Powers (left) and Kosson
by Vivian F. Cooper
Nuclear power might be “green power” – but only if nuclear waste can be managed properly.
Vanderbilt is leading a multi-university consortium in a major initiative to improve the nation’s efforts in dealing with nuclear waste safely and effectively.
The consortium, originally formed to advise the U.S. Department of Energy and its stakeholders on ways to manage the nation’s military nuclear wastes, consists of engineers and scientists who have participated in efforts in the last decade to clean up nuclear weapons production sites and to dispose of nuclear wastes safely. Now, these nuclear waste experts hope to leverage their knowledge to help the United States find safe ways to effectively manage nuclear waste from civilian nuclear power as well. They see this effort as critical if the nation is to accept expanded nuclear power-generating capacities.
“We cannot move into the future of expanded nuclear power generation without cleaning up the legacy wastes of the past,” said co-principal investigator Charles W. Powers, a professor of environmental engineering. “We must first solve nuclear waste management issues that have plagued defense and civilian nuclear waste management programs.”
The multi-university Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation (CRESP) will be funded by a DOE cooperative agreement of initially $6 million per year for the next five years. The group will continue to work with DOE and its stakeholders on how to clean up legacy wastes from the nuclear arms race, and extend its efforts to help establish a solid technical foundation for safe management of nuclear waste from a wide range of sources.
Vanderbilt’s partners in CRESP include faculty members from Rutgers University, the University of Pittsburgh, New York University, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Howard University, the University of Arizona and Oregon State University. The team launched their collaborative effort with a meeting at Vanderbilt Dec. 7-8.
“CRESP has proven its capability and usefulness to the nation in investigating and recommending solutions to nuclear risk management challenges,” said David S. Kosson, professor and chairman of civil and environmental engineering and co-principal investigator of CRESP.
Since 1995, CRESP has been researching ways to advance cost-effective cleanup of the nation’s nuclear weapons production waste sites and test facilities. Although CRESP focuses on site remediation, its work requires engineers and scientists to understand the complete life cycle of nuclear power generation, weapons production and environmental impacts from nuclear weapons tests.
Vanderbilt will lead the organization into a new phase of development designed to improve the clarity of the technical standards for nuclear waste management based on experience developed earlier by CRESP to help guide both nuclear weapons sites remediation and safe management of wastes produced by nuclear power plants.
Powers noted that, even without nuclear power generation expansion plans, there is much remaining to be done to handle the nuclear waste that already has been created. Cleanup of the U.S. nuclear complex has already cost more than $70 billion, with future costs projected to exceed $150 billion. On the civilian side, spent nuclear fuel is currently stored in 39 states at some 122 sites awaiting final disposition. Plans to use Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the national nuclear waste repository have been sidetracked by a variety of technical and political challenges, and despite nearly $6 billion spent to develop the facility, no firm date has been set for completion.
“The proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership raises additional nuclear management issues,” Kosson said. “The DOE plan to reduce waste management problems and to promote non-proliferation through this partnership depends in large measure on spent fuel reprocessing, which presents a variety of new challenges for nuclear waste management.
“There is great overlap technically between the remediation of former nuclear weapons residuals and the effective and safe management of peaceful nuclear power operations, so CRESP’s expertise will be made available to help integrate solutions for nuclear waste management,” he said.