Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No need to rush into a decision about nuclear waste disposal?

Nuclear power is the only large-scale energy technology that emits and retains waste?  This high-level radioactive waste is contained in spent reactor fuel rods and must be contained for long periods of time.

Fifty-three years ago the Eisenhower administration realized that storage and disposal of nuclear wastes were serious problems.  The administration sought the assistance of the National Academy of Science to formulate an ideal plan.  A committee of prominent scientists was formed, who eventually recommended deep underground geological storage as the best and safest method.  This method of  storage required development of a large cavern where the material could be safely contained for thousands of years until it lost its radioactivity.      

In 1957 the United States Geological Survey (USGS) was instructed to identify the most suitable storage site for the deposit of the nuclear waste.    Prior to commencing the search the USGS requested input from a large number of geoscience professionals.  Over one hundred locations were suggested, most in the western part of the country.   Each site was reviewed, from which a short list was prepared.   By 1984, on completion of extensive geological evaluations, only ten sites in six states remained.  Lastly, these ten sites were subjected to still further scientific analyses.  On completion of the studies, the number of preferred sites was cut to three - Hanford, Washington, Deaf Smith County, Texas and Yucca Mountain, Nevada.    

In 1987 Congress instructed the Department of Energy (DOE) to direct its attention to the USGS chosen site, Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  It was found to be suitable in every respect for a disposal site, plus being located on Federal land.  The DOE conducted some additional research, then commenced development of the site so it would be ready to accept waste by January 31, 1998.

Only 41 years had passed since the USGS was directed to locate and evaluate a suitable storage site.   Forty-one years that saw a growing inventory of spent rods at reactor sites, as well as spent fuel from U.S. Navy warships. Temporary storage was filling up, reaching capacity, in spite of the overwhelming positive evidence favoring development of the Yucca Mountain site.