An opposing view on the “hidden hazards” of nuclear waste

Your recent coverage of the Savannah River Site and Sandy Mush is one-sided, and doesn't seem to have been fact-checked [“Local Matters Special Edition: Talking nuclear with Ned Ryan Doyle and Jerry Nelson,” an online-only feature, Jan. 20, www.mountainx.com]. There is no plan to consider Sandy Mush as a waste repository site, which is a pretty important fact considering the amount of press this issue has received.

There are members of the community who support nuclear energy as a much safer, cleaner alternative to coal. I am an artist, an environmentalist and a member of the Burton Street Community. I also happen to actively support nuclear energy, as do many of my friends and many top scientists. It would be great to have our perspective and some real facts heard in the public local dialogue about energy.

— Suzanne Hobbs
Asheville

Editor’s note: In the 1980s, Sandy Mush was indeed considered as a possible nuclear-waste repository site, but it’s not clear whether the location is again under review. Our online-only podcast, Local Matters, recently focused on a bus trip taken by a group of local activists who attended a January meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Convened almost a year ago by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, the commission is charged with overseeing management of the country’s nuclear fuel and waste.

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32 thoughts on “An opposing view on the “hidden hazards” of nuclear waste

  1. Tom Clements

    I find Ms. Hobbes comment premature at best. The Blue Ribbon Commission on high-level nuclear waste won’t file its draft report until July and the head commissioner keeps repeating that it isn’t a siting commission. But the night before I testified on Jan. 7 to the BRC (http://www.brc.gov/january_6-7_meeting.html) I spoke with many of the commissioners privately at a Savannah River Site booster-sponsored reception and can tell you at least one commissioner thinks that the granite of the Appalachians is the best geology for a spent fuel dump. Such a location might present “reducing” conditions, which would be better than the oxidizing conditions of Yucca Mountain, which would rapidly corrode containers and is yet another reason that Yucca likely could not have been licensed by the NRC.

    See the unveiling of the trick by DOE and contractors to build “small modular reactors” at SRS without NRC licenses:
    http://www.foe.org/firms-plan-pursue-experimental-nuclear-reactors-without-required-licenses

  2. Tom,

    My statement is based on Subtitle E of the Amendments Act of 1987, made to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. Here is a link to the original document: http://epw.senate.gov/nwpa82.pdf

    It states that:

    (1) all secondary site research be terminated (which happened in 1987), and that

    (2) all research at granite sites be terminated permanently and considered inappropriate for future research, and

    (3) all sites in areas with seasonal increases in population should not be researched in the future.

    (4) Any future consideration of a secondary site should be brought forth to “Congress on or after January 1, 2007, but not later than January
    1, 2010.” Dates which have passed with no DOE suggestions to reopen research at any site.

    Like you said, the Blue Ribbon Commission is not going to recommend specific sites when they convene in July. If their recommendations include seeking a new long term repository site, it is highly unlikely that the DOE will return to sites they have already systematically ruled out like Sandy Mush.

  3. Jack Gamble

    Tom,

    Your assertation that Suzanne’s comments are ‘premature’ appears to be based soley on a private conversation you say you’ve had with one comissioner. That’s hardly evidence and is contrary to the repeatedly published fact that the BRC is not a siting committee.

    You follow this with a link to a well known and well financed antinuclear organization that specializes in junk lawsuits wich serve only to prolong the process and add to expenses the industry incures.

    Suzanne is exactly right, the media needs to do a far better job of fact checking. All too often the scientifically illiterate ramblings of antinuclear fanatics are published without any due dilligence on the part of the media. This serves only to spread irrational fear, ucertainty and doubt. Suzanne shouldn’t have to tell the media to do their fact checking, that’s their job.

    I only wish there were far more people like Suzanne who took the time to do their own research and then hold the media accountable for this.

  4. travelah

    Jack Gamble hasn’t stated anything regarding FOE that isn’t general public knowledge among those close to these matters. If anybody wishes to learn how litigious FOE is, they can always google it.

  5. Scared citizen

    Tom Clements – no one in the BRC, no one in DOE, no one Congress would propose that the nuclear waste repository be located at a site named “Sandy Mush”.

