VOLUME 6 - 2013-2014 - ISSUE 1

What To Do With America's Nuclear Defense Waste: The Hanford Effect

Joseph A. Cohen

6 Ky. J. Equine, Agric. & Nat. Resources L. 1 (2013).

There are two general categories of nuclear waste: defense waste and commercial waste. Defense waste encompasses all waste produced for military purposes, while commercial waste refers to spent fuel from electricity producing power plants. Today, the future of where both forms of waste will be disposed of, especially defense waste, is in a state of uncertainty due to the termination of the Yucca Mountain Project and the failure of the Obama Administration to propose a detailed, alternate plan.

This Article reviews the history and background of defense waste in the United States by focusing on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (“Hanford”), which stores ninety percent of defense waste. It argues that the federal government must have a sense of urgency in deciding what to do with Hanford’s waste. It also discusses the federal government’s long history of failure in responsibly managing the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, the cause of which is largely political maneuvering. This Article also critiques the Obama Administration’s nuclear waste policy for leaving the issue to Congress without offering a true roadmap, presents and analyzes three options for how Congress can proceed on the issue of defense waste, and discusses the significant impact Hanford would have on the viability of each option. These options are: include defense waste in plans for the Obama Administration’s proposed interim sites; build a repository solely for defense waste; or continue storing defense waste at current locations while expanding the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (“WIPP”) in New Mexico. Finally, this Article concludes that moving defense waste to interim storage facilities and expanding America’s only deep geologic repository has the best chance of success.