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Centralized Storage

With the scientifically unsound proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump now canceled, the danger of "interim" storage threatens. This means that radioactive waste could be "temporarily" parked in open air lots, vulnerable to accident and attack, while a new repository site is sought.

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Wednesday
Dec132017

Don't Waste New Mexico! Don't Waste Texas! Don't Waste Nevada! Don't Waste America!

Beyond Nuclear has been honored and privileged to spend the past two weeks in New Mexico, with anti-nuclear colleagues and allies. We participated in, and presented at, a symposium entitled "Dismantling the Nuclear Beast: Connecting Local Work to the National Movement." It was organized by the Nuclear Issues Study Group at the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque on Dec. 1-3. We also took part in, and presented at, a large grassroots gathering in Roswell, NM focused on stopping the irradiated nuclear fuel "centralized interim storage site" targeted at southeast NM on Dec. 9.

We can report back that, in addition to military trans-uranic (plutonium, americium) disposal at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, NM, many New Mexicans are none too keen on also becoming the commercial irradiated nuclear fuel "parking lot" surface storage dumping ground for the entire U.S.

120,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel -- 40,000 metric tons more than currently exists in the U.S. -- are proposed to be "temporarily stored" at the Holtec/Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance (ELEA) site, not far from WIPP in southeast New Mexico.

The Holtec/ELEA "centralized interim storage facility" (CISF), or "monitored retrievable storage (MRS) site," Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing proceeding will very likely begin, in earnest, early next year. Once NRC staff docket (that is, declare complete enough to proceed with) Holtec/ELEA's CISF/MRS license application, the licensing proceeding will begin.

Our side will have 45 short days to submit environmental scoping comments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and 60 short days to establish legal standing, file safety and environmental contentions, and otherwise intervene against the scheme, or else forever hold our peace. Even if we meet such insanely short deadlines, and clear such high hurdles, we will undoubtedly face a very daunting, protracted battle. Along with our local grassroots environmental allies, we will not shy away, but will meet the many challenges, head on!

The Holtec/ELEA CISF licensing proceeding could well run concurrently with the resumption of another, overlapping, also daunting NRC licensing proceeding -- for yet another proposed parking lot dump, for 40,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel -- targeted at Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) in Andrews County, Texas.

WCS is immediately upon the border of New Mexico, just 5 miles or so from Eunice, NM. WCS already "serves" as a national, so-called "low" level radioactive waste dump. It specializes in storing or burying some of the "hottest," most hazardous radioactive waste streams in the U.S., including the Fernald, Ohio K65 Belgian Congo uranium ore wastes from the Manhattan Project, potentially bursting barrel of trans-uranium waste from Los Alamos National Lab, etc. WCS is a mere 38 miles from Holtec/ELEA, and happens to be located either very near to, or even directly above, the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala underlies eight states. It provides vital drinking and irrigation water to many millions of people, from Texas and New Mexico, up through the Great Plains, all the way to South Dakota.

This attempt to turn the NM/TX borderlands into an even worse "nuclear sacrifice zone" smacks of environmental injustice. The area is home to large Hispanic populations. The region is already badly polluted by fossil fuel (oil and fracked natural gas), as well as nuclear industries ("low level" as well as trans-uranic radioactive waste disposal, not to mention uranium enrichment in Eunice itself).

NM ranks towards the very bottom of numerous socioeconomic rankings, despite (or because of?!) 75 years of nuclear activities in the state.

If constructed and operated, the CISFs/MRS sites in NM and/or TX could well become de facto permanent, risking eventual leakage of catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity into the environment as containers corrode and degrade to failure. The Ogallala Aquifer is very near, or directly below, WCS.

The opening of the NM and/or TX CISFs would begin decades of unprecedentedly large-scale transport of highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel through most states, and 100+ major cities. Whether by truck, train, or barge, these shipments would be very high risk, due to the potential for severe accidents or attacks surpassing the shipping containers' design to withstand.

In addition to inadequate design criteria, widespread documented quality assurance violations (as with Holtecs) mean these containers are even more vulnerable to catastrophic failure, especially during transport.

Truck and train shipments within the Great Lakes basin could threaten downstream contamination as via spills into tributaries, or downwind fallout onto surface waters. Proposed barge shipments on Lake Michigan, all the more directly so.

H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would authorize these CISFs. The bill is poised for a U.S. House floor vote. Americans need to urge their U.S. Reps. to oppose it.

If the CISFs ever did re-export the irradiated nuclear fuel stored there, another round of transport risks would follow, this time bound for a permanent burial dump. But that dump could well be right back in the same direction it came from in the first place (making the entire high-risk exercise absurdly meaningless), depending on the location ultimately chosen for geologic disposal. Nevada can be expected to oppose the Yucca Mountain dump scheme tooth and nail, rightfully so, as it has done for 30+ years.

As with the TX and NM CISFs, Yucca fails the basic tenets of safe, sound highly radioactive waste management/disposal: scientific suitability; environmental justice; consent-based siting.

