Nuclear waste disposal

September 1, 2013 • Dear Editor

Dear Editor:

A recent editorial by the Denver Post that your publication printed suggested a “less than ideal but workable fallback plan” for cleaning up our nation’s nuclear waste, in light of the paralysis at Yucca Mountain.

I disagree because “less than ideal but workable” is simply not acceptable when it comes to cleaning up our nation’s radioactive waste.
Instead, why don’t we look to a solution possibly more ideal than Yucca Mountain, in terms of being based on community consent, being more affordable, and being just as safe? It’s a solution that has been right under our noses the entire time.

Our nation’s radioactive waste supply includes a sizeable [auth] amount of what’s called defense high level waste. This type of waste is “old, cold and worthless” and can’t be reprocessed. It should be disposed of in thick salt beds, similar to the way that defense-generated transuranic (TRU) waste is disposed of at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Minimal thermal demonstrations can confirm a proper layout for this disposal. A repository in salt beds would need not spend anywhere near the 16 billion dollars that engineered barriers would have cost for the Yucca Mountain repository to defend against oxygen and the possibility of dripping water, neither of which are a problem in a deep salt repository.

And then there’s spent fuel. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended consolidated interim storage for spent fuel. Interim storage is affordable and safe and uses proven technology. This spent fuel is currently costing tens of millions of dollars per year to maintain and violates binding agreements with states. Interim storage would safely isolate the spent fuel – reducing settlement fees and allowing the nation time to conduct additional thermal testing based on the levels of heat generated by spent fuel.

Some of the spent fuel generated in the future should be reprocessed, but a recent study conducted at Oak Ridge National Laboratory concluded that it would not be practical to reprocess most of our current inventory. The smartest solution for spent fuel is to move it to interim storage for now to get it out of fuel pools at the nuclear power plants and away from inflating settlement costs, as the search continues for a permanent repository based on a consent-based process and additional geologic research, as needed.

The sky is not falling on the nation’s radioactive waste issue, but momentum is needed. We should keep looking to WIPP. A repository in salt may prove to be the best solution.

Mayor Dale Janway
Carlsbad, NM

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