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Letter to the Editor

Nuclear waste shipments — comments and a suggestion

Following the Department of Energy public meeting in Pahrump on Nov. 14, in regard to the shipment of nuclear waste to the Nevada Nuclear Security Site, I have a few comments and a suggestion.

I think everyone in Southern Nye County should realize that the nuclear waste being shipped from back East, designated as ‘low level nuclear waste’ to be buried in a dirt pit in Nevada, is very, very dangerous. It appears to be highly enriched uranium-235 (U-235), the raw material for the Hiroshima atom bomb.

It is more hazardous than spent nuclear fuel. It has the dangerous long lived radioisotopes, but worse than that you could make nuclear weapons from the U-235, without any further enrichment. From the data given at the Nov. 14 meeting, it appears that there will be about 1000kg (or one ton) of the highly enriched U-235, enough to make at least 10 nuclear weapons of Hiroshima size. If you are an aspiring terrorist and couldn’t build the implosion gear for a high yield bomb you could make a very ‘dirty’ bomb spreading long lived radioisotopes over much of a city.

I know the DOE is going to parcel the U-235 in solid materials, including neutron absorption material to prevent enough of it coming together to form a critical mass, or a meltdown, (remember the recent Japanese nuclear meltdown and Chernobyl?) However, these are safeguards using different chemical components which could equally well be removed by chemical methods.

There is one way to avoid the misuse of enriched U-235 with naturally occurring uranium, mostly U-238, or better still, depleted U-238. Then you would have what would be, in effect, uranium ore. Not harmless, but the U-235 could not be recovered by chemical means, and it could even be put back in the uranium mine and forgotten forever.

Frederick G. Tucker