18. All states shall prioritize the long-term control and safe storage of radioactive wastes, with public review.

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Rapporteur: Metta Spencer

Introduction

First, we should clarify what we mean by “radioactive wastes,” as distinct from some risks that are addressed in other planks of this platform.

Radioactivity can cause a lot of human misery. For one thing, under certain circumstances it can explode. Hence we devote planks 1 and 2 to measures intended to prevent the creation of nuclear bombs and certainly their detonation in a nuclear war.

But radioactive substances can also explode, not as bombs, but in nuclear reactors that are meant to generate electricity. So plank 17 focused primarily on the need to prevent nuclear reactors from exploding and melting down.

Finally, even without any explosion, the radiation from fissile elements can damage living cells. Ordinarily we want to avoid contact with radiation, though occasionally physicians deliberately irradiate cancer cells precisely to destroy them. This plank, number 18, will address these non-explosive effects of radioactivity.

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Hanford’s Glassification Plan

By John Stang

“Already 12 years behind schedule, a project at the Hanford nuclear complex meant to transform millions of gallons of radioactive waste into benign glass faces yet another delay.

Since the 1990s, Washington state has been prodding the U.S. Department of Energy to build two “glassification” plants at Hanford that would permanently contain the waste stored in aging tanks on the site. Delays have added to the cost of the project, now estimated at $17 billion.

Glassification was supposed to begin in 2007. On the current schedule, lower-level radioactive waste wouldn’t be entombed in glass cylinders until 2023. And the high-level radioactive wastes? At present, glassification of that waste is set to begin in 2036, 29 years behind the original deadline.

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The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Site Has Always Been A Political Football. Trump Is The Latest President To Fumble

By Allison Macfarlane

Much work has alreay been done on the Yucca Mountain storage facility.

As with much policy-setting in the Trump administration, a single tweet from the president on February 6 appeared to reverse a previous stance. The message about Yucca Mountain, the nation’s proposed geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste, set the media alight with speculation about new actions in US nuclear waste policy. But has anything changed, really?

The new policy, if it is such a thing, is a little wobbly. It’s unclear whether the administration is or is not supporting Yucca Mountain as a waste repository. The Energy Department’s Undersecretary for Nuclear Energy and nominee for Deputy Secretary, Mark Menezes, stated six days later in a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing that “what we’re trying to do is to put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca.” A White House official tried to square the circle of conflicting messages, stating: “There is zero daylight between the President and Undersecretary Menezes on the issue.”

At the same time, Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget did not include funds for Yucca Mountain, unlike in previous years. In point of fact, though, Congress has not appropriated funding for Yucca Mountain in the past decade. The proposed repository site made it about halfway through the licensing process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and halted when the Obama administration’s Energy Department tried to pull the license application. The state of Nevada still strongly opposes Yucca Mountain and hasn’t changed its tune since passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendments in 1987 (colloquially known in Nevada as the Screw Nevada Bill), which designated Yucca Mountain as the proposed repository site.

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BWXT’s Uranium vs the Neighbors

BWXT operates two uranium processing plants which are up for licensing review: one in Peterborough ON and one in Toronto ON. Both are in dense residential neighbourhoods. The uranium processing plant in Peterborough ON is across the street from the Prince of Wales Public (Elementary) School and has requested to double the size of the plant via a licensing provision that would allow the Toronto operations to move to Peterborough if the Toronto plant closes down.

Alarming – considering the adjacent residential areas and schools. The Toronto plant is near Dupont Street and Lansdowne Avenue and is going to have new residential developments immediately across the street. What if an emergency situation (explosion, fire, etc.) unfolds? Is it time to move these uranium processing plants out of residential areas?

The Toronto Star published an article by Patti Winsa on the community response. This Toronto Plant Makes Fuel for Ontario Nuclear Reactors. A group of Davenport Neighbours Want It Gone

Article Excerpt:
Chris Muir can see the roofline of a storage building that houses radioactive uranium dioxide powder from his backyard in Toronto’s west-end.The building is part of a nondescript plant on Lansdowne Avenue, north of Dupont Street, where more than half the uranium pellets that fuel Ontario’s nuclear reactors are made each year by BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada.

