Early on Sunday Oct. 25, an underground fire caused an explosion in a low-level nuclear waste site in the desert 10 miles from Beatty, Nevada, and 115 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The explosion and fire followed flash flooding that shut down Beatty’s escape routes: US 95 and State Highway 373. The 80-acre dumping ground, closed since 1992, is run by — get this — “US Ecology.” The private dump consists of 22 trenches up to 800 feet long and 50 feet deep, and its older trenches have radioactive waste within three feet of the surface, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
With the EPA, the Nevada National Guard, Nye County officials and Energy Department all involved, highly nuanced public safety assurances are guaranteed. “Radiation wasn’t immediately detected during fly-overs of a burned trench … state and federal officials said Monday,” Oct. 26. But radiation monitoring was initiated well after the plume of smoke and debris from the blast and fire had dispersed. Then, “The Nevada Department of Public Safety said tests of the area around the fire site near Beatty returned negative readings for radiation,” KVVU TV reported. Well, sure. But were any positive readings returned?
In expert hearings held in southern Ontario in Sept. 2014, Dr. Frank Greening made identical warnings about the potential explosiveness of Canadian radioactive waste if they were to be buried next to Lake Huron under plans made by Ontario Power Generation.
October’s waste explosion and fire shows we don’t have to wait thousands of years for disaster to strike. Nevada’s “self-heating” radioactive “thermal runaway” is just the latest warning not to bury radioactive waste. Putting the deadly stuff out-of-sight and out-of-mind won’t keep us (or the water) safe. For radioactive waste, only above-ground, monitored, hardened, retrievable storage can come close to that goal. Ceasing nuclear waste production is the only path to potential sustainable solutions.