Safe graveyard

India’s decision to explore the possibility of storing its nuclear waste permanently in a deep geological repository needs to be carefully studied before implementation.

Although the country began its nuclear programme over half-a-century ago, it had not made provision or taken steps to build a repository for its nuclear waste. This was in part because its nuclear programme was small; the waste produced by its nuclear reactors was limited. In the wake of the India-US nuclear agreement and the lifting of global restrictions on nuclear trade with India, this programme is expected to expand over the next few decades. Currently there are 20 reactors in operation in six nuclear plants and the numbers are likely to double. As India ramps up its nuclear programme, the waste generated will grow. The existing provisions for waste disposal will not be adequate in the coming years.

Scientists have said that the hunt for a geological repository is not urgent as only a sixth of our existing facility has been filled up and a new repository will be needed only after another 20 years. Still we must not delay. Finding an absolutely stable and safe geological environment for the repository is a complex task. It must not be a rushed and be a careless process under any circumstances. Besides, finalising the location will take time as public protests are bound to emerge. After all nobody would like a nuclear dump in their backyard. India must learn from the mistakes and experiences of other countries in this matter. The US’ quest for a permanent home for its nuclear waste remains elusive to date. Without a central repository, its waste is piling up at individual reactor sites across the country.

India has always taken pride in the fact that it is a responsible nuclear power. It has not proliferated nuclear technology to other countries. However, the opacity of its nuclear decision making has caused concern. Critics have drawn attention too to the location of some of its nuclear plants in areas that are vulnerable to seismic events and tsunamis. The planned permanent deep repository for waste should make absolutely sure that it does not pose any danger to either the residents or the environment. The scientists must adopt a consultative and transparent process in the hunt for a safe graveyard for nuclear waste.

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