Disposal of nuclear waste in municipal landfills

Preface. The pandemic is probably going to enable a lot of bad legislation to be snuck in while attention is focused elsewhere. This proposal is for low-level waste in landfills. But the big problem is that nothing at all is being done to reopen Yucca Mountain or build another waste facility elsewhere for high-level waste, leaving toxic nuclear waste that lasts up to a million years for 50,000 future generations of humans to contend with.

Meanwhile, according to Dan Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nuclear industry watchdog non-profit, Allowing very low-level radioactive waste to be disposed by land burial would be the most massive deregulation of radioactive waste in American history. If you dump radioactive waste in places that aren’t designed to deal with it, it comes back to haunt you. It’s in the air you breathe, the food that you eat, the water you drink (Ross 2020).

More nuclear waste posts here.

Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles,Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report


Frazin, R. 2020. Advocates raise questions about proposal to allow some nuclear waste to be disposed in landfills. The Hill.

A March 6, 2020 Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) proposal would allow for the disposal of some nuclear waste in municipal landfills, rather than a licensed facility.

“What they’re trying to do is prop up a failing industry so that the cost of decommissioning these [nuclear] reactors is reduced so you don’t have to send it to a place that is expensive because it’s designed to safely handle it,” said Dan Hirsch, the former director of the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Program on Environmental and Nuclear Policy.

“I find it just astonishing that they would do that in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic,” he added. “How the NRC can look themselves in the mirror to propose massive deregulation and do it in the midst of the pandemic, I find it just ethically shocking. If they’re going to consider it at all, it should only be considered once the pandemic is behind us,” he said.

Currently, the nuclear waste in question is typically disposed of at licensed waste disposal facilities, which have adequate training and equipment to protect public health.

The proposal would grant some exceptions to this regulation for waste with a cumulative radiation dose level of up to 25 millirem.

According to the NRC, Americans receive an average radiation dose of about 620 millirem each year. A chest x-ray would give off 10 millirem while a full-body CT scan would give a dose of 1,000 millirem.

In a statement on Thursday, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Pacific Director Jeff Ruch also criticized the proposal. “NRC’s action could transform most municipal dumps into radioactive repositories, with essentially no safeguards for workers, nearby residents, or adjoining water tables,” he said.


Ross, D. 2020. Critics alarmed by US nuclear agency’s bid to relax rules on radioactive waste. Nuclear Regulatory Commission keen to allow material to be disposed of by ‘land burial’ – with potentially damaging effects. The Guardian

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5 Responses to Disposal of nuclear waste in municipal landfills

  1. Fred says:

    This is just another attempt to avoid admitting that the human species has been heading the wrong direction for centuries.

  2. Kevin M. says:

    The new plan is to drill a hole using fracking equipment and stick it underground in shale. I’m not an expert but I like this plan better than the idea of leaving it in pools everywhere.
    We are probably not going to get a perfect plan but I would think if we don’t have the energy to maintain the current facilities we would want to bury the high level nuclear waste in some secure way. Although maybe the low level waste could go to a national repositories like old mines or something. Yucca Mountain had some serious issues with water and being in on a fault line, it seems it was always a terrible idea.

    Old Plan (not very good)
    Yucca Mountain is composed of highly-fractured, variably saturated, dual-porosity volcanic tuff with highly oxidizing groundwater which sits on the edge of the Las Vegas Shear Zone. Yucca Mountain was supposed to hold all of our high-level weapons waste and our commercial spent fuel.

    The original estimate for that project was only $30 billion, but ever since we found out that we picked the wrong rock in 1987, the cost has skyrocketed beyond $300 billion. This is twice as high as could ever be covered by the money being set aside for this purpose, in the Nuclear Waste Fund, and it is unlikely Congress will ever appropriate the extra money to complete it.

    New Plan (sounds better)
    Place nuclear waste in a series of two-mile-long tunnels, a mile below the Earth’s surface, where they’ll be surrounded by a very tight rock known as shale. Shale is so tight that it took these new technologies to get any oil or gas out of it at all.

    As geologists, we know how many millions of years it takes for anything to get up from that depth in the Earth’s crust.


    • energyskeptic says:

      This post: Book review of “Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste”, explains why Yucca is an outstanding place to put nuclear waste with thousands of potential issues of water leakage, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and more singly or in combination were found to not be a threat. It was shut down for political, not scientific reasons. I see absolutely no legislation or awareness of the need to dispose of nuclear waste at all so if we could get some of it into Yucca ASAP at least something would be done.

  3. Kevin M. says:

    I think several things stand in the way. Long nuclear half-life and geological time is really beyond most people’s understanding. Maybe Yucca would work maybe it wouldn’t, the area does allow water to move through the rock. But moving the waste and the political problems may actually be the bigger blockade.

  4. Freya says:

    We need some way to convey to future generations that they need to stay the hell away. Many people have discussed this – what sort of signage and symbols to use, maybe concocting legends that warn of dire consequences for anybody who wanders into, or deliberately enters, the storage areas.

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