Tag Archive | "Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP)"

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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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A Nuclear Explosion in the U.S. in February 2014?

Posted on 29 June 2014 by Jerry

Why didn’t we hear about the nuclear explosion in the United States on February 14, 2014?  Why is it being billed as “dodging a bullet”?  Are nuclear waste materials so common that we are not surprised when there is an explosion at our most sensitive government storage site?

While most people are familiar with the years of controversy about our Yucca Mountain nuclear storage plans in Nevada, a project ultimately shelved by the U.S., almost no one knows about our one storage facility in use outside of Carlsbad in New Mexico.  Carved out of a salt bed some 655 meters (2,148 feet) below the desert, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) houses some 90,000 cubic meters (3,177 million square feet) of low and medium-level nuclear waste from decommissioned nuclear warheads in the U. S. (see the article on Russian/American cooperation on cleaning up nuclear weapons material).

The explosion, which occurred on February 14 involved some two or three barrels of nuclear waste which exploded at the facility releasing a significant amount of nuclear radioactive material into the entire site with some small amount of radioactivity being released into the atmosphere.  While no cause has yet been identified, collapsing walls or ceilings at the site have been ruled out.  This facility will be closed for at least 18 months.

More troubling than the explosion however are the results of a Department of Energy probe into just what went wrong at the site.  An editorial in the May 15, 2014 issue of Nature cited “an atmosphere of complacency”.   It cites the report as specifying a “litany of failings, from an insidious continually deregulation of safety standards and cutting of corners to dilapidated safety equipment, and a lax security culture.”  WIPP’s response to the accident itself was “delayed and ineffective” according to the Editorial.

For example, only one continuous radiation monitor underground sounded the alert of high radiation levels.  All of the other monitors were out of order.  This finding is no different than those of the much studied Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.  The Editorial cites the “hubris, overconfidence in safety assumptions, dilution or non-respect of safety standards, a weak security culture and crucially, lack of tough, independent scientific and technical oversight” common to both reviews.

These findings are similar to those found in a review of the chain of command of the air force which found a surprising lack of seriousness in manning U.S. nuclear missile sites.  This lack of seriousness led to the removal of several supervising generals responsible for these sites.

Taken together these and other recent reviews show the striking vulnerability this nation is facing in its handing of nuclear materials.  Adding insult to injury the government that had planned to expand the WIPP storage site has shelved its plans due to hydraulic fracturing nearby.

The area is rich in oil, gas and minerals.  A May 15, 2014 article in Nature magazine states, “This poses the risk that the WIPP repository could be disturbed by future drilling and mining, for example, by the puncture of the high pressure brine reservoirs beneath WIPP.”

These reports highlight the ongoing complacency of a nation that believes its nuclear weapons problems have been dealt with.  For years our government and those of the rest of the world have tried to reassure us the problems have gone away.  Guess what, they haven’t.

Use the following links to access further information or the actual sources used when writing this article.





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