Archive for the ‘reprocessing’ Category

Japan’s hugely costly nuclear reprocessing program.

May 3, 2021

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021,  ”………………Japan’s hugely costly reprocessing program. The United States has been trying to persuade Japan to abandon reprocessing ever since 1977. At the time, then prime minister Takeo Fukuda described plutonium breeder reactors as a matter of “life and death” for Japan’s energy future and steamrolled the Carter administration into accepting the startup of Japan’s pilot reprocessing plant. Today, Japan is the only non-nuclear-armed state that separates plutonium. Despite the absence of any economic or environmental justification, the policy grinds ahead due to a combination of bureaucratic commitments and the dependence of a rural region on the jobs and tax income associated with the hugely costly program. The dynamics are similar to those that have kept the three huge US nuclear-weapon laboratories flourishing despite the end of the Cold War.

For three decades, Japan has been building, fixing mistakes, and making safety upgrades on a large plutonium recycle complex in Rokkasho Village in the poor prefecture of Aomori on the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. The capital cost of the complex has climbed to $30 billion. Operation of the reprocessing plant is currently planned for 2023.

A facility for fabricating the recovered plutonium into mixed-oxide plutonium-uranium fuel for water-cooled power reactors is under construction on the same site (Figure 3 on original). The cost of operating the complex is projected to average about $3 billion per year. Over the 40-year design life of the plant, it is expected to process about 300 tons of plutonium—enough to make 40,000 Nagasaki bombs. What could possibly go wrong?

Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission reports that, because of the failures and delays of its plutonium useage programs, as of the end of 2019, Japan owned a stock of 45.5 tons of separated plutonium: 9.9 tons in Japan with the remainder in France and the United Kingdom where Japan sent thousands of tons of spent fuel during the 1990s to be reprocessed.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations pressed Tokyo to revise its reprocessing policy, especially after Japan’s decision to decommission its failed prototype breeder reactor in 2016.

Perhaps in response to this pressure, in 2018, Japan’s cabinet declared:

“The Japanese government remains committed to the policy of not possessing plutonium without specific purposes on the premise of peaceful use of plutonium and work[s] to reduce of the size of [its] plutonium stockpile.”

A step toward reductions that is being discussed would be for Japan to pay the United Kingdom to take title to and dispose of the 22 tons of Japanese plutonium stranded there after the UK mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant was found to be inoperable. Japan’s separated plutonium in France is slowly being returned to Japan in mixed-oxide fuel for use in reactors licensed to use such fuel.

If, as currently planned, Japan operates the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant at its design capacity of more than seven tons of plutonium separated per year, however, its rate of plutonium separation will greatly exceed Japan’s rate of plutonium use.  Four of Japan’s currently operating reactors are licensed to use mixed-oxide fuel but loaded only 40 percent as much mixed-oxide fuel as planned in 2018-19 and none in 2020. Two more reactors that can use mixed-oxide are expected to receive permission to restart in the next few years. In 2010, Japan’s Federation of Electric Power Companies projected that the six reactors would use 2.6 tons of plutonium per year. If the much-delayed Ohma reactor, which is under construction and designed to be able to use a full core of mixed-oxide fuel, comes into operation in 2028 as currently planned, and all these reactors use as much mixed-oxide fuel as possible, Japan’s plutonium usage rate would still ramp up to only 4.3 tons per year in 2033. (At the end of 2020 the Federation of Electric Power Companies announced its hope to increase the number of mixed-oxide-using reactors to 12 by 2030 but did not list the five additional reactors, saying only, “we will release it as soon as it is ready.”)

As of June 2020, construction at Rokkasho on the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility that will process the plutonium separated by the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant was only 12 percent complete. It was still just a hole in the ground containing some concrete work with its likely completion years behind the currently planned 2023 operation date of the reprocessing plant.

Thus, as happened in Russia and the United Kingdom, the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant could operate indefinitely separating plutonium without the mixed-oxide plant operating. The reprocessing plant includes storage for “working stocks” containing up to 30 tons of unirradiated plutonium. If and when it begins operating, the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant will itself have additional working stocks of at least several tons of plutonium. Therefore, even if Japan transfers title to the plutonium it has stranded in the United Kingdom and manages to work down its stock in France, the growth of its stock in Japan could offset those reductions.

The Biden administration should urge Japan’s government to “bite the bullet” and begin the painful but necessary process of unwinding its costly and dangerous plutonium program. A first step would be to change Japan’s radioactive waste law to allow its nuclear utilities to use the planned national deep repository for direct disposal of their spent fuel.

