Part I: Once Upon a Time
Once upon a long, long time ago – in the 1950s – a major goal of nuclear research was to show that nuclear energy could produce electricity for commercial use.
Though I suspect the actual “major goal of nuclear research” was how to monetize nuclear energy.
And if producing electricity for commercial use made money – let’s go for it!
And if those scientists ascertained that nuclear energy could generate electricity without the harmful byproducts that coal, oil and natural gas emit – even better!
Not that a lot of 1950s folks had a high level of awareness of the harmful byproducts that coal, oil and natural gas emit. But a post-World War II growing population meant more people and that meant more electricity was needed, and why not grab a slice of that electricity pie by providing electricity from nuclear energy?
But what those scientists – or it appears anybody – did not think about was the radioactive waste that would be created in nuclear power plants.
And what to do with it.
Here’s how the U.S.NRC – the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission…
…explains nuclear waste:
“High-level radioactive waste primarily is uranium fuel that has been used in a nuclear power reactor and is ‘spent,’ or no longer efficient in producing electricity. Spent fuel is thermally hot as well as highly radioactive and requires remote handling and shielding.”
Maybe the movers and shakers who were hot to start generating nuclear-energy-powered electricity did a Scarlett O’Hara and figured they’d think about it tomorrow. Maybe they figured the waste was someone else’s problem to solve.
Maybe they didn’t care.
It’s for sure that 1950s consumers didn’t care. As long as the electricity kept flowing into their homes and businesses, who cared what the source was?
According to this brochure from the Department of Energy:
In December 1957 the world’s first large-scale nuclear powerplant began operation in Shippingport, Pennsylvania:
The plant reached full power three weeks later and supplied electricity to the Pittsburgh area.
Today, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical agency of the Department of Energy…
“As of May 25, 2022, there were 54 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 92 nuclear power reactors in 28 U.S. states. Of the currently operating nuclear power plants, 19 plants have one reactor, 32 plants have two reactors, and 3 plants have three reactors.”
And all 92 of those nuclear power reactors are generating nuclear waste.
Here’s a map showing the 28 states with nuclear power plants:
If you don’t live in one of the 28 states, please don’t think that the unsafe storage of nuclear waste doesn’t affect you.
Part II: Let’s Head North
I live in San Diego County, and about 25 miles north of me is this:
Ugly, isn’t it?
This is the Southern California Edison (SCE) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). It’s an investor-owned utility that began operating in 1967 and made lots of money for SCE and its shareholders.
SONGS was shut down in 2012 after a series of inconveniences, including a radioactive leak.
Today, according to this article in The Hill and many other articles:
SONGS is the site of 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste.
“The waste is buried about 100 feet from the shoreline…near one of the busiest highways, and next to a fault line that could generate an earthquake. The site could…also be exposed from erosion.”
So earthquakes and/or erosion are possible disasters involving 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste stored at SONGS.
Here’s another possible disaster:
The article says:
“In the event of a severe accident at San Onofre, radiation leaks could create a permanent ‘dead zone’ [extending] beyond Los Angeles, San Diego, Catalina, and Riverside.”
Here’s that potential “dead zone”:
That’s by land – what about by sea, i.e., the Pacific Ocean?
“San Onofre’s ‘30-foot tsunami wall’ is only 14 feet above high tide.”
You can imagine how this potential “dead zone” is of momentous concern to those of us who live here.
So that’s the amount of waste sitting at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. What’s the size of the total nuclear waste accumulated in the U.S.?
According to this article:
“U.S. Department of Energy data indicates that the spent nuclear fuel discharged and stored by the electric power industry totals close to 85,000 metric tons over the past five-plus decades.”
That was written in April 2021.
The U.S. generates about 2,000 additional metric tons of spent fuel each year.
Let’s put that 87,000 metric tons in more relatable numbers:
Regarding that increase of 2,000 additional metric tons of spent fuel each year, our government’s Office of Nuclear Energy website:
Assures us that:
“This number may sound like a lot, but the volume of the spent fuel assemblies is actually quite small considering the amount of energy they produce.
“The amount is roughly equivalent to less than half the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”
Did that “swimming pool” shit make you feel any better?
And those 192 million pounds of nuclear waste have nowhere to go. So says the U.S.NRC, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission:
“At this time there are no facilities for permanent disposal of high-level waste.”
What about this November 26 article:
I was thrilled when I saw this headline!
The “Waste Isolation Pilot Plant” in southeast New Mexico!
“Finally,” I thought, “finally we’re making progress dealing with the horrendous problem of our unsafe storage of nuclear waste.”
Then I read the article and…
“…the new area consists of seven separate rooms for placing special boxes and barrels packed with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements.”
“…the nation’s multibillion-dollar cleanup program for Cold War-era waste.”
The Cold War ended in 1991 and our government…
Is still cleaning up contaminated crap from it.
I am not opposed to electricity generated by nuclear power plants – I’m opposed to the unsafe storage of nuclear waste. And I am furious and frustrated that our state and federal governments aren’t working smarter to provide those “facilities for permanent disposal of high-level waste.”
So, for a long time my attitude has been:
The Only Good Nuclear Power Plant is a Closed Nuclear Power Plant.
At least that would stop the generating of yet more nuclear waste.
On December 9: Part III: Let’s Head Further North, and Part IV: Let’s Head Back South – in the Interest of Equal Time