Columns 3.6.2014 07:00 am

The waste solution in the desert

Andrew Kenny.

Andrew Kenny.

Deep in the desert I have seen the solution for our energy supply.

I was visiting Vaalputs, the radioactive waste disposal facility in the Namaqua Desert about 100km south east of Springbok in the Northern Cape. It is run by the Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA. It receives waste from Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, the best power station in SA, and the Safari reactor at Pelindaba, which produces medical isotopes that have saved millions of lives.

We arrived in the dark. The next morning, an hour before sunrise, I saw the flat, straight, dark line of the horizon running to each edge of the world. I was captivated by this arid landscape.

Vaalputs is the perfect place for a nuclear waste repository: geologically stable, low rainfall and population (the closest town is Kliprand, about 60km south) and low commercial value.

Vaalputs takes “low” and “intermediate” level radioactive waste, including overalls and gloves worn by radiation workers, resins and sludges. The waste is put into steel or concrete drums and trucked to Vaalputs. We watched a shipment of steel drums being measured for radiation.

The radiation they found was less than that of granite. The granite top in your kitchen is more radioactive than these drums (but far too low to do you any harm).

The drums are buried in trenches 8 metres deep and covered with special clays 2.8 metres deep. Calculations show that if any radioactive elements leaked out of the drums it would take them

250 000 years to reach the aquifer 60 metres down. By then almost all of the radiation would have decayed away. In the worst case, the radiation reaching the nearest human centuries into the future would be a thousand times less than the radiation he would receive from nature right now.

Vaalputs provides the complete “solution” to the “problem” of nuclear waste. It could easily take the “high level” waste (spent fuel) from Koeberg. All that requires is political approval.

Without exception, every energy source, including solar and wind, leaves toxic wastes that last thousands of millions of years (cadmium, lead, mercury, thorium, arsenic, etc). Only nuclear power, which is safe, clean, economic and sustainable, has procedures for storing it safely.

Visit Vaalputs – its friendly staff will show you how it is done.


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