Nuclear Waste Clean-Up Plans Fuel Debate

Groups Question Government Plans for Radioactive Materials

A DOE storage tank, filled to the top with nuclear waste, sludge and salts. Department of Energy hide caption

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itoggle caption Department of Energy

The Senate is immersed in a floor fight over nuclear waste clean-up. A bill now under debate would allow the Department of Energy to leave what could be millions of gallons of high level waste in old underground tanks. The DOE says the material, left over from nuclear weapons production, won't pose a hazard. But opponents contend it could leak out, contaminating rivers and groundwater.

At question are nuclear waste storage tanks in Washington state, Idaho and South Carolina. The DOE says it can remove more than 99 percent of the radioactive sludge from the tanks, and seal the remaining traces in concrete or grout. But environmental groups say studies haven't convinced them that the grout prevents small leaks over time. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.

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