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article image'Not in my Backyard' goes Nuclear, Yucca Flats battle resumes

By Hugh A. Ostrow     Aug 18, 2013 in Politics
Global warming complicates supplying enough energy for the world’s population. Nuclear energy was once thought capable of supplying huge amounts of clean, safe, and affordable energy. No one predicted all the problems resulting from nuclear waste.
The United States District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion indicating that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must comply with a law mandating that the commission must consider a permit application for storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Flats in Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid’s home state of Nevada. In a classic display of “Not in My Backyard,” Senator Reid indicated that the court’s ruling was meaningless despite the $12 billion already spent on the project with an estimated total cost of $100 billion required for its completion (Reuters).
A Presidential Commission concluded one or more communities and states need to volunteer to host the nation's nuclear waste. Unfortunately no state or community has volunteered to be the site of a national long-term nuclear waste repository. In addition to the tons of nuclear waste stored at all of the United States civilian nuclear power plants, the nuclear waste from decades of the military’s nuclear bomb production also urgently requires safe long-term disposal. This same Presidential Commission determined the Yucca Flats repository as planned would not have adequate capacity to safely store all of the nuclear waste that the United States currently holds in unsafe conditions.
The need for a long-term solution to America’s nuclear waste grows more urgent by the day. The problems at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington State exemplify the complexity, seriousness, and urgency of the nuclear waste dilemma. Over 208 million liters of highly lethal radioactive waste are currently in storage tanks designed to have a 20-year lifespan. These containers date from 1946 to 1986 so currently all are unsafe and outdated while the radioactive materials stored there need safe storage for centuries if not millennia. Currently at least six of the storage tanks are known to be leaking. No one knows for certain exactly what the contents of each tank include because the military used nine different reactors when manufacturing many different kinds of nuclear weapons with differing components over the 40 -year period that the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was in full scale operation. The contents of these storage tanks are physically hot, laced with numerous toxic or corrosive chemicals, and heavy metals which threaten the integrity of the pipes and tanks carrying the waste. Depending on the radioactive contents of each tank, different procedures and precautions need to be taken to place the radioactive materials in more permanent storage. Even more frightening are the possibilities of hydrogen explosions occurring during processing or whether enough plutonium collects to trigger a nuclear chain reaction and the release of so much energy that the walls of the concrete containment buildings rupture. The tanks of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation contain almost twice as much dangerous nuclear material as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster released into the environment.
Currently all of the American nuclear power stations store large quantities of spent fuel on site with no way to transport these lethal materials to safe permanent storage facilities. In addition to such potential cataclysmic dangers to nuclear power plants posed by design flaws, operator errors, seismic events, hurricanes, and tsunamis, there are new threats on the horizon. A recently-completed study indicates that none of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants or their nuclear waste storage facilities have adequate protection against terrorist attacks involving more than just a few individuals who can target the plants from land, air or sea. The threats posed by terrorist attacks on nuclear power facilities increase exponentially because so many of the plants are located near major population centers, along sensitive coast lines, or near rivers which can spread nuclear contamination widely.
Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. Along the heavily populated eastern coast of South Florida a massive jelly fish invasion shut down the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant for several days. So many jelly fish were sucked up by the off shore water intake pipes that they clogged up all of the pumps required to cool the plant’s nuclear reactors and avoid a catastrophic nuclear meltdown. Incredibly so many poisonous jelly fish tentacles went through the filters designed to prevent debris from entering the water supply that large numbers of the protected species goliath grouper died when the tentacles attached to their gills. Experts indicate there is little reliable data to indicate the extent or magnitude of fish and wildlife kills connected to current nuclear power operations and the power companies involved often are under no requirement to report the damage (St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant).
The information presented appears to indicate that nuclear power plant and waste storage infrastructure safety improvements needed to occur yesterday. Now the worry becomes why America is not undertaking the necessary safety precautions today.
More about Nuclear power, Terrorism, Senator harry reid
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