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6-02-2003
  
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Radioactive Waste

Military Waste Problems

The debate over the management and disposal of radioactive wastes continues with no satisfactory solutions in sight. However as secrecy was lifted from military nuclear programmes, the enormous extent of the challenge became more evident. Revelations of extensive dumping of military wastes and reactors in the Russian Arctic, and of other examples of poor past disposal, added a new dimension to the problem. In 1998, evidence emerged that radioactive waste from 80 scrapped nuclear submarines in the area of the northern Russian naval port of Murmansk had begun leaking into the sea. (Edwards, 1998). Further quantities of wastes will be generated by dismantling old weapons, including 50 tonnes of plutonium in the US, for example (Curtis, 1994). The global plutonium stockpile is estimated at 1,100 tonnes and growing rapidly (Panofsky et al., 1994). There are both technical problems in finding safe storage and disposal sites, and financial problems covering the costs of security, decommissioning, decontamination and clean-up. Cleaning up the environmental damage just from the US nuclear weapons programme was estimated to cost up to $375 billion and to take 75 years (US Department of Energy, 1995).

References

Curtis, Charles. 1994. (US Department of Energy) Congressional testimony 26 May 1994, quoted in "Radwaste: DOE considers storing plutonium at bases." Associated Press, 27 May 1994.

Edwards, Rob.1998. "Hot Waters".New Scientist, 9 May 1998, p.11.

Panofsky, Wolfgang, et al. 1994. US National Academy of Sciences report, January 1994. Cited in Kiernan, Vincent. "A bomb waiting to explode." New Scientist, 26 February 1994, p. 14-15.

US Department of Energy. 1995. Quoted in "Nuclear legacy." New Scientist, 15 April 1995, p. 11.

 

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UNEP/DEWA/Earthwatch 1996-2003