Tag Archive | "nuclear power plants"

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Reid Retires, Yucca Safe, WIFF or Boreholes Options

Posted on 01 August 2015 by Jerry

Soon we will have another point at which we can decide how and where to store our nuclear waste.  Senator Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader, is to retire in 2016.  He has, with President Barack Obama’s support, politically blocked the U.S. from moving forward on the Yucca Mountain storage of this nation’s nuclear waste.  With his retirement and the time clock running out on Mr. Obama’s presidency, we have another chance to reinstitute Yucca Mountain if we want to.

In early 2015 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined Yucca Mountain would be safe if we chose to operate it as a nuclear waste storage facility.  Finally, the Commission completed its last two volumes of its five-volume safety evaluation.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was instituted by the federal government to store weapons related nuclear waste (see www.iamaguardian.com/category/protect/nuclear-weapons/ published on this website on June 29, 2014).  This repository, outside Carlsbad New Mexico, was designed for another level and is presently frozen at one storage level.  We could store twice as much nuclear waste at this facility if we opened up another storage level.

We could decide that a distributed storage option should aggregate present storage sites into a regional use of individual boreholes.  The notion of using boreholes punched into layers of granite has been around a long time but has been discarded many times as less feasible than a single repository.

Boreholes up to 5,000 meters deep could hold multiple types of waste with the most critical waste stored the deepest, between 3,000 and 5,000 meters with successive layers of clay, rocks and cement to seal the boreholes.  It would take 700 to 950 such boreholes to house the nation’s entire amount of high-level waste.

Each borehole would cost about $40 million dollars.  This is inexpensive however, recognizing we have already spent over $15 billion dollars assessing the suitability of Yucca Mountain.  So far, estimates range has high as $90 billion in the total amount spent on Yucca Mountain so far.

The final option is to leave the nuclear waste materials in water pools near the nuclear reactors that have generated the waste material.  Of course this nation’s use of nuclear reactors remains way down.  In fact, the number of nuclear power plants that are active in the U.S. fell below 100 with the closure in late 2014 of the Vermont Yankee plant that shuttered its operations.  This gives us less that 100 active storage sites or water pool installations to worry about.

The risks of these options are well documented, for instance, in terms of the vulnerability to terrorists, the risks incurred in moving large quantities of radioactive materials to a single national or several regional storage sites, or the contamination of ground water no matter which methodology is used.

While many pundits will argue the various pros and cons of these options, the solution will still boil down to a decision that must be made.

If you assume that all options have their shortcomings and that each shortcoming can be worked around using additional safety measures, we will still need someone’s final word.  We each need to decide which is the best option, whether the siting of storage is open to constituent or voter decisions or whether the federal government should just make an arbitrary decision.

Is the decision a popular one to be made by each electorate, is it to be left to politicians who will use their process to decide what should be done or should it be left to the scientists the government chooses to listen to?  We believe this entire issue will boil down to this one element, which is who gets to decide?

We believe nuclear power must be increased if the U.S. is to fulfill the commitments President Obama made to the rest of the world.  The March 25, 2015 issue of Scientific America had an article entitled Nuclear Letdown that states, “Without nuclear power, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from all power plants will become increasingly more costly to implement.  And if states cannot meet the plan’s requirements, the U.S.’s promise to China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025 may fall through.”

Of course more nuclear plants will create more waste that we must deal with.  This storage decision must be made and each of us must formulate a position that we should communicate to others.

Our position is the decision should not be made on the basis of some vote taken in a territory or a political decision by politicians. We believe the federal government should make a decision based upon the best judgment of their scientists.  The decision should be made on the basis of which is the safest alternative for the nation and its citizens.  A decision should be made and soon.

Use the following links to access more information or the original documents used in our research.







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What Do We Do With Our Nuclear Waste?

Posted on 11 December 2014 by Jerry

The U.S. leads the planet in disposing of nuclear bomb related waste at its one of a kind Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside Carlsbad New Mexico.  This facility was featured in an earlier June 2014 article entitled “A Nuclear Explosion in the U.S. in February 2014?”

Unfortunately this article does not include descriptions of the environmental problem of having no permanent underground sites anywhere in the world to store high-level, power-related nuclear waste.  We continue to not clean up after ourselves at our nuclear power facilities.

There are over 460 nuclear power plants around the world.  A survey of nations shows many plans for underground national nuclear storage sites, none of which have been built.  The vast majority of these plans represent facilities to be constructed by 2025 or later.

