Rose Hayes authored a column in the Feb.2 Aiken Standard entitled “No definitive answers for waste repositories.” I was pleased by the factual portrayal of some of the history of nuclear waste management, but mystified by her conclusions at the end of the article, which were telegraphed by her use of anti-nuclear rhetoric.
Specifically, she refers to that anti-nuclear favorite – “deadly” nuclear waste. Water is “deadly” (with drowning being the second leading cause of death among children in the U.S.), driving a car is “deadly” (40,000 fatalities annually in the U.S.), but exposure to nuclear waste has never killed anyone in this country.
The public needs to realize that her conclusions are reflective of ideology, not logic. Hayes closes her column by saying we should not consider any mission for SRS that involves the production of nuclear waste. SRS has the only U.S. assets to effectively deal with processing used fuel that has been in the past and might again in the future be necessary to support diplomatic and nonproliferation agreements, research programs or to implement other fuel cycle initiatives. These could all become government priorities and we should not try to tie the government’s hands by advocating stances based on misinformation or preconceived notions. Any process that requires energy generates waste. That waste may be in the form of heat, light or materials. With respect to used fuel, the integrated system at SRS can recover valuable isotopes from it, solidify the liquid waste in a glass matrix and store or dispose of it safely as required by law. The incorporation of nuclear waste in a glass matrix effectively reduces the environmental and human health risk to zero for a couple of million years. After that, I’m not going to worry about it.