Scientists Worry About a Future Ice Age Crushing Our Nuclear Waste Vaults

Researchers exploring a river on the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Image: NWMO
The Greenland ice sheet is a useful stand-in for the future.


Countries that rely on nuclear power, including Canada and the US, will have to reckon with their nuclear waste. Used fuel stays radioactive for a million years or longer, and experts say the safest place for it is deep underground, where it can ideally sit undisturbed.

But our world, in a million years, will look much different than it does today. Ice ages will once again come and go, as they did in ancient history, meaning the crushing weight of glaciers will press down upon the Earth and potentially impact any nuclear vault buried deep underground. Even if no humans are around in tens of thousands of years to see the next Ice Age—or maybe no humans as we’d recognize them—scientists still have to take this into account when they plan deep geological repositories to house radioactive waste.

Right now, all of Canada’s high-level nuclear waste is sitting at the reactors where it was produced. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) is responsible for figuring out what to do with this radioactive garbage. They want to bury it underground, and they’re considering seven possible host communities for the planned vault, all in Ontario.