Radioactive Waste

No safe, permanent solution has yet been found anywhere in the world - and may never be found - for the nuclear waste problem. In the U.S., the only identified and flawed high-level radioactive waste deep repository site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada has been canceled. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an end to the production of nuclear waste and for securing the existing reactor waste in hardened on-site storage.



Documentary film "Containment" premieres on PBS on Monday, January 9, 2017 at 10pm Eastern (check local listings)

As part of the Independent Lens documentary film series on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television, the documentary "Containment" (by Peter Galison & Robb Moss) will premiere on many local PBS stations nationwide on Monday night, January 9, 2017, at 10pm Eastern time.

(Be sure to check your local listings, as not all stations will air it.)

The Independent Lens website about "Containment" includes a number of film trailers and short clips you can watch.

Beyond Nuclear was honored and privileged to serve in an advisory role for the film, and is thankful to have had a short interview included.

Others featured in the film include: Fukushima nuclear catastrophe survivors, the director of an independent investigation into the Fukushima catastrophe (Funabashi), and former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan; former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairmen Greg Jaczko and Allison Macfarlane; Rev. Willie Tomlin (whose congregation in Burke County, GA lives in the shadows of the Plant Vogtle atomic reactors, the Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex, the Barnwell, SC radioactive waste dump, etc.); and such Beyond Nuclear colleagues as Dr. Arjun Makhijani of IEER, Dave Lochbaum of UCS, and Tom Clements of Savannah River Site Watch.

About the Film

How can we contain some of the deadliest, most long-lasting substances ever produced? Toxic remnants from the Cold War remain in millions of gallons of highly radioactive sludge, thousands of acres of radioactive land, tens of thousands of unused hot buildings, and  some slowly spreading deltas of contaminated groundwater. Governments around the world, desperate to protect future generations, have begun imagining society 10,000 years from now in order to create warning monuments that will speak across time to mark waste repositories.

Containment moves from a nuclear weapon facility in South Carolina where toxic swamps have led to radioactive animals, to a deep underground burial site in New Mexico, to Fukushima, Japan, where a triple meltdown occurred after the cooling systems at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant were interrupted, leaving that city a ghost town. The film is part graphic novel and part observational essay mixed with sci-fi that is more science than fiction, weaving between an uneasy present and an imaginative, troubled distant future, exploring the struggle to keep waste confined over millennia.


Radioactive Waste is Good for You, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rick Perry as Energy Secretary

As Food & Water Watch wrote in an action alert (Worst. Cabinet. Ever. Trump Is Building a Cabinet Full of Corporate Control. Tell Your Senators: Block These Appointments!)

Sign Food & Water Watch's petition!

And sign the FOE petition!

And sign's petition!

And sign DailyKos's petition!

Rick Perry, former governor of Texas for Energy Secretary — until just days ago, sat on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). [See Beyond Nuclear website posts on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's and the water protectors' resistance to DAPL.]

But Perry also has a blatant conflict of interest involving the Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas.* WCS's owner, Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, was a top campaign contributor to Rick Perry -- and numerous other Republican candidates and causes -- over the course of many years, even decades. In return, the administration of Texas Governor Rick Perry approved every permit, expansion, and license WCS applied for, despite the risks to people and environment. Now WCS has applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to construct and operate a de facto permanent parking lot dump for more than half of the commercial irradiated nuclear fuel (high-level radioactive waste) that currently exists from all across the country. Its sole customer would be the U.S. Department of Energy, which Trump has tapped Perry to lead. Taxpayers would pay all the costs, and be burdened with all the liabilities, while WCS -- reported 11 months ago to still be owned and controlled by Harold Simmons' family (he died in late 2013) -- would make billions of dollars.

Beyond Nuclear has prepared a backgrounder about Perry's blatant conflict of interest with Waste Control Specialists, entitled Radioactive Waste is Good for You, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rick Perry as Energy Secretary.

(Counterpunch published this article on Monday, Jan. 9th.)

In addition to the Food & Water Watch webform email to your U.S. Senators linked above, you can also phone your U.S. Senators via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Urge them to block former Texas governor Rick Perry's nomination as Energy Secretary. (You can also look up your U.S. Senators' direct phone numbers, fax numbers, webforms to send emails, etc. at this website.)

If you U.S. Senator happens to serve as a member of the Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, your contacting them is especially critical right now. Rick Perry's nomination could be blocked in the ENR committee, before it ever reaches the full Senate floor. Please take action ASAP!

