Waste Storage, Not Nuclear Disaster, Is The Real Risk of Nuclear Power, USU Lecturer Says

Jun 7, 2018

Logan city is participating in plans to potentially build a small modular nuclear reactor in Idaho.
Credit Nuclear Street

Logan City officials are weighing project risks as they decide whether or not to continue participating in a plan to build a small modular nuclear reactor in Idaho, just North of Idaho Falls. An expert says concerns about nuclear power are valid, but people often need to shift the focus of their concern.

The project is being coordinated by the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems. Logan City is the largest municipality participating in this project and will have to decide by March whether to drop out or continue with the project.

In this decision making process, city officials are asking questions about the risks of the project, including the storage of nuclear waste.

Tonya Triplett is a principal lecturer of physics at Utah State University. Before coming to USU, she taught at the United States Navy’s nuclear power school.

“Every source of energy that we choose to use has a cost to our environment,” Triplett said.

When it comes to nuclear power, Triplett said people often focus on the risk of a nuclear disaster, rather than the logistics of processing the waste.

Most of the nuclear waste produced by a nuclear reactor is reusable and can be used to continue to power the reactor, but in the United States reuse of nuclear waste is not legal. This leads to even more nuclear waste being stored at plants.

“The real risk from this nuclear power plant is not that it might one day blow up,” Triplett said. “What is real is that we have a refusal to deal with the waste. But nobody in congress today is standing up and saying ‘Wow. We have this real risk of nuclear waste, we should do something.’”

There are many unknowns when it comes to nuclear waste Triplett said. This includes the best way to store waste that can potentially last forever and what the consequences of storing that waste will be. However, she said the things we do know are worth addressing.

“We know that failing to reprocess results in large amounts of material that need long term care, instead of small amounts of material,” Triplett said. “We can talk about the consequence of any of our other forms of energy and ask ourselves if we are willing to bear that consequence into the future.”