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.



The latest radioactive rabbit hole: DOE's "deep borehole disposal" scheme targets 26 states for high-level waste dumps!

As announced by a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) press release, a consortium -- including many decades long nuclear establishment member Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, OH -- has been awarded a $35 million taxpayer funded contract to drill a deep borehole, more than three miles down, into the crystalline granite of Rugby, ND.

Although no radioactive waste will be dumped in the hole during the test, the experiment's overriding raison d'etre is to learn lessons that could be applied elsewhere. As DOE's press release concludes:

Scientists have identified many regions in the United States that have large, geologically stable rock formations similar to the Rugby, North Dakota location. The work in North Dakota will help increase understanding of similar locations across the country.

In fact, in Dec., 2008, DOE published a Report...on the Need for a Second Repository. The report made clear that, as of spring 2010, the country's first repository (then targeted at Yucca Mountain, NV, a project wisely canceled by the Obama administration as "unworkable") would have already been full, at least under current legal constraints, if that dump have ever been opened.

The first repository is initially capped at 63,000 metric tons of commercial waste, as well as an additional 7,000 metric tons of nuclear weapons waste, by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1983, as Amended. By spring 2010, 63,000 metric tons of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel had already been generated by the U.S. nuclear power industry.

That is, a second repository would now be needed, to accommodate the dumping of the 2,000 metric tons per year of additional commercial irradiated nuclear fuel being generated across the U.S. by atomic reactors.

Figure 3 on page 12 (16 of 20 on PDF counter) of DOE's 2008 report shows that each of the Lower 48 states is under consideration for the second high-level radioactive waste dump. 25 of those states are being targeted because of their granite geology.

DOE names the states with what it considers promising granite geology for radioactive waste disposal:

DOE reference documents...identify 17 states within which there were granitic bodies believed to be adequate for investigation for siting a repository for the second repository program. The states identified included: [Minnestota; Wisconsin; Michigan; Maine; New Hampshire; Vermont; Massachusetts; Connecticut; Pennsylvania; New York; New Jersey; Delaware; Maryland; Virginia; North Carolina; South Carolina; Georgia.]

In fact, in Vermont alone, seven separate sites were targeted; a similar large number were targeted in Minnesota. Two were targeted in New Hampshire, as were two (the Puritan Pluton, and the Wolf River Batholith) in Wisconsin. One was targeted in Maine -- below Lake Sebago!

Beyond Nuclear warned in November 2007, in the lead up to the New Hampshire presidential primary of early 2008, that the Granite State could be targeted again as the nation's high-level radioactive waste dump.

And sure enough, as reported by Nancy West in the NH Business Review on Dec. 10, 2015, a New Hampshire state law from 1986, banning high-level radioactive waste burial in the Granite State, was very quietly repealed in 2011 -- by a line or two of legislative language, buried in a massive state budget bill. The legislative maneuver was so secretive, that it is still not known which NH legislator(s) orchestrated it, or why. The discovery was made by NH State Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton), a founder of the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance in the mid-1970s. Together with other Clamshell Alliance founders such as Paul Gunter (now serving as Beyond Nuclear's Reactor Oversight Project Director), Cushing led the mid-1980s charge across NH that saw almost 100+ towns across the state declare their opposition to radioactive waste disposal. The state government followed suit by passing the radioactive waste dump ban at that time. Cushing has now introduced a bill to re-establish the dump ban.

Along similar lines, recent pro-nuclear state legislative action in Wisconsin -- to repeal a decades-long ban on new reactors, until a radioactive waste solution is found -- could make the Badger State vulnerable to being re-targeted, now for deep borehole high-level radioactive waste disposal. The lobbying effort is being led by such nuclear establishment figures as Michael Corradini, a professor in UW-Madison's DOE (that is, taxpayer)-funded nuclear engineering department, and a member, and subcommittee chairman, of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's largely industry friendly rubber-stamp Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards. Corradini experienced a sudden reversal during the George W. Bush administration, when he was forced to immediately resign his position, as chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, after it was revealed he had written blatantly un-scientific pro-Yucca Mountain dump advocacy editorials.

But DOE's target list, in the 2008 Report on the Need for a Second Repository, continued:

Supporting references identify eight additional states under consideration by the crystalline rock program as having granitic bodies that could be adequate for investigation for siting a repository for the second repository program:

[Washington; Idaho; Arizona; Wyoming; Texas; Alabama; South Dakota; Oklahoma.] (page 11, or 15 of 20 on the PDF counter)

Given the choice of North Dakota for the test borehole, presumably it too would now be added to the target list. That adds up to a total of 26 states being eyed by DOE as potential deep borehole disposal high-level radioactive waste dumps!

