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A Short History of Dry Cask Nuclear Waste Storage

The Endless Simmer

by RUSSELL D. HOFFMAN

In Washington DC, a recent Senate subcommittee hearing was held on nuclear waste.  It stretched on and on for several hours.  Only “experts” and Senators spoke.  It was chaired by Senator Tom Carper (D, DE), who not-too-subtly confessed to possessing not a whit of knowledge about the issues:  At every turn he would say things like, “I want to thank you for your report, which the experts tell me is very good.”

He did admit that his “tiny little state” is much too small to have the opportunity to bid for the privilege and PROFIT of having a federal jail facility built within its borders, let alone a nuclear waste dump.

But please come visit Rehoboth Bay when you get a chance!  It hasn’t been Fukushima’d yet by Hope Creek or Salem Units 1 or 2, chugging away, rusting away, vulnerable to earthquakes and liquefaction as they sit on their manmade islands in the middle of the Delaware River, along Delaware’s northeastern edge.  Essentially all of Delaware would be wiped out by an accident at these decrepit old power plants.

So of course, he wants a centralized storage facility, or several “decentralized” storage facilities scattered in “less densely populated” areas.  He didn’t name a state he prefers.

The trick to getting a nuclear waste dump built, apparently, is a simple three-fold process, which, they claim, has been successfully done in other countries, but which they can’t seem to pull it off here.  They’ll keep trying.  Here are the steps:

First, stop calling it a dump.  Nuclear waste was referred to by one “expert” as a “resource”.

Second, narrow down the area which can decide yea or nay on the project.  The area should be far smaller than a state or county, preferably it will be just a hole in the ground, the top of which is in somebody’s back yard.  That would be the ideal situation.

And third:  Pay the local community buckets full of money to get them to like the idea.  This is not known as bribery, it’s called “incentive-based site location.”  France added a twist the Senators liked:  Start by building an underground “research facility” which everyone knows will “eventually” (read:  Next generation, decades from now) be turned into a nuclear waste dump.  ”We can make it attractive” announced one Senator confidently.

And sure, it sounds easy.  But so far Americans apparently haven’t been dumb enough to accept the strategy.  One Senator asked an “expert” if he thought the solution to get Yucca Mountain going was to pour more bribery money into Nevada (he called it “incentives”).  That would probably work, was the answer.

And therefore, it was considered the right thing do to.

In the entire session, there was not one word about what processes might be studied, that had never been tried before, that had some promise… because there really aren’t any such processes being studied, and everything’s been tried before… and failed.  Nuclear waste is an eternal problem.  Scientific American pegs it at “250,000 years”, so that’s close enough to eternity for me.

Russell D. Hoffman lives in Carlsbad, California. He is an educational software developer and bladder cancer survivor, as well as a collector of military and nuclear historical documents and books. He is the author and programmer of the award-winning Animated Periodic Table of the Elements. He can be reached at: rhoffman@animatedsoftware.com