The nuclear industry blames government for no permanent way to store nuclear waste

Apr 14, 2017

The nuclear power industry has a problem. It has no way to dispose of spent nuclear fuel rods, which are high-level nuclear waste.

Since 1987, the plan was a facility in Nevada known as Yucca Mountain. The Obama administration basically put that project on hold. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission completed a safety evaluation report and completed an Environmental Impact Statement last year.

Now the Trump administration indicates Yucca Mountain is back on the agenda. In the president’s proposed budget, $120 million is set aside for restarting the approval process.

Samuel Brinton, a nuclear engineer with the American Nuclear Society, joined Stateside to explain what happens to nuclear waste and why the public should be concerned.

"Spent nuclear fuel is placed at [reactor sites]... along with another 15 to 16 stranded sites," Brinton said. "So, these are sites that had a nuclear reactor on them, there's nothing left on those sites but the nuclear waste. So we've cleaned up the reactor, everything's left into basically a field except for there's this concrete pad with dry cast storage, which is basically these tall cylinders of concrete which are encasing the nuclear waste in them. Those sites, along with the other sites' reactors manage over 75,000 metric tons of nuclear waste."

75,000 metric tons. 

That may be a massive number, but Brinton said it represents a small amount of volume. He said all of the nuclear waste stored at sites all across the country could fit inside Boston's Fenway Park.

The problem, he said, is that the nuclear waste is spread out at so many sites.

Listen to the full interview above to hear about the process of storing nuclear waste, how long it remains radioactive and how much damage it could cause in the event of an accident.

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