Archive for the ‘reprocessing’ Category

Pyroprocessing the nuclear “wonder fuel” that created even more waste problems

August 21, 2017

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

The Idaho National Lab created a ‘wonder fuel.’ Now, it’s radioactive waste that won’t go away, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-na-idaho-nuclear-waste-2017-story.html, Ralph VartabedianContact Reporter, 13 Aug 17  In the early days of atomic energy, the federal government powered up an experimental reactor in Idaho with an ambitious goal: create a “wonder fuel” for the nation.

The reactor was one of the nation’s first “breeder” reactors — designed to make its own new plutonium fuel while it generated electricity, solving what scientists at the time thought was a looming shortage of uranium for power plants and nuclear weapons.

It went into operation in 1964 and kept the lights burning at the sprawling national laboratory for three decades.

But enthusiasm eventually waned for the breeder reactor program owing to safety concerns, high costs and an adequate supply of uranium. Today, its only legacy is 26 metric tons of highly radioactive waste. What to do with that spent fuel is causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.

The reactor was shut down in 1994. Under a legal settlement with Idaho regulators the next year, the Department of Energy pledged to have the waste treated and ready to transport out of the state by 2035.

The chances of that happening now appear slim. A special treatment plant is having so many problems and delays that it could take many decades past the deadline to finish the job.

“The process doesn’t work,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has documented the problems in a new report. “It turned out to be harder to execute and less reliable than they promised.”

Many of the cleanup efforts, like the one in Idaho, are years or even decades behind schedule, reflecting practices that were far too optimistic when it came to technology, costs and management know-how.

Jim Owendoff, the acting chief of the Energy Department’s environmental management program, recently ordered a 45-day review of the entire $6-billion-a-year radiation cleanup effort. “What I am looking at is how we can be more timely in our decision-making,” he said in a department newsletter.

The Idaho reactor, located at the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory, was designed to produce electricity while it “breeds” new fuel by allowing fast-moving neutrons to convert non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium.

But the complexity of breeder reactors led to safety problems.

Only one breeder reactor ever went into commercial operation in the U.S. — the Enrico Fermi I near Detroit, which suffered a partial core meltdown in 1966. Construction of a breeder reactor on the Clinch River in Tennessee was stopped in 1983.

A reactor using similar technology above the San Fernando Valley experienced fuel core damage in 1959 that is believed to have released radioactive iodine into the air.

Ultimately, the nation never faced a shortage of uranium fuel, and now the Energy Department is spending billions of dollars to manage its surplus plutonium. Unlike uranium, the “wonder fuel,” as the lab called it, was bonded to sodium to improve heat transfer inside the reactor.

The sodium has presented an unusual waste problem.

Sodium is a highly reactive element that can become explosive when it comes in contact with water and is potentially too unstable to put in any future underground dump — such as the one proposed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

To remove the bonded sodium, the government used a complex process, known as pyroprocessing, which was developed to also separate plutonium from the spent fuel. The spent fuel parts from the reactor are placed in a chemical bath and subjected to an electrical current, which draws off the sodium onto another material. The process is similar to electroplating a kitchen faucet.

Back in 2000, the project managers estimated in an environmental report that they could treat 5 metric tons annually and complete the job in six years.

But privately, the department estimated that it would take more than twice that long, according to internal documents that Lyman obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Even that was unrealistic, because it assumed that the treatment plant could work around the clock every day of the year, without down time for maintenance or allowance for breakdowns. Lyman found that during one year — 2012 — no waste at all was processed.

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

The problem with the breeder reactor waste is just one of many environmental issues at the lab, located on a high desert plateau near Idaho Falls. The federal government gifted the Idaho lab with additional radioactive waste for decades.

After the highly contaminated Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver was shut down in 1993, the waste was shipped to Idaho. The Navy has been sending in its spent fuel from nuclear-powered ships.

The lab is dealing with tons of waste containing artificial elements, so-called transuranic waste. The Energy Department promised to move an average of 2,000 cubic meters to a special dump in New Mexico, but it has missed that goal for several years, because of an underground explosion at the dump. The Energy Department declined to answer specific questions about the breeder waste cleanup, citing the sensitivity of nuclear technology. It blamed the slow pace of cleanup on inadequate funding but said it was still trying to meet the deadline.

“When the implementation plan for the treatment of the [spent fuel] was developed in 2000, there was very limited nuclear energy research and development being performed in the United States,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“The funding for this program has been limited in favor of other research and development activities. The Department remains strongly committed to the treatment of this fuel in time to meet its commitments to the State of Idaho.”

Susan Burke, who monitors the cleanup at the laboratory for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, said the state will continue to demand that the waste be ready for shipment out of Idaho by 2035.

“The Energy Department is doing the best it can, but our expectation is that they will have to meet the settlement agreement,” she said.

Idaho watchdogs are skeptical.

“There is some bad faith here on the part of the Energy Department,” said Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director at the Snake River Alliance, a group that monitors the lab. “The department is misleading the public. Not much information has been given out, but enough to be skeptical that the technology works well enough to meet the settlement.”

Lab officials declined to comment.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

He presented a technical paper about pyroprocessing at a conference held in July by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Lyman said he believes the Energy Department has little chance of success in the program.

“They are just blowing smoke,” he said. “It is a failure and they can’t admit it, because they don’t have a backup plan that would satisfy the state.”

