Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nuclear Waste Troubles Linger

The articles that I read discussed the major problems of the cleanup of former nuclear weapon sites that are causing enormous budget increases and delaying deadlines. State officials where these sites are located are frustrated and want more action to be taken by the Department of Energy, who is responsible for overseeing the clean-ups. Since the radioactive waste projects started there have been many issues that have come up but the first and foremost is funding. The shortage of funding for each of the several nuclear weapon sites has led to delays, which has caused budget increases by the billions. The cleanup sites have been faltering and need further investment to ensure safety. One article compared it to replacing the roof on a house that is going to be torn down, but the waste needs to be cleaned up before it leaks into the nearby water tables. Employees are saying that the DOE and its contractors are punishing them for “raising technical and safety concerns”. In addition, the contractor from the Hanford site in Oregon has been cited for making 34 technical decisions that were unverified by the DOE. The Savannah River Site in South Carolina has been successful in creating the world’s largest liquid bomb stabilizing plant, which mixes the waste with molten glass in stainless steel canisters where it will last for millenniums. Despite this success, there is now a need for a place to store the waste canisters especially since the Yucca Mountain proposal was cancelled.
            This is a very serious matter, as seen in the Fukushima disaster, where they are still trying to recover. It will be complicated process finding enough funding for each site, but keeping strict regulation on the DOE-chosen contractors could prevent future budget increases and deadline extensions. How to distribute funding is always tricky but slowing funding to sites where contractors have caused problems would cease current accusations that the contractors are just being “rewarded for bad behavior”. Next to the urgency to complete these projects, the problem of where to store the stabilized waste has yet to be determined. Perhaps following in the steps of other countries like France, where they have found methods to recycle radioactive waste would reduce the amount that needs to be stored while also finding a beneficial use. As the completion dates get pushed decades away and budgets continue to climb it is clear why frustrated state officials want the DOE funding to go their state’s cleanup site. It is also clear that because of budget cuts by Congress contractors and the DOE have discredited workers who bring up safety issues in order to prevent additional costs. Although there are inevitable complications due to the magnitude of these projects, concern for radioactive waste contaminating the country’s water should be a top priority. Experts are in agreement that these sites completion dates cannot continue being push farther away. The leakages will happen sooner or later, it is just the matter of how soon. 
--Gianna Rosati

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