The schedule for the ENR Committee confirmation hearing for Rick Perry has just been announced: the hearing will take place at 10am Eastern on Thursday, Jan. 19th.

[See also: U.S. Sen. Ed Markey's (D-MA) statement re: President-elect Trump's nomination of former Texas governor Rick Perry as Energy Secretary; Rick Perry, as Energy Secretary, May Be Press to Resume Nuclear Tests; and an article by Jeffrey Lewis, founding publisher of in Foreign Policy entitled "Not Even Rick Perry Is Stupid Enough to Resume Testing Nuclear Weapons."]

*WCS is the lead "private initiative" for so-called centralized interim storage (de facto permanent parking lot dump) for commercial irradiated nuclear fuel in the U.S., followed by the Eddy-Lea [Counties] Energy Alliance in Hobbs, New Mexico (less than 50 miles from WCS). However, AFCI in Loving County, TX, and Culberson County, TX, are also in the running. Both WCS and AFCI have close connections to Trump's pick for Energy Secretary, former TX governor Rick Perry, representing a blatant conflict of interest and ethical violation.

As reported by the Austin American-Statesman: "Austin attorney Bill Jones, Perry’s former general counsel before Perry appointed him to the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents and then the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, has been involved in a years-long effort to land an interim storage facility in Texas."

For more information, see these two Austin American-Statesman articles for more information on the AFCI proposal(s): "Will Rick Perry brings high-level radioactive waste to Texas?", January 8, 2017; "Two Austin attorneys seeking radioactive waste deal," August 9, 2014.


WIPP claims to be back in business, nearly three years after severe radioactive contamination of underground facility, and environmental release impacting workers

As reported by the Carlsbad, New Mexico Current-Argus and the Albuquerque Journal, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) has emplaced the first trans-uranic (TRU) -- plutonium-contaminated nuclear weapons-related -- waste in nearly three years.

The Journal article reports:

“What they are doing is very risky,” said Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, a longtime WIPP watchdog group. “There still is a lot of contamination in the underground. Workers have to use protective equipment, which makes it slow and more likely to have problems.”

In February 2014, WIPP suffered two disasters in just several days. The first was an underground haul truck fire, that sent a couple dozen workers to the emergency room with smoke inhalation. One worker suffered permanent disability.

The second disaster (which took place on Valentine's Day, 2014) involved an underground barrel burst, which contaminated a large part of the underground WIPP facility with TRU, and even resulted in radioactive releases to the atmosphere, which then fell out downwind in the surface environment. Another couple dozen workers above ground suffered internal alpha particle inhalation, significantly increasing their risk for lung cancer in the future.

Estimates for the recovery from the barrel burst range from $1 billion (L.A. Times) to $2 billion (a recent DOE admission). Federal taxpayers will be forced to pay for this.

Recent problems at WIPP include the collapse of ceilings in the underground mine, caused by lack of maintenance due to the complications of protecting workers in full body suits and respirators, given the serious contamination. One of many recent collapses happened near workers.

The rush to restart WIPP emplacement operations, despite the risks, is likely due to the end of the Obama administration, on Jan. 20th. Energy Secretary Moniz, who will attend an ironic VIP ribbon cutting ceremony at WIPP next Monday (WIPP began operations in 1999!), would likely relish being able to say WIPP restarted on his watch.

WIPP is the first and only deep geologic repository for radioactive waste disposal in the U.S., and so is held up as a poster child of success, as the U.S. Department of Energy and rest of the nuclear industry seek DGRs (or DUDs, for Deep Underground Dumps) for such other waste streams as highly radioactive commercial irradiated nuclear fuel.


Coalition defends legal challenge against unprecedented high-risk truck shipments of highly radioactive liquid waste

Attorneys Terry Lodge of Toledo, OH, and Diane Curran of Washington, D.C., legal counsel for an environmental coalition that includes Beyond Nuclear, have filed a Reply Memorandum to the D.C. Circuit Court in defense of a lawsuit against unprecedented truck shipments of highly radioactive liquid waste (also referred to by the U.S. Department of Energy, obscurely, as irradiated target material, or, even more obscurely, as HEUNL, short for highly enriched uranyl nitrate liquid).

The 100 to 150 high-risk truck shipments would travel more than a thousand miles, from Chalk River Nuclear Lab, Ontario, Canada, to Savannah River Site, South Carolina, U.S.A.





