This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.


Podcasts on Nuclear Waste Management by Deep Isolation, a company developing "geological isolation", a possible nuclear waste disposal solution.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Principal JMP Services AS

30+ years in Oil & Gas Industry Field of Interest: Environmental issues in general; waste management issues in particular. 

  • Member since 2002
  • 703 items added with 53,653 views
  • Jun 25, 2020

Those who are interested in the issue of nuclear waste might want to have a look at this series of 3 podcasts provided by Deep Isolation.  Keep in mind that this is a company that is developing the idea of geological isolation of high level nuclear waste. Regardless of what one may think of the podcasts, the CEO makes a point worth reporting here:

Just a few highlights of the first podcast (about 20 minutes):

The speaker is from Science Matters.

  • The podcast starts with what I think is an excellent statement of the problem of nuclear waste, with special reference to 1) the quantity of waste that is stored and awaiting permanent disposal, 2) the quantity of plutonium that the waste contains that no one has any legitimate use for, not even for defense, and 3) the toxicity of the waste and the hazard it represents.  I have no doubt that some people will dismiss some of the statements as “alarmist”.  I make no apologies for that.  
  • The speaker goes on to explain the various alternatives for permanent storage including the status quo, Yucca Mountain and similar sites, vertical and horizontal “geological isolation.”  He says that the main problem is that there is no doubt that the casks in which some of the waste is now stored will certainly leak in the time frame during which the waste needs to be stored, even by the most conservative estimates.
  • The speaker describes geological isolation as, at this point in its development,  the “least bad” of the alternatives, one that deserves a much closer look by the NRC.

My comment: Have a look.  I hope you agree that it is not a bad use of 20 minutes.

Podcast 2 – about 11 minutes

A few notes: 

The speaker is from the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI).  

  • There is a general acknowledgement of the problem, if not quite in terms of the consequences of getting it wrong, but from the reputational damage from the problem and the severe “constraints on investment” that the problem poses.  
  • He talks about the “scary” (moderator´s word), intimidating (speaker´s word) above ground facilities, with the fences surrounding the cask sites, the people who are guarding them, and their weapons. His children, apparently, are not reassured. 
  • He says that geological isolation is “easy”. The problem is the politics. 

My comment: Hard to disagree with that last part.

Podcast 3 (about 21 minutes)

The speaker is from Keene State College

A few notes from the conversation:

  • This is a discussion of “consent siting” and how societies arrive at such weighty decisions.  Dealing with Civil vs. Defense waste complicates the already very complex issues. 
  • The initial idea was to have elected representatives decide.  But, elected officials, especially local ones, were not elected to handle these kinds of issues (as opposed to, for example, school or road issues).
  • How do companies and government institutions get society to reach conclusions?  How can a national consensus be reached? The requirements, on the part of the institutions, include aspects such as Trust, Caring, Commitment, Mutual Respect, Competence, Predictability. How to achieve these requirements was discussed. 
  • Bottom line: Neither the necessary trust nor the other requirements and conditions for reaching a sensible consensus exist in the US in order to solve this problem, especially with respect to the DOE and NRC.     
  • The speaker says that there was a path toward a solution via Obama´s Blue Ribbon Commission. But all of that progress seems to have disappeared since 2016, both in terms of personnel and on-line documentation.
  • The blame is squarely on the politicians.  The answer may be to set up an independent body with power to move forward toward national consensus wholly without political involvement.

My comment: Sorry to be cynical, but Fat Chance, at least for the time being.


Mark Silverstone's picture
Thank Mark for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member
Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 25, 2020

The blame is squarely on the politicians.  The answer may be to set up an independent body with power to move forward toward national consensus wholly without political involvement.

I agree that many of nuclear's faults come down to the political feasibility of it all, especially when looking at waste sites and some of the strongest NIMBYism that we've seen out there. It makes me wonder-- has there been a comparable industry topic that's been so emotionally driven to make it politically infeasible that actually was overcome (whether via a suggestion like this or otherwise)? I think back to some turn of the century cartoons like the one below from people who were anti-electricity, which obviously lost the battle-- but are there modern examples?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 25, 2020

Where did you find that cartoon, Matt? Another beneficial technology forestalled by irrational fear.

Today, we can add vaccination to the list.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 25, 2020

I had found it on social media (vaccination is a good one-- this was in response to people's fears about 5G and somehow connecting it to COVID), but through a search best source for information on the cartoon can be found here:

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jun 25, 2020

Mark, thanks for providing these podcasts. They show three viewpoints (actually four, including the moderator) of the storage of nuclear waste, and three different levels of understanding of the dangers of radiation.
Let's start with the introduction, where misperceptions are already coming out of the announcer's mouth, fast and furious:

"No country has established a permanent home for spent nuclear fuel."

Whether spent nuclear fuel should ever be placed in a "permanent home" is controversial:
• It would only be used to placate the irrational fears of people with a poor understanding of its risks over time.
• It's valuable. Only 5% of fissionable uranium in spent fuel rods has been used, so it can be recycled - many times - to provide fresh nuclear fuel for hundreds of years into the future.
• It is dangerous for up to 1,000 years, so if it's not immediately recycled it's ideally stored in an underground repository like Yucca Mountain, in railway cars on tracks, so it can be recovered when necessary.

"In the U.S. alone, one in three people live within 15 miles of a storage site!"

High level nuclear waste in dry cask storage is not liquid or a powder. It's in the form of extremely heavy, metal rods gathered together in bundles. Even if a dry cask tipped over it wouldn't break open. If it was forced open, and the metal rods were pulled out by a very determined terrorist, he wouldn't get very far (he'd be dead within minutes). Then, specialists in shielding would show  up and clean up the mess he made, put it back into another dry cask, and go home. People outside the plant's boundaries would have nothing to worry about, people who lived 15 miles away, less than nothing.

Finally, I'd like to point out it was the moderator who used the word "scary", and here's how he used it:

"When I visited one of the plants, you see guys out in front with machine guns, and fences, it's kind of scary, you're absolutely right. Below ground, it's no longer as scary."

But McCullum had never said waste stored in dry casks was "scary" - no nuclear professional would say that. It's what the moderator heard, because of his (mistaken) preconceptions of the danger of stored waste. The only real challenge is public misperceptions - the "reputational damage" that McCullum refers to.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »