nuclear waste

Nuclear waste barrels.
Image: Shutterstock

Some people tout nuclear power as the best thing since sliced bread.  They talk about how it is an excellent clean source of power that we can use virtually forever.  Oh, and they love to tell you how it can power so many homes so cheaply.

Well, all this is well and good until nuclear waste starts leaking out of the storage tanks and seeping into the surrounding landscape.  Who can forget about the Chernobyl disaster in Russia?

If we are honest with ourselves, there should be some concerns about nuclear power’s dangers.  Only one year ago Japan’s “powers that be” dug their heels in and refused to talk about how a couple of their nuclear reactors overheated and spilled radioactive debris during the earthquake.  They later capitulated and decided to evacuate the entire Fukushima province.

In any case, Washington State is home to the Hanford nuclear power plant, which has been privy to its own problems.  Plutonium production ended at the site in 1987, but that was only the beginning of issues to come.  Their tanks started leaking.

Under a 1989 agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Ecology, the U.S. Department of Energy committed to cleaning out the tanks and encasing the wastes in glass. The Waste Treatment Plant — aka the vitrification plant — at Hanford is already well behind its original schedule and well above its original budget. In early June, the feds told the state that they’d miss two significant cleanup deadlines. Some people doubt the vitrification plant will ever be finished or, if it is, that it will ever perform as expected.

In the meantime, there are some crazy ideas floating around about what to do with all that waste.  Some suggest flying it into the sun, despite the fact that it could crash on earth on its way.  Others think it would be great to put it out at the South Pole with all the penguins.  Others still say we should bury it under the deep sea floor with the hope that nothing seismic hits.

So far, we’re not sure there is a winner.