Florida Moves A Step Closer To Building Radioactive Roads

Florida Moves A Step Closer To Building Radioactive Roads

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is hoping the Sunshine State will glow a little brighter after signing a bill to allow radioactive materials to be used in road construction last week.

The material is called phosphogypsum, and it’s a a byproduct of fertiliser production. Here’s what the Environmental Protection Agency says about phosphogypsum:

When processing phosphate rock to make fertiliser, the phosphorous is removed by dissolving the rock in an acidic solution. The waste that is left behind is called phosphogypsum. Most of the naturally-occurring uranium, thorium and radium found in phosphate rock ends up in this waste. Uranium and thorium decay to radium and radium decays to radon, a radioactive gas. Because the wastes are concentrated, phosphogypsum is more radioactive than the original phosphate rock.

Doesn’t sound good! The Environmental Protection Agency notes this stuff is usually stored in giant “stacks” hundreds of feet high covering multiple acres of land. And there’s a lot of it; for every one ton of phosphate refined, five tons of phosphogypsum is produced, according to NPR. Florida produces a lot of this waste material and is currently storing over a billion tons of it. Fertiliser manufacturers are tired of this stuff laying around, taking up room and not making them money.

That’s where HB 1191 comes in:

HB 1191 compels the Florida Transportation Department to conduct “demonstration projects using phosphogypsum in road construction aggregate material to determine its feasibility as a paving material,” as it studies using phosphogypsum in roads.

Florida’s transportation agency now has less than a year to complete a study and make a recommendation; the bill sets a deadline of April 1, 2024.

Bennett criticised the plan, saying that under the new law, radioactive waste would be dumped in roadways “under the guise of a so-called feasibility study that won’t address serious health and safety concerns.”

What kind of health and safety concerns? The kind you get when fooling around with uranium, thorium and radium; health concerns including a whole lot of cancer for construction workers and anyone drawing from nearby water tables. Radium also decays into radon — a cancer-causing radioactive gas. Fertiliser industry types say it’s perfectly fine, which, yep, they would say that.

The EPA is the final hurdle Florida faces before going ahead with the project. Currently, the Administration has a 30-year-long ban on the use of phosphogypsum in road construction, but will review Florida’s proposal just the same.

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