Where on earth to store nuclear waste is now a hot issue, no pun intended. Canada is having the debate as is the United States. The U.S. Department of Energy now says it will miss another deadline set under a 1995 agreement to remove nuclear waste now stored in Idaho.
The Post Register reports that 65,000 cubic meters of waste are to be gone by the end of 2018. But it won’t make that deadline. because — in part — of the long closure and ongoing limited operations at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, where the nuclear waste will be stored, the story says. (More on WIPP below.)
The arrangement is “at great risk right now,” says Idaho Cleanup Project Deputy Manager Jack Zimmerman, in the news report.
What about Yucca Mountain, which was at one time to be the permanent site near Las Vegas to store nuclear waste? US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says that there is too much local opposition to it. He went to say that such a site ought to include only places where it wold be welcome. That might be tough.
But there’s one potential spot: WIPP, which is a massive salt formation in southeastern New Mexico that has been accepting waste from nuclear weapons for 16 years.But it is not permitted to take in low-level spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors.
According to Jim Conca, director of the Center for Laboratory Sciences for RJLee Group in Pasco, Wash. WIPP is 16 square miles of a 10,000-square mile, 2,000-foot thick salt layer. Those materials that are placed there are engulfed by the natural geology — the tightest rock on earth. The main obstacle, he adds, is the administrative changes necessary to allow the transport and disposal of spent fuel from the current interim sites to WIPP. Political resistance would also arise.
But massive salt formations are better repositories than the hard rock at Yucca Mountain, he insists, noting that rocks can fracture whereas salt does not. The best salt formations are in New Mexico and Texas.