Jeff Masters Weather Blog

The climate threat to California’s stored nuclear waste » Yale Climate Connections

On the coast of California’s Humboldt Bay, 37 tons of nuclear waste are stored underground.

This radioactive material is locked in a vault. But some experts worry that an earthquake could damage the facility. And they say climate change brings a growing risk of flooding.

“We have the fastest relative rate of sea level rise on the West Coast,” says Jen Marlow, an assistant professor at Cal Poly Humboldt and a researcher on the 44 Feet Project, which studies the site.

The waste is stored 44 feet above sea level on a bluff by the bay.

But as seas rise, that bluff is vulnerable to erosion — especially if high tides start to overtop the wall that protects the bluff.

The Humboldt Bay waste is not in any immediate danger of flooding.

But nuclear waste can be dangerous for thousands of years. So the 44 Feet Project team encourages safety officials to consider the most up-to-date climate science and engage local residents, including tribes, in their planning.

“The questions around climate futures really ask us to understand how this site is going to be managed safely and responsibly in the future, and what the role of the community is in helping assure the safety of the site in the long-term,” Marlow says.

Reporting credit: Ethan Freedman/ChavoBart Digital Media

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