By Stephanie Jones, President, Stephanie Jones Strategies, LLC
Before October 2009, had someone told me that I would one day stand on top of nuclear waste, I would have been horrified! And the scary picture that came to mind would have involved a hazmat suit and a terrified expression.
Yet, here I was, almost exactly a year to the day later, standing smack dab on top of 30 years worth of nuclear waste – with a big grin no less, and a newfound appreciation for nuclear energy.
Our visit to Areva’s La Hague Plant wasn’t supposed to be our first stop; however, the French rail strike changed our itinerary. But the revised schedule was fortuitous because launching our tour with an “up close and personal” view of what happens to nuclear material on the back end provides an excellent framework for understanding the rest of the process. Among other things, I learned that 96% of used nuclear fuel is recyclable and that the remaining 4% can be stored safely – and has been for more than 30 years.
The La Hague Plant processes used nuclear fuel for recycling from France and many other countries; it returns the processed waste to its country of origin and stores the waste from French electric companies on site. Standing in the cavernous room whose floor covered more than three decades worth of safely stored material was an eye-opening experience! No hazmat suits for us – just immaculate white jumpsuits and protective shoes (which I suspect were more to keep us from contaminating the pristine plant than vice versa!).
As a result of this visit to La Hague, I am in a better position now to help my colleagues in the States better understand nuclear energy and its impact on our communities and the environment. And that was just the first stop!