Energy and Environment

High level waste will come from the fission products extracted by fuel reprocessing. About 25% of the total core of 100 tonnes is reprocessed for a 1 GW(e) PWR every year. Of this, some 3% will be fission products and become high level waste. Thus for every 1 GW(e) of nuclear capacity, 100 x .25 x 0.03 = 0.75 tonnes of high level waste will be produced. This equates to about 0.15 m3. In practice, other material will be contaminated by this so, as a rough estimate, 1 GW(e) of nuclear capacity will produce 0.25 m3 of high level waste for every year of operation.  Thus 100 GW(e) of nuclear capacity will, at the after its 60 years of operation, generate approximately produce 1,500 m3 of high level waste. Additional low and intermediate level waste will also be produced at the fuel reprocessing plants. This cannot be estimated accurately but we will assume it to be the equivalent to 10 AP1000 reactors. There will also be the fuel inventory currently in use in the reactors, awaiting or in reprocessing or ready for use. The quantity will depend on the mix of PWRs and FBRs (FBRs require less fuel) but, assuming only PWRs, there will be about 10,000 tons (1,000 m3) in place in the reactors and roughly twice as much in the various stages of reprocessing. To this should be added the liquids used in reprocessing, maybe a further 3,000 m3. This fuel would, of course, be of value for an ongoing programme. These figures have been added together in Table 1 and compared with that currently created or expected without any new civil nuclear programme.

Table 1: Current and Projected Nuclear Waste
Waste category Currently assessed assuming no new civil nuclear programme (m3) Additional, assuming a 60 year 100GW(e) Civil nuclear programme (m3)
Low Level Waste 3,200,000 440,000
Intermediate Level Waste 240,000 55,000
High Level Waste 1,100 1,500
In use fuel inventory Included in above 6,000
Total 3,441,100 502,500

For comparison, the total enclosed volume of the Wembley Stadium is about 1,000,000 m3 and the quantity of waste produced compares very favourably with the spoil and debris from other high energy sources such as oil, coal or natural gas. Furthermore, compared with chemical contamination, radioactive contamination can be easily detected and located.

The NDA [5] intend that low level waste is supercompacted to minimise its volume and placed in large metal containers. These will then be filled with cement and placed in concrete-lined near surface vaults which need to be kept isolated from the biosphere for several decades after which the levels of radio active contamination will have fallen to level similar to that found in granite. Both the intermediate and the high level waste will need to be buried deep underground in steel and concrete sealed tombs. The intermediate level waste is required to be kept isolated from the biosphere for several thousands of years and the high level waste for several tens of thousands of years until the background levels fall to that of granite. The high level waste is required to be kept in cooled storage above ground for several decades to ensure its decay heat has fallen to acceptable levels. It is then vitrified before being buried as described above.


  • Nuclear Power, edited by RV Moore and published by Cambridge University Press, 1971.
  • Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) & International Atomic Energy Agency, 2005.
  • Australia’s uranium ore reserves and mineral resources – Appendix E, Geosciences Australia, 2006.
  • Manufacturing Nuclear Fuel – BNFL briefing note, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, 2003 -2004.
  • Radioactive Wastes in the UK, a Summary of the 2007 Inventory, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, NDA/RWMD/003, March 2008
  • AP1000 European Design Control Document, Chapter 20, Decommissioning, EPS-GW-GL-700, Rev 0. Westinghouse.
  • Please note that material on this website is covered by the “Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988”. This means that material may be downloaded for personal study, but no part of it may be copied for publication elsewhere without written permission from the Britain Watch team. See Contact us.

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