In the meantime, most of Japan’s spent fuel will have to be stored on site in dry casks, as has become standard practice in the United States and most other countries with nuclear power reactors. Because of its safety advantages relative to storage in dense-packed pools, the communities that host Japan’s nuclear power plant are moving toward acceptance of dry-cask storage. During the 2011 Fukushima accident, the water in a dense-packed pool became dangerously low. Had the spent fuel been uncovered and caught on fire, the population requiring relocation could have been ten to hundreds of times larger ………….

The United States collaborates on nuclear pyroprocessing with South Korea.

May 3, 2021

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021,  ”…………………………………The United States collaborates on pyroprocessing with South Korea. The Idaho and Argonne National Laboratories also continue to promote the pyroprocessing of spent fuel. After the Clinton Administration shut down the Experimental Breeder Reactor II in 1994, the laboratory persuaded the Energy Department to continue to fund pyroprocessing as a way to process Experimental Breeder Reactor II spent fuel and blanket assemblies into stable waste forms for disposal in a deep underground repository. The proposal was to complete this effort in 2007. According to a review by Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, however, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 18 percent of the roughly 26 metric tons of assemblies had been processed at a cost of over $200 million into waste forms that are not stable. (Since then, an additional three percent has been processed.)

During the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Cheney accepted Argonne’s argument that pyroprocessing is “proliferation resistant” and the two US national laboratories were allowed to share the technology with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute.

At the beginning of the Obama administration, however, a group of safeguards experts from six Energy Department national laboratories, including Argonne and Idaho, concluded that pyroprocessing is not significantly more resistant to proliferation than PUREX, the standard reprocessing technology originally developed by the United States to extract plutonium for its weapons.

In 2014, the US-Republic of Korea Agreement for Cooperation on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy was due to expire, but the negotiations on a successor agreement bogged down over Korea’s insistence that the new agreement include the same right to reprocess spent fuel as the 1988 US-Japan Agreement for Cooperation.

The compromise reached the following year was that the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute and the Idaho National Laboratory would complete their Joint Fuel Cycle Study on “the technical, economic, and nonproliferation (including safeguards) aspects of spent fuel management and disposition technologies.” If the United States could be convinced that the proliferation risks of pyroprocessing were manageable, the secretary of energy would give consent for South Korea to use the technology on its territory. The final report from the joint study is due this year.

Meanwhile, in 2017, Moon Jae-in was elected president of the Republic of Korea on a platform that included not building any more nuclear power plants in South Korea. Fast-neutron reactors and pyroprocessing obviously do not fit with that policy. This gives the Biden administration an opportunity to end a cooperative nuclear-energy research and development program that is contrary to both US nuclear nonproliferation policy and South Korea’s energy policy. The United States could propose instead a joint collaborative program on safe spent fuel storage and deep underground disposal……………

Time that Japan faced up to the folly of its nuclear fuel cycle dream

June 20, 2020

As the situation stands, plutonium will start to pile up with no prospects of it being consumed. Reducing the amount produced is also an issue that needs to be addressed.

The United States and Britain have already pulled out of a nuclear fuel cycle.

Rokkasho – Japan’s nuclear ‘pie in the sky’

June 20, 2020

VOX POPULI: Government, nuclear industry badly in need of a reality check Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of The Asahi Shimbun., May 15, 2020  In his 1991 book “Rokkashomura no Kiroku” (Record of Rokkasho village), journalist Satoshi Kamata documented the displacement of residents for a planned large development project in the northern village.

Kamata reproduced an essay written by an elementary school pupil, whose school was earmarked for closure because of the megaproject.

“I detest development more than I could ever say,” the youngster wrote.

The villagers were promised a rosy future, with rows of factories turning their rural community into a vibrant urban center. But none of that happened, and the school closed in 1984.

“All that talk about the factories was a lie,” the child lamented. “I truly hate being made to feel so sad and lonely.”

Instead of this development project that never materialized, the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture ended up hosting a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

A series of delays held up the project for years, but the Nuclear Regulation Authority finally ruled the plant’s safety measures acceptable under its new standards on May 13.

The Rokkasho plant was meant to be the “nucleus” of the nation’s nuclear fuel recycling program of the future, with the purpose of minimizing nuclear waste by reusing spent fuel.

