The US government have been accused of pretending nuclear waste isn’t dangerous to make their cleanups quicker and cheaper.
Having just finished the TV series Chernobyl, I like to think I’m quite clued up on all things nuclear, maybe.
One moment that stuck with me from the final episode was when nuclear scientist Valery Legasov pointed out the disaster happened because Russia had wanted to save money.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was the cause of widespread death and disease, and yet three decades later here we are, with the US being accused of scrimping on safety in order to make things cheaper.
According to The Guardian, the US government plans to reclassify some of the nation’s most dangerous radioactive waste to lower its threat level.
On Wednesday (June 5), the Department of Energy (DOE) explained it had previously treated all reprocessing waste streams as high-level radioactive waste, regardless of radioactivity. As a result, waste has languished in DOE facilities in South Carolina, Washington, and Idaho without a permanent disposal solution.
By labelling some of the high-level waste as low level, the US would save $40bn in cleanup costs across the nation’s entire nuclear weapons complex. The waste which has been stored in South Carolina, Washington and Idaho would be taken to low-level disposal facilities in Utah or Texas.
Paul Dabber, the energy undersecretary, said:
This administration is proposing a responsible, results-driven solution that will finally open potential avenues for the safe treatment and removal of the lower level waste.
DOE is going to analyze each waste stream and manage it in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards, with the goal of getting the lower-level waste out of these states without sacrificing public safety.
Although Dabber described the plan as ‘responsible’, critics have argued it’s a way for federal officials to walk away from their obligation to properly clean up a massive quantity of radioactive waste left from nuclear weapons production dating to the second world war and the cold war.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the new rules would allow the DOE to eventually abandon storage tanks which contain more than 100m gallons of radioactive waste in the three states. They argued it would mean some of the ‘most toxic and radioactive waste in the world’ would not have to be buried deep underground.
Geoff Fettus, the attorney for the environmental group, said:
Pretending this waste is not dangerous is irresponsible and outrageous.
Say what?? The @ENERGY Dept. just issued new rules giving itself the authority to abandon storage tanks with more than 100 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste at sites in #SouthCarolina, #Idaho and the state of #Washington. https://t.co/l7xCwCaCFK via @nrdc pic.twitter.com/n7zafWnVL1
— NRDC Energy Team (@NRDCEnergy) June 5, 2019
In a joint statement, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and state attorney general Bob Ferguson said the Trump administration was showing disdain and disregard for state authority by making the decision to reclassify the nuclear waste.
Washington will not be sidelined in our efforts to clean up Hanford and protect the Columbia River and the health and safety of our state and our people.
It’s no surprise the government are trying to save money, but nuclear waste isn’t the area in which to do it. Safety should be their first priority when it comes to dealing with such waste.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.