The United States Department of Energy is trying to change the rules on nuclear waste disposal – for the better.
Instead of the old top-down decision-making, DOE is going to implement a consent-based strategy. This means that instead of ordering some individual state like Nevada to take all of the Nation’s high level nuclear waste, whether they like it or not, we’ll instead ask “Who would like to take this waste? It will create fantastic jobs, will bring huge economic benefit to the region and, contrary to popular opinion, it’s safer than putting in a Mall.”
This new strategy comes from the failure of our previous disposal program that ended in the suspension of the Yucca Mountain site, the proposed nuclear repository that came out of the 1987 Amendment to the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act. This suspension was not a bad thing since the Yucca Mountain tuff really is such a lousy rock that the level of re-engineering required would make the project way too expensive, about $100 billion too expensive.
In an earlier related action, Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz announced that DOE is moving forward with planning for a repository for defense-generated nuclear waste. Concurrently, DOE is also taking steps toward the siting and licensing of a larger interim storage facility for commercial spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste, using a phased, adaptive and also consent-based approach.
And now DOE is funding a study to drill a borehole more than 3 miles deep into the Earth’s crust below North Dakota to test a disposal method for radioactive waste called Deep Borehole Disposal. In this scenario, waste would be placed in the lower mile of the borehole in crystalline rock that would isolate the waste from the surface and shallow environments.
The borehole would then be filled up with some special layers, including asphalt, bentonite, concrete and crushed rock that will isolate the waste for geologic time. The borehole would need a diameter of at least 17 inches at the bottom for placing containers, and would be lined with steel casing. Future boreholes will be wider as the technology evolves, which is has been doing lately[…]
The deep borehole project is particularly interesting because almost anywhere you look in America, there are deep rocks perfect for this method. Every state can have its own borehole repository, much to some of these state’s annoyance, since most political leaders would rather foist their waste off on someone else and claim victory for their constituents[…]
The deep borehole option is actually democratic with a small d. It gets around the problem of a single state complaining, “Why should we take everyone else’s waste?” since any state that has a nuclear power plant would have many opportune deep borehole sites and the waste wouldn’t have to leave that state at all.
But Congress doesn’t exactly like the deep borehole idea because they would not be able to gang up on one state and force it down their throat. Each state would have its own deep nuclear disposal boreholes and wouldn’t be able to promise their citizens that the nuclear waste would ever leave their state, although at 3 miles deep in the Earth’s crust, it really would have left the state[…]
Of course, the problem with consent-based siting is that it seems it needs everyone’s consent, even those without much of a stake in the decision, or those who live really far away from the proposed site, like anti-nuke activists. In the past, it seemed as though these far-away ideological people had more say than those who lived right near the site, which is another way to politicize the process[…]
Read the full article by James Conca