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As a method of dealing with radioactive wastes, nuclear reprocessing is a failure

November 21, 2016

Where will SA put lethal nuclear waste?, BD Live, BY NEIL OVERY  SEPTEMBER 20 2016, “……THE UK’s Thorp reprocessing plant, built at great cost in the 1990s, is due to close in 2018, leaving a decommissioning nightmare estimated to take at least 100 years to complete, at huge cost. In Japan, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which was due to open in 2008 at a cost of R100bn, has yet to open and has so far cost nearly R400bn over a 26-year period.

France, the only country that reprocesses nuclear fuel on a significant scale, has only been able to do so because of a huge subsidy from the state-owned energy company, EDF.

Despite initial hopes, a large quantity of highly radioactive waste that still needs disposing remains after processing. There are also serious security considerations, because reprocessing high-level waste results in the creation of separated plutonium, which could be stolen and worked into a simple, dirty bomb. The very existence of separated plutonium eases nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear proponents often champion so-called “fast reactors” as a different form of reprocessing that could solve the waste problem. These reactors are designed to burn more plutonium than they breed.

But after 50 years of research and vast expense, not one has operated commercially due to the high costs associated with running them and the fact that they still produce significant quantities of high-level waste that needs disposal. Due to these chronic limitations, most have closed down.

The Kalkar fast reactor in Germany, which cost R100bn to build, never operated and was sold at a huge loss in 1995 and converted into an amusement park.

The US National Academy of Sciences stated in 2008 that the reprocessing of nuclear fuel makes nuclear energy “more expensive, more proliferation-prone and more controversial”……

The US has tried, and after spending the equivalent of R1.4-trillion, has given up. In 2002, Yucca Mountain in Nevada was identified as the site for an underground repository for high-level waste. Despite tens of thousands of pages of scientific research and countless investigations, no agreement has been reached about whether it is safe to store high-level nuclear waste underground. The site was closed in 2011 by the Obama administration.

In Onkalo, Finland, a R75bn underground repository is being built, despite significant opposition.

Similar options are being considered in the UK, France and Sweden.

No one knows, however, if waste can be stored safely underground for tens of thousands of years…….. http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/2016/09/20/where-will-sa-put-lethal-nuclear-waste

Nuclear reprocessing at Sellafield: Britain’s national disgrace

September 13, 2016

The National Audit Office (NAO) stated these tanks pose “significant risks to people and the
environment”. One official review published in The Lancet concluded that, at worst, an explosive release from the tanks could kill two million Britons and require the evacuation of an area reaching from Glasgow to Liverpool. These dangerous tanks have also been the subject of repeated complaints from Ireland and Norway who fear their countries could be contaminated if explosions or fires were to occur.

In short, the practice of reprocessing at Sellafield has been and remains a monumental national disgrace.

Especially serious are the ~20 large holding tanks at Sellafield containing thousands of litres of extremely radiotoxic fission products. Discussing these tanks, the previous management consortium Nuclear Management Partners stated in 2012:

“there is a mass of very hazardous [nuclear] waste onsite in storage conditions that are extraordinarily vulnerable, and in facilities that are well past their designated life.”

most of all, we should recognize that nuclear policies, in both weapons and energy, have poorly served the nation.


Sellafield exposed: the nonsense of nuclear fuel reprocessing
 
http://www.theecologist.org/reviews/2988095/sellafield_exposed_the_nonsense_of_nuclear_fuel_reprocessing.html  Ian Fairlie  6th September 2016   Last night’s BBC Panorama programme did a good job at lifting the lid on Britain’s ongoing nuclear disaster that is Sellafield, writes Ian Fairlie. But it failed to expose the full scandal of the UK’s ‘reprocessing’ of spent fuel into 50 tonnes of plutonium, enough to build 20,000 nuclear bombs – while leaving £100s of billions of maintenance and cleanup costs to future generations.

Many readers will have seen the interesting Panorama programme on the poor safety record at Sellafield broadcast on BBC1 last night.

The BBC press release stated this was a “special investigation into the shocking state of Britain’s most hazardous nuclear plant” – and it certainly was.

The most important of several whistleblower revelations was that the previous US managers had been shocked at the state of the plant when they took over its running in 2008.

Although the programme producers are to be congratulated for tackling the subject, it was only 30 minutes long and tells only a fragment of the whole sorry story.

This article tries to give more background information, and importantly, more analysis and explanation. The full story would require several books, and provide exceedingly painful reading.

What is reprocessing for?

First, ‘reprocessing’ is the name given to the physico-chemical treatment of spent nuclear fuel as carried on at Sellafield in Cumbria since the 1950s. This involves the stripping of metal cladding from spent fuel assemblies, dissolving the inner uranium fuel in boiling nitric acid, chemically separating out the uranium and plutonium isotopes and storing the remaining dissolved activation products in large storage tanks.

It is a dirty, dangerous, unhealthy, expensive process which results high radiation doses to the 9,000 workers employed at Sellafield.

The initial rationale for reprocessing in the 1950s to the 1980s was the Cold War demand for fissile material to make nuclear weapons. Several studies at that time stated that reprocessing was a “dominating edifice of policy”.

As a result, strategy-setting, regulatory functions, government reorganisations, and health and safety considerations always had to revolve around it. All Government Departments had to operate within the “rigid framework imposed by the imperative of reprocessing.” Reprocessing decisions were always made at Cabinet level.

The domination of reprocessing even extended to official inquiries. For example, in the late 1970s, the Windscale Inquiry was set up set up to determine a planning application to build the THORP plant. Inter alia, it had to assess the best way to handle spent nuclear fuel. Its 1978 Report strongly defended reprocessing. This was a nonsense even then (see BOX), but it held sway as nuclear defence considerations were paramount.

