Radiation leak raises questions over nuclears waste program

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  • Radiation leak raises questions over waste program

    A member of the community speaks of the radiation leak during a community meeting Monday in Carlsbad. Sen. Tom Udall says he will ask the Environmental Protection Agency to send air monitors to southeastern New Mexico following a radiation release from the federal governments underground nuclear waste dump near Carlsbad. Jeri Clausing/The Associated Press

Posted: Friday, February 28, 2014 9:10 pm | Updated: 1:06 pm, Sat Mar 1, 2014.

ALBUQUERQUE — The radiation exposure of at least 13 workers at a nuclear dump in a New Mexico salt bed more than 2,000 feet below the ground has brought new attention to the nation’s long struggle to find places to dispose of tons of Cold War-era waste.

The above-ground radiation release that exposed the workers during a night shift two weeks ago shut down the facility as authorities investigate the cause and attempt to determine the health effects on the employees. The mishap has also raised questions about a cornerstone of the Department of Energy’s $5-billion-a-year program for cleaning up waste scattered across the country from decades of nuclear-bomb making.

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  • Khal Spencer posted at 10:15 am on Sat, Mar 1, 2014.

    Khal Spencer Posts: 416

    Oh, and speaking hazards to the work force, we kill and sicken a lot more coal miners than nuclear workers, massively, if you consider the proportion of our goods are made in China. Again, a case of the public spending too much time in fear of the trefoil and not enough reading actual news.

    This is a good discussion. We rarely look at the down side of our energy and national security costs until accidents happen.

  • Khal Spencer posted at 10:11 am on Sat, Mar 1, 2014.

    Khal Spencer Posts: 416

    Nothing is foolproof. We can agree on that. As far as energy policy, I would put conservation first, renewables second, nuclear third, and fossils last.

    Perhaps a risk comparison of the release at Carlsbad should be made to the release of fly ash by Duke Power in N.C.

    We tend to kick the can down the road on fossil fuel costs (air and water pollution, negative effects of climate change, military needs securing sea lanes, etc) while asserting up front the astounding costs of remediating the legacy of the Cold War, which is conflated with the costs of containing civilian nuclear power spent fuel which, by the way can be mitigated with modern reactor design and reprocessing. Many of the problems are political.

    Nuclear energy costs are driven up by the hazards associated with disasters such as Fukushima (themselves caused by reliance on ancient 1960's design reactors and stupidity by TEPCO in siting and their reluctance to spend money on tsunami mitigation). Perhaps if we really did cost out up front the cradle to grave price of energy and avoided collosal mistakes caused by greed (i.e., TEPCO's managerment of Fukushima), we could make progress.

    Unfortunately, we cannot undo the past. We have to deal with the legacy of the nuclear arms race, or our kids and grandkids will have to.

  • Philip Taccetta posted at 9:15 am on Sat, Mar 1, 2014.

    PhiltheElder Posts: 188

    While everything Khal Spencer said may be true, the fact of the matter is that nuclear is incredibly expensive. " $15 billion on a proposed nuclear waste dump", "Department of Energy’s $5-billion-a-year program for cleaning up waste", "Taxpayers spend about $2 billion a year" (Washington's Hanford nuclear waste storage) I'm no math whiz, but that amount of money would build a heck of a lot of renewables. Why would the administration want to spend billions more for another nuclear reactor? And what do we do with the waste? Carlsbad was touted as being fool proof - so much for that idea....

  • John Bass posted at 8:29 am on Sat, Mar 1, 2014.

    John_Bass602 Posts: 6

    Well said, Khalil.

  • Khal Spencer posted at 7:45 am on Sat, Mar 1, 2014.

    Khal Spencer Posts: 416

    While the thought of a minor leak of radioactive contaminants at Carlsbad is sure to have the usual suspect's knickers in a knot, let's not forget that in the USA, we burn close to a billion tons of coal per year*, releasing CO2, mercury, and radioactive radon gas to the atmosphere and forcing us to sequester close to 100 million tons of radioactive and toxic fly ash/yr containing about 2,000 tons of Uranium and its progeny** (gasp!), well, somewhere. Right now, that somewhere includes the ash ponds that are spilling into water bodies in N. Carolina.

    There is no free lunch with how we dispose of our pollutants, but in most cases, these are an inconsequential part of our public burden of radioactive exposure. I wish the New Mexican would put this stuff into a public health risk analysis context.

    We definitely need to get to the bottom of this, solve the problem, and support and monitor the working folks who had an uptake, but I'd hope we don't go off the political deep end, which we seem to do whenever the word radioactive comes up.

    * Union of Concerned Scientists, "Coal vs. Wind"

    ** United States Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-163-97
    October, 1997

    Radioactive Elements in Coal and Fly Ash:
    Abundance, Forms, and Environmental Significance


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