Nuclear waste from power plants is characterized in four categories: Exempt waste and very low level waste, low-level waste, intermediate-level waste, and high-level waste.  While there is not an estimated figure that represents the total worldwide annual nuclear waste, we do get some sense of it from a Congressional Research Service report.

According to the report “There were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009.”   Further the report identifies that 48,818 metric tons were stored in pools (78%), 13,856 metric tons were stored in dry casks (22%) and that the total increases by 2,000 to 2,400 tons annually.   These figures do not include the weapons grade nuclear material stored at WIPP.

Some high-level waste goes through two processes.  First, spent fuel rods are kept in a pool of water on-site for at least a year.   Normally however, the spent rods are kept in the pools many years in order to cool them and provide protection from radioactivity.  These pools use reinforced concrete that is several feet thick in steel liners to store spent rods.  Many power plants never remove these spent rods from the storage pools.

Another option is to move the spent rods from the storage ponds to dry casks after they have cooled at least five years in one of the ponds.  Then the cooled and less radioactive spent fuel rods are ready for a more long-term storage solution.  A Stanford University web site states, “Dry Casks typically have a sealed metal cylinder to contain the spent fuel enclosed within a concrete or metal outer shell to provide radiation shielding.”

While the dry casks represent an enhanced level of safety over the pools with respect to accidents or terrorists, they are still more vulnerable than long-term underground storage.  Underground storage is the best possible solution according to an international scientific consensus.  This storage is generally focused on a period of 100,000 years.  Any longer time horizon is difficult.  Some would argue that as a practical matter 100,000 years is too long.

This ignores however that the stored rods would contain very radioactive elements.  Included is cesium-137 and strontium-90 have half-lives of 30 years after which they are only half as radioactive.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years

The World Nuclear Association describes a few countries that have plans.   As an example the “Swedish proposed KBS-3 disposal concept uses a copper container with a steel insert to contain the spent fuel. After placement in the repository about 500 meters deep in the bedrock, the container would be surrounded by a bentonite clay buffer to provide a very high level of containment of the radioactivity in the wastes over a very long time period.”

Their report continues, “Finland’s repository program is also based on the KBS-3 concept. Spent nuclear fuel packed in copper canisters will be embedded in the Olkiluoto bedrock at a depth of around 400 metres.”  A difference between country plans is the underground medium that is selected as the safest place for storage.  Some countries prefer salt deposits, others want granite and still others have selected clay.

This is yet again another example of a problem that we have refused to resolve over the last three decades.  The permanent underground storage is a more long-term solution than any other option and yet the world is incapable of moving on this solution.

Even though we can all agree that an underground storage site is desirable understandably no one wants one in their immediate vicinity.  In the U.S., after spending tens of billions of dollars, we abandoned the Yucca Mountain solution due to political opposition from the Nevada political establishment.

As long as we side step this long-term (semi) solution, nuclear power will continue to be controversial and more dangerous and costly than any solar or wind array.  Nuclear is still a better option than coal but we have to break the logjam of resistance at geologically acceptable sites before it becomes a viable alternative that falls on the “green” list of acceptable options.

A final solution is that citizens of each country must overwhelm political resistance from other people living near a geologically attractive site.  This is where the needs of the many out-weigh the desires of a few.  In the case of the U.S. this means we should insist that Yucca Mountain be made available for this nation’s long-term underground storage.

The other option is that the U.S. and other countries of the world agree on the optimum storage site in the world.  Then they collectively have to provide sufficient incentives for that country to step forward and volunteer to house the world’s nuclear waste underground storage site.

As a postscript to the earlier article about the nuclear explosion and contamination at the WIPP facility, the Columbus Dispatch has reported $54 million in fines levied by the government of New Mexico on the federal Energy Department.  These fines are largely because the WIPP and the Los Alamos lab did not follow the Energy Department’s own guidelines about handling nuclear waste.  It is reported that the Federal government will spend about $200 million more to eliminate radiation contamination at the WIPP facility.

At issue is the unsafe handling of a canister of waste that was sent to the WIPP by the Los Alamos labs.  This canister ruptured in a storage room and contaminated more than 20 workers at the facility.  The clean up has forced closure of the WIPP.  Some say the closure is for an indefinite amount of time.

Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents for this article.




http://www.nei.org/Knowledge-Center/FAQ-About-Nuclear-Energy (click on Safely Managing Used Nuclear Fuel)







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