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Putting A Lid On Nuclear Waste

September 21, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 37

“Privatizing Nuclear Waste Storage” by Jessica Morrison explored the idea that for-profit companies want to make money storing high-level nuclear waste in New Mexico and western Texas (C&EN, July 13, page 21). Supportive comments were at the front of the article; negative comments were reserved for the back. John Heaton’s comment that the people of New Mexico “want to help” store this waste is pure bull manure. Truth be told, he and his alliance want to make money.

If carefully designed, very expensive government facilities such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) cannot be trusted to safely store transuranic waste belowground, why should we ever believe moneymaking companies can do better?

The nuclear weapons and power industries have been constipated since they began generating waste. One wonders why, after 73 years, this radioactive waste is still being generated if there is no place to safely get rid of it? Moving this waste to off-site storage areas only encourages the generation of more radioactive waste. The for-profit storage proposed in the article is not the answer.

Sandia National Laboratories’ problem in Albuquerque, N.M., is an example of this nuclear constipation. The lab, partnered with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), is close to finalizing action on Sandia’s Mixed Waste Landfill dump. For 30 years, Sandia haphazardly dumped toxic (mercury, sodium, volatile organic compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, etc.) and radioactive materials (remnants of Sandia reactor experiments plus lots of imported waste) in unlined pits.

Now, Sandia and NMED want to figuratively and literally cover up this dump Sandia has claimed is too dangerous to excavate using a carefully engineered dirt and rock cover. This dirt cap is their final solution (with “controls”)! They are anxious to continue the sad tradition of making New Mexico a national sacrifice zone without regard to the people or lands of New Mexico. Said differently, Sandia Corp., Lockheed Martin, and the Department of Energy do not want to spend the money for proper cleanup.

My suggestion is that the DOE weapons complex stop spending billions on nuclear weapons research and start spending that money remediating the nuclear waste it has generated over 70 years and researching how this toxic waste can be stored more safely. Also, taxing nuclear energy generation for DOE storage expenses would be a way to begin to reflect the true cost of nuclear energy generation. This expense is a form of taxpayer subsidy of the nuclear energy industry.

In my opinion, these nuclear industries and their apologists now represent a major threat to the national security of the country they claim to protect!

Willard Hunter
Albuquerque, N.M.



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