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This One Site in Texas Will Get Most of America's Low-Level Nuclear Waste

As America's nuclear plants run out their lives, decommissioning waste will be headed to Texas

smithsonian.com

There are 104 nuclear reactors in the United States, distributed across 31 states, and in addition to potent spent nuclear fuel, these plants are churning out a second type of nuclear waste, too. Known as "low-level waste," it "typically consists of contaminated protective shoe covers and clothing, wiping rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipments and tools, luminous dials, medical tubes, swabs, injection needles, syringes, and laboratory animal carcasses and tissues," says the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Normally, low-level waste is kept at the nuclear plant until its radioactivity has worn off enough that it can go in the trash. Or, it is shipped to one of the four existing sites scattered across the country prepared to handle such radiated debris.  But as more nuclear power plants run out their lives and face decommissioning, says the New York Times, there's only one low-level waste site, a complex in Andrews, Texas, that's ready to take on the load. 

The Andrews site, run by a company called Waste Control Specialists, will be the major dumping ground for radioactive “steel, concrete and other components,” says the Times. "For 95 reactors in 29 states, Mr. Baltzer’s company is the only place that will take some categories of low-level waste.”

Regulations on the nuclear waste disposal industry are tight, which explains why so few are in business. But, this dearth of competition, on top of the inherent difficulties in disposing of radioactive material, says the Times, means that prices can be steep. Nuclear utilities will pay between $1,000 to $10,000 per cubic foot to stash their trash. And there's still no real plan to handle spent nuclear waste—the stronger stuff—either.

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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