Sunday, May 12, 2013

America's Nuclear Nightmare

The most terrifying thing I've read yet about our nuclear waste disposal problem.
There's a fire burning in Bridgeton, Missouri. It's invisible to area residents, buried deep beneath the ground in a North St. Louis County landfill. But the smoldering waste is an unavoidable presence in town, giving off a putrid odor that clouds the air miles away – an overwhelming stench described by one area woman as "rotten eggs mixed with skunk and fertilizer." Residents report smelling it at K-12 school buses, a TGI Fridays and even the operating room of a local hospital. "It smells like dead bodies," observes another local. ...

West Lake Landfill is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site that's home to some of the oldest radioactive wastes in the world. A six-foot chain-link fence surrounds the perimeter, plastered with bright yellow hazard signs that warn of the dangers within. On one corner stands a rusty gas pump. About 1,200 feet south of the radioactive EPA site, the fire at Bridgeton Landfill spreads out like hot barbeque coals. No one knows for sure what happens when an underground inferno meets a pool of atomic waste, but residents aren't eager to find out. ...

Today, West Lake's radioactive waste – all 143,000 cubic yards of it – sits on the outskirts of a former quarry with practically none of the standard safety features found in most municipal landfills. No clay liner blocks toxic leachate – or "garbage juice" – from seeping into area groundwater. No cap keeps toxic gas from dispersing into the air. This unprotected waste sits on a floodplain 1.5 miles away from the Missouri River. Eight miles downstream is a drinking water reservoir that serves 300,000 St. Louisans. Worst of all: The materials dumped in this populous metropolitan area will continue to pose a hazard for hundreds of thousands of years.
Meanwhile, "Republic Services also denies that it is dealing with a 'fire' – the company prefers the euphemism 'subsurface smoldering event.'"

This stuff is ticking time bomb. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when it explodes into an insoluble problem. Mankind will all be wanting to book that flight to Mars after that. [graphic via]

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