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USA is not facing up to the climate threats to its nuclear wastes

US is Ill-Prepared to Safely Manage its Nuclear Waste from Climate Threats.   More than 150 sites across the country have to be managed for radioactive waste for centuries or millennia. But there’s no plan in place for how this will be done, says GAO report.  Earth Island Journal , CHARLES PEKOW, December 29, 2020    The Cold War never erupted into the nuclear nightmare that the world feared for decades. But the legacy of the never-used nuclear weapons remains a ticking time bomb that could endanger countless people and lead to environmental catastrophe any time.

In the United States, there are more than 150 sites that have to be managed for nuclear waste for centuries or millennia. But, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the US Department of Energy (DoE) — which is charged with managing dangerous, radioactive waste and contaminated soil and water leftover from weapon construction — appears to lacks the capacity for the task.
DoE’s Office of Legacy Management (LM) manages 100 nuclear waste dumps with 51 or 52 more sites expected to fall under its jurisdiction by 2050 (one site remains in question). The sites range all over the country, from Amchitka in the western Aleutians to El Verde on the east side of Puerto Rico. The Legacy Management office takes over maintenance of dangerous sites after other managers — including DoE’s Office of Environmental Management, US Army Corps of Engineers, and private licensees — have cleaned them up.

The GAO report, “Environmental Liabilities: DoE Needs to Better Plan for Post-Cleanup Challenges Facing Sites” (pdf), issued earlier this year, found, among other things, that the DoE doesn’t have a plan for how to address challenges at some sites that may require new cleanup work that is not in the scope of LM’s expertise.

Nor, says the report, does it have a strategy in place to assess and mitigate the effects of climate change on these sites, that need to be safeguarded against increasingly frequent and severe rainfall, tornadoes, hurricanes and accompanying flooding and forest fires. It foresees that the DoE will need yet-to-be-developed technology and untold billions of dollars to keep the stored nuclear waste from contaminating air, soil and water. 
The report notes that the Office of Legacy Management has not developed agreements or procedures in collaboration with the Office of Environmental Management (EM) or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to figure out how to contain the radioactive waste. The Legacy Management office estimated its liabilities (in the 2019 fiscal year) at 503.3 billion – but that could be a vast underestimate as it doesn’t know what hazards or costs may develop. The cost estimates go only 75 years out and don’t include estimates for the cost of protecting the 50 plus sites it will have to take over in the next few decades. For instance, these estimates don’t account for the Elemental Mercury Storage Facility near Andrews, Texas, which DoE hasn’t inherited yet, but where the department has decided to store up to 6,800 metric tons of elemental mercury — a major environmental pollutant………..

some of these sites have already been creating serious problems.

At Rocky Flats, which has become surrounded by suburban development since its 1992 closure, excessive rain damaged the facility in in 2013. The soil, sediment, groundwater, and surface water of the former nuclear weapons manufacturing site had been contaminated with hazardous chemicals and radioactive constituents as a result of “manufacturing activities, accidental industrial fires and spills, support activities, and waste management practices,” according to EPA.
Even after cleanup, several ponds and landfills remained contaminated. In recent years, excessive rainfall and erosion has damaged the site again in the past few years. The office Legacy Managment considers Rocky Flats as its biggest liability ($452 million). In 2016, the estimated cost of just maintenance and surveillance of the site totaled $269 million………

Among the many other problem sites, the Legacy Management office is struggling to figure out what to do with contaminated groundwater at the Shiprock nuclear waste dump on the Navajo Nation Indian Reservation in northwest New Mexico. Contaminated water, the legacy of uranium mining for nuclear power plants and weapons, is being pumped to an evaporation pond there.

Compounding the problem, most of these nuclear waste sites were created before key environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation & Recovery Act, were enacted. So the laws don’t apply…………..
Now climate change is adding a new level of complication to an already complex waste management issue that can have serious environmental and public health impacts……….

nuclear watchdog groups aren’t satisfied with the slow progress on this front. The nation needs “a reverse Manhattan project,” to figure out how to safely diffuse the radioactive waste, says Schaeffer of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.

December 31, 2020 - Posted by | climate change, USA, wastes

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