Gadfly by Mort Malkin
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was accepting nuclear waste from Los Alamos and other nuclear sites around around the US since the 1990s. Thousands of drums of nuclear waste were being stored in a 2,000 foot deep cavern of a salt mine near Carlsbad NM. The repository was supposed to store the radioactive material for many thousands of years and it worked well for fully 15 years; but on Valentine’s Day of 2014 the goddess of unforeseen consequences sent a love note in the form of an explosion and fire of one of the canisters, releasing radioactivity into the entire cavern.
The cause was tagged as the cat litter used to insulate the nuclear waste casks. We can depend on DOE and NRC to use the latest technology in every last detail. So, WIPP had to be closed because of an “imminent or substantial threat to public health and the environment.”
To back up the goddess of unforeseen consequences, the gas drilling industry surrounded WIPP with more than 450 gas wells drilled with fracking technology, all within 3 miles of the WIPP site. To test WIPP against earthquakes, the gas drillers have secured permits to drill horizontally right below the nuclear waste storage cavern. Can’t leave things to chance, you know.
All the nuclear waste that has already been transported to New Mexico, and much more that is awaiting at other sites, from Washington’s Hanford Reservation to Colorado’s Rocky Flats superfund site to South Carolina’s Savannah River Site, is made in the USA. But that may not be enough nuclear “feed stock” for the Pentagon’s plans to “modernize” its armamentarium of depleted Uranium (DU) anti tank shells. [The DU is still radioactive, depleted only of uranium 235.] First, General Dynamics (Obama’s godfather) will take apart and dispose of the old DU shells under a $12 million contract. Then, Alliant TechSystems will supply the first installment of 2,500 new DU anti-tank rounds for $30 million. That arithmetics out to $12,000 per round. The question is: who’s the enemy with all the tough skinned tanks. Last we heard, the militant fundamentalists in the Near East were using roadside bombs, grenade launchers, and IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Were the DU shells intended for suicide bombers wearing bullet proof vests?
But, to connect the dots to nuclear waste — it seems there is an MOX (mixed oxide nuclear fuel) reprocessing area set aside at the Savannah River Nuclear Site for separating out uranium isotopes and plutonium. The next dot in the picture is a series of agreements for the US to accept radioactive waste from nuclear reactors in Germany, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Canada, and Japan — all destined for that Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The ostensible reason is (take your pick) the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the International Convention On Nuclear Safety, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and/or the New START Treaty. The White House and DOE can rationalize most anything.
One of the members of the Gadfly Revelry & Research gang who is a philosopher trained in deductive logic informs us that the Savannah River Nuclear Site sits atop the West Napa Fault line and seems ill suited for storing nuclear waste. But he says “Not to worry. there hasn’t been an earthquake of more than 2.5 on the Richter Scale since 1985.” That’s nothing compared to the 1992 quake that registered 7.4 in the Yucca Valley.
The race for being Number 1 in the Nuclear Waste Dumping Olympics is on. The Finns are building a site deep in the bedrock of an off-shore island, but they can’t match the US in accumulating nuclear waste. We have 104 power plants producing nuclear waste currently, and we still have the radioactive waste left from our nuclear weapons programs that produced thousands of nuclear bombs and missiles over the past 70 years, many of which are still kept at the ready. We excel in diplomacy and have convinced at least six nations to send us their nuclear waste. Now, we just have to find a place to put it all for the next few thousand years.