Nuclear waste set to stay put

After years of discussions, planning and studies some in parliament want Denmark’s nuclear waste to stay where it is, much to the relief of the councils that were listed as its next destination

The 5,000 cubic metres of low-level waste from Denmark's three experimental nuclear reactors was scheduled to buried by 2018, but fierce opposition from the five councils shortlisted as possible sites for the depository looks to have altered the plans.

MPs from Venstre, Dansk Folkeparti and Enhedslisten have now come out in favour of keeping the atomic waste at its current site on the Risø peninsula, near the town of Roskilde, or shipping it out of Denmark all together.

The parties' resistance could make it impossible to get parliament to approve plans to build an underground depository in one of six locations: Østermarie, (Bornholm Council) Rødbyhavn (Lolland Council) Kertinge Mark (Kerteminde Council) Hvidbjerg (Struer Council), Thise (Skive Council) or Skive Vest (Skive Council).

“We don’t want to force anyone to accept atomic waste against their will,” Venstre (V) spokesperson Henrik Høegh told Berlingske newspaper. “Experts estimate that it is completely safe to keep it at Risø and when you look at the public outrage in the various councils, I think it should stay where it is.”

The political shift has been met with relief by politicians from the five councils being considered. Earlier this year, they banded together in an effort to keep the waste from being moved.

The waste's current home at Risø may wind up being its final resting place after all (Photo: Risø National Laboratory)“Why should we build an atomic waste depot for hundreds of millions of kroner when the waste can remain at Risø under safe conditions?” Struer mayor Niels Viggo Lynghøj told Berlingske. “It looks like some in parliament have listened to us, which pleases me greatly.”

The Risø facility was established in 1956 and housed the only nuclear reactors ever operational in Denmark. In 2000, it was shut down for good. 

In 2003, parliament commissioned a study into possible burial sites. The original list of 22 sites was reduced to six earlier this year, and geologists are to narrow the number down to two or three in the near future. The final decision will be in the hands of the health minister, Astrid Krag (Socialistisk Folkeparti).

Nuclear specialists say keeping the waste in place has its advantages.

“The waste is located in Risø and moving it 500 metres would be easier than transporting it to Skive,” Kurt Lauridsen of Dansk Dekommissionering, the organisation responsible for decomissioning the reactors, told public broadcaster DR. “You don't need a terribly complex depository for this type of waste so there is a good chance that it will stay where it is.”

The final depository will need to be designed so that the low-level waste will remain isolated from humans and the environment for at least 300 years. Another 233 kilograms of spent fuel rods are classfied as medium-level waste and will remain radioactive for 250,000 years.