This is why I don’t think nuclear power is the answer to the energy problem. The byproducts are too dangerous. Add the potential for terrorism into the equation and it doesn’t look like a good solution.
US nuclear clean-up carries major risks
NewScientist.com news service
There is a 50% chance of a major accident while the US government attempts to clean up its dirtiest nuclear site over the next three decades, a new study concludes. Even without an accident, the groundwater, a nearby river and fish could end up badly contaminated.
A decision to fast-track the rehabilitation of the vast Hanford nuclear complex in Washington State poses dangers and could lead to “costly and time-consuming mistakes”, says Bob Alvarez, formerly a senior environmental adviser to the Clinton administration. His study is due to be published in the September issue of Princeton University’s peer-reviewed journal, Science and Global Security.
Over the last 50 years nine reactors at the 1500-square-kilometre site have produced 67 tonnes of plutonium for the US nuclear weapons programme. In 2002 the US Department of Energy (DOE) embarked on a 30-year, $50 billion clean-up, which includes emptying more than 190 million litres of liquid radioactive waste from 177 underground tanks.
“The costs, complexity and risks of the Hanford high-level waste project rival those of the US manned space programme, but have far greater potential consequences to the human environment,” says Alvarez, who is now with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.
Allyn Boldt, who was a senior chemical engineer at Hanford for 25 years, fears that any problems at the site will jeopardise the expansion of nuclear power he believes is necessary to meet the world’s future energy needs. “The clean-up decisions at Hanford are being made by administrators driven by political and career considerations,” he told New Scientist.
That may not lead to the best decisions, he says. Even if the clean-up goes according to plan, Boldt claims there will still be 260 square kilometres of groundwater exceeding drinking water safety limits for over 10,000 years. And ground contamination means “several square miles will be a national sacrifice zone that cannot be excavated for hundreds of thousands of years”, he says.