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article imageTrump DOE to reclassify nuclear waste for easier disposal

By Karen Graham     Jun 7, 2019 in Politics
Washington - The U.S. government is reclassifying some high-level radioactive waste to lower threat levels in order to make cleanup faster and cheaper at some of the nation's most toxic former nuclear weapons production sites.
Yes, you are reading this correctly. In a move that will roll back safety standards set by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decades ago - the Trump administration reportedly has plans to reclassify nuclear waste previously listed as "high-level" radioactive to a lower level, in the interest of saving money and time when disposing of the material.
The Department of Energy sent a supplemental notice to the Federal Register that provides the public with its interpretation of high-level radioactive waste (HLW). In the notice, the DOE says that for decades, the agency has used an HLW designation for nearly all nuclear waste, regardless of its radioactivity.
They further claim: "This one-size-fits-all approach has led to decades of delay, costs billions of dollars, and left the waste trapped in DOE facilities in the states of South Carolina, Washington, and Idaho without a permanent disposal solution."
The DOE's new approach has already led to fierce opposition in Washington state, South Carolina and Idaho, which contend that the Energy Department wants to bury dangerous waste in shallow pits, even though Paul Dabbar, the Energy Department’s undersecretary for science, says the DOE claims it will bring a more realistic approach to public health and safety.
The Energy Department “is going to analyze each waste stream and manage it in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards, with the goal of getting the lower-level waste out of these states without sacrificing public safety,” Dabbar said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee claims what the DOE wants to do is illegal. “By taking this action, the administration seeks to cut out state input and move towards disposal options of their choosing, including those already deemed to be unsafe by their own assessments and in violation of the existing legally binding agreement,” he said. “We will consider all options to stop this reckless and dangerous action.”
DOE wants to minimize a toxic waste problem
The policy change would affect sludge and other waste in the three states, where the DOE reprocessed nuclear rods for decades to extract plutonium for hydrogen bombs. The reprocessing left behind millions of gallons of highly radioactive material stored in underground tanks that would be difficult, if not impossible to move.
The waste includes a toxic mix of isotopes of iodine, strontium, americium, plutonium, uranium and other unstable elements, many of which are toxic as well as radioactive. Much of the sludge is stored in single-wall underground tanks that have already leaked.
The DOE has spent about $6 billion annually to clean up its messes in the three states but had actually made little progress. Its most expensive site is in Hanford, Washington where the DOE has been supposedly building a massive treatment facility since 2012 - yet has very little to show in the way of progress.
Hanford  in Washington state  is the Western hemisphere's most contaminated nuclear site
Hanford, in Washington state, is the Western hemisphere's most contaminated nuclear site
In 2018, dozens of workers demolishing the Plutonium Finishing Plant located on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, either inhaled or ingested radioactive particles - even carrying the particles into their private vehicles, according to the Department of Energy.
The incidents have finally prompted the federal government and state regulators to halt any further demolition of the plutonium processing plant until a safe plan can be developed.
How the new plan will work
The DOE, under the old interpretation classified any waste product created during reprocessing as high-level waste. With the new policy, the DOE wants to classify the waste based on its radioactivity level and not its origin.
Building 235-F at the Savannah River Site (SRS) was part of the original construction in the early 1...
Building 235-F at the Savannah River Site (SRS) was part of the original construction in the early 1950s.
Department of Energy/Savannah River Site
Tom Carpenter, the executive director of Hanford Challenge in Washington state, said it isn’t the level of radioactivity that makes certain wastes deadly, but the longevity of their emissions and their specific effect on biology. Carpenter said the ultimate aim of the plan is to leave all the sludge in the tanks.
“They want to get out of the cleanup and this will make it cheaper,” he said.
A lawyer for the National Resources Defense Council told the Associated Press that the new rules would allow the Energy Department to eventually abandon storage tanks containing more than 100 million gallons of radioactive waste in the three states combined.
Weakening the requirements for any nuclear waste that is radioactive is ill-advised and potentially dangerous to the public health. “Pretending this waste is not dangerous is irresponsible and outrageous,” the attorney, Geoff Fettus, said.
More about Nuclear waste, department of energy, expidite cleanup, cost cutting measure, highlevel waste
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