“High Level” No More?


The Trump Administration is fudging the books yet again: this time on the toxicity of radioactive waste. They want us to believe that much of the radioactive waste from nuclear weapons production isn’t really all that dangerous after all. Environmental watchdogs call the move “irresponsible and dangerous.”

Trump Moves to Conceal Danger of Radioactive Nuclear Waste

Trump’s Department of Energy (DOE) is trying to conceal the true toxicity of radioactive waste from nuclear weapon production. In previous years, the classification for such radioactive waste would have been “high-level.” However, just last week, DOE allowed itself to redefine much of that waste as “low-level” waste. By ignoring the true danger of radioactive nuclear waste, DOE will allow entities to store it in sites designed for “low-level” isolation. To clarify, these sites are not designed to protect the environment from radioactive nuclear waste for generations to come.

To sum up, storing nuclear radioactive waste in existing sites is not safe. DOE should require storage in fortified sites designed to manage “high-level” waste. However, no approved U.S. sites meet the standards needed to isolate “high-level” waste. Changing the classification subverts the need for sites that can contain “high-level” waste. The DOE is effectively saving themselves the need to build new sites at the cost of our safety.

Outrage from Environmental Advocates

Environmental advocates who work on radioactive waste denounce the measure. They say the move permits the government to shirk their duties to deal with existing sites. Idaho, South Carolina, and Washington have tanks with more than 100,000 gallons of high-level radioactive waste. Under the new ruling, the government can refuse to deal with this overcrowding, or transfer some of the waste to other unsafe storage sites. In short, neither of these options will actually protect the public from toxic waste. 

Geoff Fettus, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued this statement:

“The Trump administration is moving to fundamentally alter more than 50 years of national consensus on [how we manage] the most toxic and radioactive waste in the world … and [how it is] ultimately disposed of. No matter what they call it, this waste needs a permanent, well-protected disposal option to guard it for generations to come. Pretending this waste is not dangerous is irresponsible and outrageous.”

Similarly, Tom Clements, director of the Savannah River Site Watch in South Carolina, added:

“[Entities must dispose of the] massive containers of glassified high-level nuclear waste at Savannah River Site as required by law… in a properly licensed geologic disposal site and not via shallow burial in low-level nuclear waste facilities in Utah or Texas. The DOE’s questionable rewriting of the regulations is simply a cost-cutting measure… [it will result in] thousands of high-level waste containers dumped off site. They must continue to be safely stored at Savannah River until a geologic repository is available.”