Many researchers see the expansion of nuclear power, which produces no greenhouse gas emissions from power generation, as a key component of strategies to combat global climate change. However, there remains strong resistance to such expansion, and much of this depends on the question of how to safely dispose of the resulting radioactive waste materials. MIT recently held a workshop to help nuclear engineers, policymakers and academics identify ways to communicate accurate information about nuclear waste management to students and the public, in hopes of allaying concerns and encouraging support for the development of new, safer nuclear energy. Plants around the world.
The workshop, organized by Haruko Wainwright, an MIT assistant professor of nuclear science and engineering, civil and environmental engineering, brought together professors, researchers, industry representatives and government officials, and was intended to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of the issue. MIT News I asked Wainwright to describe the workshop and its conclusions, which she reported in a paper just published in a journal Journal of Environmental Radioactivity.
s: What is the main goal of this workshop?
a: There is growing concern that despite great excitement about the deployment of new nuclear reactors and the use of nuclear energy to address climate change, relatively less attention is being paid to the thorny issue of long-term management of spent (waste) fuel from these reactors. . Government and industry have embraced consent-based siting approaches—that is, finding sites for nuclear waste storage and disposal through broad community engagement and with environmental equity and justice in mind. However, many of us in academia feel that those in industry are missing essential facts to communicate to the public.
Understanding and managing nuclear waste requires interdisciplinary expertise in nuclear, civil and chemical engineering as well as environmental and geosciences. For example, the amount of waste itself, which is always very small for nuclear systems, is not the only factor determining environmental impacts because some radionuclides in waste are more mobile than others and can therefore spread further and more quickly. Nuclear engineers, ecologists and others need to work together to predict the environmental impacts of radionuclides in waste from new reactors and develop strategies for long-term waste isolation.
We have organized this workshop to ensure that this collaborative approach is mastered from the beginning. The second goal was to develop a blueprint to educate the next generation of engineers and scientists about nuclear waste and to form a more educated group of nuclear engineers and general engineers.
s: What types of innovative teaching practices are discussed and recommended, and are there examples of these practices in action?
a: Some participants teach project-based courses or simulations of real-world situations. For example, students are divided into several groups representing different stakeholders – such as the public, policy makers, scientists, and governments – and discuss the potential location of a nuclear waste repository in the community. Such a course helps students consider the perspectives of different groups, understand a multiplicity of viewpoints, and learn how to communicate their ideas and concerns effectively. Other courses may ask students to compile basic technical facts and figures, and prepare a testimony statement for Congress or an opinion piece for newspapers.
s: What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about nuclear waste, and how can these misconceptions be addressed?
a: Workshop participants agreed on the importance of broader and life cycle perspectives. For example, in the life cycle of nuclear power, people focus disproportionately on high-level radioactive waste or spent fuel, which is highly regulated and well managed. Nuclear systems also produce secondary wastes, including low-level waste and uranium mining waste, which receive less attention.
Participants also believe that the nuclear industry has been exemplary in leading environmental and waste sequestration science and technology. Nuclear waste disposal strategies were developed in the 1950s, much earlier than other hazardous wastes that only began to be seriously regulated in the 1970s. In addition, current nuclear waste disposal practices consider isolation compliance periods of thousands of years, whereas disposal of other hazardous wastes beyond 30 years need not be considered, although some wastes have essentially infinite lives, e.g. Example, mercury or lead. Finally, there are relatively unregulated wastes, such as carbon dioxide2 From fossil energy, agricultural effluents and other sources – which are freely released into the biosphere and are already affecting our environment. However, many people remain more concerned about relatively well-regulated nuclear waste than all these unregulated sources.
Interestingly, many engineers – even nuclear engineers – do not know these facts. We believe that we need to teach students not only cutting-edge technologies, but also broader perspectives, including the history of industries and regulations, as well as environmental science.
At the same time, we need to push the nuclear community to think more holistically about waste and its environmental impacts from the early stages of nuclear systems design. We should design new reactors from “waste”. We believe that the nuclear industry must continue to lead waste management technologies and strategies, as well as encourage other industries to adopt a life cycle approach to their waste to improve overall sustainability.
(Tags for translation)Haruko Wainwright