Thursday, September 21, 2017

Plutonium Problem: Glass or Cement May Encase Nuclear Waste

Congress might consider authorizing the U.S. Department of Energy to encase much of the nuclear waste at the Washington state Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation’s largest waste repository, in a cement-like mixture, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. It states that when burying the waste, cement would be less expensive and faster than vitrification, an alternative process currently used to turn the waste into glass logs.

A $17 billion vitrification plant, one of the federal government’s most expensive construction projects, is intended to separate much of the waste into high- and low-level radioactive material, but construction has stalled over design and safety concerns. After the highly radioactive waste is immobilized in the glass logs, it would theoretically be shipped to an as-yet-nonexistent national repository proposed for Yucca Mountain, in Nevada.

The 56 million gallons of waste in question is left over from plutonium production for nuclear weapons since World War II, and the site itself has a history of leaks. The Department of Energy likes the cement burial, but state officials believe the best way to safely deal with the waste and protect the environment is by turning it into glass.