The Nuke Waste around Us

Nuclear waste is seeping through loopholes in U.S. disposal policies and could be recycled into material for roads, schools and playgrounds, according to a report released by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS.) The report, "Out of Control—On Purpose: DOE’s Dispersal of Radioactive Waste into Landfills and Consumer Products," says the U.S. Department of Energy along with other federal, state and international agencies has allowed the release of radioactive materials from controlled facilities into public territory (see "A Nuclear Renaissance?," feature, July/August 2007). These activities are largely untracked and unreported, NIRS says.

"People around regular trash landfills will be shocked to learn that radioactive contamination from nuclear weapons production is ending up there, either directly released by DOE or via brokers and processors," says Diane D"Arrigo, a co-author of the report.

Tennessee licenses the largest number of nuclear waste processors to relocate, incinerate and recycle radioactive waste. In 2000, the U.S. Secretary of Energy banned commercially recycling metal that could be radioactive, but NIRS says the ban left several loopholes. "As long as DOE and other nuclear waste generators can slip their contamination out, there is really no limit to the amount of additional radiation exposure members of the public could receive," D"Arrigo says. "Only an informed, outraged public can force DOE and the states to shift the goal from dispersal to isolation of radioactive waste."