Subseabed storage of radioactive waste



The subject of the storage of nuclear wastes products incites emotional responses from the public, and thus the U.S. Subseabed Disposal Program will have to make a good case for waste storage beneath the ocean floor. The facts attendant, however, describe circumstances necessitating cool-headed analysis to achieve a solution to the growing nuclear waste problem. Emotion aside, a good case indeed is being made for safe disposal beneath the ocean floor.

The problems of nuclear waste storage are acute. A year ago, U.S. military weapons production had accumulated over seventy-five million gallons of high-level radioactive liquid waste; solid wastes, such as spent nuclear fuel rods from reactors, amounted to more than 12,000 tons. These wastes are corrosive and will release heat for 1000 years or more. The wastes will remain dangerously radioactive for a period of 10,000 years. There are advantages in storing the wastes on land, in special underground repositories, or on the surface. These include the accessibility to monitor the waste and the possibility of taking action should a container rupture occur, and thus the major efforts to determine suitable disposal at this time are focused on land-based storage. New efforts, not to be confused with ocean dumping practices of the past, are demonstrating that waste containers isolated in the clays and sediments of the ocean floor may be superior (Environ. Sci. Tech., 16, 28A–37A 1982).