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Missouri S&T will ask St. Louis-area residents their opinions about nuclear waste

Missouri S&T's Nuclear Reactor
Sam O'Keefe
Missouri S&T
Missouri S&T's nuclear reactor

Missouri University of Science and Technology wants to know what St. Louis-area residents think about nuclear waste. The school has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the issue.

For decades, the federal government has explored the possibility of storing spent nuclear fuel at the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, but the Energy Department 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.

“We are not trying to convince the St. Louis community to host any more fuel. This is not the goal of this project,” said Shoaib Usman, associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiation science and the leader of the project at S&T. “The goal is to learn from them, what consideration goes into their decision-making process.”

The two-year project will include education and outreach efforts, including town hall-style meetings and other events.

Some residents will also receive testing kits and training so they can measure levels of radioactivity that are already present in their neighborhoods.

Usman said one of the goals is for people to get information for themselves.

“Right now, people are only getting information from outside sources. And they are only given the choice of trusting or not trusting that information,” Usman said. “What if they are able to go out, collect some soil samples, do the analysis and reach their own conclusion?”

Usman said the project is equal parts science, education and public opinion polling. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, St. Louis University and the University of Missouri will be part of Missouri S&T’s research.

The findings from all over the country that are collected will be sent to the Department of Energy as it decides how to proceed with finding locations for nuclear waste storage.

Missouri has one operating large nuclear reactor, owned by Ameren, in Callaway County. Missouri S&T has a small nuclear reactor on campus that is primarily used for educational purposes.

There are six nuclear reactor sites in Illinois, all in the central or northern part of the state.

Jonathan Ahl is the Newscast Editor and Rolla correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.