The reprocessed fuel was to be burned in fast-breeder reactors, but efforts to develop a viable fast-breeder reactor have gone nowhere. Attempts to use the reprocessed fuel in conventional nuclear reactors have also stalled.

The whole project has effectively become a proverbial pie in the sky.

But neither the government nor utilities would acknowledge this reality and review the project, apparently because they fear the issue of nuclear waste will become the focus of attention.

I wonder how long they are going to keep their heads in the sand without addressing the thorny problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste.

Here’s a riddle: What cannot be seen when your eyes are open, but can be seen when your eyes are closed? The answer is a dream.

Where the nuclear fuel recycling program is concerned, I imagine the nation’s nuclear community must be dreaming or hallucinating.

UK govt again to try “astronomically expensive” plutonium reprocessing nuclear reactors

June 20, 2020

Westminster relaunches plutonium reactors despite ‘disastrous’ experience, The National, 26 April, 20 By Rob Edwards  This article was brought to you by The Ferret.

THE UK Government is trying to resurrect plutonium-powered reactors despite abandoning a multi-billion bid to make them work in Scotland.

Documents released by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) under freedom of information law reveal that fast reactors, which can burn and breed plutonium, are among “advanced nuclear technologies” being backed by UK ministers.

Two experimental fast reactors were built and tested at a cost of £4 billion over four decades at Dounreay in Caithness. But the programme was closed in 1994 as uneconomic after a series of accidents and leaks.

Now ONR has been funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in London to boost its capacity to regulate new designs of fast reactors, along with other advanced nuclear technologies.

Campaigners have condemned the moves to rehabilitate plutonium as a nuclear fuel as “astronomically expensive”, “disastrous” and “mind-boggling”. They point out that it can be made into nuclear bombs and is highly toxic – and the UK has 140 tonnes of it…….

ONR released 23 documents about advanced nuclear technologies in response to a freedom of information request by Dr David Lowry, a London-based research fellow at the US Institute for Resource and Security Studies. They include redacted minutes and notes of meetings from 2019 discussing fast reactors, and are being published by The Ferret.

One note of a meeting in November 2019 shows that ONR attempted to access a huge database on fast reactors maintained by the UK Government’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in Warrington, Cheshire…..

Two companies have so far won funding under this heading to help develop fast reactors that can burn plutonium. The US power company, Westinghouse, is proposing lead-cooled fast reactors, while another US company called Advanced Reactor Concepts wants to build sodium-cooled fast reactors.

In November 2019 BEIS also announced an £18 million grant to a consortium led by reactor manufacturer, Rolls Royce, to develop a “small modular reactor designed and manufactured in the UK capable of producing cost effective electricity”.

According to Dr Lowry, fast reactors would require building a plutonium fuel fabrication plant. Such plants are “astronomically expensive” and have proved “technical and financial disasters” in the past, he said.

“Any such fabrication plant would be an inevitable target for terrorists wanting to create spectacular iconic disruption of such a high profile plutonium plant, with devastating human health and environmental hazards.”

Lowry was originally told by ONR that it held no documents on advanced nuclear technologies. As well as redacting the 23 documents that have now been released, the nuclear safety regulator is withholding a further 13 documents as commercially confidential – a claim that Lowry dismissed as “fatuous nonsense”.

THE veteran nuclear critic and respected author, Walt Patterson, argued that no fast reactor programme in the world had worked since the 1950s. Even if it did, it would take “centuries” to burn the UK’s 140 tonne plutonium stockpile, and create more radioactive waste with nowhere to go, he said.

“Extraordinary – they never learn do they? I remain perpetually gobsmacked at the lobbying power of the nuclear obsessives,” he told The Ferret. “The mind continue to boggle.”

The Edinburgh-based nuclear consultant, Pete Roche, suggested that renewable energy was the cheapest and most sustainable solution to climate change. “The UK Government seems to be planning some kind of low carbon dystopia with nuclear reactors getting smaller, some of which at least will be fuelled by plutonium,” he said.

“The idea of weapons-useable plutonium fuel being transported on our roads should send shivers down the spine of security experts and emergency planners.”

Another nuclear expert and critic, Dr Ian Fairlie, described BEIS’s renewed interest in fast reactors as problematic. “Experience with them over many years in the US, Russia, France and the UK has shown them to be disastrous and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

This is not the view taken by the UK Nuclear Industry Association, which brings together nuclear companies. It wants to see the UK’s plutonium being used in reactors rather than disposed of as waste……

“The Scottish Government remains opposed to new nuclear power plants in Scotland,” a spokesperson told The Ferret. “The Scottish Government believes our long term energy needs can be met without the need for new nuclear capacity.”

