Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2021
“Millions of Years”
From 1982 to 2004, government regulators used 10,000 years as the time-frame required to isolate used nuclear reactor fuel rods from the environment and the water. Since no container system can be shown to be up to this task, waste dump engineers simply plan for limited containment, after which the corrosion of storage casks and the dispersal of their deadly contents are considered inevitable.
Then a federal appeals court decided 10,000 years is a gross underestimate of the waste’s lethal persistence, and, in July 2004, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in Nuclear Energy Institute, Inc. v. Environmental Protection Agency that the National Academy of Sciences found “no scientific basis for limiting the time period of the individual risk standard to 10,000 years.” The appeals court ruled that “repository performance” must be judged on “a time scale that is on the order of 106 [one million] years.”
One million years (50,000 generations) is an unfathomable concept and the plural “millions of years” is even more mind boggling. News accounts have repeatedly noted that high-level radioactive waste “remains radioactive for millions of years.” (New York Times, “Work is Faltering on US Repository for Atomic Waste,” Jan. 17, and “A Hitch in Plans for Nuclear Posterity,” Feb. 12, 1989). — JL