  6. The Sandy Mush site can’t happen for three reasons. One is that my grandmother Pauline wouldn’t sell them the farm in the 1980′s and I’m not about to now. The second is that they discovered an earthquake fault at the fork of Sandy Mush and Turkey Creeks, which makes it almost impossible. And the third is that it now has too many neighbors to oppose it as NIMBY, and it will have many more when I am done, as per Suzanne reason (3) above, partly for exactly that reason, but also for affordable housing and contraception proceeds.
    This farm will not be sacrificed to anything but contraception, so forgeddaboutit. The only threat is if the county uses zoning density limits to prevent me from bringing in enough NIMBY neighbors. Though I suppose if you all berate and censor contraception enough you could make me give up on everything. Hmm, maybe a community that won’t fund contraception DESERVES a nuclear waste dump? Nevada is much better about contraception than here.
    The Tea Party fights emminent Domain, maybe you guys should join them.
    I would trade the farm to DOE for significant (3%) contraception funding, but 3% of the federal budget for 10 years is about a TRILLION dollars, which I bet they won’t offer.
    In short, if DOE wants this site they get to deal with me, and you know what it’s like to deal with me.

  7. Jim Shura

    “In short, if DOE wants this site they get to deal with me, and you know what it’s like to deal with me.”

    LOL,you are so consistent.

    DOE has no authority to make that deal.

  8. travelah

    “In short, if DOE wants this site they get to deal with me, and you know what it’s like to deal with me.”

    Ruby Ridge

  9. invisiblefriend

    Personally, from a common sense, non scientific, point of view, I have to restate my belief that it may be a quick fix, but long term, it will cause problems. I say this because if the whole world jumped on this bandwaggon, some organization would have to regulate all the nuclear plants so the “best” technology, safety measures, and spent fuel watchdog (for rouge bomb making), etc. So basically, whoever governs over all this will have all the power and try to rule the world. No pun intended. This would cause more countries to rebel and arm themselves with their readily available uranium. It would just snowball. I know it sounds far fetched, but think about it. The more nuclear power plant spread around the world, the more likely the world is going to end from nuclear war. Bottom line.
    Nuclear war trumps pollution.

    Why dont we focus our energy on the sun, wind, and hydro. These completely natural things are screaming at us to harness their endless supply (with no pollution).

    @Suzanne Hobbs
    Nuclear waste needs specific geology, granite, etc, to be safely stored, evidently. If Sandy Mush was presented as a possibility in the future,would you support it, if it was the most reasonable place?

  10. bill smith

    [i]Though I suppose if you all berate and censor contraception enough you could make me give up on everything.[/i]

    Relevant how?

  11. Jack Gamble

    The earthquake argument is bunk. Has anyone ever seen what happens to the underside of a mountain during and after an earthquake? Here’s a hint – it shakes and then nothing happens. Mountains don’t suddenly regurgitate their content or turn inside out when an earthquake hits.

  12. Scared citizen

    Alan7,

    It is known that high doses of radiation can cause infertility. So sending all the spent fuel to Sandy Mush will accomplish your objective.

  13. bill smith

    Why is no one willing to discuss the option of using less power?

  14. notEnviroWacko

    @invisiblefriend
    “Why dont we focus our energy on the sun, wind, and hydro. These completely natural things are screaming at us to harness their endless supply (with no pollution).”

    Indeed. You know why? Because virtually everytime something like this is tried, some envirowacko organization sues to stop it for some arcane reason.

  15. @Invisiblefriend, Here is a link to a post I wrote on my blog, if you scroll through the comments, there are detailed descriptions of reprocessing techniques that reduce the need for long term waste storage: http://www.popatomic.org/rebuild/2011/02/02/sandy-mush-a-local-issue-with-national-implications/

    As far as renewables are concerned, they don’t make enough energy to come anywhere close to meeting our constant demand for electricity. Collecting diffuse, variable resources like wind in solar just isn’t effective. They are also fundamentally at odds with the way we use energy. We use a lot of energy all of the time, not just on sunny or windy days. They currently produce less than 1% of our energy supply, because they are technically unable to fulfill our needs. They also have high construction and operating cost, as well considerable environmental impact (see scared citizen’s last post). You can’t make something from nothing. Energy production has waste, managing it in the best way possible is the issue.

    Nuclear materials are just as natural as wind, sun and hydro. Uranium and Thorium have high energy density and can provide for the realities of our growing consumption. Idealism just isn’t going to solve our problems. It’s time to look at the facts.

  16. invisiblefriend

    @suzanne hobbs and @scared citizen
    my bad. I shouldnt have used the word NO. But my point was that if the us govt took wind, solar, and wate power more seriously with promotion and funding for reasearch, we could be way more efficient. At least the waste products of those cannot be processed into deadly bombs that can end life as we know it in roughly ten minutes. Now that is serious pollution.
    I would be interested in your take on the first part of my previous comment.
    Its time to look at reality.

