Nuclear waste disposal—What choice do we really have?

November 22, 2022, 6:50AMNuclear NewsJames Conca

Taking waste into outer space would require quite large vehicles, like the Saturn 5 rocket shown here carrying the Apollo 14 crew to the moon. A huge fireball forms underneath the rocket . . . hmm, would that be wise? (Source: NASA)

Nuclear waste disposal presents a frustrating problem far beyond its actual danger. No one has ever been harmed by commercial nuclear waste, and no one is likely to ever be harmed.

But we do have to find a final resting place for nuclear waste as it decays away back to the levels of the ore from which it came.

There are several types of nuclear waste: low-­level waste (LLW), intermediate-­level waste (ILW), transuranic waste (TRU; referring only to bomb waste without a lot of ­cesium-­137 or strontium-­90), high-­level waste (HLW; also only bomb waste), and spent nuclear fuel (SNF; from commercial power plants only). In the United States, TRU waste, HLW, and SNF require deep geologic disposal by law.

WIPP-bound waste shipments rebound to pre-COVID rates

August 9, 2021, 6:55AMRadwaste Solutions
A shipment of transuranic waste approaches WIPP in New Mexico. (Photo: DOE)

According to the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management (EM), shipments of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico are back to pre-pandemic levels, with the deep underground repository receiving 12 shipments in one week this summer.

Thinking inside the box

May 22, 2020, 3:42PMRadwaste SolutionsTim Gregoire

The Optimus-H transport cask on display at the 2020 Waste Management Conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

Jeff England, director of transportation projects for NAC International, pointed to the large stainless steel canister, which looked like a giant-­sized silver dumbbell, perched on the flatbed of a semitrailer truck parked in the middle of the expansive exhibit hall in the Phoenix Convention Center. NAC, a provider of nuclear storage, transportation, and consulting services, was using the 2020 Waste Management Conference, held March 8–12 in Phoenix, Ariz., to unveil its newest transport casks, the Optimus-­H and Optimus-­L.

“These are a different niche,” England said of the casks, which were designed to transport radioactive materials, including remote-­handled transuranic waste, high-­activity intermediate-­level waste, low-­enriched uranium, and fissile materials. “You have a lot of [small] drum-­sized packages, and you also have a lot of big packages that will hold around 10 55-­gallon drums. But there’s not anything in between. We hold a 110-­gallon drum capacity.”