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not respond to repeated requests to comment.

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use

June 20, 2020

UK plutonium stockpile is a costly headache  April 23rd, 2020, by Paul Brown,  The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

Reprocessing is NOT a solution to the nuclear waste problem

March 10, 2020

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site has always been a political football. Trump is the latest president to fumble, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Allison Macfarlane, February 21, 2020   “………Pressure to do something is building, though, as more reactors shut down around the country. Since 2013, nine reactors have permanently closed, and by 2025 at least six more are slated to join them. These 15 will join the 12 reactors already shut down, for a total of 27 around the country. Eleven of them have been or are being completely decommissioned, so all that will remain on site will be the spent fuel, awaiting a solution. Leaving spent fuel in dry storage in perpetuity is not a solution: The casks won’t last forever and will need to be changed out periodically (experts do not yet know how long they will last). Can the American public ensure that a benevolent government  will exist 50, 100, or 1,000 years from now to carry out this task? We cannot.

Solutions” that aren’t. Both President Trump and Undersecretary Menezes referenced “innovative approaches” to dealing with spent nuclear fuel. Are there actual alternatives to a repository at Yucca Mountain? There might be alternatives to the Yucca Mountain site, but there is no escaping the need for a deep geologic repository to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. Numerous studies have come to this conclusion, including the US National Research Council, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future established by the Obama administration to consider alternative strategies of nuclear waste disposal (I served on the commission), and a recent report out of Stanford and George Washington Universities (I was on the steering committee for the report).

Ideas such as “advanced” reactors that use waste as fuel, deep borehole disposal, and the perpetually-proposed reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel have all been presented as solutions to our current dilemma. None are. Studies that my colleagues and I have done, and the National Research Council consensus report, show that all reactors and reprocessing schemes produce wastes that are highly active and long-lived and therefore still require disposal.

The Trump administration appears interested in reviving reprocessing as a “solution” for spent nuclear fuel. It’s not a solution, simply a costly management strategy. The few countries that still reprocess spent fuel, such as France, plan to use a geologic repository for the high-level waste produced. France, in fact, has already selected a site for its repository. Even if somehow, as some claim, reprocessing reduced wastes to those dominated by 30-year half-lives, a repository would still be required as, again, institutions cannot be guaranteed to last 300 years, the amount of time needed for the waste to fully decay. With impending climate-change effects such as significant sea level rise by 2100, who knows what the world will look like in 300 years, both physically and politically?

Deep boreholes, though perhaps appropriate for some radioactive wastes, would be hard-pressed to handle spent fuel due in part to the narrow borehole diameter, limited to thin-walled canisters that can only hold one spent fuel assembly each. The thin walls and significantly more numerous canisters would increase worker doses and reduce the canisters’ strength to resist the overlying rock burden. The depth of the boreholes—up to 5 kilometers—and the limited ability to access them without disturbing the natural environment would result in a limited capability to adequately characterize the geologic environment at depth. Even more challenging would be to ensure that radioactivity cannot escape up the backfilled borehole.

Political innovations needed. All countries with commercial nuclear energy programs agree that geologic repositories are the only solution to the problem of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The problems facing repositories are not primarily technical (though these exist), but political. Political innovations are truly needed to successfully site these facilities.

Such innovations already exist: Finland is currently constructing its deep geologic repository, and Sweden isn’t far behind. Switzerland, France, and Canada have all made significant progress in the last few years. The United States, in fact, is the only country with an operating deep geologic repository—the Waste Isolation Pilot Project that houses transuranic waste from the nuclear weapons complex in southeastern New Mexico—proving that it can be done here.

There are important lessons to learn from the mistakes and successes of these other programs: The host community must accept the site by a large majority; the host community must be compensated; it must be allowed to veto the site, up to a predefined point in the process; the process works best when the host community is allowed to participate in site development and conduct its own independent research; the nuclear waste management organization and the nuclear regulator must be trusted institutions; and the waste management organization must have the ability to manage its own budget and plan for the long term.

None of this is rocket science, and these lessons have been spelled out numerous times in the United States. The real question is whether anyone with political power is listening.

