Bulgaria's nuclear dilemma  

Posted by Big Gav in ,

The BBC has an article on Bulgaria's nuclear waste problem - Bulgaria's nuclear dilemma.

Kiril Nikolov smiles a big, nuclear smile. "Year by year, we are getting rid of more spent nuclear fuel than we produce," he explains, "so our stores are going down."

One can only share his happiness. Who would actually want to be sitting on tonnes and tonnes of a material so radioactive, it will remain dangerous for at least 300,000 years?

I am sitting with Mr Nikolov in his fern-fringed office, as snow blanks out reactor after reactor in the winter wonderland outside.

There are actually six reactors at Kozloduy - four "small ones", which once produced 440 megawatts each, but were closed down as a condition of Bulgaria joining the European Union. And two "big ones" the 1,000 megawatt reactors which are still pouring power into Bulgaria's grid, keeping the lights on in the dark months.

Mr Nikolov is deputy director of the plant.

Bulgaria is almost the only eastern European country still sending spent nuclear fuel back to Russia for reprocessing. The Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks stopped in the 1990s, as the Russians increased the price for accepting it, and as Ukraine increased the transit fees.

But just as the other East Europeans were abandoning the Russian dump option, the Bulgarians signed a new deal with Moscow. They had to. The ponds next to the reactors, where the spent fuel canisters were transferred, were nearly full. So was the tall grey warehouse near Reactor Two.

Kozloduy managers argued at the time, that unless spent fuel shipments to Russia resumed soon, Kozloduy would have to shut down. It was choking on its own waste. ...

Back upstairs in his dry, civilised office, Kiril Nikolov concedes that Bulgaria will eventually have to take its own nuclear waste back from Russia.

The waste left over when the spent pellets of enriched uranium are extracted from their stainless steel and concrete casing at the Mayak Reprocessing Plant at Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains. This is the main reason why the other East European countries no longer want to do business with Russia. They do not want to re-import their own dangerous waste.

"Aren't you worried by that thought?" I ask Mr Nikolov. "Absolutely not... the Russians have to give us 10 years warning before they do so," he explains. "And that will give us time to prepare."

I wheel out my last question. "Isn't it irresponsible to proceed with nuclear energy, if you don't have a safe solution for the waste?" And he wheels out his answer. "Only nuclear power can provide the sheer amount of energy which mankind needs."

We shake hands warmly. But I wheel away through the snowy wastes of the Bulgarian Arctic, deeply unconvinced.

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