Dark Dawning: The Age of Nuclear Waste Begins

Will the privatization of radioactive waste management lead to its criminalization?

By James Heddle - EON

[ An earlier version of this report is published at Columbus Free Press ]

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I feel that we got the final wake-up call at Fukushima and that we need to phase out and shut down the 104 reactors in America.  I will put it very bluntly:  We need to kill them before they kill us.  – S. David Freeman, ninety-something former TVA head who holds the record for shutting down utility reactors than any other administrator

“The Age of Nuclear Energy is winding down.  The Age of Nuclear Waste is just beginning.”  – Gordon Edwards, Co-Founder, President Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

The New Radioactive Gold Rush – Privatizing Nuclear Waste Management

Since Friends of the Earth Senior Consultant David Freeman made the above statement in a 2011 interview, seven U.S. reactors have been shutdown. 

As of this writing, there are 97 nuclear reactors operating in 29 U.S. states.  By 2018 approximately 80 thousand metric tons of spent nuclear fuel had accumulated at reactor sites around the US, with 2 thousand metric tons being added each year.

According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), such high-level radioactive wastes produce fatal doses of radiation with just a short period of exposure.  Even non-lethal exposures can cause cancers and other diseases years later – an effect called ‘latency.’  Resulting DNA damage will be passed on to all future generations.  Women and girls are most susceptible to damage.

No permanent storage facility for all this high-level radioactive waste currently exists.  Aside from so far unsuccessful efforts in the Congress to revive the failed Yucca Mountain project, there is no plan to construct one.

Barring state subsidies to keep the aged, rickety, uneconomic U.S. reactor fleet going at taxpayer expense, or mind-boggling 20- or even 60-year license extensions from the industry-captured NRC, at least fifteen more old, embrittled nukes are slated for shutdown in the coming months and years.

With nowhere else to go, all their accumulated waste will have to remain stored on-site for the indefinite future.

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