Alison MacFarlane hints on a heretical idea  – “”The nuclear industry has found they can build new reactors—without a solution to their spent fuel problem””    

omigawd, she’s ever so slightly raised what is the bleeding obvious!      THEY SHOULD NOT BE BUILDING NUCLEAR REACTORS UNTIL THE WASTE PROBLEM IS SOLVED.
No nuclear “expert” has ever had the guts to speak the common sense truth  –  WE MUST STOP MAKING RADIOACTIVE TRASH. 

Nuclear recycling is a bad idea

February 13, 2020
This “interim storage” initiative is a statement of the failure of the nuclear industry and the federal government to address the most toxic waste we have ever created.
Nuclear power: Recycling a bad idea, Citizens Awareness Network By DEB KATZ, 1/26/2020Nuclear industry advocates always seem to come up with grand ideas that nuclear power will “solve” our energy problems. Now it’s a solution to climate change.
Their solutions always downplay any problems with high-level nuclear waste claiming that nuclear power is safe and finding a solution for its toxic waste is easy. If it’s so easy, why don’t they have a workable solution? Is it really just peoples’ unreasonable fears that obstruct the industry and the federal government from creating a final solution?

Originally we were told that there was no waste problem because the waste would be reprocessed and used again in bombs and new “breeder” reactors. That idea failed! Miserably! The only reprocessing facility for commercial nuclear waste that ever existed was West Valley in upstate New York and it shuttered after only five years because it contaminated the land and water around it with radiation. It remains a Superfund site to this day. Without the technology to safely reprocess it, nuclear fuel waste remains in fuel pools and dry storage at reactor sites all over the country.

Because of the threat of nuclear proliferation, where the waste is stolen and used as bomb material by evil forces, President Jimmy Carter ended the research on reprocessing and breeder reactors. Suddenly there was a “waste problem.” Carter commissioned a study to determine the best way to deal with the problem. The level of naivety, arrogance and thoughtlessness is remarkable. Some of the ideas included sending the waste into space, but a payload accident could contaminate the planet; placing the waste in a hole in Antarctica or Greenland ice and letting it melt down into the ocean bed was considered, but the waste would contaminate the ocean. Carter’s commission finally settled on deep geological burial in a hole or an abandoned mine.
All this was codified under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA). Once established, investigations began to determine the best dump site/s. But every state that was identified as a potential site for a repository threatened to sue. Instituting the NWPA was in crisis. The NWPA was amended and Congress targeted Yucca Mountain because
Nevada had little political clout at the time.
After spending $14 billion of taxpayer money developing Yucca Mountain, it failed to meet the necessary criteria for safe isolation of the deadly material. With the failure of the federal government and the nuclear industry to establish Yucca Mountain as the national repository for nuclear waste, nuclear corporations were forced to establish onsite storage at their operating and shuttered reactor sites. Six out of nine reactors in New England have shuttered due to significant public opposition and their inability to compete with gas and renewables. These six sites are in varying degrees of cleanup. Without a “solution” as to dealing with the nuclear waste, these sites have devolved into ad hoc nuclear waste dumps. All have created onsite storage for their high level waste. It costs a lot to store the waste onsite — at least $5 million out of pocket for each year. This waste could remain onsite for decades if not centuries. So costs could really add up for corporations without any revenue. Naivety, arrogance, and thoughtlessness add up to a lot of money!

With waste piling up at shuttered reactor sites throughout the country, the industry has a perception problem. This is not a favorable image for an industry trying to reinvent itself as the answer to global warming. So what’s the industry’s answer? It wants to create “interim storage” dump sites in west Texas and New Mexico in working poor, Hispanic communities to make this problem disappear. These sites don’t have to meet the strict environmental standards that sunk Yucca Mountain— i.e., isolation from the environment for 1,000 years and isolation from groundwater for 10,000 years.

This “interim storage” initiative is a statement of the failure of the nuclear industry and the federal government to address the most toxic waste we have ever created. We don’t need more nukes; we don’t need half baked “solutions”. We need a commitment to put our best minds to solve this thorny problem. What is needed is a scientifically sound and environmentally just solution, not more magic or wish fulfillment. A qualified “panel” must be established and funded to create the standards required to meet the health and safety of the public and the planet, not the profit-driven, short-sighted monetary bottom line of a moribund industry.

Deb Katz is the executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network, which was founded locally in 1991 and has offices in Shelburne Falls and Rowe. Here’s a link to our website

Recycling nuclear waste still itself produces nuclear waste

August 18, 2019

Recycle everything, America—except your nuclear waste    By Allison MacfarlaneSharon Squassoni, July 8, 2019 Americans have come late to the game on responsible consumerism, but they are making up for lost time with a passionate obsession about waste.  It’s no coincidence that Fox News, CNN, YouTube and USA Today have all reported that the deepest solo ocean dive found plastic waste seven miles below the surface, in the Mariana Trench.

