The U.S. Department of Energy's nuclear security office is developing a project to help other countries deal with nuclear waste. The information comes from two sources who spoke to the Reuters news agency. They asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The sources say the plan aims to keep the United States competitive against other countries that are developing their own waste technology. For example, both Russia and France offer services to take care of nuclear waste.
Dov Schwartz is the spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration. He confirmed the group is thinking about how to help other countries reduce nuclear waste. However, Schwartz did not give details.
The NNSA also declined a Reuters request for an interview with Brent Park, who is leading the effort.
What would the technology do?
The unnamed sources say the technology could involve crushing, heating or sending an electric current through nuclear waste to reduce its size.
The machinery to do so would be put in a "black box" the size of a shipping container. It would be sent to other countries with nuclear energy programs; however, it would remain owned and operated by the United States, the sources said.
The sources did not name countries to which the service would be offered. They also did not say where the waste would be stored after it is run through the equipment. But they said they were worried the processes could increase the risk of dangerous materials reaching militant groups or nations unfriendly to the United States.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter banned nuclear waste reprocessing in 1977. The reprocessing opens pure amounts of uranium and plutonium, both of which could be used to make nuclear bombs.
NNSA spokesperson Dov Schwartz said the plans under consideration do not involve reprocessing. But he did not say what technologies could be used.
The government of U.S. President Donald Trump has made promoting nuclear technology abroad a high priority. The U.S. Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, visited Saudi Arabia this month for talks on a nuclear energy deal with the kingdom. And the American business Westinghouse hopes to sell nuclear power technology to countries from Saudi Arabia to India.
But a top arms control officer during the Obama administration questions the direction of the Trump government. Thomas Countryman said the U.S. should improve its ability to get rid of its own nuclear waste before helping other countries.
A nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists also expressed some doubt about the NNSA plan. Edwin Lyman said NNSA should not be focused so much on reducing the size of nuclear waste. Instead, it should be concerned about the dangers of nuclear waste that make it hard to store.
Lyman said even a small amount of nuclear waste gives off radioactivity and heat. It "remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years," he said.
I'm Susan Shand.
The Reuters news agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
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source – n. a person, book, etc., that gives information
uranium – n. a radioactive element that is used to make nuclear energy and nuclear weapons
plutonium – n. a radioactive element that is used to make nuclear energy and nuclear weapons
priority – n. something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first
radioactive – adj. having or producing a powerful and dangerous form of energy