News Bits: Nuclear Waste Storage, Asbestos Lawsuit, and Missile Barrier

article image
Giant mutated gophers haven't sprung out of the earth yet, but officials at Los Alamos are concerned about the potential of ordinary gophers to disrupt nuclear waste storage.

Scientists who design underground facilities for low-level nuclear waste storage must plan for the worst, but what with earthquakes, floods, and a host of other major natural disasters to consider, who’d have ever thought to worry about gophers? Now researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are holding their breath, hoping that the burrowing activities of these rodents won’t cause serious problems at disposal sites.

Within a period of 13 months, gophers dug 1.7 miles of tunnels through a 2.4-acre dump, sometimes moving as much as 130 pounds of earth each day. So far, none of the soil they’ve brought to the surface has a higher-than-normal level of radioactivity. Researchers don’t expect the digging to present an immediate problem; the waste is buried four feet deep, and the gophers’ activities seem to have been restricted to the top three feet of soil. But with tons of earth being shuffled around each year, scientists are beginning to wonder how long it will be before radioactive earth begins showing up on the surface.

Asbestos Lawsuit Irony

A Huntington, West Virginia, courtroom was recently the scene of a lawsuit against three manufacturers whose asbestos products were said to have caused health problems in railroad workers. When the hearing was suddenly moved to a courtroom 15 miles away, the reason given for the change of venue was that workers were in the process of removing asbestos from the Huntington courthouse.

Anti-Missile Barrier Fails

In an attempt to snare all unarmed United States cruise missile streaking across the Canadian Arctic on a test run, protesters in Wandering River, Alberta, used helium balloons to loft a giant fishnet across the missile’s path. “It flew right over the top of the net,” one of the protesters lamented.