Environmental consequences

The Sellafield plant is host to several hundred radioactive waste streams and processes which result in large discharges of radioactive liquids to sea and even larger emissions of radioactive gases and aerosols to the atmosphere. Raised levels of childhood leukemias in villages nearby are considered to be linked to the inhalation and ingestion of these radionuclides.

Sellafield, and a similar plant at La Hague, France, continue to be, by some margin, the largest sources of radioactive pollution in the world. For example, the Irish Sea is the most radioactively polluted sea in the world with about half a tonne of plutonium sitting on its seabed from reprocessing.

The collective doses to the world’s population from the long-lived gaseous nuclides C-14, and I-129, and from medium-lived Kr-85 and H-3 (tritium) emitted at Sellafield are huge and are estimated by radiation biologists to cause tens of thousands of early deaths throughout the world.

Another result is the 140 tonnes of unneeded, highly radiotoxic plutonium (Pu) stored on site at a cost of £50 million a year. Pu is fissile and, in the wrong hands, the quantity stored at Sellafield could be made into some 20,000 nuclear warheads: it is a serious proliferation danger.

The sorry history of reprocessing

The history of Sellafield (previously named Windscale) is littered with accidents (some very serious), and hundreds of leaks, spillages, scandals, cover-ups, secret reports, redactions, plant failures, botched management contracts, and examples of gross financial mismanagement.

These have been discussed in scores of critical reports by various Commons Committees, by the NAO, by commissioned consultancies, and by many environmental groups. Also by reports from several European Governments, by the HSE, by RWMAC, and not least by several TV programmes in the 1990s alleging political dirty tricks and manipulation of Government Ministers.

Especially serious are the ~20 large holding tanks at Sellafield containing thousands of litres of extremely radiotoxic fission products. Discussing these tanks, the previous management consortium Nuclear Management Partners stated in 2012:

“there is a mass of very hazardous [nuclear] waste onsite in storage conditions that are extraordinarily vulnerable, and in facilities that are well past their designated life.”

The National Audit Office (NAO) stated these tanks pose “significant risks to people and the environment”. One official review published in The Lancet concluded that, at worst, an explosive release from the tanks could kill two million Britons and require the evacuation of an area reaching from Glasgow to Liverpool. These dangerous tanks have also been the subject of repeated complaints from Ireland and Norway who fear their countries could be contaminated if explosions or fires were to occur.

In short, the practice of reprocessing at Sellafield has been and remains a monumental national disgrace.

The final irony is that, if different spent fuel policies had been chosen nuclear reprocessing would have been quite unnecessary.

The policy horror of the Windscale Inquiry

The Windscale Inquiry, published in 1978, offered an important opportunity to put an end to the UK’s absurd reprocessing policy. So how did it come to conclude that nuclear reprocessing was actually a good way to deal with spent fuel? Largely by using unproved assertions, unsupported assumptions and unwise predictions.

For example, it asserted impending uranium ore shortages and high uranium prices, despite evidence to the contrary even then. It asserted that the mooted glassification of HLW liquid wastes was the best way to proceed despite zero evidence that it would actually work, and despite testimony from Canadian scientists that untreated ceramic spent fuel was a much better waste form than glassified wastes.

Perhaps the most egregious assumption concerned the wisdom of storing spent fuel under water for relatively long periods. Such storage meant that spent fuel, especially Magnox fuel, had to be reprocessed, as the degradation of its cladding rendered it unfit for long term dry storage. Indeed, all or almost all, of the Report’s recommendations on the rationale for reprocessing were later shown to be incorrect.

A major procedural flaw which probably explained much of the nonsense of the report was that Justice Parker, who knew next to nothing about nuclear technology, was advised by two senior advisors from UKAEA and MOD who sat on either side of him throughout the inquiry.

This inquiry is perhaps an extreme example of policy-led ‘science’. It is much preferable of course to have science-led policies. But when it comes to nuclear power, this rarely, if ever, occurs, even today.

After the Windscale Inquiry’s report, the policy of wet storage was maintained – in major part to ensure the continuation of reprocessing, as fissile material for weapons has not existed as a rationale at least since the early 1990s.

MOX Fuel – a solution looking for a problem

The next purported justification for reprocessing was the need to use plutonium as a reactor fuel in mixed oxide (MOX) fuels. However again this was and is a mirage as nuclear companies have repeatedly been unable to manufacture MOX fuel to the exacting standards required for Pu fuels.

In addition, nuclear utilities in Europe and the US have generally refused to use it, unless forced to do so by Government agencies. One reason is economics: MOX fuel costs about four to five times more than ordinary fuel per tonne – and delivers 20% less energy output per tonne.

Another is that spent MOX fuel presents serious problems for utilities. It cannot be reprocessed as it is far too radioactive, and it has to be stored for 15 years rather than five in cooling ponds as it is very hot when it exits reactors. This triples the cost of storing spent fuel. It also causes high radiation exposures to workers – even to managers in distant offices.

All in all, MOX fuel is a bad idea, but even in 2016, such is the dominance of nuclear thinking in Britain, that much evidence to the Parliament’s recent POST report was still suggesting MOX fuel as a solution to deal with the UK’s large unwanted plutonium stocks.

Clearly, there better ways of dealing with spent nuclear fuel. About 90% of nuclear fuel annual arisings around the world are not reprocessed but stored either in ponds or, increasingly, in dry storage facilities. Only the UK and France still carry out commercial reprocessing. This not to say that storage is problem-free or is a final solution but it does not suffer from the massive immediate dangers of reprocessing.