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Ontario’s Disposal Problem

Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) recently provided this insightful update on the Deep Geological Disposal projects in Ontario – and subsequently Indigenous responses to these projects.

Here is Dr. Edwards statement – which was sent to the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) mailing list on 1 February 2020:

“The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) has voted against Ontario Power Generation’s Deep Geological Disposal (DGR) project, planned to house all of Ontario’s Low and Intermediate Level Waste at a site within a mile of the northwestern shore of Lake Huron.

To prevent confusion: there are two DGR (Deep Geological Disposal) Projects that have been under consideration in Ontario in recent years.

One DGR is for all of Canada’s irradiated nuclear fuel (called “High :Level Waste (HLW)”). That project is under the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) acting under the authority of Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Act.

The NWMO site selection process has recently (late 2019) narrowed from 22 candidate sites (potential “willing host communities”) to 3 sites. One of the remaining three candidate sites is at Ignace, north of Lake Superior not far from the border between Ontario and Manitoba; the other two candidate sites are quite close to the Bruce Nuclear Power Station right beside Lake Huron. (See the photo of Bruce.) The process for finding a home for Canada’s HLW is still in its early stages even though it has been going on for decades — over 20 years under NWMO, and over 20 years before that under AECL, Ontario Power and the Seaborn Panel.

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Russia’s Arctic Nuclear Dump May Become Promising Fishing Area

Russia’s Arctic Nuclear Dump May Become Promising Fishing Area

“Thousands of containers with radioactive waste were dumped in the Kara Sea during Soviet times. Now, Russia’s Federal Agency for Fishing believes it’s a good idea to start fishing.

[…]

“17 ships and barges loaded with radioactive waste are dumped here. So are 17,000 containers with radioactive waste. Even worse, along the east coast of Novaya Zemlya is 16 nuclear reactors dumped, six of them with spent uranium fuel still on board. ”

[…]

According to Sergey Gulovanov (Head of the Science and Education Department with the Federal Agency for Fisheries) the Kara Sea’s advantage for the fishing industry is that it is a shelf sea, it does not border any territorial waters of other nations. “This is why Russia can have own fishing regulations there,” he said according to TASS. ”

[…]

“Sergey Golovanov says fishing for rare species could be promising. Also halibut is living in the Kara Sea and the waters are rich on polar cod, capelin, in flounder, perch and snow crab. “We forecast a possible growth of crab, like it was in the Barents Sea,” Golovanov said.

At the conference in Murmansk, nothing was said about the Kara Sea being the main dumping ground for nuclear waste during Soviet times. No other oceans worldwide have more dumped radioactive waste than Russia’s Arctic Kara Sea.”

Link: https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/ecology/2018/03/russias-arctic-nuclear-dump-may-become-promising-fishing-area. Thomas Nilson, The Barents Observer [15 March 2018]:
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Dumping it in Cardboard Boxes!

Here’s a news item about the Savannah River site in South Carolina. This plant was critical to the manufacturing of the United States’ hydrogen bombs.

Some excerpts:

“That burial ground is where the plant dumped much of its solid radioactive waste at the time, often in cardboard boxes. Radioactive contamination continues to leach from burial trenches into groundwater and periodically the Savannah River despite efforts to cap the trenches and stem the leakage. Plant engineers built a dam to block most of the flow and create a large pond. […] The contaminated pond water is used as irrigation and regularly sprayed into the surrounding forest where it is absorbed by the trees and evaporates harmlessly into the atmosphere. The pond also is home to two radioactive alligators dubbed by workers as Tritagator and Dioxinator — after two of the wastes, radioactive tritium and toxic dioxin. […]

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Uh oh. Wrong kind of cat litter

I have heard several interesting reports of types of cat litter being used in fuel storage barrels at nuclear storage repositories. Apparently, certain types of cat litter can be used to assist with containing radioactive products. NPR identifies how “cat litter has been used for years to dispose of nuclear waste. Dump it into a drum of sludge and it will stabilize volatile radioactive chemicals. The litter prevents it from reacting with the environment.” Similarly, World Nuclear News identifies “each barrel of waste disposed of at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) contains around 26 kg of cat litter to stabilize liquids and nitrate salts.”
[rad more]

An incident on 14 February 2014 unfolded at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the USA where organic cat litter was used by accident – due to an administrative error in product ordering. Radiolytic processes caused the cellulose (the brand of cat litter was made partially of wheat products) to generate gasses, which expanded caused the barrel to explode. This is not an issue with cat litter brands that do not use these classes of wheat by-products.

