Nuclear: the puzzle of radioactive waste
Key words: nuclear, waste, treatment, radioactive, ultimate.
Achilles heel of nuclear power or controversial argument of environmentalists: the question of radioactive waste remains a puzzle, long minimized, today in the public square but without any definitive solution having yet been found.
Most of this waste comes from the 19 nuclear power plants in operation and from the spent fuel reprocessing plants. Every year, 1.200 tonnes of spent fuel are unloaded from the reactors of the nuclear power plant. Eight hundred tonnes are sent to the Cogéma plant in La Hague (Manche): a part is reused for the manufacture of new fuel (Mox), the rest constituting non-reusable final waste. Four hundred tonnes of fuel are not reprocessed and are in storage pending a decision.
According to the National Agency for the Management of Radioactive Waste (Andra), the flow leaving reprocessing facilities - waste poured into glass matrices - represents some 130 m3 per year. At the end of the life of the current nuclear power plant, the total volume of vitrified waste should not exceed 6.000 m3, according to experts.
All nuclear waste is not in the same boat and only the least radioactive today benefit from an operational solution.
The waste is classified in three categories:
- Waste A: various materials linked to operations and slightly contaminated, they represent 90% of the volume of waste, but only 1% of the total radioactivity. They are now stored in the Aube.
- B waste: resulting from the reprocessing of fuel assemblies, this compacted waste represents 10% of the total radioactivity and 10% of the volume, i.e. some 50.000 m3 by the 2020 deadline for all of what has been produced since the in service of the nuclear fleet.
- C waste: this is the most dangerous ultimate waste, the part that cannot be recovered after reprocessing of the spent fuel. They represent a small volume (1% of the total), but 90% of the radioactivity over hundreds of thousands of years.
It is B and C waste that is the subject of research to find a management channel.