Where are we now with reprocessing?

The incoherence of reprocessing is gradually catching up with nuclear utilities and agencies, as the annual tonnages of reprocessed fuels are slowly declining. Most European utilities (apart from those in France and the UK) stopped ordering their fuels to be reprocessed about a decade ago.

The UK and France still carry out reprocessing, but its days are numbered – at least in Britain. Although all Magnox power stations are now closed, their spent fuels have not yet all been reprocessed. The latest NDA draft Business Plan shows its Post Operational Clean Out (POCO) plan lasting until 2023 with Magnox reprocessing ending in 2020.

With about 3,000 tonnes of Magnox fuel still to be reprocessed it could achieve the 2020 date, if the plant managed to continue operating at the current rate. But the Magnox plant is 50 years old, and could break down at any time (as amply shown in the Panorama programme) so there is no guarantee of meeting the final closure date.

As for AGR fuel, the NDA stated in its draft Business Plan that the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) would close in November 2018, mainly because of the significant costs required to keep it going longer (including new HLW tanks costing £500 million) – costs that NDA said could not be justified.

The NDA stated its Post Operational Clean-Out plans (POCO) and timetable for THORP closure were now mapped out and firm, but whether these will be adhered to is a moot point. The problem is that the UK’s 14 AGR reactors are expected to continue for another ~10 years on average (even although most are past their sell-by dates).

This means at least another ~5,000 tonnes of AGR fuel will need to be catered for. The NDA has stated that this fuel will be stored at Pond 5 at Sellafield by chemically treating its pond water with strong alkalis. Will this work? Again it’s hard to say as no safety case for the long-term storage of AGR fuel in treated ponds has been published.

Of course, the NDA should really be building dry storage facilities like those at Sizewell. (Sizewell, a PWR reactor, stores all its spent PWR fuel initially in ponds then in its dry stores.) However its latest management plan omits any mention of dry storage. This is despite the fact that, back in the 1990s the former company, Scottish Nuclear, had advanced plans for such dry stores for their AGR fuels. BNFL, with Government connivance, ensured these plans were abandoned. It is instructive that no plans for the mooted new UK nuclear power stations include reprocessing their spent fuel.

Perhaps the most eye-watering revelations in the BBC programme were that, although reprocessing was going to cease, the waste containment functions of Sellafield would continue for another 110 years at an estimated cost of up to £162 billion. In other words, the mess of Sellafield will mainly be paid for by future generations. This is utterly unethical and an affront to any notion of sustainability.

Why did Britain reprocess for so long?

Mostly because of institutional mindsets, as the need to reprocess was deeply buried within the core beliefs of officials with nuclear responsibilities. Such institutional biases are powerful and long-lived as the NDA (formerly BNFL) is even now resistant to planning dry stores.

Another reason is that no one agency by itself seemed powerful enough to point out the folly of the matter and get the Government to stop reprocessing. When, in the past, environmental groups, Commons’ Committees and Audit agencies etc opposed reprocessing, the Government fobbed them off with platitudes.

For example, in 1993, during a public consultation over airborne radioactive releases from THORP when over 70,000 individuals called for a wider public inquiry, the Government simply ignored them.

So what lessons can we gain from this shameful debacle?

  • As a nation, we must properly account for the environmental and other external costs of our policies.
  • We must be wary of creating large permanent institutions over which we have little control – or they will come to control us!
  • We must learn to listen to people who have different views from the Government – and that includes putting critics on government committees.
  • And we must try to use science-led policies rather than fitting up false evidence around pre-conceived policies.

But most of all, we should recognize that nuclear policies, in both weapons and energy, have poorly served the nation.


Dr Ian Fairlie is an independent consultant on environmental radioactivity. He formerly was a senior scientist in the Civil Service and worked for the TUC as a researcher between 1975 and 1990.

Busting Australian Senator Sean Edward’s deceptive spin about PRISM nuclear reactors

June 11, 2016

not a single PRISM [ (Power Reactor Innovative Small Module]  has actually been built…. the commercial viability of these technologies is unproven

Crucially, under the plan, Australia would have been taking spent fuel for 4 years before the first PRISM came online, assuming the reactors were built on time.

if borehole technology works as intended, and at the prices hoped for, why would any country pay another to take their waste for $1,370,000 a tonne, when a solution exists that only costs $216,000 a tonne, less than one sixth of the price?

The impossible dream Free electricity sounds too good to be true. It is. A plan to produce free electricity for South Australia by embracing nuclear waste sounds like a wonderful idea. But it won’t work.  THE AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE Dan Gilchrist February 2016

“……NEW TECHNOLOGY  This comprehensively researched submission asserts that a transformative opportunity is to be found in pairing established, mature practices with cuspof-commercialisation technologies to provide an innovative model of service to the global community. (emphasis added) Edwards’ submission to the Royal Commission

