A safe place to store nuclear waste far from Nevada
“Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands,hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats….” H.L. Mencken
I must be losing my grip. I’m not communicating. People are reading things into my columns that aren’t there, and some don’t seem to grasp what is there. I’m talking about responses to my column of Jan. 7, “Science can solve problems if we’ll let it.”
One reader thinks I have a bureaucratic mentality and that I’m siding with the nuke industry and the DOE. I thought my column was specifically clear that politicians, and the people who advise and lobby them on nuclear matters such as the DOE and others, do not necessarily represent science! Junk science maybe. I don’t trust any government or industry spokespersons to be unbiased if they lack the appropriate scientific credentials and actual design experience.
Another read makes the point that “scientist’s hands and brains have been tied-up by Congress and the nuke power lobby.” Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more. The main thrust of my column was to rely on science, not politicians or the bureaucrats and lobbyists with which they surround themselves! I’m not backtracking. This gentleman missed my point. Moreover, my column in no way suggested that I’ve “joined a side” in this matter of nuclear waste storage in Nevada.
Now, for the record, I’m opposed to nuclear waste storage here in Nevada and in all other states as well. But I insist that those who are fighting it use genuine scientific facts and not succumb to political bull-hockey of the kind we’ve been bombarded with by the doomsday peddlers for the past several years. And even though I, too, am opposed, I strongly feel that nuclear waste storage in Nevada can be made safe if it finally comes down to that, and it probably will.
Since I’m against nuclear waste storage anywhere in the United States, then what do I propose be done with it? Before answering that question, please know that I’m not a stranger to nuclear induced engineering problems, having been a mechanical engineer on the Idaho Falls project under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission back in 1954.
Safely packaging, shipping, and storing nuclear waste isn’t a nuclear engineering problem, it’s a series of mechanical engineering and geological problems which can be resolved if we choose to spend the money. And these things always cost lots of money.
Unfortunately, where I would choose to dispose of our nuclear waste poses an even bigger political problem than storage within the United States. Pending in-depth studies, I think the logical sequence of events for both disposing of present and near-future waste, and preventing the continued accumulation of additional nuke waste, would be to implement two options:
1. Dispose of our accumulated waste on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean at the 34,000-foot depth level, and 2. instigate a breeder reactor program as rapidly as possible such as that utilized in France, a country that is dependent upon nuclear power. It’s my understanding that breeders can consume nuclear fuel waste of the kind we generate without creating additional waste. We had a breeder reactor program in development here in the U.S. when Jimmy Carter was elected president, and he killed it under pressure. Again, politics without scientific foundation.
Now, disposing of nuke waste in the ocean, even at depths of almost seven miles, would require as much research as burying it in Nevada. Destruction-proof containers would be engineered not only to assure safe transportation and protection from missile attack, but also to greatly retard the corrosive effects of sea water. Can this be done? Absolutely!
At some point in distant time the containers would gradually begin leaking radioactivity. But the leak-timing between containers could be staggered so that minute amounts of radioactivity mixed with millions of cubic miles of circulating sea water would reduce radiation to minuscule levels. Witness Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Just 50 years ago, those cities were nuked and totally destroyed. Radio activity was initially severe but not for 10,000 years.
People live in those cities today and have for many years without apparent problems. Why? Atmospheric dispersal, much like the post war above-ground Nevada nuclear tests. The ocean would achieve the same result only faster. Even Bikini Atoll, the site of our H-bomb test in the late 1940s, radioactively the dirtiest tests of all time, today has an abundance of fish and marine life. Oceans are very forgiving. In my opinion, this is far more preferable to the possibility of earthquake-induced aquifer pollution, no matter how remote, by burying nuke waste on land.
But international politics won’t let this happen unless, perhaps, we’re willing to pay “reparation” (extortion) money to every country in the United Nations whose shores border the Pacific Ocean. Also, here in the U.S., we have too many noisy doomsday peddlers posing as environmentalists who want an end to all nuclear power no matter how safe it may be. They’re an integral part of the “greening” movement whose agenda is an end to our industrialized world. Sadly, it’s a matter of ideological politics and power and we citizens are caught in the middle.
Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.