The DOE press release announcing the deep borehole disposal experiment also stated:

Over 40 years ago, scientists suggested the idea of disposing of nuclear weapons production waste in holes drilled miles into granite. In January 2012 the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommended research into the possibility of using deep boreholes “particularly as a disposal alternative for certain forms of waste that have essentially no potential for re-use.”

In fact, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was a member of the Obama administration's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future, an entirely pro-nuclear power panel set up to find a "Plan B" for radioactive waste management, in light of Yucca's cancellation as a dump, in order to promote nuclear power's expansion.

In an Orwellian afterthought, DOE's high-level radioactive waste disposal deep borehole experiment comes wrapped in a "clean energy" false façade. DOE's press release also states:

One of the most promising applications is the potential for disposal of certain types of high-level radioactive wastes; another could be geothermal energy development. (emphasis added)

Last October, Beyond Nuclear warned that the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy (ONE, or NE, mandated with promoting nuclear power) was brining to the surface its long subterranean (as in stealth) deep borehole disposal scheme. The warning came after Beyond Nuclear attended a U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board meeting that focused on the previously largely stealth deep borehole disposal scheme.


"[WI] GOP lawmakers lead new effort to lift nuclear freeze"

As reported by Steven Verburg in the Wisconsin State Journal, for the fourth time in 13 years, WI legislators are attempting to repeal a now 33-year old ban on the construction of new atomic reactors in the state.

But groups like Clean Wisconsin oppose the legislation:

Nuclear power plants can take a decade or more to build, making them a poor way to respond to urgent needs for alternative energy sources, Clean Wisconsin’s Amber Meyer Smith told the Assembly committee in written testimony.

And radioactive waste must be protected indefinitely from weather, security risks and human error, Smith said.


The Nuclear Grinch Who Stole Xmas: DOE launches "consent-based siting" comment period, in bid to open radioactive waste dumps

Mr. Burns, Nuclear Scrooge of Simpsons infamy, wasn't stingy when it came to handing out "Atomic Fireballs" as a stand in for the radioactive waste the nuclear industry would like the public to "consent" to "swallowing," during a protest outside NRC's "Nuke Waste Con Game" public comment mtg. in Perrysburg, OH, 2013.

[DOE has extended the public comment deadline to July 31, 2016: DOE is extending the comment period for the "Invitation for Public Comment to Inform the Design of a Consent-Based Siting Process for Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal Facilities'' to July 31, 2016. See the Federal Register Notice, dated March 22, 2016.]

On Dec. 23, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a public comment period on its effort to define the "consent-based siting" of radioactive waste dumps.

The comment period is another step to enact a policy called for by the Obama administration's Blue Ribbon Commission for America's Nuclear Future (BRC). As reasonable and focus-grouped as "consent-based siting" sounds, it can be expected, however, to continue a long tradition of nuclear industry efforts to force dumps on unwilling, or uninformed, communities.Thus, this is another "speak now, or forever hold your peace" juncture in DOE's efforts to identify the path of least resistance to opening controversial and risky radioactive waste dumps.

The public comment period is open till June 15, 2016. The first public comment meeting will likely take place in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20, 2016, at a time and location to be announced. Reportedly, six additional public hearings around the U.S. will be announced in the weeks and months to come.

The BRC issued its Final Report in Jan. 2012.

A year later, DOE Secretary Steven Chu announced the Obama administration's "strategy" for adopting the BRC's recommendations. Included were target dates for opening a "pilot" parking lot dump by 2021, and one or more full-scale parking lot dumps by 2024. The target year for opening the country's first burial dump was set at 2048.

(The camel's nose under the tent, the "pilot" parking lot dump would supposedly be "only" for "stranded" or "orphaned" waste from permanently shutdown reactors. This ploy dates back to the George W. Bush administration, when it was argued, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, that security dictated that irradiated nuclear fuel from such sites as Big Rock Point, MI should be moved to Yucca Mountain -- see Energy Secretary Abraham's early 2002 congressional testimony. Nowadays, the argument is made that moving "orphaned" waste to a "pilot" parking lot dump would "free up" the land at shutdown reactors for "unrestricted re-use." Never mind that, as at Big Rock Point, that land itself is still radioactively contaminated, even after decommissioning has been declared "completed." Local concerned residents, and long-time environmental watchdogs, living in the shadows of this "stranded" waste, have clearly said "not in our names" should the wastes be forced on others, as parking lot dumps would do.)

