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Secondly, the extreme longevity of these materials challenges the logistics of containment central to depollution and remediation; spills, leaks, and future care are pressing problems that can reintroduce the substance to new environments and bodies.

In short, very long-lived toxic and hazardous substances will continue to cause harm no matter where they are moved, and because they can persist in geological time—that is, longer than the human species—any containment in human-devised systems is temporary. On a human timescale, the disposal, containment, and management of long-lived waste present two main problems: 1 technological failure of infrastructure that may result in new needs for depollution and remediation, and 2 social challenges as waste siting often poses a disproportionate burden of environmental and health risks for Indigenous communities, racial minorities, and low-income populations that live where containment and processing are usually sited Bullard, ; Nixon, ; Bohme, As three experts in waste from different disciplines, we offer a synthesis of literature from a range of research areas, case studies, and theories around the temporality of waste drawing from archaeology, biology, environmental science, geography, geology, history, science and technology studies STS , and sociology.

In short, we offer our services here as interdisciplinary translators to document the trajectory of research on temporality across disciplines. We conclude with an overview of solutions that take the extreme longevity of certain wastes into account in terms of stewardship and perpetual care, almost all of which originate in nuclear waste management.

Yet, these ideas, though fruitful, are only one set of guidelines for future actions. More are needed. Our goal is that this overview of the issue will provide a shared vocabulary and set of references so experts across disciplines can move forward in concert. While radioactive waste has long been linked to deep time Benford, ; Ialenti, , other materials are increasingly understood on, and defined by, a geologic time scale, including plastics Corcoran et al.

While the Anthropocene is not yet an official geologic epoch, the term situates anthropogenic waste on the geologic timescale providing an appropriate focus with which to understand the long timescales of permanent and persistent waste, as well as their effects on a global scale. The continuous pollution caused by some materials has uneven geographies, effecting certain bodies and areas more than others. As such, environmental and social justice is always part of waste remediation and containment.

Violence is customarily conceived as an event or action that is immediate in time, explosive and spectacular in space, and as erupting into instant sensational visibility. We need, I believe, to engage a different kind of violence, a violence that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous, but rather incremental and accretive, its calamitous repercussions playing out across a range of temporal scales.

Thus, while slow disaster might refer to certain cases and locales, it also describes the crisis of methodology facing management of certain 21st century wastes. We use them to show the difference in how the larger concepts of deep time, slowness, and environmental and social justice work differently through different long-lived waste materials. As such, the theories outlined above are not universalizing theories that apply in the same way to all cases; rather, they are coordinating theories that touch on issues present across cases.

For instance, the mining and milling of uranium, the most commonly occurring isotope of uranium, produces waste comprised in part of thorium and radium 2. These are just three among many radioactive byproducts produced by nuclear industries. This does not include waste produced by major nuclear events like the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi disasters, waste produced in mining and refining of radioactive ores for nuclear weapons, nor does it include fallout from nuclear testing in places like the Nevada desert and the Bikini Atoll.

Such repositories are archetypal examples of techniques that use space to manage the time scales of persistent waste. This type of containment lacks the temporal focus necessary to grapple with the longevity of radioactive waste. Further, management of radioactive waste must account for changing geologic conditions at storage sites—such as rising ocean levels at the Drigg repository—which present challenges like erosion, changing ground water conditions, and shifting storage temperatures Sumerling et al.

Some radioactive waste storage sites will have to be managed hundreds of thousands of years into the future. The long lifespan and invisible spread of radionuclides from environmental catastrophes like the Chernobyl explosion, the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor, or the nuclear tests in the Bikini Atoll are spatially and temporally unbound in Earth systems.

Handbook of Complex Environmental Remediation Problems

These events have effects on human and ecological health that are difficult to trace or measure and which will continue for millennia. In the cases of Fukushima Daiichi and the bombings of the Bikini Islands, these effects are exacerbated by the spread of radionuclides through oceans. Likewise, less acutely irradiated zones like decommissioned uranium mines and mills present similar challenges as radioactive elements are taken up in bodies and spread through lake and river systems as well as through groundwater Leddy, ; Masco, Around the world the environmental and health burdens of storing and managing nuclear waste fall disproportionately on Indigenous peoples, low-income groups, and racial minorities Barker, ; Kosek, ; Kuletz, ; LaDuke, ; Masco, ; Van Wyck, This is true of fallout zones and of siting both nuclear industries and nuclear waste repositories.

The long timescales associated with the radioactive emissions of nuclear waste mean that nuclear colonialism extends far beyond the boom and bust of nuclear industries, nuclear zones, and nuclear dumps in colonized countries.

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Nuclear colonialism is continually iterated after the closure of nuclear-industry facilities by the radioactive emissions of nuclear waste. In other words, just as radioactive elements continue to emit radiation long after the industry that produced them ceases to exist, nuclear industries continue colonization long after the industry itself ceases to produce. At both sites, the releases were not primarily the result of meltdowns or catastrophic events, rather of normal operating procedures, aging infrastructure, and, in some cases, experiments.

Unlike the Chernobyl disaster, releases took place over decades instead of days. These are wastes that remediation and depollution miss, even if they are materially the same as those found in Superfund sites. It is formed through intermingling of melted plastic, beach sediment, basaltic lava fragments, and organic debris, creating a permanent anthropogenic marker in the geological record. Plastics escape this infrastructure with regularity, flying or falling out of bins, trucks, transfer stations, and container ships. Many countries in the Global South do not have MSW infrastructure at all, contributing a larger share of marine plastics in the near term Jambeck et al.

