Dealing with the Problem of Nuclear Waste in the US

Indeed, any plausible policy aimed at addressing climate change must make reference to carbon-free technologies such as solar and nuclear energy. However, the fundamental problem of nuclear energy is occasioned by how to deal with enormous quantities of deadly radioactive waste produced. This study evaluates various alternatives that can be used to deal with this problem, and comes up with waste reprocessing technique as the most viable option.

It is clear that nuclear power is destined to play a much more enhanced role if the dream of using clean and secure energy is to be achieved in the U.S. The country is one of the largest consumers of nuclear energy in the world. Presently, the sector serves over 20% of the countrys electricity needs (Mazher 340; Lagus 2).

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However, the benefits of nuclear energy are often overshadowed by genuine concerns over the radioactive waste produced. Although this problem have persisted for almost 50 years, the government is yet to come up with measures aimed at effectively and efficiently disposing spent nuclear fuel and high-risk radioactive waste churned out by 104 commercial reactors at 65 nuclear power utilities across the country (EIA, para. 4)

Presently, commercial utilities are holding over 70,000 metric tons of commercial radioactive waste. The quantity keep rising each day as more nuclear materials continue to be used to supplement other sources of energy. According to available data, 2000 additional tons of nuclear waste is produced in the U.S. each year (NRC 23).

This radioactive waste continues to present grave hazards to present and future generations. As such, it is only imperative that the problem of nuclear waste disposal is comprehensively dealt with to reduce the immense dangers associated with the waste as well as stimulate the growth of .

Stakeholders and decision makers have suggested various policy prescriptions that can be used to alleviate the problem of nuclear waste in the country. A good policy must be able to isolate the nuclear material from the environment for thousands, perhaps millions of years to come. One of the most touted approaches is the construction of geological waste repository.

In 2002, the Energy Department recommended Nevadas Yucca Mountain as an ideal repository location for commercial nuclear waste after years of extensive geological studies on the locations capability to handle such waste. Although former president George W. Bush assented to the concept and okayed federal funding for the project, the current Obama administration have developed cold feet over the whole project (Rogers, para 3).

Another approach involves reprocessing the nuclear waste. Stakeholders are indeed urging the countrys leadership to borrow a leaf from countries such as France and Japan and invest in reprocessing the radioactive waste into reusable energy. In this perspective, the government must undertake intensive research in nuclear reprocessing techniques that would efficiently and safely allow reusing of spent nuclear fuel to produce significantly less hazardous radioactive waste (NRC 116).

Another school of thought, led by the current Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, has proposed a new alternative towards dealing with the problem. They suggest that more funding should be channeled towards the development of new models of reactors that would be capable of completely burning the nuclear waste (Garber, para. 10). This recent approach seems to be gaining steam, though its practicability is still a matter of discussion.

Transmutation has also been considered as a possible alternative. In this process, the radioactive material found in the waste is altered into more stable forms. Properly used, the concept can be of great assistance in the management of nuclear waste in the U.S. as it has the potential to lessen the quantity of in the waste to safe levels (NRC 116). However, this new approach in nuclear waste management needs further exploration

The above are some of most mentioned alternatives that can be used to solve the nuclear waste problem in the U.S. However, each alternative has its own benefits and shortcomings based on the method used to evaluate them. There are many criteria used to evaluate the viability of one particular method over the other.

Cost considerations, risk assessments, environmental concerns, and social considerations can be used to evaluate the viability of the above named nuclear waste management methods (CIRA & NRC 33). This study prefers to use the risk assessment criteria to evaluate the two most talked about methods geological repository and reprocessing since nuclear waste is often correlated with potential risks and hazards. However, all the other criteria equally qualify to be used in the process of evaluating the methods indicated above.

According to CIRA & NRC, risk assessment is often used to either describe a process or a certain product of the process (65). It involves itself with the evaluation of quantitative or qualitative value of dangers related to the process or product.

In most instances, the assessment also takes into account the benefits accruing from such a process or product to be able to develop an effective approach for performing a cost-benefit analysis. Of late, risk assessment has become a principal public policy tool used for making strategies and choices aimed at offering solutions to pressing issues such as the nuclear waste problem.

Some of the hallmarks of risk assessment analysis include the yearning to utilize available scientific methods and evidence to inform choices, uncertainty that challenges the capability to typify both the enormity of the issue and the analogous benefits of the projected interventions, and a requirement for timeliness and authenticity that prohibits resolving fundamental uncertainties before decisions are made (65-66).

Yucca Mountain is located some 100 miles Northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. According to DOE officials, the mountain site topped four other alternative sites that were evaluated for long-term nuclear waste repository when geological and environmental factors such as seismic constancy, hydrology, volcanic stability, and radioisotope transport were considered (Potter et al, para. 1-3).

The site had been comprehensively studied for close to 3 decades by scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory, and was preferred because its water table is one of the deepest worldwide (Los Alamos, para. 1).

According to Liu, Sonnenthal, & Bodvarsson, the water table is 1,000 ft (300 m) below the ground, effectively allowing the construction of a geologic nuclear waste repository that is safely deep underground yet conveniently above the water table (217-218). The repository was to be located some five miles under the . Groundwater is considered as the principal means by which nuclear material can be transported from a repository in the event of a leak.

Experts believe the desert-like climatic features found in the area will greatly reduce the chances of water percolating through the rock to corrode underground casks holding the radioactive waste. On average, the area receives about 7 inches of rain per year. Rather than soaking into the ground, about 95% of the precipitation evaporates due to harsh climatic conditions, effectively minimizing the risk of water contamination (Liu, Sonnenthal, & Bodvarsson 223).

According to experts, it is less risky to have a centralized nuclear repository in Yucca than to have 50 plus mini-storage facilities spread across the country. Whats more, the utilities running the has on more than occasion sought legal compensation from the federal government due to its failure to offer permanent disposal site for the spent nuclear fuel.

According to estimates released by DOE, the over 50 temporally storage facilities will cause the federal government $7 billion in legal settlements to the utilities in addition to the great risks they pose (Cawley, para. 3). Accordingly, consolidating these facilities into one place Yucca would be less risky and more cost-effective.

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