In March 2015, Obama's current Energy Secretary, Ernest Moniz, announced the "un-comingling" of commercial nuclear power and nuclear weapons wastes, a reversal of decades-old policy, which would have disposed of both waste streams in the same dump-site. Now, the two waste streams will be on separate tracks, bound for separate dumps.

In its rollout announcing the current "consent-based siting" comment period, DOE stated:

The first step for commercial spent fuel begins with developing a pilot interim storage facility that will mainly accept used nuclear fuel from reactors that have already been shut down. The purpose of a pilot facility is to begin the process of accepting spent fuel from utilities, while also developing and perfecting protocols and procedures for transportation and storage of nuclear waste. It is our goal that throughout the process of developing a pilot interim facility that the Department of Energy builds trust with all of the local communities involved. (emphasis added)

This is a most ironic statement. First, it expresses DOE's goal of "building trust" with impacted communities. And it implies that DOE will be involved in this process of siting dumps going forward.

But the BRC, based on the large number of public comments submitted from 2010-2012 in the lead up to its final report, agreed with critics that DOE has so bungled radioactive waste management over the past 40 years, and had so earned the public's distrust, that a new entity must be created to take over radioactive waste management, storage, and disposal.

In fact, the BRC listed, as its second-highest ranking of eight strategic "key elements," the following: A new organization dedicated solely to implementing the waste management program and empowered with the authority and resources to succeed. (see page vii, or page 7 of 180 on the PDF counter, in the BRC's Jan. 2012 Final Report)

In its comment period announcement, DOE also stated:

In addition to waste from generation of electricity, waste from defense activities requires safe storage and disposal. The deterrent provided by the nation’s nuclear stockpile has kept this country safe for generations. In order to maintain our nuclear deterrent, warheads must be replaced every twenty years. Currently this older material is stored at a few defense locations across the country. While it is also secure, and there is far less of this high level waste material than commercial spent fuel, a solution for the long-term disposal of this material is needed to address our Cold War legacy. (emphasis added)

This is a biased and self-serving statement. While nuclear weapons complex contamination, including lingering irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste stockpiles stored there, must be addressed, and responsibly managed, in order to protect the communities which live in their shadows, such false statements are objectionable. Rather than "keeping this country safe for generations," it can of course also be argued that nuclear weapons threaten omnicide on this planet, right up to the present day. "Maintaining our nuclear deterrent" violates the U.S. obligation, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to abolish its nuclear weapons arsenal. And the statement that "warheads must be replaced every twenty years" is very misleading.

But then again, DOE's comment period rollout also touts the supposed importance of nuclear power to our country's well being. The BRC, with 15 pro-nuclear members, and not a single anti-nuclear member or even a nuclear power skeptic, framed the radioactive waste problem as one to be solved, so that nuclear power could flourish -- its marching orders from President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu in March 2010. BRC's final report reflected this deep bias, to continue generating radioactive waste -- the inevitable (and forever deadly) byproduct of nuclear power.

Of course, nuclear power promotion is the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy's (ONE) mandate. How ironic, then, that the BRC would be "hosted" by DOE ONE, making the "solution" of the radioactive waste problem a stepping stone to nuclear power's promotion, expansion, and continuation (and with it, more radioactive waste generation). DOE ONE is now running this comment period on defining "consent-based siting," and seems intent on running the parking lot dump and burial dump site searches, as well as their ultimate operations, in the years and decades ahead, as well.

As deeply troubling as DOE ONE's role is, NRC's collusion and complicity is even more objectionable. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is supposed to protect public health, safety, and the environment. As the country's nuclear safety regulatory agency, NRC is not supposed to promote nuclear power.

Yet, at its recent Division of Spent Fuel Management RegCon (Regulatory Conference), NRC's Tony Hsia, Acting Director of the Division of Spent Fuel Management, in his closing remarks, concluded the two-day symposium with no less than a rally cry. He passionately called for industry and NRC (as well as DOE, and other nuclear establishment players) to work together ("[If we] all work together, we can make it [centralized interim storage] happen!"), to open parking lot dumps, such as at Waste Control Specialists, LLC in Andrews County, TX, or Eddy-Lea near WIPP in NM. This was incredibly inappropriate.

