Nuclear power in australia − how much waste?

Former Chair of the Board of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, Ziggy Switkowski (2009b), has been promoting the construction of 50 nuclear power reactors in Australia. Each year, 50 reactors would:
* be responsible for 36 million tonnes of low level radioactive tailings waste (assuming the uranium came from Olympic Dam).
* be responsible for 8600 tonnes of depleted uranium waste.
* produce 1500 tonnes of high level nuclear waste (approx. 500 m3).
* produce 15,000 cubic metres of low level waste and intermediate level waste.
* produce 15 tonnes of plutonium, enough for 1500 nuclear weapons assuming 10 kgs of ‘reactor grade’ plutonium for one weapon.

Over a 50-year lifespan, 50 reactors would:
* be responsible for 1.8 billion tonnes of low level radioactive tailings waste (assuming the uranium came from Olympic Dam).
* be responsible for 430,000 tonnes of depleted uranium waste.
* produce 75,000 tonnes of high level nuclear waste (approx. 25,000 cubic metres).
* produce 750,000 cubic metres of low level waste and intermediate level waste.
* produce 750 tonnes of plutonium, enough for 75,000 nuclear weapons.

To give some sense of scale, successive Australian governments have attempted − to date without success − to establish a repository for low and intermediate level waste stockpiles which now amount to 4000 cubic metres. Thirteen reactors in Australia would produce that volume of low and intermediate level waste each year, in addition to the spent fuel they would produce and the much larger volumes of tailings waste and depleted uranium they would be responsible for.

As the Switkowski Report (2006) noted: “Establishing a nuclear power industry would substantially increase the volume of radioactive waste to be managed in Australia and require management of significant quantities of HLW [high level waste].”

The Switkowski Report (2006) states that with a nuclear power industry in Australia, a repository would be required for the more voluminous low level wastes soon after start-up. The smaller volumes of long lived intermediate and high level waste could be managed initially through interim storage, followed by deep geological disposal.

Former Liberal Party Senator Nick Minchin has commented on the difficulty of managing wastes from a nuclear power program: ”My experience with dealing with just low level radioactive waste from our research reactor tells me it would be impossible to get any sort of consensus in this country around the management of the high level waste a nuclear reactor would produce.”