The Joint Minerals Business and Economic Committee received approval and funding this month to study the possibility of constructing a facility in Wyoming for the temporary storage of spent nuclear …
The Joint Minerals Business and Economic Committee received approval and funding this month to study the possibility of constructing a facility in Wyoming for the temporary storage of spent nuclear rods. The facility could generate as much as $1 billion for the state, which is more than it currently collects from federal and state taxes on coal production. With mines closing, this is an idea worth exploring.
Unfortunately, the Legislature’s Management Council, which voted 7 to 6 in favor of the study, did so in an unannounced email vote.
Sen. Jim Anderson of Casper, who is co-chairman of the committee, told WyoFile that a similar proposal about 15 years ago was met with extensive opposition from environmental groups. This may explain why the vote was carried out in secret; when it comes to nuclear energy and the waste it produces, reactions are often unreasonable and highly misinformed. However, secret votes are only going to fuel suspicion and undermine public trust, while granting the opposition a lot more legitimacy. And the fact is that all of us — including the people who will likely fight the idea tooth and nail — have a right to know what our government is doing.
When people think of nuclear waste, they think of high-profile nuclear accidents, such as Chernobyl. The Chernobyl incident is a fine example of what happens when you combine socialism and nuclear power. Compare that to the 1979 Three Mile Island incident in the United States, which resulted in no deaths or significant release of radiation.
As is human nature, the 98 nuclear power plants that operate every year in the United States, providing about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity without any accidents like Chernobyl, will do far less to inform people’s understanding of nuclear energy than a few isolated incidents over decades.
Altogether, nuclear energy causes fewer deaths than natural gas and coal, which kills five times as many people as nuclear, if you include estimated deaths from pollution.
Nuclear energy does produce a highly dangerous waste that remains toxic and radioactive for a very long time, but it is a very small amount of waste. If a person were to get all of their energy from nuclear power throughout their life, the total volume of waste produced could fit inside one single soda can. As for high-level waste — the same kind to be stored at a potential Wyoming facility — the total amount from all nuclear power plants in the United States produced in the past 50 years would fit on a single football field 30 feet high.
All this nuclear waste over all these decades has been stored, in enclosed, steel-lined concrete pools filled with water or in concrete containers reinforced with steel, at sites around the country without any major releases of contamination. The track record of safety is enormously well documented. There are also technologies being developed that may safely make use of that waste.
Opponents will work from the argument that since we can’t prove the site will be 100 percent safe and without any possibility of risk — a standard impossible to achieve — then it is too dangerous to have. Any theoretical harm is, to them, an argument against the facility. If we held all industries to this standard, we’d have to go back to the Stone Age.
But should this proposal move forward, legislators need to make the process fully transparent. It will deprive an unreasonable opposition of one more piece of ammunition to kill something that may be a good thing for the state of Wyoming, at a time we sorely need a new industry.