In addition, Yucca Mountain is Western Shoshone land, as affirmed by the US government in 1863, when it signed the "peace and friendship" Treaty of Ruby Valley. The Western Shoshone have opposed the dump since it was first proposed, and still do.

The only real solution for radioactive waste is to not make it in the first place. Atomic reactors must be abolished ASAP.

For the waste that already exists, hardened on-site storage (HOSS) is the best interim alternative. For sites where HOSS is not appropriate, as close as possible (inland, to higher, more stable ground) to the point of generation is the fall back.

Thursday
Sep142017

Beyond Nuclear letter to the editor in the L.A. Times

The following letter to the editor was published in the Los Angeles Times, written in response to a Sept. 11, 2017 L.A. Times editorial:

To the editor: For 15 years, hundreds of environmental groups have advocated for hardened on-site storage of irradiated nuclear fuel, as close and safely as possible, to the point of generation as a necessary interim measure.
Why ship highly radioactive waste a thousand miles to the east when it could be moved just a few miles? San Onofre’s wastes can be transferred out of the tsunami zone, away from the earthquake faults, across the 5 Freeway, further inland and to higher ground. By moving the dangerous nuclear fuel rods into the heart of Camp Pendleton, there would be the added bonus of many thousands of U.S. Marines to help guard it.
The push to turn the New Mexico-Texas borderlands into a nuclear wasteland is an environmental injustice. The large Hispanic population already suffers significant pollution from oil drilling, natural gas fracking, uranium enrichment and “low-level” radioactive waste disposal.
Kevin Kamps, Takoma Park, Md. 

The writer monitors radioactive waste for the group Beyond Nuclear.

Wednesday
Aug022017

H.R. 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017

See the bill, as amended (see the four amendments), passed by the U.S. House of Represenatives Energy & Commerce Committee by a vote of 49 to 4 on June 28, 2017, here.

Here is more info. on the status of H.R. 3053, such as the list of co-sponsors.

This bill would authorize private, de facto permanent, surface "parking lot dump" storage of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel, a.k.a. centralized interim storage. It would also authorize U.S. Department of Energy operated consolidated interim storage.

Please take action to oppose this dangerously bad bill.

Wednesday
Jul262017

The Ethics and Politics of Nuclear Waste are Being Tested in Southern California

Jim Heddle of EON (the Ecological Options Network) in California has written an excellent article, published at Counterpunch, summarizing the current state of "play" of the irradiated nuclear fuel dilemma in the U.S., with the most hotly debated microcosm currently being at San Onofre in s. CA.

Please note, re: this passage in the article

Political maneuvering led to a ‘Screw Nevada’ strategy because it had the fewest Congressional votes,  and the million dollar development of the state’s Yucca Mountain site.  Originally thought to be dry and impermeable to the migration of radioactive elements, the discovery that trace elements from explosions at the nearby Nevada Nuclear Test Site had penetrated deep into the Yucca Mountain facility in a relatively few years debunked that contention. (emphases added)

that $11 billion, a combination of nuclear power ratepayer funds from the Nuclear Waste Fund, as well as federal taxpayer funds tied to nuclear weapons complex high-level radioactive waste management, has been spent thus far on the Yucca Mountain Project. The U.S. Department of Energy's most recent cost estimate for the first 200 years of construction and operation, if the Yucca dump opens, is close to $100 billion.

And the trace element found deep in the heart of Yucca Mountain (artificial, radioactive Chlorine-26) actually originated from nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific Ocean. It fell with rain onto Yucca, then percolated down into the mountain very deeply in just decades. The Cl-36 thus unintentionally served as a sort of radioactive tracer, showing how fast corrosive water travels through the site's geology. This would cause early failures of waste burial containers at Yucca, leading to massive, hazardous radioactivity releases into the environment over time.

Sunday
Jul022017

1,800 tons of radioactive waste has an ocean view and nowhere to go

As reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The centralized interim storage facilities (de facto permanent parking lot dumps) targeted at Waste Control Specialists, LLC in Andrews County, TX, and Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance in southeastern New Mexico, are mentioned in the article. The article also mentions Private Fuel Storage, LLC (PFS).

The PFS parking lot dump targeted at the tiny, low-income Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in west Utah was blocked from opening a decade ago. 437 environmental justice groups, led by Native Americans, protested the environmental justice to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but NRC rubberstamped a construction and operation license nonetheless. Thankfully, a coalition between the U.S. congressional delegations of Nevada and Utah, the State of Utah, environmental groups, and traditional Skull Valley Goshute opponents to the dump, led to the establishment of the first federal wilderness area in Utah in a generation. The wilderness area around the Skull Valley Goshute community effectively blocked the laying of train tracks, preventing delivery of high-level radioactive waste to the reservation.

Late last month, Energy Secretary Rick Perry even floated the idea out loud at a U.S. House hearing that centralized interim storage could even be done at the Nevada nuclear weapons test site, while a permanent dump at Yucca Mountain next door is prepared. The State of Nevada and its U.S. congressional delegation's strong howls of protest and resistance were immediate, and Perry quickly backpedaled.