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Will Fracking Cause Our Next Nuclear Disaster? via Truthout

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Salt-cavern storage was the plan for the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), the world’s third-deepest geological repository, constructed and licensed to permanently dispose of radioactive waste for 10,000 years. The repository sits approximately 26 miles east of the town of Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico.

Since shipments began in 1999, more than 80,000 cubic meters and 11,000 shipments of waste have been transferred to WIPP.

But at the moment, there are several ongoing critical problems at the site, which has been closed and unable to accept shipments of radioactive waste ever since a fire and radiation release in February. Dozens of barrels of radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Lab, like the one that caused the radiation leak, now pose an “imminent” or “substantial” threat to public health and the environment.

Yet, these problems could pale in comparison to what might happen at the site if an earthquake were to strike, or if the protective salt layer were compromised by nearby drilling for oil and gas, and in particular, hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is a technique used in obtaining gas and petroleum, in which water is mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, and the mixture is injected at extremely high pressure into a wellbore to create small fractures.

Thus, one would logically deduce that fracking should never be done anywhere near WIPP. However, it is being done there, and experts expect it to increase.

“In the last three years, a dozen fracking wells have become operational within five miles of the site [WIPP],” Don Hancock, the director of the Nuclear Waste Safety Program at Southwest Research and Information Center, told Truthout.

Given that it is already well known that fracking causes earthquakes, it is clear that the nuclear waste storage site is now in danger of having its structural integrity compromised.

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WIPP contains plutonium and very toxic radio nuclides that could, if the integrity of the site is comprised as a result of the increasing fracking activity nearby, leak into New Mexico’s groundwater and contaminate it for hundreds of thousands of years to come.

Judson asked why there is not a mandatory 100-mile boundary around the site, and his concluding comment remains what is perhaps the most important unanswered question of all: “Isolating nuclear waste is a national priority, but how much of a priority is it if they are going to allow these kinds of activities near a site like this?”

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