Nuclear power plants


According to the CBS news on Wednesday, a tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Waste Repository in Hanford, Washington, is storing liquid nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project from World War II in railroad tank cars. These cars are “living” in an underground tunnel, enclosed with concrete and wooden structures and covered reportedly with 8 feet of soil. Well, a section caved in and created an emergency radiation leak situation and lockdown at the facility. All air circulation systems were shut down until it could be determined as to whether radiation was released into the air.

Apparently, the 20-foot section is part of a tunnel that is hundreds of feet long and is used to store contaminated materials. The tunnel is one of two that run into the Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility, also known as PUREX. The section that collapsed was “in an area where the two tunnels join together,” the Energy Department said. The PUREX facility, once used to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, has been idle for years but remains “highly contaminated,” they said. Former Energy Department official Robert Alvarez said many contaminated pieces of equipment, including the rail cars, have simply been left in the tunnels with eight rail cars in the older tunnel and 28 in the newer one. The older tunnel was about 360 feet long, 22 feet high and 19 feet wide. Constructed decades ago, the walls of the older tunnel are 14 inches thick and held up by pressure-treated Douglas fir timbers and rest on reinforced concrete footings a Department of Energy report stated, with the newer tunnel built with reinforced concrete.

The cars themselves are contaminated and hold a considerable amount of highly radioactive, ignitable wastes including possible organic vapors. And while the older tunnel is reinforced with timber, Alvarez said, “according to a 1997 DOE report, inspection of the tunnels ‘is not feasible because of radiation levels in excess of five roentgens per hour.’ “ A roentgen, or rad, is a measure of radioactive exposure; five roentgens is the annual limit for a U.S. nuclear worker. Just walking past a car would give an unprotected worker a lethal dose of radiation. As of Dec. 16, 2016, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, there are 18 projected nuclear power plants being planned in the future: Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Maryland, Texas (three), Michigan, Mississippi, Florida (two), New York, Virginia, Louisiana, North Carolina (two), South Carolina, and Georgia. As these plants require vast amounts of water for cooling, they will be built along on the shores of the ocean, the Great Lakes, and very large rivers. Isn’t it time to invest these multi-billions of dollars and resort to wind, water, and the sun for energy and stop expanding nuclear power and it’s poisonous radiation that can’t be stored safely? Radiated Great Lakes render them useless for anything for thousands of years. Our workforce has the knowledge, skills and abilities to change over. Or are we too passive, gullible and stupid?

Gerry Niedermaier



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