    @Suzanne Hobbs
    So would you support nuclear waste being stored in sandy mush, if it was the most reasonable choice, if they did consider it in the future?

  17. @Invisiblefriend, I want to start by saying, I am completely against the creation and use of nuclear weapons. The reason that nuclear energy does not simply equate to more weapons is because they are separate technologies, that happen to start with the same first ingredient. In America we developed our weapons and energy programs somewhat simultaneously, to build our nuclear arsenal during the cold war. That resulted in us having more weapons than any country could ever use. There are other ways to produce nuclear energy, without producing weapons grade materials.

    Since the Cold War we have been systematically deconstructing most of our nukes to be reused for energy through a program called Megatons to Megawatts. This has been the single largest non-proliferation effort ever achieved, even resulting in the Russians giving the US much of their weapons materials to be reprocessed.

    New technologies, like Thorium Energy, even eat up the worst of our weapons grade U-233 and turn it into clean energy, greatly minimizing the risk of proliferation. China just announced a huge effort to develop these technologies over the next 20 years and in time we all stand to benefit from them.

    Like any tool, nuclear materials can be used constructively or destructively. We don’t disregard oil because it can exploded, or water because it might drown people. It is all about using our resources responsibly. These materials exist in our world, we can’t just say, they are bad, and ignore them. Especially, when our environment is rapidly changing due to the impact of fossil fuels, which are the default energy source if you support renewables, but not nuclear.

    To answer your question about if I would support Sandy Mush as a repository if it were determined by extensive scientific research to be the safest possible site, and we had no other choice but long term storage for our waste products- Absolutely. However, it is clearly not the safest site and we do have other options, like reprocessing. Alan7, who is apparently the property owner, has stated that they found a major fault while researching back in the 80′s, and that was in large why it was dismissed. My opinions are based on the facts of the situation, so I will support the best possible solution based on the research.

    Lastly, I did some fact checking on myself and found that wind and solar (combined) now contribute over 2% of our electricity (it takes a while for energy data to be compiled and reported, and the most recent EIA data I have found is for 2009). This growth is attributed to the subsidies offered in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. I apologize for the oversight in my last post. I do my best to report accurate, substantiated information, and if I find new, better, more current, or more accurate information, I will report it as soon as possible.

    Of course even at with 100% growth in the past 5 years, renewables are still only a drop in the bucket, and continued subsidies on that scale are unlikely in the given economic climate.

    I hope this clears everything up, and thank you for your for asking some really good questions!

  18. Ron Bourgoin

    In accordance with section 161 of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended (NWPA), the US Secretary of Energy was required to report to the President and to Congress no later than January 1, 2010 on the need for a second repository for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel (SNF) and high-level radioactive waste (HLW). Secretary Samuel Bodman submitted that report on 9 December, 2008. The title of Secretary Bodman’s report is THE REPORT TO THE PRESIDENT AND THE CONGRESS BY THE SECTRETARY OF ENERGY ON THE NEED FOR A SECOND REPOSITORY. The report is listed as DOE/RW-0595. Readers need to know of the existence of this report.

  19. invisiblefriend

    @suzanne hobbs

    Thanks for trying to clear everything up! You are passionate about your cause, and it is admirable.

    Assuming your statistics are correct (you know how those statistics go), 2% of electricity comes from wind and solar, and it has grown 100% in the past 5 years. That is actually impressive to me. Society has started to realize the value in these things and it hopefully will grow more and more. Why mess up a good thing by throwing a monkey wrench in the mix that potentially can blow the world apart if it lands in the wrong hands?

    Thanks for complimenting my question asking ability. I guess I will try to form my original comment into questions the simpelist way I can, and it would make more sense, or be acknowledged. Here goes…

    If nuclear plants grew in popularity exponentially, what organization or government would fund and oversee the safty compliances, funding to make sure the latest technology is used (so no one cuts corners), waste management, and more importantly watching to make sure that uranium is not being enriched?
    Do you think that all governments, present and future, would allow inspectors on an ongoing basis forever and completely comply with the rules?
    Do you think the organization that oversees and/or helps fund would not at some point in time have special interests and not have any corruption at all?
    Do you think the world is stable enough to trust eachother in this manner at this point?

    In my opinion, the mistrust and unsteadiness of Iran and North Korea right now is just the tip of the iceberg if nuclear plants are given the green light to pop up all over the world. There are crazy governments out there, and there are bound to be regime changes, after plants are built, that we cannot trust and will not trust us.

