Saturday, November 21, 2015

Radioactive Waste: "What are you gonna do with it?"

We all loved the six-week course on auto mechanics taught by our high school shop teacher, Mr. Sutter.

I remember something about distribution caps and an oscilloscope that you could hook up to it, though I have to admit that is not a procedure I could reproduce now, 40 years later. I do remember the correct way to tighten the lug nuts when changing a tire, however . . .

And I do have a crystal clear memory of our session on changing oil.  Mr. Sutter carefully showed us how to locate the oil pan, how to position a receptacle under the outlet, and how to remove the bolt to release the stream of dirty oil.

But the part that was most memorable was when Mr. Sutter said, "Now you know how to change the oil yourself.  But I recommend you just go to a gas station and let them do it. Sure, it's not hard to get the old oil out. But once you get all those quarts of dirty oil . . . what are you gonna do with it?"

I thought of Mr. Sutter yesterday as I sat in Hiroshima at the World Nuclear Victims Forum listening to a dairy-farmer-from-Fukushima-turned-journalist-and-activist, Kenichi Hasegawa, describing the situation after the 2011 nuclear disaster there.

In one part of his presentation, he described the work to "decontaminate" his village of Iitate. He said that after removing a thin layer of soil from just the residential areas, the workers had produced acres of garbage bags full of contaminated soil.

"An aerial photograph taken by a drone shows the vast dump
sites that contain tens of thousands of sacks of contaminated soil."
(From Daily Mail / Image: Podniesinski/REX Shutterstock)

(The image above is sourced from the Internet -- and is similar to the one shown by Mr. Hasegawa.)

It is difficult to imagine what they will do with all the waste generated by "cleaning up" the much larger agricultural areas. (And a much larger area of unfarmed hills will be left contaminated.)

And this does not even begin to consider just how "cleaned up" those areas are after removing a thin layer of soil.

People act as if cleaning up after radiation releases is just a detail, just "a problem to be managed."

But I think Mr. Sutter was right: "What are you gonna do with it?"

Update March 1, 2016: Madhusree Mukerjee reports in Scientific American: "TEPCO collects the contaminated water and stores it all in massive tanks at the rate of up to 400 metric tons a day. . . . Disputes over its final resting place remain unresolved. The same goes for the millions of bags of contaminated topsoil and other solid waste from the disaster, as well as the uranium fuel itself." (See "Spill Waste: The cleanup effort could take decades; meanwhile the amount of radioactive material the plant leaks grows")

Related Posts

Voices from Chernobyl is a rock upon which to build a global effort to tell the truth about Chernobyl and the hibakusha of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.
(See IN ORDER TO HAVE A FUTURE: We MUST Study Chernobyl . . .)

Hibakusha is a word that has traditionally been used to refer to people affected by the nuclear blasts in Hiroshima and Nagaski.  It is now being broadened to recognize the many additional victims of acute affects of nuclear radiation (including fallout from tests and radioactivity from mining and processing). In fact, we are all subject to the impact and threat of nuclear radiation spread indiscriminately by nations and corporations.

(See HIROSHIMA: What does it mean to say, "We are ALL 'hibakusha'?")