The Pentagon recently announced plans to up the production of plutonium pits, a core component of nuclear weapons.
Outside the sleepy Maine town of Wiscasset (population 3,700), armed guards patrol a slab of concrete surrounded by a chain link fence. On the slab is 60 cement and steel canisters containing 550 tons of nuclear waste with nowhere to go according to the Bangor Daily News.
Nuclear power isn’t a silver bullet for our climate problems and there’s a host of issues with constructing new plants. The biggest of which is what to do with the waste. One of the most frequently proposed long term solutions is a geologic repository, a specially designed hole in the ground with thick barriers where large amounts of toxic waste can slowly degrade over hundreds of years.
The problem is that no one can ever agree on where to build a giant and expensive hole to dump nuclear waste that will render the site unusable for generations. From Germany to America to Japan, efforts to build geologic repositories are met with political fights and constant delays.
And now the Pentagon has major plans to crank up production of nuclear weapons, a process that would create tons of radioactive waste in service of weapons, not energy. It’s beating plowshares into swords. For decades, the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons has shrunk. Between efforts of modernization, the design and deployment of new weapons, and fears of Russia and China’s nuclear arms, the trend is reversing.
America hasn’t been able to mass produce plutonium pits since it closed the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado in 1989. Now, the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) has an increased budget and is looking to spend that cash by ramping up production at the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The plan is to get SRS pumping out 50 pits a year 2030, a project that could cost upwards of $11 billion.
Another issue with re-opening the Savannah River Site is the cost and the recent memory of nuclear boondoggles in South Carolina. The DOE previously spent $8 billion attempting to build a plutonium processing in South Carolina only to abandon the project—and a stockpile of plutonium—for decades. Now the DOE is talking about spending another $11 billion to get the abandoned site up and running.