    Im not disputing your scientific facts, i imagine the sources you get your info from is mostly correct from this point of view. But from a common sense point of view, if we want the world to walk on eggshells until some crazy lunitic gets ahold of a handful of uranium and blows the world apart, then lets give the recipe for the “first ingredient” to the whole world and watch how everyone behaves toward eachother on a long term basis.

    By the way, it would seem to me that out of the respect to the folks that live and farm in Sandy Mush, i think you should consider their desires first instead of your nuclear agenda.

    I mean no disrespect and i appreciate your answers to the questions.

  20. Suzanne Hobbs

    @ Invisiblefriend,

    Thank you for engaging in a meaningful dialogue about nuclear energy! This is the kind of conversation that really needs to be happening, rather than just perpetuating fears that aren’t based in fact.

    It is true that 100% growth is impressive, but to keep it going exponentially is going to be next to impossible due to the need for rare earth metal in batteries, and PVs. Renewables are expensive, and they have some seriously toxic components that are not often addressed:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html

    I am not against renewables as a whole, but nuclear is a much better candidate for fulfilling our long term base load energy needs, as well as those of developing nations. There are already efforts underway to build an international Uranium bank that oversees all nuclear activity and standardizes practices. There are far more people and countries that want to work together, rather than wreak havoc on the world. And working together is exactly what it is going to take to prevent environmental destruction caused by fossil fuels.

    As far as the fear of rogue nations with weapons, the political theory behind nuclear weapons is called “Mutually Assured Destruction” which basically means that even if you have nukes you don’t use them, because your country would be instantly attacked as well. America is the only nation rogue enough to have ever broken this unspoken understanding, because at the time, we were the only ones with nuclear weapons. And today Japan is one of the leaders in Nuclear Energy development, despite being the only country to have ever been hit with nukes. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are both flourishing cities, and the overall health of the Japanese people is better than the rest of the developed world. (Again, I completely against the creation and use of nuclear weapons, but just want to offer some facts.)

    The idea that nuclear weapons are exponentially more dangerous than other weapons isn’t the whole truth. Hydrogen bombs are equally if not more destructive, but no one is protesting hydrogen. Traditional weapons are being used to kill people everyday, but we aren’t all that upset about that either. My point is there are and always have been bad people and weapons, the existence of nuclear weapons is not a good reason to deliberately abandon the world’s largest source for carbon-free energy. And today we have other tools for preventing proliferation without going to war. The recent “bug” that destroyed Iran’s centrifuges and put their nuclear program back 5 years, is rumored to have been developed by the Department of Energy.

    Even if and when Iran and North Korea successfully develop weapons, their motivation is to prevent being attacked per MAD. When the US invaded Iraq, a sovereign nation that had not provoked war, we broke international law. That put all other states that are at odds with the US on the defense. The “crazy dictator who may or may not have weapons act” has worked as a deterrent before, like when Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev famously banged his shoe on the table at a UN meeting during the Cold War…these are effective political strategies implemented by intelligent leaders. I really wouldn’t call them crazy.

    Also, in response to my totally theoretical support of Sandy Mush as a repository site, there are benefits to helping out the DOE. Like financial incentives and community programs. Alan7, the property owner has stated that he would be willing to negotiate with the DOE if they would fund free pregnancy contraception for the whole community. Who knew? Again, it is important to state that these are all theoretical situations, that are not happening and are not likely to happen. But, it is a good example of how we can work together to find solutions to all kinds of problems. And, I live here too, and wouldn’t be scared to have a repository in my community because I understand the technology that would be used.

    Finally, please check out Thorium Energy, it is really something I think you will find interesting: http://www.thoriumenergyalliance.com/

  21. Suzanne Hobbs

    @Ron, Nice research! Way to bring something really valuable to the conversation. I agree that users need to be aware of this document, including myself.

    I stand by my assertion that Sandy Mush will not be reconsidered based on the multiple reasons it was previously dismissed. The close proximity to the population and purported fault line are certainly enough to deter future research.

    It will be very interesting to see what the Blue Ribbon Commission will recommend in July…I am hoping for reprocessing, so we dot need a long term waste repository, and we can make the most of our resources. If not, the search for a primary and possibly a secondary site may have to begin at square one.

  22. dpewen

    Bill, using less power is not going to happen.
    Many countries are just getting electricity and they are trying very hard to get up to speed with it.
    Developed countries will not cut their use and it is just not feasible … nor practicle. I for one do not want to live off the grid!

