaalputs.

The high level waste a a very real source of concern.  Koeberg produces about 30 tons of high level waste per year, and all of it is currently stored at Koeberg – over 1000 tons.  If not stored properly, The waste can melt, and also ‘go critical’, which would result in  a nuclear explosion.

According to Eskom, the spent fuel pools were designed to hold 5 years worth of spent fuel [ AO – Radioactive Waste Management pg 1-79~1.pdf ] (According to the NNR, it was 4 years. [ CNS Report 2005.pdf] )  Now Eskom plans to hold 40 years of spent fuel using “super high-density storage racking” .  This is because we have not yet found a safe way of disposing of this waste.  For the next nuclear plant, the Environmental Impact Assessment was allowed to exclude high level waste disposal – the problem is just ignored, or rather, just deferred for future generations to deal with.

This is despite the instruction from the Department of the Environment [Ref: 12/12/20/944] that “waste disposal … must be described in detail” and that “The long term storage of high level nuclear waste must be addressed”.  The EIA consultants have ignored this instruction.  When questioned in public (I have this on video) the consultants begrudgingly answered that they considered “long term” to mean about 60 years… and the waste is dangerous for thousands of years!

28 responses to “Nuclear Waste

    • Nuclear power does emit CO2, if one considers the constructions, mining, fuel fabrication, waste transport and disposal and plant decommissioning. It emits less than coal, but more than renewable energy. Renewable energy wins on all counts.

      • Just as much as creating any renewable releases CO2. It is incredibly hard to gain and construct the resources for anything without polluting. In the end what matters is how we con feasible have the least impact on the environment. The quickest, cheapest, and most reliable source is Nuclear right now. Nothing can be perfectly clean, but nuclear once it is built it is very close. Producing solar panels and wind power is not great for the environment either.

      • Thanks for your comment Isaac. What you seem to be missing is that solar and wind have zero carbon associated with fuel costs (because there is no fuel). As for nuclear being the cheapest, that is simply not true. All modelling (CSIR, UCT, IRP 2019 etc.) shows that nuclear is the most expensive way to produce electricity.

      • ‘It emits less than coal, but more than renewable energy.’ According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nuclear is about an a par with wind ( 11 grams CO2 per KWh for wind , twelve for nuclear), and nearly four times better than solar, at 45g. If you consider that nuclear lasts three times as long as either, and doesn’t need to be backed up by coal or gas whenever there’s no sun or wind, nuclear wins by a country mile.

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  4. ‘go critical’, lol best read ever you guys have no nuclear theory behind you. You jsut read stuff on the paper and read some green peace sites and believe anything you read. Let me make some facts straight. Nuclear waste will never explode. The explosions that come with handling waste is because of pressure and not nuclear explosions. There has never been a accidental nuclear explosion from a nuclear power plant. Only radiation waste leaking through a steam explosion or some other aspect. Go lean nuclear physics to get a understanding of what you are trying to fight against before spouting your stupidity online.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Ludger. However, ignoring the personal attack, your statements are not consistent with the facts. There was an accidental nuclear explosion at the Chernobyl plant, for example. Also, there is much uncertainty about what exactly happened at Fukushima, and one likely possibility is that the spent fuel (aka high level waste) which was stored in the reactor building melted and caused a criticality.

      In terms of Koeberg, the danger of criticality in the spent fuels was raised in an internal report produced by the plant operator, in which is was stated that the new spent fuel had to be placed in a checkerboard pattern to avoid such criticality.

      A criticality occurs when enough fissile radioactive material is in close enough proximity to cause enough neutrons to be absorbed and create a chain reaction. You can learn more about his here which also has a list of the many criticality accidents that have occured. Or here is a more scientific paper, specifically about critically in nuclear waste

    • At Fukushima Dai’ichi, the concern was/is “hot” fuel rods removed from the reactor cores and their initial cooling pools high up in the reactor buildings, where rods being placed spatially too close together can cause a criticality. “Hot” spent fuel rods removed from the reactor are “nuclear waste”. Admittedly, low level nuclear waste is very very unlikely to go spontaneously critical because it is too spatially diluted with other non-radioactive materials.

      It has been proposed that a Thorium LFTR can burn nuclear waste (see Copenhagen Atomics web-site). If South Africa were to build new nuclear reactors, it would be much better to collaborate with China developing Thorium LFTR, rather than buying outdated and dangerous solid-fuel-rod reactors that have concurrent risk of explosion and high radiation by-product toxicity. At Fukushima Dai’ichi, there is estimated circa 100000 tonnes of nuclear waste in storage on site – in an area prone to flooding when tsunamis occur.

      • ‘At Fukushima Dai’ichi, there is estimated circa 100000 tonnes of nuclear waste in storage on site – in an area prone to flooding when tsunamis occur.’
        They only have tsunamis about once every thousand years – the spent fuel should be OK by then 🙂 More seriously, it takes a lot of planning to make a reactor go into a chain reaction, but not nearly as much to make sure spent fuel ( which has maybe a quarter as much fissile ) doesn’t. For one thing, the steel racks holding the fuel assemblies will absorb a lot of neutrons – in the reactor, they use zirconium, which absorbs fourteen times less neutrons than iron. The spent fuel pools at Fukushima were never exposed, contrary to much alarmist reporting at the time, and after six months or so they’ve cooled down enough that air cooling would stop them from getting hot enough to damage themselves.

      • LFTR is by far the best design with regard to waste, sustainability of fuel supply and safety of any nuclear reactor. Its biggest downfall being that regulators are hesitant to look at liquid fuels meaning licencing is almost impossible to attain, even for research..

        LFTR based thorium reactors are more sustainable than any other energy source we currently have on earth. (Geothermal power is created by the decay of thorium)

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  10. Hi. We are currently digitising the Grade 11 national Life Science Textbook. One section on Human impact on the Environment has a chapter on Solid Waste Disposal which includes hazardous waste. We cannot find any open source images of Vaalputs nuclear waste to use in the text. If you are agreeable for us to use your image ( which is perfect, we would be very happy to attribute the photographer and your website in our acknowledgements. Hope to get your permission as soon as possible. Thank you. Peter Weisswange, Project Manager, Nelson Mandela University, Port Elizabeth

  11. My concern is that koeberg has been given a new lease on life. A mere spit and polish will not reduce the risk of “incidents or occurances”. They are reaching point of no storage for high level waste as of April 2020. Awaiting approval to use storage casks from NNR I gather?. Koeberg must be decommissioned, no real job losses, only the hierarchy, as they are redundant anyway.

  12. Dear,
    We are looking for a facility that receives radioactive waste (Ra226 and Ir 192) from Sudan. Do you offer such service.

    Waiting your reply and happy to help with more information upon your request.

    Eng Charles Mallo

    • While it may be tempting to want to export radioactive waste to South Africa to have it out of sight and out of mind, we do not support that idea. We have enough of a problem with the radioactive waste we produce here, especially from the Koeberg station.

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