What to do with nuclear waste?
Institute of Environmental Studies hosts lecture on government waste disposal project
Kabir Bedi Deep below the surface of the earth, scientists are researching the best ways to dispose of nuclear waste left over from defense projects without harming the environment.
As an inaugural speaker for its 2007-2008 lecture series, the Institute for Environmental Studies invited Laurence Brush from the Sandia National Laboratories to talk yesterday afternoon at the Lynch Auditorium in the Chemistry Building.
Brush discussed the ongoing projects at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant of the U.S Department of Energy.
Brush, who has been a part of WIPP for two decades, addressed an audience of about 25 people consisting predominantly of geologists and planetary scientists.
WIPP, a 16-square mile area in New Mexico, is a U.S. Department of Energy repository for defense-related transuranic (TRU) waste, which is highly radioactive nuclear waste.
TRU has a half-life greater than 20 years per gram of waste; thus, proper storage and disposal is key.
Opened in March 1999, WIPP, Brush said, “safely [disposes] TRU waste formed from defense equipment.”
He further suggested that WIPP had already “managed 29.1 percent of the defense waste produced by the U.S.”
Brush also described the journey of TRU through 22 states before its arrival in southeast New Mexico.
The long trip, however, is worth the effectiveness of the WIPP site.
Structural geologist Steve Phipps said, “This is a good demonstration that nuclear waste can be disposed off as safely as you would want it to be.”
The history of WIPP, Brush said, goes back to 1957, when the National Academy of Sciences recommended deep-geologic disposal of nuclear waste, especially in salt basins, which, due the ground’s chemical properties, are very conducive to disposal.
The initial site for the plant, selected in 1970 by the Atomic Energy Commission, was Lyons, Kansas, but due to innumerable existing bore holes, it had to be abandoned in 1972.
The Salado Formation, a Permian bedded-salt formation, Brush explained, contains high levels of halite with small traces of gypsum and clays.
The talk, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, was well appreciated by the audience.
David Grandstaff, chairman of the Temple geology department said, “I think Larry has done good work. He is really trying to protect the environment and pushing this necessary