Nuclear waste disposal has been a critical issue for discussion in the United States due to political influence. Currently, the US has spent fuel in 76 stations ponds and stores that totals to 79,000 tonnes located in these cooling ponds and the secured dry stores that are well spread all over the country. In addition, an extra 2000 tonnes is produced each year. These stores have an estimated radioactivity that amounts to 444,000 petabecquerels. The amount of radioactivity contained in these stores is like way more than 50 times that released from the atmospheric nuclear weapon tests. It is evident to all the parties, including the national government, the state government and the technical commissions involved the dangers of such storage techniques.
According to Edwin Lyman, a member of the Union of concerned scientists in Washington DC, the pools used to store spent fuels have a dense packaging spent fuel pools are densely packed and face a high risk of starting a fuel fire if an earthquake occurs or just terrorist attacks that decided to drain cooling water containing the fuels. These dangers have raised eyebrows such that a lot of attention and discussion is being driven into the matter.
A response to this situation saw Donald Trump’s administration revive the plan to bury the piles of the spent fuel in the tunnels that have been dug into Yucca Mountain. The decision last month is in complete disagreement with the waste plans that were axed by Obama in 2010. Scientists are already considering the action as a credible plan while also brainstorming on available options.
One of the few spearheaded alternatives to the Yucca mountain move was the dropping of the hot radioactive wastes in hundreds of shafts that are dug across the US. This waste could then mix with the molten granite found in the earth’s crust. In fact, the site for the first test drilling is expected to be announced next month.
It is not shocking to see the government and the Energy department trying to push up the ideas of shafts and the Yucca Mountain as the stores definitely have a limit. Stores that have cool and dried air are considered safer, and even the Commission in charge of regulating nuclear says the stores could stand in as a stop gap for almost 160 years. However, they all do embrace the use of geological burial as the most effective and efficient technique to be adopted as the nuclear waste is forever dangerous and safe storage is the best containment method.
Ideas are constantly brain stormed to find the best solution and location for the waste disposal. Yucca Mountain, has been earmarked as the sole burial ground for the hot radioactive waste for 30 years. The mountain is located within the grounds previously used to test atomic weapons in Nevada desert. A 500 metres tunnel was created inside the mountain around early 1990s to serve the purpose of hosting the spent fuel.
The initial plan involved taking the spent fuel from the year 1998. However, local opposition succeeded in blocking the plan. The geologists also questioned the safety of the technique with claims of risking a volcano that would erupt magma in the dug tunnels and blast the fuel and radioactivity.
The former president Obama had a prime involvement in the issue when he abandoned this project that was worth 100 billion dollars in 2010 when he pulled the funding that was required for its licensing. However, the president then failed to give another site for this project and even put Washington into a 30 billion debt owed to the power companies due to its failure to give an alternative burial place for the spent fuel. In April, Donald Trump took to congress a request of $120 million to enable the licensing of the Yucca Mountain. Despite this move, the governors together with the senators still have plans to ensure the plan does not succeed..
The government is facing a hard time, as it is responsible for taking care of the nuclear wastes. The opposition form the government and local authority can be considered an overreaction. Wherever the waste is taken to there will always be a risk of either volcanic eruptions or other fatalities. Nobody would agree to have such a dangerous project in their own backyard, yet there are no other loudly outspoken options.
The Energy Department (DOE) have since 2010 quietly developed another route for disposal. Their idea is burying the fuel in several narrow shafts that are drilled 5 kilometers into the solid granite. Almost 40 percent of the US probably has a suitable bedrock, however the technique still has to undergo tests. The DOE already chose four companies in December and allocated them the task of finding places that have good geology and also local approval for the test drilling. By last month, there were sites already into discussion, such as the granite bedrock beneath Haakon County located in South Dakota. Tim Gunter, the head of managing spent fuel in the DOE says he expects to reveal a site for testing in May when he spoke during the last month Phoenix conference in Arizona. Other sites may include Texas and the New Mexico.
This process contains a lot of risks as fuel waste is radioactive and generates a lot of heat. Trump is doing his best to control the damage President Obama had caused but it is clear not everyone is in support. It is already impressive that the DOE have already thought of viable alternatives to manage the issue. Nuclear waste disposal is an important issue that is too critical and should always be addressed with caution, especially hot radioactive spent fuel. President Trump already did his best, but he should also be open to the other alternatives and not just focus on Yucca Mountain to ensure the problem is contained.