Two elements of the plan – transport of waste, and temporary storage in the dry cask facility – are indeed mature. There is a high degree of certainty that these technologies will perform as expected, for the prices expected.
 It should be noted, however, that the price estimates used in the Edwards plan for the dry cask storage facility draw on estimates for an internal US facility to be serviced by rail.17 No consideration has been given to the cost of shipping the material from overseas.
Around a dozen ship loads a year would be needed to import spent fuel at the rate called for in the plan.18 It is likely that a dedicated port would also need to be constructed. The 1999 Pangea plan, which proposed a similar construction of a commercial waste repository in Australia, made allowances for “…international transport in a fleet of special purpose ships to a dedicated port in Australia”. 19
 Needless to say, building and operating highly specialised ships, or paying others to do so, would not be free. Building and operating a dedicated port would not be free. Yet none of these activities are costed in the plan.
Furthermore, beyond the known elements of transport and temporary storage, the principle technologies depended on – PRISM reactors and borehole disposal – are precisely those which are glossed over as being on the “cusp of commercialisation”.
 To put it another way: the commercial viability of these technologies is unproven.
 PRISM  [Power Reactor Innovative Small Module]The PRISM reactor is based on technology piloted in the US, up until the program was cancelled in 1994. 20 It offers existing nuclear-power nations what appears to be a tremendous deal: turn those massive stockpiles of waste into fuel, and reduce the long-term waste problem from one of millennia to one of mere centuries. It promises to be cheap, too, with the small modular design allowing mass production.
 Despite this promise, not a single PRISM reactor has actually been built. Officials at the South Korean Ministry of Science have said that they hope to have advanced reactors – if not the PRISM then something very similar – up and running by 2040.21 The Generation IV International Forum expects the first fourth generation reactors – of which the PRISM is one example – to be commercially deployed in the 2030’s.2
 After decades spent developing the technology in the United States, a US Department of Energy report dismissed the use of Advanced Disposition Reactors (ADR), a class which includes the PRISM-type integral fast reactor concept, as a way of drawing down on excess plutonium stocks. It compares it unfavourably to the existing – and expensive – mixed oxide (MOX) method of recycling nuclear fuel.
The ADR option involves a capital investment similar in magnitude to the [MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility] but with all of the risks associated with first of-a kind new reactor construction (e.g., liquid metal fast reactor), and this complex nuclear facility construction has not even been proposed yet for a Critical Decision …. Choosing the ADR option would be akin to choosing to do the MOX approach all over again, but without a directly relevant and easily accessible reference facility/operation (such as exists for MOX in France) to provide a leg up on experience and design.23
 Nevertheless, the Edwards plan hopes to have a pair of PRISMs built in 10 years.
Crucially, under the plan, Australia would have been taking spent fuel for 4 years before the first PRISM came online, assuming the reactors were built on time.
 The risk is that these integral fast reactors might turn out to be more expensive than anticipated and prove to be uneconomical. This could leave South Australia with expensive electricity and no other plan to deal with any of the spent fuel acquired to fund the reactors in the first place.
 For countries that have no long-term solution for their existing waste stockpiles, the business case for constructing a PRISM reactor is much clearer: even if the facility turns out to be uneconomical, it will nevertheless be able to process some spent fuel, thus reducing waste stockpiles. This added benefit makes the financial risk more worthwhile for such countries
Australia, on the other hand, doesn’t have an existing stockpile of high-level nuclear waste. The Edwards plan would see Australia acquire that problem in the hopes of solving it with technology never before deployed on a commercial scale. We would be buying off the plan, with many billions of dollars at stake, in the hopes that we, with little experience and minimal nuclear infrastructure, could solve a problem which has vexed far more experienced nations for decades.
 By the time the first PRISM is due to come online it will be too late to turn back, no matter what unexpected problems may be encountered. Australia would have acquired thousands of tonnes of spent fuel with no other planned use.
Counting on the development of other PRISM reactors around the world is another gamble. The proposed reprocessing plant accounts for all of the 4,000 tonne reduction in waste over the life of the plan. Australia will have no use for most of this material – the rest must be used by other PRISMs. If PRISMs are not widely adopted, Australia will have no takers. This could leave Australia with even more than 56,000 tonnes of waste, with no planned or costed solution.
 Borehole disposal 
The second element of the plan is the long-term disposal of waste from the PRISM reactors in boreholes. However this technology is still being tested.
 According to an article in the journal Science, bore-hole technology has significant issues to overcome.
The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, an independent panel that advises [the United States Department of Energy] DOE, notes a litany of potential problems: No one has drilled holes this big 5 kilometers into solid rock. If a hole isn’t smooth and straight, a liner could be hard to install, and waste containers could get stuck. It’s tricky to see flaws like fractures in rock 5 kilometers down. Once waste is buried, it would be hard to get it back (an option federal regulations now require). And methods for plugging the holes haven’t been sufficiently tested.
However, if estimates used by the Edwards plan are correct, and boreholes can be made to work as hoped, it would allow high-level nuclear waste to be disposed of for only $216,000 per tonne. The Edwards plan reduces this further for Australia, quoting only $138,000 a tonne, on the understanding that our own waste would be comparatively low level output from a PRISM – disregarding, as discussed above, the 56,000 tonnes left over.
 Nevertheless, the figure of $216,000 per tonne is important, because that is the price at which any country with suitable geology could store high level waste. It should be noted that Australia will not have exclusive access to borehole technology. If it is proven to be as effective as hoped there is nothing stopping many other countries from using it.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) notes that borehole siting activities have been initiated in Ghana, the Philippines, Malaysia and Iran.26 A pilot program is underway in the US.27 The range of geologies where boreholes may be effective is vast.
This may have serious implications for Australia’s waste disposal industry, given that other countries could build their own low-cost solution, or offer it to potential customers.
 However, if boreholes do not work as hoped, Australia will have no costed solution for the final disposal of high-level waste from its PRISM facilities. Australia would find itself in the very situation other countries had paid it to avoid.
PRICE What are countries willing to pay to have their spent fuel taken care of?
 This is an open question, as to date there is no international market in the permanent storage of high-level waste.
A figure of US$1,000,000 (A$1,370,000) per tonne is used by the Edwards plan, but this estimate does not appear to have any rigorous basis.
The Edwards plan gives only one real world example of a similar price: a recent plan by Taiwan to pay US$1,500,000 per tonne to send a small amount of its waste overseas for reprocessing. From this, the report concludes that an estimate of US$1,000,000 is entirely reasonable.
 However, the report neglects to mention several important facts about Taiwan’s proposal. First, this spent fuel was to be reprocessed, not disposed of, and most of the material was to be reclaimed as usable fuel. 29 This fuel would not be returned, but would continue to be owned by Taiwan, and be available for sale.30 If they could find a buyer, Taiwan might expect to recoup part or all of their costs by selling the reclaimed fuel to a third party.
 Second, the 20 percent of material to be converted into vitrified waste by the process was to be returned to Taiwan – no long-term storage would be part of the deal.
Third, and most importantly, the tender was suspended by the Taiwanese government pending parliamentary budget review.31 This occurred in March 2015, several months before the Edwards plan was submitted to the Royal Commission.
 Not only was the Taiwanese government proposing a completely different process to the one proposed by the Edwards plan, they weren’t willing to pay for it anyway. So the use of the Taiwanese case as a baseline example for the price Australia might hope to receive to store waste simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
The plan does briefly mention that the US nuclear power industry has set aside US$400,000 a tonne for waste disposal – to cover research, development and final disposal.32 This much lower figure is disregarded for no apparent reason, making the mid-scenario’s assumption of a price more than double this, at US$1,000,000, seem dubious. Even the pessimistic case considers a price of US$500,000 a tonne, higher than the US savings pool.
As will be discussed in the next section, the question remains: if borehole technology works as intended, and at the prices hoped for, why would any country pay another to take their waste for $1,370,000 a tonne, when a solution exists that only costs $216,000 a tonne, less than one sixth of the price?
 If South Australia led the way to prove the viability of the borehole disposal method and took on the risks associated with a first of its kind commercial operation, many other countries should be expected to use the technology for their own waste, or could offer those services to others. This alone makes the idea that other countries would pay $1,370,000 a tonne highly unlikely. ….https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/conservationsa/pages/496/attachments/original/1455085726/P222_Nuclear_waste_impossible_dream_FINAL.pdf?1455085726