  23. dpewen

    Bill, using less power is not going to happen.
    Many countries are just getting electricity and they are trying very hard to get up to speed with it.
    Developed countries will not cut their use and it is just not feasible … nor practicle. I for one do not want to live off the grid!

  24. ron bourgoin

    @ Suzanne,Secretary Bodman’s report to the Congress said that we should not return to square one; that we should re-activate the old list of potential second repositories.

  25. Suzanne Hobbs

    @Ron, yes, but I cannot find evidence that Congress submitted the recommendation to the Energy Secretary in the allotted time frame, so again the search has not be enacted. The closing of Yucca Mountain, and the formation of the Blue Ribbon Commission is based on the need for a complete reevaluation of our nuclear policy. Everything is on hold until those recommendations are submitted. We will all have to wait and see what the BRC comes up with in July.

  26. Scared citizen

    @ Ron, thank you for finding the Secretary Bodman’s report to Congress and providing the reference. You are absolutely right, readers do need to know the existence of this report. I have just gotten around to reading myself. I expect most of the other readers to have already looked at the report, but if anyone hasn’t, here are the key points. The recommendation of the report is:

    “The Secretary of Energy recommends that, consistent with legislation that the Administration proposed in 2007, Congress act promptly to remove the statutory limit of 70,000 MTHM for the Yucca Mountain repository, thereby permitting a deferral of a decision regarding the need for a second repository. This deferral allows for the decision regarding a second repository to consider how much additional capacity is needed, whether or not recycling of SNF is appropriate and should be implemented, and what waste management approaches for the additional SNF may be most appropriate.”

    Ron is correct: “@ Suzanne, Secretary Bodman’s report to the Congress said that we should not return to square one; that we should re-activate the old list of potential second repositories”

    The report includes the list of potential second repositories. The sites and geologic media are:
    “Vacherie Dome, Louisiana / Dome salt
    Cypress Creek Dome, Mississippi / Dome salt
    Richton Dome, Mississippi / Dome salt
    Yucca Mountain, Nevada / Tuff
    Deaf Smith County, Texas / Bedded salt
    Swisher County, Texas / Bedded salt
    Davis Canyon, Utah / Bedded salt
    Lavender Canyon, Utah / Bedded salt
    Hanford Site, Washington / Basalt flows”

    In addition:
    “Supporting references identify eight additional states under consideration by the crystalline rock program as having granitic bodies that could be adequate for investigation for siting a repository for the second repository program:
    Washington
    Idaho
    Arizona
    Wyoming
    Texas
    Alabama
    South Dakota
    Oklahoma”

    This report proves that Sandy Mush was never considered or recommended as a site, much less approved.

    Thanks again Ron for putting the Sandy Mush hoax to rest!

  27. Scared citizen

    After reading my post, I need to clarify the wording. In DOE terminology, Sandy Mush was “investigated”, but based on a number of factors (as stated by Alan7), particularly the fault found at the site, the Sandy Mush site did not rise to the category of “under consideration” by DOE. However, to avoid a debate about the meaning of “considered” in my previous post, I’ll revise the next to last sentence to: “This report proves that Sandy Mush was never recommended as a site, much less approved.”

    Also, there were a total of 25 states (including NC, SC, and GA), “within which there were granitic bodies believed to be adequate for investigation for siting a repository for the second repository program” if Congress changed the law to allow research on granitic formations. So NC would not be the closest state to have the “to be adequate for investigation” for a repository, if a rerocessing plant is built at the DOE Savannah River site.

  28. bill smith

    @dpewin– I’m not talking about living ‘off the grid’, nor do I see how ‘developing nation’s’ energy use relates to our own.

    I’m saying that N. American culture will HAVE to figure out a way to use less energy, through modifications tot he current grid and through a better-use plan that limits our use to more realistic, manageable levels.

    We in America have grown quite accustomed to incredibly cheap energy, on demand, any time of the day or night. This is grossly inefficient, and we only have finite resources to manipulate to source this energy. There is an end in sight. We must figure out a way to manage it properly.

    This is NOT the same as saying we should all live in a grass hut, as you imply.

  29. invisiblefriend

    One month later, and your “clean” nuclear energy just caused a large environmental disaster in Japan. I guess we both forgot to add discussion about natural disasters. I feel sorry for our fate as a human race if we continue to build these tombs of distruction.

  30. ron bourgoin

    The Blue Ribbon Commission just released a report on testimonies delivered before it. The report’s title is “What We’ve Heard”–A Staff Summary of Major Themes in Testimony and Comments Received by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to Date. We all need to be familiar with this report because I believe the BRC will depend on it as it prepares its draft report that will be released in July.

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