Blog by Liz Muller, Nov. 18, 2020

Nuclear Waste Needs to be Part of Climate Change Discussion

As CEO of the nuclear waste disposal company Deep Isolation, my main focus is using innovation to solve the decades-old problem of what to do with nuclear waste. But finding solutions to the world’s toughest environmental problems is also reflected in my work with Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit that’s a widely respected source of independent unbiased climate change and air pollution data.

Ten years ago I co-founded Berkeley Earth to bring robust data and analysis to the question of global warming. Seeking facts over opinions, we organized a group of scientists to reanalyze the earth’s surface temperature record and published our initial findings in 2012. Yes, climate change is real, and we need to act. While recent severe fires have raised the profile of our work, this has always been a core belief of the organization.   

So how does my concern about climate change relate to nuclear waste disposal? The climate crisis requires immediate action to reduce carbon-based energy sources. Nuclear energy is part of the low-carbon, energy mix, but if we don’t solve the waste problem then we’re not being responsible.  It’s also true that without a waste solution it’s highly unlikely that the next generation of nuclear energy reactors will come to life.

In fact, many countries and states are decommissioning their nuclear reactors and banning the development of new nuclear energy until the waste problem is solved.

No country has yet disposed of high-level nuclear waste or spent nuclear fuel. Most governments put the waste into temporary storage facilities.  Some are planning to place it in mined repositories, but progress with those repositories is measured in decades and even generations.

Deep Isolation’s method puts waste canisters in deep geologic isolation using boreholes, and because there are no humans underground this is safer, more easily deployed, and more cost-effective than other methods.

Climate change has me concerned, but there are many reasons to remain hopeful. I’m seeing the world respond to environmental disasters such as the West Coast fires with a renewed sense of urgency, and cleantech investors are taking note. 

The fact that Deep Isolation just closed $20 million in Series A funding shows that socially responsible investors are willing to support a cleantech company with a mission to become an integral part of a low-carbon future. 

As an environmentalist, I believe that safely and permanently disposing of the world’s current nuclear waste inventory while providing a path forward for new nuclear is the responsible thing to do for future generations and the planet.

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