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German low-level radioactive waste – could this be the first wave from outside the US?

Earlier this week, NPR reported on the anticipated arrival of nearly 1,000 tons of nuclear waste from Germany at Oak Ridge, TN. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a plan in June for an American company to import and burn low-level nuclear waste from Germany.  The radioactive residue left over from the process will be sent back to Germany for disposal.  That’s a lot of travel for waste, and Germany isn’t the only country looking for means of disposing of its radioactive waste.

Located just outside Knoxville, Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942 to help build the atomic bomb and has become a world-renowned center for nuclear research. Operations there generate a great deal of radioactive waste and some of that waste ends up at EnergySolutions’ Bear Creek incinerator plant in Oak Ridge.

With the recent permitting of WCS in Texas, there are now four low-level waste facilities in the U.S, Barnwell in South Carolina, Richland in Washington, and Clive in Utah are the others. The Barnwell and the Clive locations are operated by EnergySolutions, the Richland location is operated by U.S. Ecology and the Texas site is operated by Waste Control Specialists.  WCS, Barnwell and Richland accept Classes A through C of low-level waste, whereas Clive only accepts Class A. The Department of Energy (DOE) also has dozens of LLW sites under management which includes the Bear Creek incinerator.

When you start to talking about managing the rest of the world’s waste, the German waste looks like the beginning of what could be a large flood of material from other countries.  And given the blank check the Texas legislature handed WCS this past legislative session, you can bet they will be back at the table trying to get a piece of that operation.  Let’s hope the Texas legislature stands firm in their resolve to not accept foreign radioactive waste, ‘cause there is a lot of it that could come our way.