DEEP GEOLOGIC DISPOSAL
Way back in 1957, the National Academy of Sciences recommended that we dispose of the country’s nuclear waste by burying it in deep geologic formations. But you can’t just dig a hole in any old backyard. Considerations like seismic activity, water tables and the type of rock surrounding a potential repository location all come into play.
While the BRC itself is not a siting committee, they will be making recommendations for future decision-makers, so they’re discussing the relevant issues. They’ve asked questions about permanent disposal alternatives to deep geologic storage, but it looks as though the strategy remains the country’s best bet in the long run.
“While there have been grunts by people who would like to build really large accelerators and other gadgets,” environmental risk consultant Chris Whipple told the BRC Disposal Subcommittee, “I don’t think the world opinion, and certainly no nuclear country that is working on an active repository program is looking at anything other than the geologic disposal.”
In 1987, an amendment to the NWPA named Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the site of the national nuclear waste repository. More than 20 years later, opposition from the state and the Obama administration, as well as regulatory challenges have hit the brakes on construction. But even if Yucca went forward as planned, a big problem would lie ahead.
The proposed Yucca Mountain repository was supposed to handle 70,000 metric tons of waste. Unfortunately, 60 years of nuclear power have already produced 70,000 metric tons of waste. To find a home for spent nuclear fuel generated in years to come, the NWPA would have to be amended and a second repository might need to be constructed.
Canada and some European countries are also planning on deep geologic storage, but have yet to complete their respective facilities. Finland’s is the farthest along, France’s will be the largest and the Canadian government is in the midst of its site search. The BRC is looking to some of those places for ideas that can be implemented in the U.S.