What is nuclear waste worth?

G’day learned doppers,

Say tomorrow our economy down here hits the fan, and we decided to build a world class nuclear waste repository out in the desolate outback. We’ll take anything (LLW to spent fuel) that any government can ship here. Of course we won’t do this for free so…

What is the annual market for storing or permanently disposing of the world’s nuclear waste possibly worth? 100 million? 10 billion?

Thanks in advance

Sorry to bump my own thread after a couple of years, but the state of South Australia has graciously spent $AUD7.2 million to answer this very question. Thanks SA tax payers!

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission handed down its report last week (here, warning 300p+ .pdf).

The key recommendation was the establishment of an international geological depository for used fuel (measured in tons of Heavy Metal contained) and intermediate level waste (in m^3).
Used Fuel**

Current world stockpile : 89,900 tHM
Future 2015-2090 : 186,500 tHM
Commissions estimate for storage : $AUD1.75million / tHM
Intermediate Level Waste**

Current world stockpile : 269,400 m^3
Future 2015-2090 : 512,900 m^3
Commissions estimate for storage : $AUD40,000 / m^3

So about $AUD4.625 billion ish per year for 2015-2090.

Ironically the report also recommends against nuclear power in South Australia on economic grounds.

Would nuclear generating countries be willing to use such a facility?

Given what happened at Maralinga what makes you think the locals would allow such a facility to be built?

Well, of course, the waste itself is worth nothing. That’s why we call it “waste”. In fact, you have to pay people to take it off your hands. If it were worth something, the payment flows would be other way.

Your question is actually “how much is handling nuclear waste worth?” I.e., how much will people pay me to take their nuclear waste off their hands? But what people will pay you is not all profit to you; you have to deduct the costs you bear in handling the stuff.

You quote the commission’s estimate for storing waste. But it’s not clear whether that’s estimate of what revenue can be generated by storing waste, or of what it will cost to store waste. And, whichever figure you have, you need the other figure as well in order to form a view as to how much you can clear by storing waste.

Not at all true. Lots of nuclear waste could in future be reprocessed and used again as fuel using new technology. There’s a very good argument for storing waste in such a way that it can be retrieved in future when needed. Anything thats Radioactive is a potential energy source, it’s just that currently we don’t have the technology to use it in an efficient way.

Which means that, currently, it’s worth nothing. If people thought that the contingency of perhaps being able to use it at some point in the future had any present value, they wouldn’t be paying other people to take it off their hands.

Mainly it’s worth nothing because there are two potential markets:

  1. those not allowed to own it (you, me, terrorists)
  2. those allowed to own it, but with access to even better stuff (governments)

Market 1 would pay a lot of money for it, if they were allowed to. Even if we took terrorists off the table, I don’t think it would be overly hard for a corporation to separate the nuclear waste into components that it could sell off at a nice profit. Again, if it was allowed to.

Well, again, if they could separate it into components which could be used to generate energy or for some other beneficial purpose, why wouldn’t they be allowed to? So if they’re not allowed to, that’s likely to be because while the sale might be profitable, the externalities - the costs borne by those not party to the transaction - would be too great. E.g. you could sell it profitably to ISIS to make dirty bombs with, but there are obvious and massive externalities. Hence the ban. And, if there were no ban, then the resale potential to ISIS would mean that nuclear waste would be worth something if, and only if, your calculation of “worth” disregards the externalities. Factor the externalities in, and “worth” is still a huge big negative amount.

Which raises a point of more general relevance. If South Australia takes this stuff and stores it, there will be significant long-term externalities born by the local people, the poeple of South Australia, the people of Australia. And any claim that the storage of waste is “worth” any particular sum to SA is bogus if it fails to take the externalities into account. So you’d need to look very carefully and critically at the methodology for calculating worth.