Sunday, July 28, 2013

Permanent Storage of Nuclear Waste

Before I get to the nitty-gritty of this issue let’s make sure we all understand the terms being used here.

Permanent:  everlasting, as in forever and ever, i.e. longer than a marriage lasts.

Storage:  place for storing something, in this case safe storage of nuclear waste.

Nuclear Waste:  the lethal by-product of the nuclear age. There is high-level and low-level waste produced in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and in the irradiated fuel from commercial nuclear power reactors. Simple put it is the ‘stuff’ left over when you have produced what you intended to produced. Unlike pie scrapes these leftovers can’t be used again and they are highly toxic.

At one time we had 104 operating nuclear power plants in the United States, now there are 100 in operation. All 104 of these power plants produced nuclear waste, waste that is stored on-site in what is termed “temporary storage’. This spent nuclear waste is stored on-site in spent fuel pools and dry cask storage.

Spent fuel pools were designed as a place where the “hot” used fuel rods could be first put to cool down. The idea was that in three to five years this spent fuel or waste would then be moved to permanent storage where it would remain for the next 1,000 or 2,000 years.

It would be a safe location deep underground with tons of concrete surrounding it. When safe was first talked about it meant a location where the people and the environment would not be in harm’s way from any kind of lethal exposure. Today safe has been broadened to include safe from a terrorist’s access to the spent fuel.

In 1982 the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed by Congress, this required the establishment of a repository for nuclear waste, which was to be carried out by the Department of Energy (DOE). To fund this operation fees were assessed on the electricity that companies were generating from their nuclear power facilities and in turn these fees were passed on the ratepayers.

That was thirty-one years ago and we still don’t have a plan in place but we do have spent nuclear fuel piling up. This past April a bipartisan quartet of senators drafted a bill that would change how the U.S. stores nuclear waste.

The draft bill would enable the transfer of spent nuclear fuel currently being held at the commercial nuclear facilities to an intermediate storage site. This might be considered an official ‘pass the buck move’, while states and local governments decide who gets to host the nation’s long-term waste repository.

Host? People this isn’t a party being given where if you are lucky your guests leave by midnight. This is more like when your college age kids decide to move back home on a permanent basis.

Another thing this draft legislation does is create yet another federal agency, this one to manage nuclear waste, taking the job away from the DOE. The problem hasn’t necessarily been with the DOE, the problem is nobody wants to be home to a permanent nuclear waste dump, aka long term storage site for spent nuclear waste.

This condition is known as NIMBY - Not In My Back Yard. It manifests itself in many conditions and is widespread in the nuclear waste business. There is no shortage in corporations that will take on nuclear waste storage; it is a big bucks business, just like the manufacture of arms. But finding a location or locations for a permanent storage site is quite a different matter.

It is literally that political football that keeps getting kicked around in a game that today still has an undefined end time.

Moving nuclear waste to an intermediate storage site doesn’t make much sense, because it will still need to be moved again to a permanent site. The act of moving nuclear waste always entails a degree of risk.

Experts, free from political influence, should tell us the best location for putting this waste to rest. They need to tell us the place where it is safest to humans and to the environment and then this is where it will be stored.

Now if this can’t be accomplished then the next move would be to require that each facility that has and is producing nuclear waste be required to build its own permanent long-term storage site. That way everybody’s back yard gets to play in the game, no favorites.

And finally (and it should seem obvious) we need to stop producing nuclear waste! We just have no place to put what we have now, we can’t keep adding to the pile.

In the appeals court decision the court found that spent nuclear fuel stored on-site “poses a dangerous, long-term health and environmental risk.” It’s a nuclear conundrum.

The clock is ticking, and with every tick we get closer to the alarm going off.  It is time to wake up people; we need to do something, now.

Suggested Further Reading:

(1) Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Yucca Mountain Disposal Site -

(2) Lander County Nevada Yucca Mountain Oversight Program

(4) Senators Float Nuclear Waste Storage Draft Bill -

News Updates:

Missouri - July 26, 2013  Callaway Energy Center out of service after turbine fire Friday night

California - July 25, 2013  Californians Consider a Future Without a Nuclear Plant

Japan - July 24, 2013  Fukushima Continues to Spew It's Darkness


  1. That was the clearest statement yet of your concerns. Well put, Annie. Now if only someone powerful would read this, understand the issues and do something about the problem. We can hope, right?

  2. Thank you Keith. I have learned a lot since I first started this and I continue to learn more everyday. I hope we wake up in time. Congrats on having an Attorney General in your state of New York that makes some sense and takes action.

    1. Cuomo HATES the Indian Point Nuclear Facility. This gives me hope. I really wish it would go away. We (my family and I) actually have plans for where to run, should an "incident" occur. That's pretty creepy.