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Nuclear Waste Disposal: The Players And The Challenge

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The department that is responsible for the nuclear waste disposal is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This department has to face certain very complex decisions about how and where to dispose the waste. The transportation of these hazardous materials is also very important and DOE has to come up with the best and safest possible techniques in order to do so. The citizens of the United States are also very concerned when it comes to the disposal of nuclear waste (Riley et al 1993). The most commonly perceived problem about nuclear waste is that it is extremely toxic and hazardous. People are always concerned about being contaminated. Another cleanup issue that is important is that the waste is in very large volumes and this makes its transportation very difficult. There are also very large-scale implications of the potential severe human and environmental impacts that nuclear waste can have on our soil. Disposal of nuclear waste also requires a lot of technical expertise and is a very complex process and this adds to the problems. In addition, this is a relatively new thing and there is lack of experience on the part of the people who manage nuclear waste disposal. Also involved in nuclear waste management is “a legacy of secrecy, staggering costs, a history of inequitable practices, and a jumble of intricate federal and state regulations” (Drew et al 263). The inclusion of the many decision-making entities also makes this problem more complex. These entities include “tribal, state, and local government agencies; regulators; citizen groups; and contractors” (Drew et al 263). Both the complexities of the process itself as well as the large number of decision makers involved makes nuclear waste disposal a very complex problem. It requires the cooperation from all these entities to ensure a safe and successful nuclear waste disposal programs. This article shall discuss the various ways in which everyone, including the DOE, can come together and help reach a solution that is beneficial to everyone.

For the purpose of this paper, we shall consider the term �stakeholders.’ This term is defined as the people who are interested in or are affected by the U.S. DOE cleanup. Citizen groups, DOE managers and contractors, regulators, the state and local governments, and the general public are all included as �stakeholders’. The tribal people feel that they are a separate part and thus they are referred to as being outside the definition of �stakeholders.’ They shall be referred to as the �tribes’.

Some of the questions that have to be asked in this scenario include: “What are the major issues? Who is involved and who is absent from the discussions? What information do people need, and how can it be best presented? What tools and approaches enable stakeholders and tribes to participate in meaningful dialogue with these issues?” (Drew et al 264). The answers to these questions are extremely important as they will work to provide a framework for the improvement of the current methods and also come up with new and better ways of solving the problems. To facilitate a dialogue on this situation, the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) took part in putting together three stakeholder and tribal interactions involving nuclear waste transport. It would be relevant to note that CRESP “is a national consortium of university-based researchers operating under a grant from the DOE. An important goal for CRESP is to improve the dialogue among decision makers, technical specialists, and interested and affected parties to create more sustainable, understandable, and acceptable nuclear waste transport decisions” (Drew et al 264). The results from these activities are presented in this paper and they provide some recommendations for DOE to make their facilities better.

The Challenges of Nuclear Waste Transportation

The clean up of the nuclear weapons production facilities is the responsibility of the DOE. There are some 140 sites in 26 states and territories (U.S. DOE 1999). The sizes of these sites vary as some of them are very large while others are small, being only a few acres. The largest site is the Idaho National Environmental Engineering Laboratory (INEEL) in southeastern Idaho, which is larger than 900 square miles. This used to be a weapon complex and has produced a very large amount of waste both in terms of volume (36 million [m.sup.3]) and radioactivity (1 billion Ci) (U.S. DOE 1997a). The term вЂ?waste’ is used to denote “"solids or liquids that are radioactive, hazardous or both" (U.S. DOE 1997a). “Waste comes in several forms, including high-level waste, transuranic waste, low-level waste, mixed low-level waste, residues from mining operations called "tailings" or 11e(2) by-product material, hazardous waste, and other waste” (Drew et al 265). The "high-level waste" usually emits a high level of radiation and it has the potential to be more toxic than usual. “low level waste” emits lesser levels of radiation but that does not mean that it is safer than the “high level waste”. This is one of the reasons for confusion about nuclear waste disposal and transportation among stakeholders and tribes. The waste first has to be stabilized by altering their physical or chemical properties, by changing the position of the waste, or by “erecting some physical or institutional barrier so that wastes are less likely to come in contact with people or the environment (examples of physical and institutional barriers are fences and deed restrictions, respectively)” (Drew et al 266).

The cleanup activities cost almost about $6 billion per year (fiscal year 1992-fiscal year 2002) (U.S. DOE 2000, 2002). Sometimes it is necessary for transporting the nuclear wastes and other hazardous materials from one site to another. This is done to separate the waste from the smaller sites so that they can be closed and then used for other purposes. The Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has another special facility that is proposed for the long-term storage of high-level waste. This project is more than a decade behind schedule and may never open due to technical and political obstacles.

There is a lot of intense opposition to the transportation of nuclear waste. According to many researches, the public is reported to have a very high fear of radiation risks than any other types of risk (Mills and Neuhauser, Slovic et al 1979, 1991a, 781-785, 36-39, 1603-1607). Answers from several surveys, the public also perceives that the specific problem



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