The Japanese Parliament concluded that the root cause of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe was collusion between regulator, industry, and government officials. It was the reason the three reactors, that melted down and exploded, were so very vulnerable to the earthquake and tsunami that struck them on 3/11/11. Such dangerous collusion exists in spades in the U.S. on radioactive waste, as between NRC, industry, DOE, and even the White House and Congress.

DOE ONE has created an entire website on "consent-based siting," pushing its various suspect schemes.

Whether parking lot dump or burial dump-site, their opening would launch Mobile Chernobyls, Dirty Bombs on Wheels, and Floating Fukushimas on most states' roads, rails, and waterways. The main driver is not public health, safety, or environmental protection, but rather the transfer of liability for the radioactive wastes, from the nuclear utilities that have profited from their generation, onto U.S. taxpayers. As soon as the irradiated fuel leaves the nuclear power plant sites, the title transfers to DOE -- that is, U.S. taxpayers.

In a sign of what's to come, a number of Republican U.S. Senators, including James Risch of Idaho, during 2013 hearings on that session's version of the "parking lot dump bill," most cynically joked that "consent-based" hinged entirely on "incentives" -- that is, money.

In certain contexts, that would be called bribery.

As Keith Lewis, environmental director of the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, put it in the book This Is My Homeland, "There is nothing moral about bribing a starving man with money." He was speaking about the decades of uranium mining that so ravaged his region.

But such environmental injustice can be expected yet again in the context of "consent-based siting" of high-level radioactive waste parking lot dumps. In fact, low income Native American reservations are explicitly targeted.

But such radioactive racism has been stopped before, time and time again. Grace Thorpe -- daughter of Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century, Jim Thorpe -- not only immediately stopped the parking lot dump targeted at her Sauk and Fox Reservation in Oklahoma, but hit the road and helped scores of other reservation communities fend off such dumps. (NIRS also served as emeritus board member of NIRS. In March 2009, President Obama himself praised her efforts to defend her community, and others, against radioactive waste centralized interim storage targeted at them. How ironic, then, that Obama's own BRC, and now DOE, would yet against target Native American reservations for parking lot dumps!)

Margene Bullcreek and Sammy Blackbear led efforts to fend off a parking lot dump targeted at their Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in Utah. With help from 437 Native American and environmental justice groups from around the country, and even overseas, they succeeded, despite NRC rubber-stamping the scheme.

And the Western Shoshone Indian Nation has led environmental justice efforts to block not only "interim storage," but also permanent disposal, of high-level radioactive waste on their sacred treaty lands at Yucca Mountain, Nevada for three decades. (See NIRS and Beyond Nuclear website sections for more info.)

Given the nuclear establishment's incessant radioactive racism, it seems we will have to continue fighting such dumps.

In the near future, Beyond Nuclear, working with grassroots allies across the country, will publish talking points and backgrounders, to help folks prepare their own oral comments for the public meetings, and to submit in writing to DOE, in the weeks and months ahead.

We must push back, yet again, against DOE's and the nuclear industry's coming efforts to gut the definition of "consent-based siting." They are seeking to expedite the "parking" of high-level radioactive waste on Native American reservations; DOE nuclear weapons complex sites, already badly radioactively contaminated and/or heavily burdened with irradiated nuclear fuel (such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in NM, Savannah River Site in SC, Idaho National Lab, etc.); "private" sites (such as Waste Control Specialists, LLC in Andrews County, TX, already threatening the Ogallala Aquifer with "low" level radioactive waste dumping); and nuclear power plants (such as Dresden in IL, which already "hosts" around 3,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, between the three reactors there, as well as the General Electric-Morris storage pool next door!).

Truth be told, the nuclear establishment in industry and government hope the parking lot dumps can be turned into burial dumps, if they can get away with that, as well. Such "just bury it where you park it" language has been included in congressional bills for the past 2.5 years (the current incarnation of this legislation is Senate Bill 854, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2015). All these risky schemes must be stopped, dead in their tracks, yet again!


NRC Commissioners refuse to re-open Fermi 2 record; Beyond Nuclear will appeal to federal court on Nuke Waste Con Game

NRC file photo of Fermi 2 atomic reactor in Frenchtown Twp., Monroe County, MI on the Lake Erie shoreline.In an Atomic Scrooge move of their own, the four U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Commissioners voted unanimously to deny Beyond Nuclear's motion to re-open the record in the Fermi 2 license extension proceeding, because it relies on an illegal Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.

