Radioactive material from the laboratories that design America’s nuclear weapons will have to be buried and kept away from humans for at least 10,000 years. But three Stanford experts say the safety analysis of this project needs to be revised to reflect new strategies that aim to substantially increase the amounts of plutonium to be disposed of.
The Department of Energy’s long-term plan for dealing with material contaminated with plutonium and heavier elements from the U.S. weapons program is to bury it underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico.
The Energy Department’s plan aims to safeguard nuclear material for the next 10,000 years. But three Stanford nuclear scientists point out in a new commentary article in the journal Nature that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was not designed to hold as much plutonium as is now being considered for disposal there. And, in fact, the site has seen two accidents in recent years.
“These accidents during the first 15 years of operation really illustrate the challenge of predicting the behavior of the repository over 10,000 years,” said Rod Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.
Stanford Report, January 15, 2016, as posted at http://news.stanford.edu/news/2016/january/waste-nuclear-material-011516.html