Once escaped, plastics are ingested by marine life, from plankton Cole et al. Clean up becomes anachronistic, a strategy suited to pre-industrial forms of waste. Plasticizers are added to plastics to give them certain characteristics such as UV resistance, colour, flame retardance, or flexibility. Some of these plasticizers, such as the phthalates found in soft plastic toys, are persistent organic pollutants POPs. Most of these plasticizers are also endocrine disruptors Jobling et al. But endocrine disruptors increase effects transgenically—they are more dangerous to fetuses than to adults—while radioactive materials technically, slowly, decrease effects over time across newly exposed generations because of their half lives, even though these timescales are very long.

Comparing plastics to nuclear waste show some of the differences between the unevenness of effects on future generations, even when the mechanics of harm, transgenic effects, are similar. Like the other forms of modern waste described above, orbital debris is heterogenous, synthetic in its composition, and is very long lived. Unlike other cited examples however, orbital debris maintains the additional ability to travel and impact worlds beyond the bounds of Earth.

Since the launch of Sputnik in over million pieces of debris have so far accumulated in orbit 5. They range in size from a few millimeters to intact but nonfunctioning spacecraft. Even small fragments pose a growing risk to normal space operations. For example, the International Space Station ISS performed five debris avoidance maneuvers in , a fifth of all such maneuvers it has performed since Orbital Debris Program Office, As the altitude above Earth of orbital debris increases, so does its longevity in orbit, making this unique in our case studies as its spatiality impacts temporality.

Above km, it will typically remain in orbit for at least a century 6. However, this general relationship is complicated by the mass and velocity of the debris in question.

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Spacecraft are comprised of heterogeneous materials including heavy metals and toxic chemicals and use a variety of fuel systems, including forms of nuclear power. Thus when they cease to function and become debris, spacecraft can entrain both toxicological and radiological consequences for Earth similar to our two case studies above. For example, in a Soviet nuclear powered satellite named Cosmos failed, tumbled out of orbit, and crashed in Northern Canada. Its breakup on impact spread a radioactive debris field over a 15, square mile area United States Department of Energy, Debris recovered from the Cosmos crash included sand-grain sized particulate matter of uranium and fission products.

The SNAP was not designed to withstand an uncontrolled reentry. Consequently, when it burnt up in the atmosphere its Pu power source was dispersed into the atmosphere. This single event tripled the global fallout of the Pu isotope after accounting for all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted to that point Hardy et al. Orbital debris accounts for major quantities of spatially dispersed radioactive waste that endures in deep time.

Neither storage nor containment offer viable interventions for remediating or depolluting orbital debris, even though orbital debris, like nuclear waste, has massive attendant infrastructures for monitoring and control. This makes orbital debris a unique case for looking at how technical experts approach a permanent waste problem without recourse to depollution or remediation as mitigating methodologies. Proposed solutions usually entail making less debris in the first place, and attempting to manage flow before dealing with the stock of debris already present Kessler et al.

In , the U. The United States nuclear waste inventory, which falls under the purview of the Department of Energy, supports a Long-term Stewardship Program as well as an Office of Legacy Management for radioactive site management. These initiatives recognize problems of permanence and seek concrete ways to address them.


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  • Instead, social processes are thought to occur on a larger scale, arranging or stewarding future technologies and technical processes. The literature proposes that stewardship and perpetual care of persistent waste sites can be framed as an ethics of perpetual care , which considers the importance of continuity in future approaches to long-lived waste, communication with future generations, and stewardship to the endurance and feasibility of waste management strategies.

    That is, perpetual care includes political organization, infrastructural dedication, and an ethical framework to unite them. Yet issues arise such as the cultural differences between societies millennia in the future, language barriers, loss of cultural memory, desirability of resources, and where and how to archive information about waste Benford, ; Foote, ; Ialenti, The labour of perpetual care in irradiated zones, for instance, would again fall on the shoulders of the very people affected by radioactive waste in the first place: fence-line and downwind communities.

    STS scholar Maria Puig de la Bellacasa argues that an ethics of care must be concerned with questions such as: Who benefits and who is burdened by care? Who cares and for what? Why do we care, and how do we do the labour of caring for, as opposed to merely containing, wastes?

    Central to these questions is the equitable treatment and protection of our descendants Shrader-Frechette, as well as the people who do maintenance work, now and in the long future. Some researchers, particularly in marine plastics, argue that a proper remediation or depollution approach needs to deal with the flow as well as the stock of pollutants. This perspective on remediation, common but growing, expands the temporal dimensions of remediation and depollution to account for permanent wastes and as such adds activities like redesign and legislation.

    These approaches are premised on the argument that technological fixes for systemic problems are not adequate solutions Rosner, ; Stabile, Researchers working on persistent wastes like plastics and orbital debris, among others like arsenic, phthalates, or mercury, for example, must foster similar discussions about what depollution might look like given permanence. Aikas, T. Posiva is preparing a construction licence application and if all goes well operation should be on track for Nuclear Engineering International 54 : Barker, H.

    Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

    Environmental Remediation of Contaminated Sites

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    Kirkwood, H. Pasqualetti Ten thousand years of solitude? On inadvertent intrusion into the waste isolation pilot project repository. Benford, G. Comporting ourselves to the future: of time, communication and nuclear waste. Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems 17 1 : New York: Harper Perennial. Heindel, S. Jobling, K. Kidd, R. Jobling State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals an assessment of the state of the science of endocrine disruptors prepared by a group of experts for the United Nations Environment Programme and World Health Organization.

    World Health Organization. Bohme, S. Toxic Injustice.

    Responding To A Promotion?