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By Hal Fox

From: NEN, Vol. 6, No. 2, June 1998, pp. 19-20.
New Energy News (NEN) copyright 1998 by Fusion Information Center, Inc.
COPYING NOT ALLOWED without written permission.

By Hal Fox

Governor Gary Locke of Washington state threatens to sue the federal government if there are more delays in the cleanup of the Hanford Site [1] (near Richland, Washington) on the sandy/gravely layer in the bend of the Columbia River. This is the place where DOE scientists (political scientists?) have assured the people that even with the high-level radioactive liquids leaking into the Vadose layer (the name of the gravel bed on which the tanks are imbedded) it would take 10,000 years for the radioactive liquids to reach the ground water. Guess What? Some of the radioactive liquids from the leaking tanks are already into the ground water and on the way to the Columbia River! For a report see reference [2].

After DOE paid for an extensive and expensive study [3] on methods of handling nuclear wastes, the study made the conclusion that there was no known method more cost effective than geologic storage. This author doubts if any scientists in their right mind would ever claim that storing a high-level waste for 10,000 years could be cost effective. The only rationale could be that such a scientist (or non-scientist) is forecasting that there will be no new discoveries for the stabilization or transmutation of radioactive materials in the next few decades or centuries. The truth is that such a new technology is already being demonstrated in a variety of laboratories!

Based on this highly biased study [3] (possible guided to this conclusion by some representatives of DOE contractors) the DOE has zeroed in on just one glorious answer: Encapsulate the high-level radioactive wastes in glass. Note that in the past 50 years the high-level wastes have been eating through stainless steel shrouded in concrete, have destroyed the ability of salt beds to contain the wastes, and have never been tested for even a few decades in glass. However, assume that the glass is inert to high-level radioactive wastes and all of the possible elements that are produced under long-term radioactive decay. What clever approach has the DOE taken?

Because of the inability of the DOE and its contractors to meet schedules, the DOE has proposed that one or two corporate teams be selected to build glass plants at their own expense. Then when the plants are operating the DOE will pay a premium price for each pound of high-level radioactive waste that is encapsulated in glass (and presumably) prepared for shipment to a national disposal site (such as Yucca Mountain, which will be ready about 2010 if they don't find more problems with earthquakes and circulating water).

Two big companies are bidding to build glass plants at Hanford: BNFL, Inc. and Lockheed Martin Advanced Environmental Services. Geoff Harvey (BNFL) and Linc Hall (Lockheed team) and Mike Wilson (Washington State Dept of Ecology) all agree that if there is a cut in the Hanford Site budget that it would send discouraging signals to Wall Street investors (who plan to finance the construction of the glass plants). If Wall Street investors have their head up their asphalt to the extent that they do not know what is going on in new-energy discoveries, then it is their own fault if they fund glass plants that will become white elephants (and no hay) due to the development of technology for the on-site stabilization of radioactive wastes.

Therefore, put together DOE bureacrats who do not make decisions (except by hired committees); big corporations with Washington lobbyists; a Tri-City area adjacent to a large government operation and benefitting from payrolls; and promised lucrative, long-term glass-plant funds from DOE, what will be created? Obviously, a barrier to any new technology! Surprised, anyone?

[1] John Stang, "Hanford tank waste program under fire -- Gov. Locke lawsuit threat looms over cleanup", Tri-City Herald, May 5, 1998, pp A-1, A-2.
[2] S.E. Kos, J.R. Brodeur, et al, "Hanford Tank Farms Vadose Zone --TY Tank Farm Report", January 1998, Report GJO-97-30-TAR, GJO-HAN-16, US DOE, Richland Operations Office, Richland, WA.
[3] Nuclear Wastes: Technologies for Separations and Transmutation, Committee on Separations Technology and Transmutation Systems, Board on Radioactive Waste Management, Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources, National Research Council, published by National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1996 by the National Academy of Sciences.

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Jun. 19, 1998.