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.



With hasty stroke of a pen, Bush DOE transferred billions of dollars in radioactive waste liability onto taxpayers

Beyond Nuclear, along with Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and the law firm of  Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, and Eisenberg, LLP, have broken the story that between November 4, 2008 (the day Barack Obama was elected President) and January 22, 2009 (two days after he took the Oath of Office), the George W. Bush administration’s Department of Energy (DOE) hurriedly signed new irradiated nuclear fuel contracts with utilities proposing 21 new atomic reactors. This obligates U.S. taxpayers to ultimate financial liability for breach of contract damages if DOE fails to take possession of these estimated 21,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste by ten years after the new reactors’ licenses terminate. This could cost taxpayers billions or even tens of billions of dollars over time. DOE signed these contracts despite the fact that it has already cost taxpayers $565 million in damages for past breached contacts involving old radioactive waste at commercial reactors, with $790 million more soon to be transferred from the U.S. Treasury to atomic utilities. In fact, DOE estimates that by 2020, taxpayers will have paid $12.3 billion in damages to nuclear utilities for waste contract breaches, while the nuclear industry itself estimates the ultimate taxpayer damage awards will top $50 billion. These new contracts will only add to that crushing burden. See the full materials from the press conference: media release, backgrounder on new waste disposal contracts (authored by Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps), Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors, and the new contracts themselves, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. You can even listen to an audio recording of the press conference. Also see Arjun Makhijani's opening statement, as well as Kevin's and attorney Diane Curran's. The news conference garnered 25 stories in the media, including a major article in Christian Science Monitor.


ANA awards Yucca watchdogs certificates of honor

On March 16 during its "DC Days" award ceremony, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (of which Beyond Nuclear is a member group) presented certificates of honor to Steve Frishman and Judy Treichel for their more than quarter century of grassroots leadership against the now-cancelled Yucca Mountain dumpsite in Nevada. Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, had the privilege of introducing Judy and Steve. Judy, founder and executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, was honored "For her steadfast leadership in Nevada and across the country working with community organizations to raise transportation and other concerns as part of an effective campaign to stop the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Project." Judy's acceptance speech was marked by her characteristic sense of humor. Steve Frishman, who long served at the State of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects, was honored "For his expertise in exposing technical and legal problems that demonstrated the inadequacies of the proposed site as part of an effective campaign to stop the Yucca Mountain Project." In his acceptance speech, Steve celebrated "the value of persistence in a just cause, and the value of friends who shared theirs with us."


New reactors in WV still blocked due to no radioactive waste solution

The Charleston NBC affiliate reports that the State of West Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee has killed for this year an attempt to overturn a 1996 state ban on the construction of atomic reactors in the state until the high-level radioactive waste problem has been solved.


Earthquake in Lake Michigan region raises specter of radioactive waste disaster at Palisades

A 3.8 magnitude earthquake epicentered in northern Illinois, but felt as far away as Michigan across Lake Michigan, serves as a reminder that the high-level radioactive waste dry cask storage facilities at Palisades nuclear power plant remain vulnerable to a catastrophic radioactivity release due to seismic risk. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Midwest region dry cask storage inspector Dr. Ross Landsman warned his agency's top official, 16 years ago now, that Palisades' dry cask storage pad just 100 yards from the Lake Michigan shore is vulnerable to earthquakes: "The casks can either fall into Lake Michigan or be buried in the loose sand because of liquefaction...It is apparent to me that NMSS [NRC's office of Nuclear Materials, Safety, and Safeguards] doesn’t realize the catastrophic consequences of their continued reliance on their current ideology." The high-level radioactive waste within casks buried in sand could dangerously overheat. If water infiltrates casks submerged underwater, there is enough fissile uranium-235 and plutonium-239 in the irradiated nuclear fuel that an inadvertent chain reaction could be sparked; this would make emergency response ultra-hazardous. In either scenario, disastrous radioactivity releases would be possible. Despite this, Dr. Landsman has been entirely ignored by NRC for going on two decades. In 2006, now retired, Dr. Landsman served as expert witness for an environmental coalition, co-led by Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps, demanding that NRC address the fact that not only is Palisades' first, older pad vulnerable to seismic liquefaction, but its second, newer pad is vulnerable to seismic amplification, both in violation of NRC earthquake safety regulations. Unfortunately, as expected, NRC rejected the environmental coalition's and Dr. Landsman's emergency enforcement petition. The coalition then appealed to the federal courts, were again rebuffed by NRC, defended their contentions, but despite their warnings, were ultimately ruled against by the second highest court in the land. Thus, Palisades' high-level radioactive wastes remain vulnerable to a catastrophic release of deadly radioactivity into Lake Michigan -- source of drinking water for tens of millions downstream -- if a large enough earthquake strikes the site.


Hanford "clean up" will take at least 37 more years, cost as much as $100 billion, and still leave behind radioactive risks lasting thousands of years

An article in the Oregonian, written as the U.S. Department of Energy holds public hearings on its draft environmental impact statement for "cleaning up" high-level radioactive waste storage tanks and managing additional radioactive wastes and lingering radioactive contamination at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, reports that nearly a half century more ("clean up" has already been underway for decades), and a price tag that could top $100 billion, will be needed before the site's "clean up" is "finished." Even then, hazardous radioactive contamination will persist for many thousands of years, threatening the adjacent Columbia River and points downstream. The high-level radioactive wastes, and much of Hanford's contamination, have resulted from military reprocessing from 1943 to 1988. Commercial reprocessing of irradiated nuclear fuel, proposed as the latest "illusion of a solution" to nuclear power's waste problem, would involve vastly more waste than was ever reprocessed at Hanford, waste that is significantly more radioactive than military irradiated nuclear fuel. Thus, commercial reprocessing would likely cause radioactive ruination of the environment wherever it is carried out, with serious health consequences downwind and downstream for millenia.