The United States has a single deep geological repository for nuclear waste. Since 1999, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), 655 metres down in a massive salt formation near Carlsbad, New Mexico, has received 12,000-odd shipments of what it calls transuranic waste. This is clothing, tools and other detritus from the nuclear-weapons programme that are contaminated by elements heavier than uranium. It’s more hazardous than low-level waste, which can be buried closer to the surface, but not as dangerous as high-level waste, for which a disposal site has yet to be found. Despite decades of delays and controversies, there are signs of progress at the DOE’s flagship vitrification facility at the Hanford Site in Washington. But even if current plans hold, that facility will not begin processing high-level waste until 2032. Nor is it clear where the logs will actually go. Yucca Mountain was shut down by former president Barack Obama, only to be revived by President Donald Trump. Its long-term prospects are far from certain. Reclassifying some high-level waste at Hanford, as well as at two facilities in Idaho and South Carolina, offers an alternative path for some of that waste, and one that would reduce an ongoing threat to workers and the environment. More than one-third of the 177 underground storage tanks at Hanford have leaked and contaminated groundwater.
Nature 24th Oct 2017 read more »