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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

A brief history of USA’s nuclear waste (mis)management

In 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a “waste confidence decision” that asserted that used fuel rods could be stored at the power plants for 60 years after they close down.  NRC also asserted that a permanent repository would be ready to handle such wastes “when necessary.”

NUCLEAR WASTE Manila Bulletin By ATTY. ROMEO V. PEFIANCO July 11, 2012,  “…Storing used fuel rods from nuclear power reactors is one problem that remains unsolved by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  Nuclear waste in the US comes from: 1) nuclear weapons production facilities, 2) nuclear power plants, 3) medical equipment previously used in radiation treatments, 4) industrial sources of radioactivity used as a more powerful alternative to X-rays, and 5) residues from uranium mining.

Two waste levels

Nuclear waste is often grouped into two categories, labeled
“low-level” and “high-level.”  Low-level waste is slightly
radioactive, often from exposure to a high-level source.  High-level
waste is often grouped as either civilian, mainly spent fuel from
nuclear reactors, or military, wastes produced in the manufacture of
nuclear weapons.

The problem with nuclear waste is that it is radioactive and can
remain that way for years – in some cases thousands of years.  Early
methods of disposal included dumping the wastes at sea and suspending
them in a liquid or in cement and injecting the radioactive
combination into wells.

Dumping prohibition

But the US was among the signatories of a 1976 international
convention banning ocean dumping and stopped deep-well injection in
1984.  In 1998, the nation’s first deep-underground facility for
disposal of transuranic waste generated from defense activities was
certified and located in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  (Transuranic wastes
consist primarily of sludges, tools, rags, glassware, and protective
clothing that has been contaminated with radioactive elements from
weapons production.)

Underground facility  Yucca Mountain site

The facility is approximately 2,100 (640 m) underground in excavated,
natural salt formations.  The first shipment of transuranic waste was
delivered to the facility in March of 1999.   By 2010, shipments from
23 military waste sites from across the nation to this site will
reduce the number of Americans living within 50 miles of the nuclear
waste from 61 million to four million.   Of course, the 113,000 people
living within 50 miles of Carlsbad were understandably opposed.
, the site (100 miles northwest of Las Vegas) has been the subject of
fierce opposition not only in Nevada, but also in states along
proposed transportation routes for nuclear waste.

62,000 metric tons of waste

By the end of 2009, more than 62,000 metric tons of used fuel rods had
accumulated across the country.  At least nine states have banned the
construction of new reactors until a permanent storage site is found,
and the only potential storage site examined so far, at Yucca
Mountain, Nevada, has been blocked for more than two decades by
technical problems, legal challenges, and political opposition from
the state.

Waste confidence decision

In 2010, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a “waste confidence decision” that asserted that used fuel rods could be stored at the power plants for 60 years after they close down.  NRC also asserted that a permanent repository would be ready to handle such wastes “when necessary.”

Danger from leaks/fires

That decision was challenged in federal court, and last month the US
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that “the
commission had failed to prepare an adequate analysis of the future
risks, such as leaks and fires, if the used fuel rods end up being
stored at nuclear plants indefinitely.”   (Summary from The New York
Times and its publication)
http://www.mb.com.ph/articles/365535/nuclear-waste

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July 12, 2012 - Posted by | history, Reference, USA, wastes

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