Developing alternatives to geologic disposal of Department of Energy-controlled radioactive waste may be justified, but a decision to implement any such alternatives should not be left to DOE alone, says a new report by the National Academy of Sciences. NAS urges DOE to turn to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or EPA in a formal, risk-based process to evaluate alternatives other than underground disposal for high-level or transuranic radioactive waste. The report comes as DOE is pursuing alternatives that would leave significantly radioactive waste encased in cement in underground tanks at three DOE cleanup sites. At two of the sites, DOE successfully lobbied Congress to allow it to leave the waste in the tanks (C&EN, Nov. 1, 2004, page 20). The NAS report notes that there is a presumption in the law that high-level and transuranic radioactive waste should be disposed of geologically and that any modification to this approach should not be suggested and approved by DOE alone. In a separate but related report, NAS urges that DOE consider extending the life of radioactive waste treatment facilities at several active cleanup sites. The department intends to close these sites and dismantle the treatment facilities, but NAS recommends that DOE consider leaving the equipment in working order to treat future waste from other sites. The reports are available at http://www.nas.edu.
The Department of Homeland Security has made available $91.3 million in grants under its Buffer Zone Protection Program for security enhancements around such critical infrastructure facilities as chemical and nuclear plants and key resource sites such as dams. Grants to the states are to be funneled to local jurisdictions to buy necessary equipment to extend protection zones beyond plant gates. These grants range from $50,000 for Wyoming to nearly $13 million for California. States are required to submit their buffer zone and equipment plans to DHS by April. Final approval--made after financial, programmatic, and technical review--will then allow local agencies to buy equipment on DHS's approved equipment list.
A project to build a commercial nuclear waste storage facility on a Utah Indian reservation moved a step closer to reality last week when a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) review panel ruled that the probability of a military jet crashing into the facility and releasing radioactivity was less than one-in-one million per year and therefore acceptable. The state had objected to the proposed location, arguing that some 7,000 flights occur over the planned facility each year because of a nearby U.S. Air Force base, and that there is too high a probability that a plane might crash into the facility. The licensing decision now goes before the five-member NRC for a final determination. Eight utilities are funding the Private Fuel Storage plant with a planned capacity of at least 40,000 metric tons of radioactive waste. The utilities want to remove the radioactive fuel waste that is accumulating at their power plants while plans for a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, remain mired in scientific and legal disputes. Utah opposes the facility largely because it may become a permanent storage plant.
Nations around the world have agreed to promote techniques for reducing global mercury emissions from chlor-alkali chemical plants and coal-fired power stations. But governments meeting under the aegis of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, in late February decided not to pursue an international treaty to reduce mercury pollution at least for two years. At the meeting, the European Union suggested that countries launch negotiations on a pact to control the neurotoxic element. Instead, governments agreed to a U.S. proposal for taking voluntary steps by actively pushing "best available techniques" for curbing mercury emissions. Targets of this effort are chlor-alkali facilities, coal-fired electricity generators, and small gold-mining operations. Governments agreed to review the success of these efforts in two years and then consider options for further global action, including the possibility of a treaty on mercury. Also, countries directed UNEP to compile a report on the amounts of mercury traded and supplied around the world. According to UNEP, an estimated 2,000 metric tons of mercury is released to the global environment every year.
Nearly all mercury was removed from plant air emissions during full-scale tests at the Sunflower Electric 350-MW coal-fired plant in Kansas, says the Electric Power Research Institute in presenting an award to the utility. The plant burns a common but troublesome class of coal, and the mercury was captured by a proprietary system using traditional pollution controls.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush approved measures in late February to toughen nuclear security by enhancing both countries' "security cultures" and working jointly to develop low-enriched fuel to replace high-enriched bomb-grade materials in developing countries.
NSF has released its statistical analysis on R&D funding during 2001 and on R&D personnel in January 2002. The data are based on an annual survey that includes or represents all publicly or privately held for-profit R&D-performing companies. The report, "Research & Development in Industry: 2001," is available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf05305/start.htm.