How much does a radwaste program cost?

“Impossible to say” many claim, as no country has completed one yet. And it’s true, it is hard to estimate the cost of developing and building a program to have rockets shoot waste into the sun in a safe manner – but it is likely that it would cost a fair bit of money. However, as concepts for final repositories seem to converge towards deep geological storage, it is reasonable to assume the estimated costs for programs will converge as well.

The sum of £70 bn ($130 bn) is often mentioned as the cost for the UK nuclear waste clean-up program. No wonder there is some reluctance to build new nuclear power plants when these kind of figures are circulated. The UK nuclear program is very unique, with Sellafield and gas-reactors with enormous graphite cores that will be extremely expensive to decommission. It must be made very clear that this is not representative for a possible new generation of nuclear power plants in the UK.

To give some reference, let’s have a look at the Swedish nuclear waste program. In 2006, it includes:

  • An interim spent-fuel storage in operation (completed in 1985)
  • A low- and medium level waste storage in operation (completed in 1988)
  • A transport system involving casks, trucks and a ship
  • A canister laboratory
  • A deep repository laboratory with 3.6 km of tunnels to a depth of 460m
  • Site examinations for final repositories
  • Timetables and project plans for remaining facilities

The cost for this to date is $3.2 bn. To complete the program, including construction and operations of a canister factory, an encapsulation plant and a final repository – as well as decommissioning of 12 reactors and handling of fuel from 40 years of operations – and additional $7.2 bn is needed (in 2006 monetary value).

To sum up, the estimated total cost of the Swedish nuclear waste program is $10.4 bn – which is 13 times less than the cost of the UK program. The nuclear programs of the two countries are by no means comparable, but the Swedish program (being solely civilian and using light-water reactors) may better represent what a future British nuclear program would look like – and cost in terms of waste management.