Nuclear pyroprocessing and PRISM – dangerous new gimmicks

March 20, 2016

PRISM BURNS AND BREEDS PLUTONIUM MIXED WITH URANIUM AND ZIRCONIUM, THE MOST TOXIC AND DANGEROUS MAN MADE ELEMENT ON EARTH

What the pro nuclear apologists don’t talk about is just as important as what they do focus on. Because the PRISM reactor requires a mixed fuel, which has not yet been perfected and must still be ‘designed’ and experimented with, this reactor also requires a very dangerous pyroprocessing technique, which requires huge amounts of energy and must be done remotely, because it so toxic and radioactive.  To create the fuel to burn in nuclear reactors required building two massive coal fired plants that were dedicated just to running Savannah River nuclear fuels site. How much energy will this ‘new’ fuel processing technique take, and how many coal fired plants must be dedicated to it?
 The technical challenges include the fact that it would require converting the plutonium powder into a metal alloy, with uranium and zirconium. This would be a large-scale industrial activity on its own that would create “a likely large amount of plutonium-contaminated salt waste,” Simper said.
Now PRISM requires the making of radioactive fuel as well, which must also be ‘manufactured’ using even more toxic and dangerous processes than what has come before. PRISM does not burn pure plutonium, as it requires a ‘mix’ of things, which must be manufactured, in a process that has not yet been perfected. The processing and burning of plutonium, will release plutonium into the environment, guaranteed.
http://agreenroad.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/prism-liquid-sodium-cooled-small.html

Generation IV reactors will not save the nuclear industry

March 20, 2016

Nuclear renaissance? Failing industry is running flat out to stand still Jim Green, 30 Jan 2016, The Ecologist, “………Rhetoric about ‘super safe’ Generation IV reactors will likely continue unabated. That said, critical reports released by the US and French governments last year may signal a slow shift away from Generation IV reactor rhetoric.

The report by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) – a government authority under the Ministries of Defense, the Environment, Industry, Research, and Health – states: “There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen.”

IRSN is also sceptical about safety claims: “At the present stage of development, IRSN does not notice evidence that leads to conclude that the systems under review are likely to offer a significantly improved level of safety compared with Generation III reactors … “

The US Government Accountability Office released a report in July 2015 on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US. The report concluded:

“While light water SMRs and advanced reactors may provide some benefits, their development and deployment face a number of challenges … Depending on how they are resolved, these technical challenges may result in higher-cost reactors than anticipated, making them less competitive with large LWRs [light water reactors] or power plants using other fuels … Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process, with costs up to $1 billion to $2 billion, to design and certify or license the reactor design, and there is an additional construction cost of several billion dollars more per power plant.”

SMRs-mirage Even SMR boosters are struggling to put a positive spin on the situation. Launching a Nuclear Energy Insider report on SMRs, lead author Kerr Jeferies said: “From the outside it will seem that SMR development has hit a brick wall, but to lump the sector’s difficulties together with the death of the so-called nuclear renaissance would be missing the point.”

According to a US think tank, 48 companies in north America, backed by more than US$1.6 billion (€1.5b) in private capital, are developing plans for advanced nuclear reactors. But even if all that capital was invested in a single R&D project, it would not suffice to commercialise a new reactor type.

