Nuclear Waste Disposal and Issues of Health and Safety
November 22, 1996
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Topics covered in this forum:
- Will taxpayers or utility customers pay for nuclear waste cleanup?
- What is the best way to handle nuclear waste, at nuclear plants or at a central location?
- How can nuclear waste be transported safely?
- What is the status of the Rocky Flats Arsenal cleanup?
- Why can't nuclear waste be mixed with the ground it came from?
- How long before we have the techonology for a permanent solution to nuclear waste?
- Is Yucca Mountain the solution for America's nuclear waste?
- Is the nuclear industry more responsive to criticism than before?
- Viewer comments on nuclear waste
Gerald Foster of Denver, CO, asks
Where I live in Denver is about ten miles from Rocky Flats, which has been active in the past in the nuclear weapons program. We are told that removal and cleanup of the area is underway. What is the status of the program, especially the hazard reduction efforts for the surrounding area-at least ten miles worth?
Tom Carpenter of the Government Accountability Project replies:
They are just getting started on the cleanup, and it is going badly. The Department of Energy and its contractors have experienced several recent mishaps and problems, and face some very serious problems for the future. These include issues associated with the storage of plutonium in barrels that are becoming pressurized with hydrogen gases, loose plutonium in the ductworks, environmental cleanups of mind-boggling proportions, etc. I wouldn't live within ten miles of the plant, personally.
Jim Werner of the Department of Energy replies:
The workers at the Rocky Flats site have made tremendous progress on risk reduction and cleanup in the past couple of years. Perhaps the biggest news at the site is that in the last year we have cleaned up three of the top ten highest priority cleanup areas, shipped more waste offsite for disposal than in the past five years and decommissioned and demolished the first formerly radioactive production facility.
The Department has also made substantial progress on reducing the urgent risks at Rocky Flats. The highly enriched uranium solutions have been removed from Rocky Flats, eliminating the single biggest worker risk on site. Also, we have safely vented more than 1,100 residue drums from Building 771, and we have completed all plutonium related activities specified in the new Rocky Flats regulatory agreement.
The Department has also laid the groundwork for accelerated cleanup and closure of Rocky Flats: We formed a Site Specific Advisory Board to provide an effective forum for community input into the cleanup process. We negotiated a regulatory agreement with EPA and the State of Colorado that spells out enforceable cleanup milestones and streamlines the regulatory process, and we have established an aggressive ten-year closure plan that would substantially eliminate the risks at Rocky Flats by 2006. To help get this work done, we selected (through competitive bidding) a new experienced environmental contractor - the Kaiser-Hill Company. We also changed the structure to a first of its kind performance-based contract that requires progress towards specific cleanup goals for the contractor to get paid.