Where does Vermont Yankee's waste go?
The waste stream is long and wide. While much of Vermont Yankee’s environmental impact is in the tri-state area (Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire), it starts and ends far from our small corner of New England.
The Air: As part of its routine operation, Vermont Yankee vents radioactive material through a large smokestack connected to its cooling system. Many of the gases released break down into radioactive particles that settle in surrounding communities as a kind of “fall-out.” Over Vermont Yankee’s 36-year history, it has released over 400,000 curies of radioactive waste into the air.
Connecticut River: Vermont Yankee also discharges tritium and other radioactive contaminants from its cooling system into the Connecticut River. Since 1972, Vermont Yankee has released over 2,000 curies of tritium into the river.
Vernon, VT: The most commonly known waste product of nuclear power is the used fuel. Sometimes called “spent fuel,” the irradiated fuel rods are actually about one million times more radioactive than before they were used in the reactor and hot enough to catch fre if they are not kept under water. Right now, over five-hundred tons are stored in the spent fuel pool, seven stories above ground.
Since there is no viable disposal solution for this waste, Entergy plans to begin storing some of the waste in canisters outside the reactor building, probably for decades. After failing to find a way to dispose of their waste, Entergy must not be allowed to continue making it for another twenty years.
Barnwell, SC: “Low-level” radioactive waste, which includes all waste except the used fuel, is shipped to Barnwell, SC. Barnwell is a poor, rural, 48% African American community that hosts the country’s primary radioactive waste dump. Although he dump is slated to close in 2009, within a few years the community’s water supply will become contaminated by waste leaking from the dump, raising concerns about environmental racism.
After the Barnwell dump closes, more radioactive waste may have to be stored in Vermont unless another community is forced to host a nuclear waste dump.
East Springfeld, MA: Contaminated uniforms, gloves, and booties are sent off-site to be “cleaned” at industrial laundries that serve the nuclear industry. The closest such laundry is operated by UniFirst, Inc. in East Springfeld, MA, a largely minority and immigrant community. These laundries routinely have bad safety and working conditions, fail to train their employees about radiation hazards and discharge radioactive and chemical waste into the local water supply.
The UniFirst/NTS laundry in East Springfeld has repeatedly dumped waste in the local sewage system and even the pond in a nearby park. Workers have been endangered by fires and spills in the plant.
Native communities: The beginning of the “nuclear fuel chain” is the mining and refning (called milling) of uranium ore. ining and milling operations produce immense amounts of radioactive and chemical waste. They are mostly located on Native lands in the Dakotas, the Province of Ontario and he Southwest. For every pound of uranium that is used in a reactor, 3,500-4,000 pounds of radioactive uranium tailings are generated.