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Olkiluoto 3 to produce seven times more hazardous nuclear waste

06.02.2009 Lauri Myllyvirta

The health risk posed by high-level nuclear waste from new nuclear reactors marketed by the French company Areva is up to seven times higher that that caused by waste from existing reactors. The nuclear waste produced by the reactor is more radioactive and more likely to spread into the environment from storage facilities or during transport or an accident.

“This means that not only will spent nuclear fuel produced by the EPR be more dangerous than is acknowledged by the French nuclear industry, but also storage and disposal will be more expensive than the industry and governments proclaim, and will increase the overall cost of nuclear energy. The French nuclear companies Areva and EDF, which aggressively market the EPR as safe and cheap, have completely ignored the implications of the increased hazards,” explained John Large, an independent nuclear consultant.

“Super nuclear waste from new reactor models exposes the public to unforeseen short and especially long term health hazards as well as enormous uncovered liabilities as current nuclear waste disposal plans prove totally inadequate to deal with super nuclear waste,” Greenpeace energy campaigner Lauri Myllyvirta said.

The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), touted as a new generation nuclear reactor by the French Areva, is designed, with cost savings in mind, to burn uranium more intensely than any existing reactor. This causes the amount of readily released radioactive substances in spent fuel to increase disproportionately. Consequently the already looming nuclear waste problem is aggravated many times over.

If the fuel is disposed of by burying it into an underground nuclear waste dump, the largest heath hazard comes from iodine-129. The amount of iodine-129 instantly released, if and when the nuclear waste dump leaks, is seven times as large in the case of the “super nuclear waste” produced by the EPR reactor, compared to typical currently operating reactors.

The company responsible for managing the waste from world’s first Areva EPR reactor, under construction in Olkiluoto, Finland, also admit the increase in risks by a factor of seven in their recent environmental impact assessment report. The company plans to bury nuclear waste from at least five nuclear reactors into bedrock. Even the permitted releases of radioactivity from the waste dump are capable of causing thousands of cancer deaths in the long term and the presence of “super nuclear waste” would dramatically increase the potential death toll.

Similar hazards arise if nuclear waste is reprocessed. The higher content of highly radioactive substances in EPR fuel means that radiological releases from reprocessing operations are higher. These emissions have dramatic health impacts. E.g. Fairlie (2008) estimates that the releases of radioactivity from the Japanese Rokkasho reprocessing facility, with the capacity to reprocess nuclear waste from approximately a dozen reactors, will cause worldwide up to 15,000 cancer deaths during its operation.

Technical background