This introduced radioactive materials into the ventilation system, unfortunately giving 21 workers low-level radiation exposure and shut down the plant for 1.5 years.

Newer plans from Hanford have indicated there are hopes to use forms of glass to stabilize certain radioactive materials. It is unclear if these are a safer choice than the kitty litter. Stabilizing radioactive materials can be a significant challenge in the long-term storage of these materials and products.

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/05/23/315279895/organic-kitty-litter-chief-suspect-in-nuclear-waste-accident

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-Wrong-kitty-litter-the-culript-for-WIPP-release-27030151.html
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Threat of Uranium Mining in the Grand Canyon

By Miranda Green and Rebecca Beitsch, “Democrats Aim to Protect Grand Canyon from ‘Imminent’ Drilling Threat,” The Hill, October 29, 2019.

U.S. Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has proposed a bill to protect the Grand Canyon from uranium mining. Although a 20-year ban was implemented in 2012 to protect the Grand Canyon from mining, Grijalva fears the ban is no longer enough to keep out mining groups.

In 2017, President Trump declared uranium to be a key component for national security. Grijalva expects the White House’s Nuclear Fuel Working Group to recommend mining uranium near the Grand Canyon. Grijalva has thus deemed legislation necessary to protect the national park from exploitation. While many Republicans support uranium mining — a core element for the production of nuclear weapons — many Democrats are in opposition due to its destructive effects on the environment.

Guess who’s managing our radioactivity!

Here’s that name again: “SNC Lavalin.” We heard about it for months before the Canadian election, but only as something the prime minister tried to protect (presumably as a way to sustain jobs in Quebcc). But it ought to be a bigger story that this company is managing Canada’s radioactive risks.

What was that about lasers again, please?

Has there been further research into using high-power lasers to transmute radioactive waste? An article published in 2003 by New Scientist indicated that the Vulcan Laser at the University of Strathclyde had begun researching ways to transmute radioactive waste to reduce its half-lives. Of interest was Iodine 129 with a half-live of 15.7 million years which could be transmuted to Iodine 128 with a half-life of 25 minutes. The laser is the size of a “small hotel” and a million billion watts – producing gamma radiation. One of the concerns is producing enough energy to use the laser to transmute the waste – which could require an entire power plant of its own to process the waste product from another. There would additionally be a surge of radioactivity during the transmutation process.
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Pickering’s Spent Fuel Bundles

“The more than 760,000 spent fuel bundles stored at the Pickering nuclear plant are the legacy of 50 years of reactor operations with no long-term waste management solution in sight. This waste contains dangerous radioactive elements and enough plutonium to construct more than 11,000 nuclear warheads. Laid end-to-end, the radioactive fuel bundles stored at Pickering would stretch from Kingston to St. Catharines.

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Buried near Port Hope

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The Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) represents the Government of Canada’s commitment to the cleanup and safe, local, long-term management of historic low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) in two Southern Ontario municipalities – Port Hope and Clarington. The waste is the result of radium and uranium processing in Port Hope between 1933 and 1988 by the former Crown corporation Eldorado Nuclear Limited and its private-sector predecessors.

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Canadian Plans for Nuclear Power Emergency

Canada does have some plans in place for situations where a leak or other safety emergency occurred at a nuclear power plant. For example, here is a link to the plans for intervening if something bad happens in the Point Lepreau reactor. (See a photo of the reactor on the attached PDF.)
https://www2.gnb.ca/content/dam/gnb/Departments/ps-sp/pdf/emo/Nuclear/PointLepreau-NOEM.pdf