“Today the U.S. Department of Energy’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future unveiled the result of its two-year-long investigation into what to do with the accumulated radioactive waste at this country’s atomic reactors. By this year’s end, that waste will constitute a mountain 70 years high, with the first cupful generated on December 2, 1942 at Enrico Fermi’s Manhattan Project lab at the University of 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 radioactive waste. Yet, the one essential recommendation that is not 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.

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s final report confirms that no new miracle solutions have been found. Its preferred ‘solution’ appears to be ‘consolidated interim’ storage, an allegedly temporary but potentially permanent parking lot dumpsite for highly radioactive waste that, based on past practices, will likely be targeted at an Indian reservation or a poor community of color.

In fact, the Blue Ribbon Commission points to the DOE’s Nuclear Waste Negotiator of the late 1980s and early 1990s as a model to follow. DOE’s Nuclear Waste Negotiator dangled money in front of impoverished Native American communities, hoping to entice them into ‘hosting’ hazardous radioactive waste parking lot dumps, an egregious environmental justice violation.

Several years ago, environmental groups chronicled this shameful history in a backgrounder entitled “Radioactive Racism: The History of Targeting Native American Communities with High-Level Atomic Waste Dumps,” posted online at: Radwaste

The most likely target today, given the Blue Ribbon Commission’s 5 to 10 year timeline to open a parking lot dump, is the Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation in Utah. The Private Fuel Storage, LLC proposal already received a construction and operations license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2006, despite widespread environmental justice movement opposition. Background information is posted online at Skull Valley

‘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 reprocessing facility. This amounts to a risky radioactive waste shell game on our roads, rails, and waterways.

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. While the Blue Ribbon Commission does not recommend a full-scale return to commercial reprocessing for now, it does endorse the DOE still squandering tens to hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money year after year on reprocessing and associated “advanced reactor” research, development, and demonstration activities.

The repository debacle ended temporarily in 2011 with the wise cancelation of the scientifically flawed Yucca Mountain dumpsite proposal 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 U.S. 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, as shown so clearly by the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe. If a cask wears down from its exposure to the elements over time, not to mention the thermally hot high-level radioactivity contained within it, 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 repeatedly move the waste vast distances to unwelcome destinations. This is Hardened On-Site Storage or HOSS, endorsed for the past decade by scientists and more than 200 environmental advocacy groups around the country. HOSS calls for emptying the high-level radioactive waste storage 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 onto the roads, rails, and waterways, bound for parking lot dumps that would require the doubling of transport risks, or 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.”


Kevin Kamps is the Radioactive Waste Specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a Takoma Park, Maryland-based safe energy advocacy organization.

Kevin Kamps
Radioactive Waste Watchdog
Beyond Nuclear
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Beyond Nuclear

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.