The earthquake that hit Japan recently has got every state with nuclear waste thinking: what if the leak should happen to us? What then? So the United States are currently reviewing their nuclear waste policy in search of a better way to store residues. Otherwise, the current facilities are a somewhat easy target for natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
The present situation is not being managed very carefully: around the country, power plants are reaching their top limit, out of space for storing any more; many are improvising, which is not the safest procedure when it comes to radioactive material.
Why has it come to this? The initial intention was, as it always is, a good one: to store the fuel for 10 years maximum and produce electricity out of it. Right now, uranium is relatively cheap to get by, but at the time, reprocessing the material was a good idea. It didn’t take long before it ceased to be. Even when the government took over the project, the solution has somehow been lost on the way.
So MIT is offering a helping hand with a study on this. Their conclusion? Switching to cooling pools and dry casks for 100 years, hoping the government will sort out its “final destination” in the meantime. What is a dry cask? I’s actually a cask made out of concrete and steel, allowing no water but only circulating air. While keeping the spent fuel there, reprocessing could become cheaper and a viable solution – again!
This time, researcher Andrew Kadak, who worked on the report, says “it would go from being waste to being a large energy resource comparable to the strategic petroleum reserve.” The dry-cask storage is also highly recommended because the fuel cools down; this way it becomes much safer to put into a less expensive facility than the ones being used right now.
This is not, however, the general opinion about the best way to handle them. Kadak thinks i’s risky to do without water in the cooling process: after taking the fuel from a nuclear reactor, it has a 5-year period before it cools down enough; doing this sooner would incur many costs. The solution that he advances is to come up with backup systems that can provide the necessary amount of water, even if this means possible leaks and no power for pumping water. Finally, the report mentions the sum of $1 billion in research funding. No matter what solution they will pick, it sure needs to be chosen fast, because time is pressing –