S&T researchers awarded $2 million to assess public perception of nuclear waste sites

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On June 27, 2023

Nuclear waste is often stored in dry casks, such those pictured here at the Idaho National Laboratory. However, the U.S. DOE is obligated to find a more permanent solution for the country’s spent nuclear fuel. Photo courtesy of the DOE.

Researchers from Missouri University of Science and Technology have been awarded a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to assist the agency in finding interim storage sites for the country’s spent nuclear fuel. 

For decades, the federal government has explored the possibility of storing nuclear waste in a repository at the Yucca Mountain in Nevada, but the DOE now says that option is off the table.  This has led to S&T’s involvement as the leader of one of 13 teams across the nation conducting research for the agency.

The S&T team will assess and document the concerns of residents in the St. Louis area who live in the proximity of legacy waste sites where national defense-related nuclear material from World War II up to the Cold War is stored.

“Nuclear waste is often stored in specially designed storage pools or dry casks,” says Dr. Shoaib Usman, associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiation science. “While both these methods of storage are safe and secured, the DOE is under legal obligation under Nuclear Waste Policy Act to take charge of this fuel for its final disposal and is exploring a consent-based approach for interested communities.” 

Usman says that, with this approach, the DOE plans to work with consenting communities to store the materials on an interim basis until a more permanent waste location can be found and developed.  The DOE is not yet soliciting specific volunteer communities, and Usman says his team is not seeking to influence St. Louis residents to take on more waste.

Rather, the team aims to learn more about the community members’ perceptions and concerns related to storing nuclear waste.

“In the absence of a willing community consenting to host this spent nuclear fuel, who else would be a better surrogate to learn from than communities living in the proximity of legacy sites?” Usman says.

“We can’t change the past but can learn from it for a better future,” he says. “Our goal is not to convince these legacy site communities that nuclear waste has no risk, but rather to capture feelings, concerns and needs of those living near legacy sites, while also educating them more on the topic.”

Usman says that residents will be educated about four main topics related to the nuclear waste –nuclear fuel cycle, radiological pathways, health physics, and the concept of risk. As the community members learn more, the research team will survey them to see how this information has affected their opinions.

“Many people in these communities have been impacted by the storage of nuclear waste, or they have strong feelings about this topic,” Usman says. “This will be invaluable information for the DOE to consider as they progress to the next stages of this initiative.”

The grant project is expected to conclude in May 2025. S&T’s partners for the project include University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Saint Louis University, the University of Missouri, and additional subject matter experts who will assist in educating the community members.

To learn more about Missouri S&T’s nuclear engineering and radiation science programs, visit nuclear.mst.edu.

About Missouri S&T

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu.

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3 thoughts on “S&T researchers awarded $2 million to assess public perception of nuclear waste sites”

  • Rita Horstman says:

    Brave move as a surrogate for this initiative. Proud of the university. History definitely can repeat itself if we don’t address issues on behalf of folks who do not want to address them or are simply scared to do so. Mediators are often necessary. Kudos. Good article.

  • Sue Jackson says:

    I am 100% opposed to any storage of nuclear waste in or around the Greater St. Louis Metropolitan Area within a radius of 450 miles. We’ve suffered enough! Take that toxic waste to Texas.

  • When is the medical community learn how to treat the 100,000’s of people who grew up in the area? Having played in the infamous Coldwater creek duribg the 1970s and then raising my children in the same area, I’m trying to deal with my anger at the fact that pour own government has known about the toxic waste products spread all over st louis, north st louis county, st charles, weldon springs since the 1940s but decided not to inform the people living there. Our own government officials Lying and downplaying the impact on the environment and people living there. The documents have started to be released in the past 20 yrs and the legacy of deceit continues today. In the late 1980s-early 1900s I took my children to the annual Valley of flowers festival. The bridge from parking area to festival grounds was being replaced and lines of people were walking on rocks and in the waters to get accross. Heavy equipment operators were working within eye site wearing hazmat suits. Why did our elected officials hide this??? I’ve watched several family members, friends, neighbors suffer and die from cancer. Everyone I know from home has autoimmune diseases,our children are being diagnosed now. I have found 3 Doctors in stlouis area who are addressing the health issues associated with long term exposure issues. When I bring it up to my many physicians outside of st louis I feel like Im being gaslighted. Finally seeing how simular other peoples health stories on a Facebook website I know most of my health issues aren’t because “I have to take better care of myself”.