Fermi 2 is a General Electric Mark I boiling water reactor, identical in design to Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 to 4. However Fermi 2 is super-sized, nearly as large as Fukushima Daiichi Units 1 and 2 put together. Detroit Edison has applied for a 2025-2045 license extension at Fermi 2, and NRC appears to be very amenable to rubber-stamping that.

Beyond Nuclear attended the hastily scheduled NRC Commissioners Affirmation Session at the agency's HQ. The Fermi 2 portion of the meeting last 30 seconds.

In dispute is NRC's Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel Generic Environmental Impact Statement and Rule. This NRC policy was formerly called Nuclear Waste Confidence, which critics renamed the Nuke Waste Con Game.

Beyond Nuclear will now appeal this NRC decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second highest court in the land, just beneath the U.S. Supreme Court. There, the case will be joined with many others, focused on the same issue, in a case called New York v. NRC II.

The New York v. NRC I ruling was issued by the D.C. Circuit in June 2012. Ruling in favor of an environmental coalition, and alliance of states and an Indian tribe (the Prairie Island Indian Community of Minnesota), the court ordered NRC to undertake an Environmental Impact Statement, due to the illegality of its Nuclear Waste Confidence policy.

The Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel GEIS and Rule are the result. But the same environmental coalition, and alliance of states and the Prairie Island Indian Community are back, alleging that NRC's final product flouts the previous court order, and is still in violation of various laws (National Environmental Policy Act, Atomic Energy Act, Administrative Procedures Act).

Beyond Nuclear is honored to be one of nine environmental groups, bringing 17 NRC licensing proceedings before the D.C. Court of Appeals. Beyond Nuclear's proceedings include the Davis-Besse license extension in OH, the Fermi 2 license extension in MI, and the Fermi 3 proposed new reactor license.

Toledo attorney Terry Lodge serves as Beyond Nuclear's legal counsel in all three proceedings. D.C. attorney Diane Curran, and Atlantic attorney Mindy Goldstein of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University, serve as Beyond Nuclear's legal counsel in New York v. NRC II.

Oral arguments are scheduled for New York v. NRC II on February 22, 2016.

Another victory would enable us to seek suspension of licensing proceedings still underway, and reversal of license proceedings already completed -- until NRC addresses the illegalities of its Nuke Waste Con Game.

Beyond Nuclear's intervention coalition parters at Fermi 2 include Citizens Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario (CEA) and Don't Waste Michigan (DWM). Our intervention partners at Fermi 3 include CEA, DWM, as well as Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, and Sierra Club Michigan Chapter. At Davis-Besse, in addition to CEA and DWM, our intervention coalition also includes Ohio Green Party (and Sierra Club joined us in a separate intervention, against risky steam generator replacements).

In related Fermi 2 news, the coalition has requested the full time it deserves, under law and regulation, to submit comments on NRC's Draft Supplemental EIS in the license extension proceeding. The NRC's arbitrarily short deadline was set for Dec. 28, but NRC has agreed to consider comments received by Jan. 5. Beyond Nuclear plans to submit comments.


Great Lakes Nuke Dump Decision Postponed; Critics Call for Dump's Cancellation

OPG's DUD would be built on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water, just 3/4ths of a mile from the shoreline of the Great Lakes.The newly appointed Canadian Environment Minister, the Honorable Catherine McKenna, has postponed the deadline for deciding whether or not to approve Ontario Power Generation's (OPG) proposal to bury radioactive wastes on the Great Lakes shore at Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Kincardine, Ontario. The deadline had been next Wednesday, December 2, 2015; she has postponed the decision until March 1, 2016.

Beyond Nuclear has issued a press release (see the Word version for live links to relevant documents). In it, Beyond Nuclear thanks a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation of 32 Senators and Representatives for writing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and urging him to cancel the Deep Geologic Repository (DGR) outright, or at the very least, postpone the decision until they can meet with him in person to communicate the concerns and objections of tens of millions of U.S. citizens in eight Great Lakes states. Beyond Nuclear has expressed confidence that Minister McKenna's review of the 13 years of growing resistance to the DUD (short for Deep Underground Dump) will convince her to reject OPG’s proposal as unacceptably risky to the drinking water supply for 40 million people. See Beyond Nuclear's Canada website section for more information.