Nuclear power, in spite of its inherent dangers, is increasingly being seen as an important stepping-stone to pure renewable energy. Nuclear waste, on the other hand, remains a critical concern.
Climate change scientists warn of the increasing dangers of following the status quo with regards to carbon dioxide emissions. Nuclear power plants generate a lot of energy with zero carbon dioxide emissions, which seems to be a good idea, until you look at the other problems with the technology. Accidents aside, such as those that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March, 2011, finding a way to store nuclear waste is a big problem.
First, nuclear waste remains dangerous for millennia, so it needs to be stored in impermeable containers in such a way that they will not leak, corrode, or break under stress, such as that in an earthquake or transportation accident. Engineers have some pretty good ideas on how to store nuclear waste, but what about the amount of nuclear waste to be stored?
Given that there seems to be a resurgence of interest in nuclear power, the amount of nuclear waste generated only seems to be increasing. Research at the University of Sheffield have recently developed a method that could reduce the space requirements of nuclear waste that needs to be stored by up to 95%. Less nuclear waste requiring disposal means less space required and less packaging required in order for it to be safe. The new method involves encasing nuclear waste in slag, which effectively locks it in a corrosion-proof container, molten glass. Less volume means that future nuclear waste disposal would be able to make better use of the space already in use.