“Where will the state’s nuclear waste go?” was the headline of a story bannered last month across the front page of Connecticut’s largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant.
What, indeed, is to be done about the nuclear waste that has been produced at the two Millstone nuclear power plants which have been operating in Connecticut? (They are now the only nuclear power plants running in New England.)
And what is to be done about the nuclear waste at other nuclear power plants?
Decades ago, one scheme was to put it on rockets to be sent to the sun. But the very big problem, it was realized, is that one-in-100 rockets undergo major malfunctions on launch, mostly by blowing up.
As Forbes magazine has pointed out, because of the “possibility of launch failure” if “your payload is radioactive or hazardous and you have an explosion on launch…all of that waste will be uncontrollably distributed across Earth.”
So, scratch that idea.
Then there has been the plan to construct a “repository” for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. It was designated the nation’s “permanent nuclear repository” in 1987 and $15 billion was spent preparing it.
The very big problem concerning Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump: it’s in “an active earthquake zone, with 33 faults on site.”
So, that idea was scratched.
Now, Finland has built a nuclear waste site for its four nuclear power plants. “Finland wants to bury nuclear waste for 100,000 years,” was the title of an CNBC’s piece about it and how it uses “a labyrinth of underground tunnels.”
The very big problem: nuclear waste needs to be isolated from life for way more than 100,000 years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2004 ordered the EPA to rewrite its Yucca Mountain regulations to acknowledge a million years of hazard, notes Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist for the organization Beyond Nuclear.
“And that’s actually a low-ball figure,” said Kamps in an interview.
Some nuclear waste stays radioactive for millions of years, Kamps points out: “Iodine-129 that is produced in reactors has a 15.7 million-year half-life.”
After a half-life, a radioactive material is half as radioactive as when it was produced. For determining a “hazardous lifetime,” a half-life is multiplied by 20.
Thus Iodine-129 remains radioactive for 314 million years.
“The design of the storage facility” for nuclear waste in Finland “has taken into account the potential impact of earthquakes and even future ice ages,” related CNBC. But not for anything close to millions of years.
So, what should be done about nuclear waste?