All a terrorist would need is 19 pounds of the stuff.
Just 19 pounds of uranium-233 is all it takes to melt the entire downtown area of a city the size of Washington, D.C.
More than 400 canisters totaling more than 800 pounds of U-233 are on their way here.
In nuclear policy expert Robert Alvarez’s opinion, that’s crazy.
Alvarez wrote a report critical of the plan in August 2012 for the Institute for Policy Studies, which has made the rounds and is perhaps fueling a backlash from Nevada officials about the planned shipments.
The canisters are being sent here from their home in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where they are stored in Building 3019, a 1940s era structure in urgent need of demolition.
Alvarez says the DOE has a bad track record when it comes to U-233, two tons of which was made in the 1960s and 1970s as reactor fuel.
It’s so dangerous, that its use was discontinued in favor of less potent material so that workers could handle the stuff.
Alvarez says of that two tons, 96 kilograms has disappeared, thanks to poor record keeping and maintenance.
He fears similar mistakes with these U-233 shipments to the test site.
These canisters will reportedly be buried in Area 5 under 40 feet of less radioactive debris, that much harder for anyone to steal.
Officials here and in Washington, D.C. are crying foul. They believe, and Alvarez agrees, that it seems normal safety requirements for such material suddenly were waived to allow the shipments.
Rep. Dina Titus asked as much of DOE officials recently, and in June Gov. Brian Sandoval wrote to DOE Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz that he now opposed the idea.
The governor wrote, “I am aware that DOE believes that these canisters qualify for disposal as low-level radioactive waste (LLW). My advisors have independently evaluated all of the important technical and regulatory issues. They have concluded that the CEUSP canisters are not commonplace LLW (low level waste); even if these canisters meet a legalìstic definition of LLW, they are not suitable for shallow land burial at the NNSS.”
Just so you know, CEUSP stands for Consolidated Edison Uranium Solidification Project, which was part of a campaign in the 1980s to solidify waste, essentially baking it into a ceramic-type consistency. Then, the monoliths, as they are called, were bonded with the inside of the canister, making it that much harder to extract any of the material.
Still, Alvarez points out that what the DOE is doing with these shipments is signaling to the rest of the world that the normal standards for safely storing radioactive material can be bent sometimes if need be.
It’s the precedent it sets that’s as dangerous as the radiation.
I for one think maybe if we didn’t want nuclear waste at the federal site where they tested nuclear weapons way back when, then perhaps Yucca Mountain should have been finished so that safe storage of nuclear waste, as planned for decades, could actually be realized.
It would seem Nevada lost its Yucca laboratory, but gained the waste anyway.
That’s just wrong.
Alvarez says the waste, its storage and handling were identified as trouble spots some 20 years ago and yet the material was left to sit in Building 3019, until that structure required so much work the material would have to be moved anyway.
The expert calls the timeline for getting the waste shipped — by 2018 — a shameful portrait of government inefficiency.
I say this is exactly the reason Yucca should be finished and open for business. If the waste is coming here anyway — I’m not sure how much sway our Republican governor is going to have — then the state should be rewarded handsomely for it.
It certainly would give Nye County a huge financial boost.
I know there are people who have legitimate concerns about the material. I do too. But I also know that Nevada is already more than just a footnote in the country’s development of nuclear weapons. And I know that with Nellis, the test site, Area 51 and Yucca Mountain, this part of the state has the facilities to both store this unwanted material, protect it, and get paid to do so.