The UK government also sees a big future for SMRs and has evenpromised to spend £250 million on “nuclear innovation and Small Modular Reactors”. But it will face two big problems. First, the money won’t go far. And second, nuclear power is already being outcompeted by wind and solar, which are getting cheaper all the time.

Dan Yurman notes in his review of nuclear developments in 2015: “Efforts by start-up type firms to build advanced reactors will continue to generate a lot of media hype, but questions are abundant as to whether this activity will result in prototypes.

“For venture capital firms that have invested in advanced designs, cashing out may mean licensing a design to an established reactor vendor rather than building a first-of-a-kind unit.”

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitornewsletter, where this article was originally published. Nuclear Monitor is published 20 times a year. It has been publishing deeply researched, often strongly critical articles on all aspects of the nuclear cycle since 1978. A must-read for all those who work on this issue! disaster……. www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987010/nuclear_renaissance_failing_industry_is_running_flat_out_to_stand_still.html

Deep waste burial a better solution than the much touted PRISM and MOX

November 19, 2015

Another option on the table is PRISM. Developed by GE Hitachi (GEH), PRISM is a sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses a metallic fuel alloy of zirconium, uranium, and plutonium. GEH claims PRISM would reduce the plutonium stockpile quicker than MOX and be the most efficient solution for the UK. The problem is, despite being based on established technology, a PRISM reactor has yet to be built, and the UK is understandably a little reluctant to commit in this direction. Seen as something of a gamble, it remains in the running alongside the currently more favoured MOX option.

Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure. Regardless of what decision is taken, a proportion of the plutonium will end up as waste and will need to be safely disposed of.

Unlike MOX and PRISM, immobilisation has no prominent industry backers. In comparison to exploiting the plutonium for our energy needs, there is no great fortune to be made from disposing of it safely. But immobilising the entire plutonium stockpile may in fact be a more economically sound approach than reprocessing

Sellafield plutonium a multi-layered problem, The Engineer UK,   6 November 2015 | By Andrew Wade   “……..It takes somewhere in the region of 5-10kg of plutonium to make a nuclear weapon, so 140 tons is a slightly worrying amount to have sitting in a concrete shed in Cumbria. While everyone at the press conference was at pains to point out that there are no major safety concerns with the current storage, it is widely accepted that a long-term plan needs to be formulated. This, however, is where things get tricky. The potential energy of the plutonium if converted to nuclear fuel is massive, but there are several competing technologies vying for endorsement, none of which are well proven as financially viable.

Top of the list – and the government’s current preference – is for some application that uses mixed oxide fuel, or MOX. MOX is made by blending plutonium with natural or depleted uranium to create a fuel that is similar, but not identical, to the low-enriched uranium used in most nuclear plants today. MOX can be – and in several European countries is – used in thermal reactors alongside uranium. But despite past concerns, there is in reality no shortage of uranium today, so no huge need to supplement it with MOX in current reactors. Where MOX could in fact lead to greater efficiencies is in fast reactors, but these are costly and difficult to operate, and would not make economic sense unless the cost of uranium fell.

To complicate matters further, developing MOX is by no means a straightforward process. A Sellafield MOX Plant was completed in 1997, didn’t actually begin operation until 2001, and was closed in 2011 after a poor performance record that saw it deliver just 5 tons of MOX in its first five years. To put that it into context, it was designed with a capacity for 120 tons a year. Total construction and operating cost was around £1.2bn. While France has had a degree of success in producing MOX, construction on the US’s MOX production facility at the Savannah River Site was recently pushed back a decade, and may not be in operation until 2033.

Another option on the table is PRISM. Developed by GE Hitachi (GEH), PRISM is a sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses a metallic fuel alloy of zirconium, uranium, and plutonium. GEH claims PRISM would reduce the plutonium stockpile quicker than MOX and be the most efficient solution for the UK. The problem is, despite being based on established technology, a PRISM reactor has yet to be built, and the UK is understandably a little reluctant to commit in this direction. Seen as something of a gamble, it remains in the running alongside the currently more favoured MOX option.

Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure. Regardless of what decision is taken, a proportion of the plutonium will end up as waste and will need to be safely disposed of. One of the speakers at the press conference was Professor Neil Hyatt from the University of Sheffield. A materials science specialist, Hyatt is currently developing an immobilisation technique that can be used to render the plutonium unsuitable for weaponisation, allowing it to be more safely stored in the longer term. Using a form of hot isostatic pressing (HIP), the process mimics the formation of ancient minerals by using extreme heat and pressure to lock the plutonium inside ceramic based wasteforms.

According to Hyatt, the HIP technology is about a decade away from operation. Unlike MOX and PRISM, immobilisation has no prominent industry backers. In comparison to exploiting the plutonium for our energy needs, there is no great fortune to be made from disposing of it safely. But immobilising the entire plutonium stockpile may in fact be a more economically sound approach than reprocessing, says Hyatt. Some see this as madness, putting all that potential energy beyond the use of future generations. Others believe the technology needed to exploit that energy is decades away, by which point fusion and renewables will be better options. Just about the only thing the NDA could say with certainty, was that the right decision is more important than a quick one. We wait with bated breath.  http://www.theengineer.co.uk/blog/sellafield-plutonium-a-multi-layered-problem/1021371.article 

MOX nuclear reprocessing costs twice as much as deep burial of wastes

September 4, 2015

Disposal beats MOX in US comparison  http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR-Disposal-beats-MOX-in-US-comparison-2108151.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter  21 August 2015

America is reconsidering how it will dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium as the previous plan involving a MOX plant has been said to be twice as costly as a dilution and disposal option in a leaked Department of Energy (DOE) report.

