FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Radioactive Waste Crisis

Before the month of January is out, the US Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future will unveil the result of its two year-long investigation into what to do with the accumulated radioactive waste at the country’s nuclear power plants. By this year’s end, that waste will constitute a mountain 70 years high, with the first cupful generated on December 2, 1942 at the Fermi lab not far from Chicago when scientists first created a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.

There remains no viable solution for either the management or certainly the “disposal” of nuclear waste. Yet, the one recommendation that will not be contained in the DOE report is to stop making any more of it.  While a child would never be allowed to continue piling up toys in his or her room indefinitely, failing to tidy up the mess, the nuclear industry continues to be permitted to manufacture some of the world’s most toxic detritus without a cleanup plan.

A sneak peak last July at the Commission’s draft report confirms that no new miracles are to be unveiled this month. Its preferred “solution” appears to be “centralized interim” storage, an allegedly temporary but potentially permanent parking lot dumpsite for highly radioactive waste that, based on past practices, will likely be targeted for an Indian reservation or a poor community of color. “Centralized interim” storage sites for the country’s irradiated reactor fuel rods could easily become permanent if no suitable geological repository site is found. It will mean transporting the waste from reactors predominantly located east of the Mississippi to a likely more remote, western location. And these wastes would then have to be moved again, transported past potentially 50 million homes, en route to a “permanent” dump site or for reprocessing.

Reprocessing, a chemical separation used extensively in France, creates enormous amounts of additional radioactive wastes that are discharged into the air and sea and a plutonium stockpile that could be diverted for nuclear weapons use. The Commission looks unlikely to recommend reprocessing for now but the DOE is still willing to squander tens to hundreds of millions of dollars a year of taxpayers’ money on research and development.

The repository debacle ended temporarily in 2011 with the wise cancelation of the scientifically flawed proposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. But new moves are afoot to search for an alternative site with the granite states – such as Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Carolina – highly favored. The Blue Ribbon Commission may point to the granite repository currently under construction in Finland as the way forward. But as one Scandinavian official stated unforgettably in the haunting documentary, Into Eternity, that examines the implications for the future if the Finnish repository is ever completed – in reality, “nobody knows anything at all.”

Attempting to find a site that can store deadly radioactive waste for a million years – the amount of time that the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges the waste will remain hazardous – could indeed be beyond the scope of humanity for the foreseeable future. But advocates of dump sites, permanent or temporary, argue that something must be done with the waste already accumulated. Almost all reactor fuel pools are filled to capacity, necessitating “overflow parking” in outdoor casks on site: both are vulnerable to accidents, attacks, and natural disasters. If a cask wears down, no safe, sure plan yet exists to transfer the waste inside it to a new cask.

While failing to advocate a cessation of production until a radioactive waste disposal solution is found, the DOE has also consistently ignored the only reasonable interim option, one that is technically feasible and avoids the need to move the waste vast distances to unwelcome destinations. This is Hardened On-Site Storage or HOSS, endorsed by scientists and more than 200 environmental advocacy groups around the country.  HOSS calls for emptying the fuel pools and placing the irradiated rods in high quality outdoor casks fortified by thick bunkers and berms. Safeguards, security, and monitoring would be designed to protect against leaks, accidents and attacks.

HOSS would buy time, necessary while we wait to see if scientific advances will ever deliver a safe, secure and enduring radioactive waste solution. But until such a time, generating more waste, and rushing it into repositories that likely would not shield their deadly cargo for the sufficient time while the isotopes and their containers decay, is a reckless decision that leaves a deadly legacy for future generations.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a Takoma Park, Maryland-based safe energy advocacy organization.

More articles by:

Linda Pentz Gunter is the editor and curator of BeyondNuclearInternational.org and the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear. She can be contacted at linda@beyondnuclear.org.

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail