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ActivismDirty Energy & Fuel

A Plea for Help

hanfordoldtanks Those steel tanks you see are some of the 177 that contain 53 million gallons of heavy metals, acids and solvents. They also contain plutonium, cesium, strontium and uranium. All are buried underground.

Of those 177, sixty-seven are confirmed leakers, meaning their contents are leaching into the soil and headed toward the Columbia River. Most have exceeded their anticipated 50 year life span, creating fear of a catastrophic tank failure.

Thousands of tons of radioactive and hazardous waste has been buried in unlined landfills and 450 billion gallons of liquid waste has been poured into ponds, ditches and drainfields at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the state of Washington.

These figures come from an article in today’s Washington Post, which I don’t intend to re-write. My purpose is only to call your attention to this article and hope you will read it and sense the gravity of the situation in that state.

More than a million people living downstream from Hanford are being threatened by a huge plume of groundwater contaminated with radiation and heavy metals moving their way.

The Bush administration’s proposed cleanup budget has trimmed $800 million from cleanup funding, and increased funding for nearly all other categories in the government’s nuclear program.

And they want to mine more uranium, build more nuclear power plants and pile up more spent radioactive material with no where to go, but possibly our drinking water and riding along with that breeze we inhale.

If you’d like to review some Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports on nuclear issues, I suggest you start with these eye openers.

  • GAO report on the Hanford facility as recent as Jan 22, 2008.
  • GAO reports on nuclear cleanup issues as recent as Nov 15,2007.
  • GAO reports on hazardous waste issues as recent as Nov 13, 2007.
  • GAO reports on uranium mining cleanup as recent as Oct 26, 2007.

You may find some duplicity in the reports, but there’s plenty of information to keep the interested person quite busy.




8 comments
  1. redcraig

    Rebecca, thanks very much for responding. The only way we’ll ever root out these common misunderstandings is when interested persons like yourself bring them up. Otherwise they just fester out of sight.

    Indeed, people have died from windmills. Some 20 people have died while working on windmills since the mid-1970’s, either from falls or electrocution. [Gipe, Paul. Windpower: Renewable Energy for Home, Farm, and Business. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004.]

    Wind-power does have an edge over nuclear with respect to total externalities, but it’s not enough to brag about. Photovoltaics rank with nuclear, mostly owing to the toxic waste of PV (lead, mercury, cadmium, etc.) [European Externe Study].

    What I mean by “better record” is that nuclear energy has never harmed any member of the public. That can generally be said also of wind and PV, but nuclear has generated many times more energy, so it has a many-times better record.

    What will be done with the reactors when they wear out will be much like what has been done with them in the past. Highly radioactive items will be treated to stabilize and encapsulate them and isolate them from the environment. Less-radioactive items have been, and will be, buried in secure locations where they will be safe until the radioactivity decays away.

    I invite you to compare the safe handling of nuclear waste with the handling of coal waste, described in an earlier post. Your suggesting that coal waste is less dangerous than nuclear waste shows a troubling degree of misinformation. The comparison of coal waste and nuclear waste is a crucial consideration. Part-time energy sources only work if they are backed up by on-demand energy sources. People will not sit in their cold dark houses when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. If they can’t get the energy they need from renewables and nuclear they’ll take it from fossil fuels. While disreputable politicians will tell you the choice is between nuclear and renewables, the truth is the opposite. Nuclear and renewables together, along with strict conservation, can take us off the self-destructive path we’re on. But without nuclear energy we’re screwed.

    I’d also ask you to consider the problem of motor fuels. Electricity is the easy part of the problem, because we can generate all the electricity we need without fossil fuels. For motor fuels, we’re way behind the curve. But it’s apparent that we will need vast amounts of electricity and hydrogen. And the only practical way to generate the amount of hydrogen and electricity we’ll need is with nuclear. The way wind (and maybe PV) can contribute is by taking some load off the nuclear plants so they can generate more motor fuels. Please take a look here.

  2. Rebecca

    Hmmmm, “better than the record of any renewable energy source.”?? Is nuclear truly safer than air or sunlight? I haven’t heard of anyone dying from windmills or solar panels as yet, have you? Guess you might get a sunburn or the windblown look in your hair from either of them, but catastrophic? Don’t think so.

    Regardless of how safe nuclear reactors have been up to now, there will someday be a time when those reactors will have to be shut down due to the age of the structure. What do we do with that waste then? Yes, they are cleaner than coal or oil, BUT their waste is not. If we already have so many millions of tons of weapons waste, what will happen when the reactors cannot safely function anymore? What then?

    To truly protect the environment, our health, national security AND provide ourselves with the energy we’ve become so addicted to, we simply MUST find better ways to produce energy. Period.

  3. Max

    Thanks for the response redcraig, and we’re never going to agree on this subject. I appreciate and respect your opinion, and hope you’ll continue to contribute when so inclined.

  4. redcraig

    Max, I did read the article. It only addresses weapons waste. The reason why weapons waste has been ignored is that it had to be funded by taxpayers. For the last fifty years weapons waste was left out of the budget because legislators were pressured to spend more on other projects and to tax less. Everyone wants better highways, better education, better social services, better national defense. But no one wants to pay for it. There was a lot of pressure to lower the defense budget coming from one side and a lot of pressure to build new defense systems coming from the other side, but no one was pressuring for cleanup.

    Nuclear energy waste is in a whole different category. The utilities have been paying for waste treatment for decades and the accumulated funds are in the billions. And if the agencies responsible were taking the waste it’s likely that utilities would agree to paying more. Why aren’t utility wastes being treated? It’s because the same people who complain about the absence of progress (you may call them environmentalists—I certainly don’t) lobby against the same progress.

    You are so fundamentally wrong on the subject of nuclear energy that it’s pointless to try to deprogram you. Thousands of Americans die every month from the pollution caused by burning coal. Ground water near coal-fired plants is contaminated to the point it’s unsafe to drink. Heavy metals have poisoned the oceans to the extent that people are advised to limit their fish consumption. All that harm resulted from the world’s failure to develop nuclear energy.

    In comparison you can’t point to a single instance of harm coming from nuclear-power waste. Furthermore, you can’t point to a single instance of harm coming from an operating plant outside the former Soviet Union. But if you think world communism is the world’s future and the soviet system will apply everywhere, then we can have more discussion on that point. In the meantime, all the other reactors in the world have a perfect safety record, better than the record of any renewable energy source.

  5. Max

    Thanks, redcraig, for the comment, however I suggest you read further into the article. It’s about nuclear, the waste that piling up at 20 sites in 14 states. It’s about “cleanups at nuclear sites in several states is the lowest since 1997”.

    No matter how hard the pro-nuclear crowd tries to make the industry look clean, it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a dirty, toxic and potentially catastrophic way to boil water.

  6. Anthony J. Gerst

    Max:

    Please go to my website and send this to the address there. I would love to make a petition out this for Care 2. My printer is momentary out of service. I will copy and paste this and put it on my zip as well. It would be better to have two copies.

    Also, who do think this would best be targeted to.

    I thank you, the Columbia has enough problems. Wow, I have found my first cause for a petition to write myself.

    AJ.

    It is now number two on my to do list.

  7. Tim Redfern

    Nuclear power generation is an idea that seemed great at the time…60 years ago. Now that we know so much more about it, it is time to decommision the existing plants, and begin a NEW “Manhattan Project”, one that will clean up the message on an ultra-emergency basis.
    Let’s focus on “going green” on our power generation!

  8. redcraig

    Readers should be aware that the authors of the Post article are, respectively, the Governor and the junior Senator for Washington State. Before hitting the alarm button, consider that the point of the article is to prod more action from the federal government with respect to waste from the weapons program. It has nothing whatsoever to do with nuclear energy.

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