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  • A new era has dawned.

  • A little miracle of technology - the atomic power stations are going up.

  • We're bombarded with radiation all the time...

  • ...from everyday objects like a watch.

  • Most people think that radioactive waste is some kind of...

  • ...but in actual fact, it looks a little bit like this - black glass.

  • It will be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years,

  • and this is why we really need to think about its long-term future.

  • The danger of radioactive waste is here today,

  • and goes on and on tomorrow.

  • In full operation,

  • it will supply electricity for a million people.

  • Climate change, the gases blamed for global warming,

  • are pumped out in ever bigger quantities.

  • The window of time to mitigate the climate crisis

  • is shrinking by the day, really.

  • The problem is how to reduce greenhouse gases.

  • Nuclear power has a long proven record

  • as a non-fossil energy source.

  • Nuclear energy is not a solution to climate change.

  • Nuclear energy has a fraught history.

  • Greeted with optimism in the 1950s,

  • its reputation was clouded by atomic bomb tests

  • and disasters like Chernobyl,

  • but as global leaders work to tackle climate change,

  • nuclear power's allure has come full circle.

  • Once up and running, nuclear power stations

  • emit no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases,

  • and nuclear's constant energy generation sets it apart

  • from renewable sources of energy, whose output can vary.

  • For the past 60 years or so, it has provided

  • a very important type of electricity, which we call...

  • That's the type of electricity that guarantees that 24/7,

  • no matter when you want to flip on or off your light switch,

  • the lights will be there.

  • The inherent dangers of nuclear energy

  • make it a controversial energy source,

  • and not everyone agrees it's worth the risks it brings.

  • Nearly all of our nuclear waste

  • is at coastal sites in one way or the other.

  • These are locations that are liable to coastal processes,

  • storm surges, sea-level rise.

  • Those are highly vulnerable

  • to the worst impacts of climate change that we can foresee.

  • I'm concerned about the dangers it poses.

  • In 2011, a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to meltdown

  • at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor.

  • As a result of the Fukushima accident,

  • both Japan and Germany, for different reasons,

  • have decided to shut down rapidly

  • their national nuclear energy output.

  • They ramped up coal and gas output

  • for a few years after the accident.

  • Dr Kharecha's research found that there were health consequences

  • linked to this reduction in the use of nuclear energy,

  • as both countries increased their use of fossil fuels

  • in subsequent years.

  • As a direct yet unintended consequence

  • of their decision to drastically reduce their nuclear power output,

  • after the Fukushima accident, both Japan and Germany together

  • lost the opportunity to prevent

  • over 28,000 air-pollution-induced premature deaths

  • that were as a result of fossil fuel power use.

  • Japan is slowly restoring its nuclear capacity,

  • while Germany has increased its renewable energy output

  • over the past decade, although that was accompanied by a steep rise

  • in energy prices for the public.

  • For countries with nuclear in their energy mix,

  • such as the UK, Finland, and China, constructing efficient new reactors

  • is both expensive and time-consuming.

  • Hinkley Point C, Britain's first nuclear reactor since 1995,

  • will cost...

  • ...at least twice as much as the London 2012 Olympic Games,

  • and this figure continues to rise.

  • Modern nuclear reactors are designed meticulously,

  • and built to withstand earthquakes and other threats,

  • including plane crashes, but even the best designed nuclear reactors

  • create radioactive waste, and that needs careful disposal.

  • In the UK, we have about four and a half million cubic metres

  • of radioactive waste.

  • The largest portion of this, about 96%, is low-level waste.

  • High-level waste is very high radioactivity material,

  • but we have the smallest volume of this, just less than 1%.

  • The radiation from high-level waste is so intense that,

  • if you were to touch it,

  • you'd receive a radiation dose about a million times more than you would

  • receive throughout an entire year just from natural radiation sources.

  • It's extremely high for several thousands,

  • even hundreds of thousands of years, so, ideally,

  • where we want to be is in a place where we can isolate those wastes

  • from future populations in a safe way -

  • for example, digging a very deep hole underground

  • and disposing of the waste there forever.

  • This solution is known as a...

  • ...where waste is disposed of

  • between 200m and 1,000m

  • below the Earth's surface.

  • Because most people don't like the idea

  • of living next to radioactive waste, it's been very difficult

  • for governments to find a suitable site, let alone start building one.

  • Finland is currently the only country in the world building

  • a permanent underground storage facility for their nuclear waste.

  • Every nation with nuclear power has so far stored its waste

  • in temporary facilities, and those facilities are ageing.

  • I'm not against deep disposal, because I think ultimately,

  • we'll have to deal with our present waste that way,

  • but that is so far ahead

  • that the problem here and now is safe storage.

  • And all the time we're waiting for the holy grail

  • of a deep disposal facility. The job of that facility is to deal with

  • the massive amounts of nuclear waste that we already have.

  • The idea that we should be piling more and unknown quantities

  • for further ahead is absolutely ludicrous, in my view.

  • If we don't get our hands on clean energy and rapidly scale them up

  • by as much as possible within the next few decades,

  • then we're leaving a massive, massive burden

  • on future generations.

  • We need to completely decarbonise the electricity sector,

  • and ideally also the overall energy sector,

  • if we're to avert the worst impacts

  • of the human-caused climate crisis.

  • As our understanding of the climate crisis deepens,

  • and energy demands continue to grow, the necessity that our energy

  • comes from non-fossil fuel sources makes nuclear power hard to ignore.

  • It is expensive and it can be dangerous

  • if safety protocols are not followed.

  • The highly radioactive waste it generates is hugely challenging

  • to store safely, but it also provides a reliable power baseline,

  • keeping the lights from turning off on a cloudy, windless winter evening

  • and meeting countries' energy needs

  • as they transition away from fossil fuels.

  • And...

A new era has dawned.

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How nuclear should our future be? | BBC Ideas

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    Summer posted on 2021/08/26
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