The plutonium arises from a June 2000 nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Russia under which both countries would put 34 tonnes of plutonium beyond military use. Russia opted to use its plutonium as fuel for fast reactors generating power at Beloyarsk.

The USA, meanwhile, decided to build a mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River, where the plutonium would be mixed with uranium and made into fuel for light-water reactors. The design is similar to Areva’s Melox facility at Marcoule, but modified to handle metal plutonium ‘pits’ from US weapons and their conversion from metal to plutonium oxide. It is this part of the process that has been problematic. Construction started in 2007 with an estimated cost of $4.9 billion but work ran into serious trouble before being ‘zeroed’ in the DOE’s 2014 budget, putting development on ice.

The Union of Concerned Scientists yesterday published what it said was an unreleased DOE report that compared the cost of completing the MOX plant to other options. Use in fast reactors was considered briefly, but with this technology not readily available in the near term, the prime comparison was against a ‘dilution and disposal’ option which would see the plutonium mixed with inert materials and disposed of in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, in New Mexico.

Despite being 60% built, the MOX plant still needs some 15 years of construction work, said the leaked report, and then about three years of commissioning. Once in operation the plant would work through the plutonium over about 10 years with this 28-year program to cost $700-800 million per year – a total of $19.6-22.4 billion on top of what has already been spent. Not only is the price tag very high, but the timescale is too long: the report said this would not meet the disposal timeframe agreed with Russia.

The cost of the MOX plant could not be mitigated by income from sales of the MOX fuel because the regulatory process to gain approval to use MOX would be too burdensome for a commercial utility. The report said “it may be unlikely” that even a utility in a regulated market where fuel costs are passed on to consumers would “bear the risk of MOX fuel even if it is free”.

Dilution and disposal would cost $400 million per year, said the report, “over a similar duration” as MOX, working out at close to half the cost. Other advantages for dilution and disposal are that it requires no new facilities to be created or decommissioned after use, although the increase in WIPP disposal means “it may eventually become desirable to explore expansion of WIPP’s capacity” beyond currently legislated limits. This unique geologic disposal facility was said to be of “tremendous value to both DOE and the State of New Mexico”.

USA finally entombs its Experimental Breeder Reactor-II

July 31, 2015

USA’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-II now permanently entombed, World Nuclear News 01 July 2015 The main clean-up contractor at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Idaho Site, has entombed an historic nuclear reactor in place and treated the reactor’s remaining sodium coolant….CH2M-WG, Idaho, LLC (CWI) said yesterday that crews with the Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) Program recently completed pouring more than 3400 cubic yards of concrete grout into the basement of the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) building to fill in any remaining void spaces and effectively entomb the reactor.

Workers also removed and treated the last of the sodium coolant from the reactor’s nine heat exchangers. The exchangers were used to cool the liquid metal and direct the steam to a generating turbine to produce electricity when the reactor was operating.

The EBR-II was the basis of the US Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program…….. The reactor was shut down in 1994 and its fuel was removed and transported to another site facility for safe storage.

The DOE grouted the reactor in place instead of removing it to protect workers from industrial hazards and radiological risks, CWI said. Crews filled the reactor vessel with grout over two years ago and recently completed the remainder of grouting at the facility under CWI’s contract.

Nuclear reprocessing does not live up to the deceitful hype about it

July 31, 2015

Nuclear Reprocessing Pay more, risk more, get little,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 21 May 15  Hui Zhang
“……
 Lately, advocates for fast neutron reactors have been arguing that breeders and reprocessing can reduce the long-term hazards associated with burial of high-level waste. But these long-term benefits are offset by short-term risks and costs.

For example, breeder advocates argue that the risks surrounding leakage in geological repositories could be reduced if all the long-lived isotopes of plutonium and other transuranics contained in spent fuel were transmuted (or fissioned), thus significantly reducing the doses of radioactivity that could escape due to any leakage. But studies show that long-lived fission and activation products in spent fuel—not isotopes that could be fissioned through breeders and reprocessing—dominate the radioactivity doses that leakage could release.

Plutonium, in fact, is quite insoluble in deep underground water. So, reprocessing delivers no obvious long-term benefits in reducing leaked doses of radioactivity—but it does involve routine releases of long-lived radioactive gases from spent fuel. Reprocessing also increases the risk that tanks for high-level liquid waste might explode.

(In a similar vein, advocates for fast neutron reactors argue that reprocessing, by reducing the need to mine uranium, can reduce human radiation exposure. But any such benefit is canceled out because plutonium reprocessing and recycling themselves expose workers and the public to radiation. In short, the net effects may well be negative.)

Meanwhile, all reprocessing and fast neutron reactor programs currently under consideration significantly increase the economic costs of nuclear energy. This means that nuclear decision makers must choose between achieving rather insignificant reductions in the long-term hazards associated with nuclear waste—and achieving short-term gains in the areas of safety, security, human health, and the environment.

The choice seems rather clear-cut. The US National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1996, based on a review of the costs and benefits of reprocessing and fast neutron reactor programs, that “none of the dose reductions seem large enough to warrant the expense and additional operational risk of transmutation.” That assessment remains valid today…….http://thebulletin.org/reprocessing-poised-growth-or-deaths-door/pay-more-risk-more-get-little