01 April 2014

TAKOMA PARK, MD - December 2nd will mark 70 years since scientists achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, without knowing then, or now, what to do with the radioactive waste it would generate. That very first waste was generated by the Enrico Fermi team at the University of Chicago in 1942 as part of the Manhattan Project. Next month, a special nuclear waste conference of experts will be held at that same site, December 1, 2 and 3, both to observe the date and to deliver panels and plenaries that cover every aspect of the radioactive waste challenge, from uranium mining through nuclear weapons production, nuclear energy generation and the unsolved waste “disposal” problem. The conference is hosted by Nuclear Energy Information Service and Beyond Nuclear. (See details at end of press release).

“What this date should remind us is that no permanent, safe location or technology has ever been found - and may never be found - to isolate even the first cupful of radioactive waste from the biosphere,” said Kay Drey of St. Louis, MO, a longtime anti-nuclear activist and board member of the Takoma Park advocacy group, Beyond Nuclear. “The first step must be to stop making any more of it.”

Almost all of the country’s civilian high-level radioactive waste remains at the 65 nuclear power plant sites, either in indoor, water-cooled fuel pools or in outdoor, air-cooled waste casks - both of which are vulnerable to eventual leakage into the environment, accident or attack. A Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, under the auspices of the US Department of Energy, recently concluded a two-year assessment of so-called solutions for the radioactive waste problem.

“All the Commission could come up with in its final report were the same bad old ideas: dump the waste in so-called “interim” storage sites and keep looking for a new permanent dump site,” commented Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear. “We suspect the most likely target for “interim” dumps would be on Indian reservations where the waste could be parked indefinitely,” Kamps added. Kamps helped lead the grassroots fight that killed the proposed, and scientifically unsound, high-level radioactive waste repository on Western Shoshone Indian land at Yucca Mountain, Nevada as well as the “parking lot dump” targeted at the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in Utah.

“It’s high time for the DOE to take the least-worst path, which is hardened on-site storage,” continued Kamps. “This means removing the irradiated fuel from highly vulnerable reactor waste pools and storing it at the reactor site in hardened casks that must be designed and built to last. They must be safeguarded against accidents, fortified against attacks, and must not leak into the environment,” Kamps said. “Yet despite 200 groups signing on to urge the DOE to adopt this policy as a common sense interim measure, the department has never even considered it.”

“The Fukushima nuclear catastrophe dramatically demonstrated the dangers posed by fuel pool storage,” said David Kraft, Director of Nuclear Energy Information Service. “But few lessons appeared to have been learned from the Fukushima disaster. And it’s important to note that the first waste was generated in Chicago for the production of atomic bombs which the US eventually used with horrific consequences on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Our conference will remember these events but also continue to urge the global abolition of all nuclear weapons.”

“We urge the Obama administration in its second term to lead the way to a nuclear phase-out while safeguarding the already generated radioactive waste under proper protection at the reactor sites,” Kamps added. “This avoids unnecessarily rushed transportation risks and poor storage site choices that violate environmental justice and fail to comply with necessary geological standards. If we at least stop making it, the mountain of waste already 70 years high need not grow any worse,” Kamps concluded.

A Mountain of Radioactive Waste 70 Years High Conference

Ending the Nuclear Age

December 1-3, 2012, University of Chicago

Two-day conference registration fee: $40 in advance, $50 at the door (including lunch on both days). Register at: www.neis.org. Or call 773.342.7650; Email: neis@neis.org

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 1st. 8:30am to 5:00pm at the University of Chicago’s International House, 1414 E. 59th St., Chicago. Featured speaker: Akiko Yoshida, Friends of the Earth, Japan, Fukushima, the Never Ending Story. Evening reception: 5:30pm. $30 per person. Keynote presentation: 7:00pm. Dr. Norma Field, University of Chicago, Robert S. Ingersoll Distinguished Service Professor of Japanese Studies, Emerita. “Where Are The People?” Followed by a film screening of “The Atomic States of America.”

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 2nd. 9:00am to 3:00pm. Hutchinson Commons, Reynolds Hall, 5706 S. University Avenue, Chicago. Featured speaker: Setsuko Thurlow, “Hibakusha, the experience of Hiroshima.” Memorial to the nuclear age: 3:30pm. Ceremony at the Henry Moore Sculpture to Nuclear Power, the location of the birth of the Atomic Age -- the site of the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. 56th and Ellis, University of Chicago campus. 5:00pm talk, “Active Hope: Transforming Nuclear Despair into Passionate Action.”

All evening events are free and open to the public.

MONDAY, DECEMBER 3rd. Car caravan to Red Gate Woods, site of Manhattan Project waste burials and monuments. Leave 10am from Moore sculpture.


Beyond Nuclear works to end nuclear power and nuclear weapons. With a strongly rooted commitment to citizen action - and in the wake of the devastating Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan - Beyond Nuclear is working to help empower grassroots communities around the country to shut US nuclear reactors.
Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. More at Beyond Nuclear.

CONTACT: Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear, 240.462.3216; Dave Kraft, Nuclear Energy Information Service, 773.342.7650; Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear, 301-523-0201.