Thursday, January 19, 2006

Nuclear Waste Revisited   posted by DavidB @ 1/19/2006 03:43:00 AM

A while ago I posted on the old GNXP Politics board on the subject of nuclear waste. Among other things I said:

the trump card of the objectors is that plutonium will still be dangerous for millennia... Extraordinary (and costly) measures are therefore needed to ensure that it cannot in any conceivable circumstances leak out, even in the very distant future. This seems to me wholly misconceived. It is absurd to worry about what may happen in future millennia, but there are two broad alternatives. Either civilisation will have collapsed, possibly due to nuclear war, in which case a bit more plutonium will be the least of our descendants' worries. Or civilisation will have survived, in which case our descendants will be able to look after themselves. The responsible approach is not to bury plutonium inaccessibly deep in the ground, or in the ocean bed, but to keep it securely stored, in such a way that it can be dealt with by the appropriate authorities whenever they wish to, using future technologies we cannot yet imagine.

So naturally I was pleased to see an article in today's (January 19) London Times, by their Science correspondant Nigel Hawkes, which includes the following:

Forget the idea that we must produce a site safe for a million years without human intervention... Setting the bar that high makes the best an enemy of the good... What, people say, would happen to an engineered burial site if mankind reverts to savagery and can no longer look after it? That's a stupid question. If man reverts to savagery, nuclear waste in a deep hole in the ground will be the least of his problems... We just need a strategy that makes it safe for a period of history that falls within the human imagination. I reckon 200 years is enough. The store should be inaccessible to the malevolent but readily accessible to those responsible for curating the waste. It will be a legacy, but our descendants will be well able to cope.

Great minds think alike. Or something.