Councils team up to oppose radioactive depot

Opposition to burying 50 years’ worth of radioactive waste in the Danish countryside is mounting

The final resting place of 5,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste will soon be chosen from six sites across five councils.

None of the councils are happy about having host the waste, however. But instead of working against each other they have joined forces to oppose it being buried anywhere in Denmark.

The waste is currently being stored at Risø research laboratory, where most of it was produced in one of the three nuclear test reactors it operated over past 50 years. The last was decommissioned in 2003.

Most of the material is low-level waste, but some 500 cubic metres, including reactors’ 233 kilograms of fuel rods, is classified as medium-level waste.

The councils argue that it should either stay at Risø or be transported to a country that has the appropriate facilities to treat it.

“Parliament decided in 2003 that Denmark should be responsible for its own radioactive waste, but that was a foolish decision,” Flemming Eskildsen (Venstre), the mayor of the Jutland town of Skive, council told Politiken newspaper. “It is a noble thought but it is far more sensible to make a deal with one of the many countries that have nuclear power plants and have far more experience [with radioactive waste]. For them, our radioactive waste is merely a drop in the ocean.”

The waste will be buried up to 100 meters below the surface within a series of containers that are expected to have a lifespan of at least three hundred years.

But Anne Sørensen from Dansk Dekommissionering, the organisation responsible for the handling of the radioactive material, admits that it is difficult to ensure the depot would be entirely water-tight.

“That is why it needs to be placed where there is as little water flow as possible so it takes the longest possible time to fill up with water,” Sørensen told Politiken.

Sørensen ruled out leaving the waste at Risø as it sits upon unstable geological foundation while also being located near a major reservoir supplying Copenhagen.

The councils may have more luck exporting the waste, however, as an EU directive from 2010 allows that member states transport waste between countries and establish joint waste depots.

According to science publication Ingeniøren, the depot is to be built with a lifespan of about 300 years, though it ought to be safe for between 500 and 1,000 years.

The waste will take thousands of years to become harmless, however, so the depots will be designed to allow it to be retrieved and reburied at a future date.

From the air, the depot will resemble the international nuclear symbol in order warn off future generations.

This summer further tests will take place at the short-listed sites in the councils of Bornholm, Skive, Struer, Lolland and Kerteminde in order to identify a final two or three candidates.

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