Sometime ago CNS members may have seen articles about the publication of the report on wastes from Small Modular Reactors. Nuclear waste from small modular reactors | PNAS. As we are scientists and engineers we may have focused on the technical issues and some of the assumptions made in the report that we would argue are actually wrong. Some rebuttals have already taken place.
But as well as being scientists and engineers we are also nuclear communicators and in fulfilling that role we need to consider how the public and politicians might see the issues when they have very little appreciation of the technicalities.
Standing back from the detail we have to accept the fact that few people outside of the industry really understand the issues and so correcting the assumptions made in the report has very little effect on them. However, the act of ardently refuting the report may actually reinforce the idea that nuclear wastes are a horrible problem. After all, why would we be so concerned about the report if they weren’t. In other words, refuting the report might satisfy our technical sense of justice but is likely to have an adverse effect on people’s view of the technology. Its counter intuitive I know but communications often are.
The real point that we should be communicating to people is the fact that the used fuel from nuclear power production is not actually causing any real problems, and they can all be managed safely in the way that we have safely managed them for many decades and that, if we are allowed to build a repository, will never have an adverse effect even in the unlikely event that society has collapsed.
Whether future reactors, full-scale or SMRs, make more or less of something that is not actually a problem and is a complete irrelevance even if it were to be true! The complete fuel cycle options, including permanent disposal of used fuel and radiological waste, for advanced Generation IV reactors are being finalized with the deployment of the new fleet of reactors under the scrutiny of the national regulators and international regulatory agencies. Information on these can be found in the G4SR conferences proceedings now available on the CNS Website (https://www.cns-snc.ca/cns-proceedings-archive/).
Looked at in another way this report is an opportunity to discuss the positive aspects of nuclear power and the contribution it can make to the sustainability of our planet, placing the waste issue in the context of the consequences of other energy systems that we might use, all of which have environmental issues. This approach will paint nuclear power in a positive light.
An interview with the lead author of the report concluded with the statement “So I think, SMRs can be deployed safely, as long as the back end is being managed responsibly. But in countries where that’s not the case, I think it’s a bit more like the Wild West”. Canada is not the wild west where nuclear waste is concerned (and that is confirmed as no harm has ever been caused by the storage of used fuel in Canada and the safe storage is continuously monitored on all sites). Armed with this information we can show that the lead author of the report is effectively supporting SMR deployment in Canada. And that in turn shows that the anti-nukes using the report to attack SMRs are not using the report correctly.
The following is a very helpful response along these lines that has been posted by the CNA. the reactor: will SMRs really produce more waste? (mailchi.mp)