The federal law defining nuclear waste says all of West Valley's wastes are high-level and must be buried in mountains, not just under 40 feet of dirt as happens at low-level disposal sites. West Valley says it has separated the most lethal substances from the waste and will send them to Yucca Mountain, but the law doesn't allow separations. Besides, according to whose standards were the wastes separated? West Valley's? And how do we know the materials in the drums being shipped out don't contain some of those lethal substances? The mere affixing of a label on the side of a drum doesn't mysteriously transform the contents. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 specifically states that all reprocessing waste must be buried in repositories. When faced with trusting West Valley or trusting the law, states are going to go with the law. The only way anybody's going to accept West Valley's waste is if Congress changes the law. I discussed this problem in my March 9 post, "Law-exempt DOE."
It's ironic that this problem surfaces at the same time Americans are calling for reprocessing as a way to reduce America's nuclear waste. In only six years of operation (1966-72), West Valley, the site of the nation's only commercial spent-fuel rod reprocessing facility, generated nearly a million gallons of uranium-tainted acids. Doesn't sound like a reduction to me!
Meanwhile, while West Valley's trucks are roaming about the country looking for a home, it might be wise for us to invest in Geiger counters so we can check for radioactivity from abandonned trailers on the sides of roads.
June 28, 2005