Trump Admin’s Quite Right – Reclassify Nuclear Waste To Leave It In The Ground

The Trump Administration is considering a rule change – some high level nuclear waste should no longer be considered to be high level nuclear waste. This is an obviously sensible thing to do. Critics are insisting that this is being done because this makes processing, clean up, cheaper, for the change would mean that some of it could simply be left, or buried in the ground. Yes, quite, this is why it is sensible.

What the more general reports aren’t telling us is quite what the change is which is so sensible. Effectively, the argument is that we should only treat as high level nuclear waste the stuff which actually is high level nuclear waste. When put that way it does sound sensible, doesn’t it?

The Trump administration wants to reclassify some radioactive waste left from the production of nuclear weapons to lower its threat level and make disposal cheaper and easier. The proposal by the U.S. Department of Energy would lower the status of some high-level radioactive waste in several places around the nation, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state — the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.

Maybe it’s a good idea and maybe it’s not when put like that:

Currently, high-level radioactive waste is defined as that which is a byproduct of fuel reprocessing (where leftover fissionable material is separated from the waste) or from nuclear reactors. Low-level waste, on the other hand, represents around 90 percent of all such waste, according to the American Nuclear Society, and generally comes from facilities where radioisotopes are used, such as nuclear power stations, and local hospitals. Items often include wipes, clothes and plastic.

Buried in that is the problem, the reason why the change is a good idea.

Reclassifying the material to low-level could save the agency billions of dollars and decades of work by essentially leaving the material in the ground, critics say.

That’s a great side effect of the change as long as it’s not entirely reckless, that change itself. That being the thing which the general reporting isn’t explaining well at all. Here’s the actual Federal Register entry that starts the story.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE or the Department) provides this Notice and request for public comment on its interpretation of the definition of the statutory term “high-level radioactive waste” (HLW) as set forth in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. This statutory term indicates that not all wastes from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (“reprocessing wastes”) are HLW, and DOE interprets the statutory term such that some reprocessing wastes may be classified as not HLW (non-HLW) and may be disposed of in accordance with their radiological characteristics.

To explain this. We’ve two different methods of deciding whether something is the high level nuclear waste, the kind that we really do want to do something about. Something intensive and expensive. And yes, there are things that we want to treat this way.

The first method is, right, this comes from reprocessing nuclear waste, making warheads. Treat it as high level waste. The second, hey, look at the contents of this stuff, it’s high level waste! The rule change suggested is that we don’t assume that everything which comes from a process is high level waste. Instead, we look at everything and decide, based upon its radiological contents, whether it is or not. You know, treat that stuff which is high level waste and only that as high level waste?

It’s all entirely sensible that is. Even if that’s not the way the activists are portraying it – nor even the AP.

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timworstallJonathan HarstonMattMohave GreenieShadeburst Recent comment authors
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Mohave Greenie
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Mohave Greenie

Yes, radioactive waste should be classified by how hazardous it is, not how it was produced. But the current thinking is: “All bad because nukes.”

Shadeburst
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Shadeburst

Out of curiosity, Tim, do you find that including an original picture with a story increases viewership? I know that I’m very reluctant to Share a CT story when it has a rubbish picture that has been recycled many many times.

timworstall
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timworstall

Can’t see any difference, no. Not that I’ve been particularly looking

Matt
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Matt

If you have any data on the back end, I’d be happy to trawl through it, see if there’s anything actionable.

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

Surely you decide if something is high level waste by pointing a Geiger counter at it. Why should any human subjectivity be involved?

timworstall
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timworstall

That’s what’s being suggested. And what people are complaining about.