SRS Watch: Internal DOE Documents Reveal Details of Highly Unusual Canadian Spent Fuel Dropping Incident at Savannah River Site

Savannah River Site (SRS) Watch released the following press release:

Savannah River Site Watch

For Immediate Release

December 14, 2016 

Internal DOE Documents Reveal Details of Highly Unusual Canadian Spent Fuel Dropping Incident at Savannah River Site; Squabbling Amongst SRS Officials over Follow-Up Meetings

SRS Official States Delay in Shipment of Liquid High-Level Waste from Canada has DOE Headquarters “In a Lather”

FOIA Documents & Photos Received by SRS Watch on December 13, 2016 are Linked Here

Columbia, South Carolina – Details about the unexpected dropping of a highly radioactive spent fuel bundle in the L-Reactor storage pool have come to light in documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request by Savannah River Site Watch (SRS Watch).   The incident, which occurred on July 12, 2016, involved a drop of Canadian NRX research reactor spent fuel as it was being moved in the storage pool in the old L-Reactor, where spent nuclear fuel from research and medical isotope reactors is stored. The incident resulted in a “timeout” in spent fuel handling operations. During evaluation of the incident, DOE expressed concern about the situation impacting the shipping schedule of more NRX spent fuel from the Chalk River Labs in Ontario.   An “L-Area Technical Review Board” was convened the review the incident, which appears to have been caused by lifting cables twisting and falling free from lifting slots in the fuel assembly, causing the fuel to release and fall back into a storage basket.  Though the event was unanticipated and could have damaged the fuel, DOE has reported no such damage and no release of radioactive materials. The height of the drop is unclear but appears to be between 8-10 inches and 2 feet.

“As damage to the spent fuel could have had negative impact to workers and operation of the L-Area spent fuel facility, it is imperative that DOE adjust its procedures to make sure such a potentially harmful incident never happens again,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch.  “DOE must now fully inform that public as to what steps it’s taking to improve spent fuel handling procedures in the aftermath of the incident involving dropping of the Canadian spent fuel.”

An “Occurrence Report” dated July 13 called event the “Inadvertent NRX Fuel released from Fuel Tool.” That report summarizes the event:

On July 12, 2016, during the unloading and bundling of National Research Experimental (NRX)-5 fuel from the NRX basket in the unloading station, an NRX fuel assembly was being removed from basket position 4. After the fuel assembly was raised 24 inches for fuel identification per procedure, the assembly became disengaged from the NRX tool and fell back into its original basket position. Fuel handling was stopped and a timeout was called. Limiting Conditions for Operations 3.1.4 was entered to allow Spent Fuel Project (SFP) Engineering and Nuclear and Criticality Safety Engineering to determine status of compliance with the nuclear safety data sheet. SFP Engineering is inspecting the NRX tool in use to help determine the cause of the disengagement.

After the timeout – “Limiting Condition for Operation” (LCO) was called, the “Spent Fuel Project (SFP) Engineering” and “Nuclear and Criticality Safety Engineering” groups were called in to analyze the situation and determine the cause for the fuel to be dropped.  Their final report was not released in the FOIA documents sent to SRS Watch.

The FOIA documents reveal a testy email exchange between DOE officials ensued after the incident as there was argument over who was authorized to attend incident-review meetings and if the incident would impact NRX spent fuel shipments from Canada.  The internal squabble arose as the L-Basin is operated by DOE’s Office of Environmental Management (EM) and the spent fuel “take-back” program in under the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), causing officials to clash over their respective jurisdictions.

Of note, in a July 15 email from the NNSA official, concern was expressed about attention being drawn to the issue of shipment from Canada of NRC and NRU reactor spent fuel and that of liquid high-level nuclear waste, which DOE calls “Target Residue Material” in order to downplay the fact that it is a deadly brew of highly radioactive isotopes:

“My HQ is always very interested in the NRU/NRX and TRM shipment schedule and perceived hiccups.  The TRM delays are what’s really got them in a lather, unfortunately that means the NRU/NRX program is getting a little additional attention.  Once the TRM gets going, I’m hopeful NRU/NRX will fall a bit off the radar (fingers crossed).”



FOIA documents and photos on NRX spent fuel incident, received vial mail on December 13, 2016, are linked here:  

Contact: Tom Clements Director,

Savannah River Site Watch Columbia, South Carolina

tel. 803-834-3084

cell 803-240-7268