Securing Long Term Nuclear Waste Storage "Not an Urgent Problem"


Photo via Taipei Times

As you may know, the US has struggled for decades to find an acceptable way to store nuclear waste long-term--right now, the vast majority of it languishes onsite at nuclear power plants across the country. The notorious, and faulty, front-runner for a permanent storage facility, Yucca Mountain, was definitively scrapped by Obama earlier this year. But not to worry--the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just announced that securing a permanent storage site for radioactive spent nuclear fuel "is not an urgent problem."How reassuring. From Bloomberg:

Gregory Jaczko, who took over as chairman of the agency in May, said in an interview that the material can continue to be stored safely for the time being at nuclear power plants. "Certainly, in the short term it's not an urgent problem," Jaczko, 38, said.
But certainly, in the long term, it will become one. At the moment, there are some 120 sites storing radioactive waste in 39 states, and that number is growing.
There are 104 operating commercial reactors in the U.S., and 17 applications have been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build 26 more reactors. The commission oversees operations at existing reactors, as well as licensing new reactors and regulating waste facilities.
That may not mean it's "urgent" that the US start seriously looking at a long term storage facility. But it at least emphasizes the fact that some sort of plan should be underway. So what's the plan, at this point? Essentially, to put off making a plan.
"Probably 100 years" is a short time frame for storing fuel, Jaczko said. "Changes aren't likely to happen significantly in that period of time with the fuel."
Current rules took into account the fact that Yucca Mountain was supposed to be ready by 2025 to start accepting waste--now, a motion is being pursued to simply extend the amount of time waste can be kept onsite to 50-60 years, or more.

The concern here is not that onsite nuclear waste storage cites are bubbling over, poised to wreak havoc on the environment and human health. It's that the issue will only get more complicated as more plants open up and start storing waste while others keep waste onsite long after their doors are closed. It could become exceedingly difficult to manage hundreds of storage sites with differently aged facilities and different storage capacities. I for one do not sit easily with the knowledge that there will be 120+ sites storing (an ever-growing amount of) radioactive waste without at least the fledgling of a plan on what do with it all when dozens of sites start reaching maximum storage capacity. Is a little foresight too much to ask for, here?

More on Nuclear Waste Storage:
Plans to Import 20,000 Tons of Italian Nuclear Waste Into Utah Ok'd
US and Russia Agree to Disarm Hundreds of Nukes--But Where Will They Go?

Tags: Alternative Energy | Congress | Waste