United States has a 70,000-ton nuclear waste problem – and growing

The federal government stepped up efforts to deal with the nation’s growing, heavily guarded stockpiles of nuclear waste…convening westerners in Denver to search for a path to a locally accepted site somewhere for deep burial.

That radioactive waste — 70,000 tons, increasing by 2,000 tons a year — comes from nuclear power plants that provide one-fifth of the electricity Americans use, twice the share the wind power industry expects to provide by 2020. More nuclear waste comes from nuclear weapons. Decades of failure to find a central disposal site has backed up spent fuel at 99 commercial plants and 14 shut-down plants…forced the government to pay utilities $4 billion as court-ordered compensation.

❝ “It makes sense to deal with this now instead of kicking the can down the road,” acting Assistant Energy Secretary for Nuclear Energy John Kotek said in an interview before Tuesday’s session…“At a minimum, it is about responsibly dealing with waste that was generated for our benefit. We’ve benefited from the electricity. We benefited from the nuclear deterrence.”

[All American politicians nod their heads at that bit of sage analysis.]

U.S. officials are acting as China and other nations construct nuclear plants as a cleaner source of energy to meet obligations under the International Climate Change Treaty. Nuclear plants don’t emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that scientists blame for global warming. A new U.S. plant is nearly complete in Tennessee. Four more are planned in Georgia and South Carolina.

For 22 years, federal officials worked toward central disposal at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Nevada politicians opposed the project. President Obama in 2009 declared Yucca Mountain an unworkable solution.

There was also a problem with falsified information about the project.

Local resistance to nuclear waste remains fierce. The recent plans to drill an exploratory bore hole three miles deep under North Dakota were scuttled this year as residents objected. Federal energy officials say they’re now looking at bore hole sites in South Dakota to test geological conditions.

Guarding the spent fuel at 113 locations is expensive. Energy officials said waste is stored in different ways at each site and eventually would have to be re-packaged for safety. Federal regulators have said the waste in Colorado can stay until at least 2030, or until a permanent disposal facility is built.

Cold War decisions continue irrevocable, cast in political alloys as fixed as decisions made a half-century ago. There will be no discussion of recycling nuclear material – in the United States.

Every now and then, Areva, the French firm handling most European nuclear recycling drops a note to whoever has their butt planked in the Oval office offering to quote a price for recycling our leftover nuclear crap. The power rods are 94% recyclable. France – which gets the majority of their power from nuclear plants – gets 17% of all their electricity from recycled radioactive material.

2 thoughts on “United States has a 70,000-ton nuclear waste problem – and growing

  1. Susan says:

    Recycling spent fuel is dirty, dangerous and very expensive. It creates huge volumes of deadly ways and separates weapons usable materials. Reprocessing dues around the world are some of the most contaminated places on Earth. The only solution to nuclear waste is to stop making it.

  2. Uh-oh... says:

    Millions of liters of highly radioactive waste from the U.S. nuclear weapons program are currently held in temporary storage units across the country. The government’s plan for permanently disposing of this material is to mix radioactive waste into glass or ceramic, seal it in stainless steel canisters and bury it deep underground. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/containers-u-s-plans-use-nuclear-waste-storage-may-corrode
    However new lab experiments have revealed that when a nuclear waste package is exposed to groundwater, chemical interactions between a stainless steel canister and its glass or ceramic contents may cause the materials to corrode slightly faster than expected, as researchers report online January 27 in Nature Materials. That corrosion risks exposing the radioactive waste stored in the container.
    See “Self-accelerated corrosion of nuclear waste forms at material interfaces” https://www.nature.com/articles/s41563-019-0579-x

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