Radioactive Gold Rush: Nuclear Waste Storage Is a Booming BusinessS

First, dig a hole. Then, reinforce it with clay, concrete, steel, and plastic. Fill it with nuclear waste and cover it in forty more feet of concrete. Then profit. That's how one company in Texas has struck radioactive gold, charging companies $10,000 per cubic foot to store nuclear refuse.

Safely burying "low-level" nuclear material is now a $30 billion industry in the U.S., driven in part by an increase in old, contaminated parts removed from the country's rapidly aging nuclear power plants and radiation-related medical waste. The New York Times' Matthew Wald calls one storage pit "America's most valuable hole in the ground," describing the process of digging, protecting, and filling pits with small boxes of contaminated material from companies all over the country.

Radioactive Gold Rush: Nuclear Waste Storage Is a Booming BusinessS

Image: Waste Control Specialists.

This booming business is dominated by a single company in Texas—Waste Control Specialists—who even charge extra depending on radioactivity levels. Think of it as surge pricing for nuclear waste.

Here's how WCS describes its facility in Andrews County, Texas, on its website:

Located within a 1,200-ft. thick nearly impermeable red-bed clay formation, the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) site ensures safe and permanent disposal of radioactive waste by combining this unique natural barrier with a custom designed and engineered, 7-ft. thick, steel-reinforced concrete liner system... Offering the most robust facilities of their kind in the world, WCS is a long-term solution for the nation's commercial and public radioactive waste generators.

Is it really safe for nuclear waste disposal to be controlled by private industry? Critics are divided. Some claim that these companies are using techniques lightyears beyond the government's dated waste storage sites. Others argue that letting private interests dictate the location and security of potentially deadly materials is incredibly troubling. Right now, it's the best option we have. [The New York Times]

Lead image: Waste Control Specialists.