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Political Split Bigger Than Scientific Fissures Over Nuclear Waste Home via EnergyBiz

Resolving the issue of long-term nuclear waste storage seems impermeable. Yucca Mountain is alive, but barely. Other ideas are plausible, but remote.

Right now, used nuclear fuel rods are cooled in pools for up to five years before they are stored in above-ground concrete-encased barrels. That was to be a temporary solution until a permanent storage site was found. Yucca Mountain was picked in 1987 and $12 billion later, engineers have been unable to prove that water would not leach into the burial site. That has forced designers to keep developing new barriers that have made the project cost-prohibitive.

But better options may exist. Consider: the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Program (WIPP), a massive salt formation in southeastern New Mexico that has been accepting waste from nuclear weapons for 14 years. But it is not permitted to take in low-level spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors.

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“Many scientists for decades have considered salt to have serious deficiencies in comparison to some other geologic formations … because such heat-generating waste can rapidly deform salt and create instability that could endanger workers and release radioactivity,” says the Southwest Research and Information Center in New Mexico. “In addition, the WIPP site is surrounded by active oil and natural gas production facilities and reserves underlie the waste disposal area, which can result in breaches and releases of radioactivity.”

About 70,000 tons of nuclear waste is now present in 30 states. Illinois, New York State, Pennsylvania and South Carolina are the biggest hosts. Reactors, meanwhile, are generating about 2,000 additional tons a year.

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Meantime, Canada is in the midst of making a choice that could affect millions of  Americans. Ontario Power Generation wants to store its used nuclear material near Lake Huron’s shorelines. A panel there will issue its finding so that the Canadian government can decide whether it would proceed. The facility would be more than 2,200 feet below the earth in a layer of limestone, reports the Detroit Free Press.

The paper says that Canadian residents favor the long-range disposal site over the current interim storage sites. But it is the American side that opposes it, largely because residents and commercial operators fear that such a project would severely disrupt their lives.

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