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The unsafe storage of America’s nuclear weapons waste

Nuclear Waste From the Cold War Is Being Stored in Unsafe Conditions. Time to Fix the Problem is Running Out, TIME, Nicholas K. Geranios and Manuel Valdes / AP, May 11, 2017 (RICHLAND, Wash.) — The collapse of a tunnel containing radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear weapons complex underscored what critics have long been saying: The toxic remnants of the Cold War are being stored in haphazard and unsafe conditions, and time is running out to deal with the problem.

“Unfortunately, the crisis at Hanford is far from an isolated incident,” said Kevin Kamps of the anti-nuclear group Beyond Nuclear.

 For instance, at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, which opened in the 1950s and produced plutonium and tritium, the government is laboring to clean up groundwater contamination along with 40 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste stored in tanks that are decades past their projected lifespan. The job is likely to take decades.

In addition to the tunnel collapse discovered Tuesday, dozens of underground storage tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state — some dating to World War II — are leaking highly radioactive materials.

The problem is that the U.S. government rushed to build nuclear weapons during the Cold War with little thought given to how to permanently dispose of the resulting waste.

Safely removing it now is proving enormously expensive, slow-going, extraordinarily dangerous and so complex that much of the technology required simply does not exist. The cleanup has also been plagued with political and technical setbacks.

For example, the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository, in New Mexico, closed to new shipments in 2014 after an improperly packed drum of waste ruptured. The site just recently reopened.

The U.S. Department of Energy spends about $6 billion a year on managing waste left from the production of nuclear weapons. “The temporary solutions DOE has used for decades to contain radioactive waste at Hanford have limited lifespans,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and frequent Hanford critic. “The longer it takes to clean up Hanford, the higher the risk will be to workers, the public and the environment.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry acknowledged the problem with nuclear waste, saying the nation can no longer delay fixing the problem because lives are at stake.

During a tour Wednesday of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Perry said the federal government has failed to remove the waste in a timely manner and he pledged to make progress.

A recently approved bipartisan federal budget deal for this fiscal year includes $2.3 billion for the ongoing Hanford cleanup, which matches the amount that Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, worked to include last year. President Donald Trump is expected to release his 2018 proposal later this month.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the state plans to issue an order making sure the federal government determines the cause of the tunnel collapse. The order will also require the Energy Department to assess if there’s an immediate risk of failures in any other tunnels and take actions to safely store waste in the tunnels until a decision is made about how to permanently handle the material.

Thousands of workers at Hanford were told to stay home as efforts began to plug the 400-square-foot (37-square-meter) sinkhole in the earth over the unoccupied storage tunnel…….http://time.com/4775268/tunnel-collapse-nuclear-waste-hanford/

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May 12, 2017 - Posted by | safety, USA, wastes

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