Now that Americans are “woke” about waste in general, they may turn to the specific kind produced by the nuclear energy industry. Plans to revitalize US nuclear power, which is in dire economic straits, depend on the potential for new, “advanced” reactors to reduce and recycle the waste they produce.  Unfortunately, as they “burn” some kinds of nuclear wastes, these plants will create other kinds that also require disposal. At the same time, these “advanced” reactors—many of which are actually reprises of past efforts—increase security and nuclear weapons proliferation risks and ultimately do nothing to break down the political and societal resistance to finding real solutions to nuclear waste disposal.

The current nuclear dream is really no different from previous ones of the last 70 years: the next generation of reactors, nuclear power advocates insist, will be safer, cheaper, more reliable, less prone to produce nuclear bomb-making material, and more versatile (producing electricity, heat, and perhaps hydrogen), without creating the wastes that have proved almost impossible to deal with in the United States.  The Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act specifically describes the advanced reactors it seeks to support as having all those positive characteristics.  This newest burst of enthusiasm for advanced reactors is, however, largely fueled by the idea that they will burn some of their long-lived radioisotopes, thereby becoming nuclear incinerators for some of their own waste.

Many of these “advanced” reactors are actually repackaged designs from 70 years ago.  If the United States, France, the UK, Germany, Japan, Russia, and others could not make these reactors economically viable power producers in that time, despite spending more than $60 billion, what is different now?  Moreover, all of the “advanced” designs under discussion now are simply “PowerPoint” reactors: They have not been built at scale, and, as a result, we don’t really know all the waste streams that they will produce.

It’s tempting to believe that having new nuclear power plants that serve, to some degree, as nuclear garbage disposals means there is no need for a nuclear garbage dump, but this isn’t really the case. Even in an optimistic assessment, these new plants will still produce significant amounts of high-level, long-lived waste. What’s more, new fuel forms used in some of these advanced reactors could pose waste disposal challenges not seen to date.

Some of these new reactors would use molten salt-based fuels that, when exposed to water, form highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid. Therefore, reprocessing (or some form of “conditioning”) the waste will likely be required for safety reasons before disposal. Sodium-cooled fast reactors—a “new” technology proposed to be used in some advanced reactors, including the Bill Gates-funded TerraPower reactors—face their own disposal challenges. These include dealing with the metallic uranium fuel which is pyrophoric (that is, prone to spontaneous combustion) and would need to be reprocessed into a safer form for disposal.

Unconventional reactors may reduce the level of some nuclear isotopes in the spent fuel they produce, but that won’t change what really drives requirements for our future nuclear waste repository: the heat production of spent fuel and amount of long-lived radionuclides in the waste. To put it another way, the new reactors will still need a waste repository, and it will likely need to be just as large as a repository for the waste produced by the current crop of conventional reactors.

Recycling and minimizing—even eliminating—the waste streams that many industries produce is responsible and prudent behavior. But in the context of nuclear energy, recycling is expensive, dirty, and ultimately dangerous.  Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel—which some advanced reactor designs require for safety reasons—actually produces fissile material that could be used to power nuclear weapons.  This is precisely why the United States has avoided the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel for the last four decades, despite having the world’s largest number of commercial nuclear power plants.

Continuing research on how to deal with nuclear waste is a great idea. But building expensive prototypes of reactors whose fuel requires reprocessing, on the belief that such reactors will solve the nuclear waste problem in America, is misguided. At the same time, discounting the notion that a US move into reprocessing might spur other countries to develop this same technology—a technology they could secretly exploit to produce nuclear weapons—is shortsighted and damaging to US national and world security.

Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project an example of the folly of nuclear reprocessing

April 7, 2019

The rise and demise of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Henry Sokolski, February 6, 2019 This year marks the 36th anniversary of the termination of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Project, a federally funded commercial demonstration effort. In the very early 1980s, it was the largest public-works project in the United States. Japan, South Korea, China, France, Russia, and the United States are now all again considering building similar plants. For each, how and why Clinch River was launched and killed is a history that speaks to their nuclear future. This history involves more than cost benefit analysis. For the public and political leadership, facts and arguments rarely close an initial sale of a large government-funded, high-tech commercialization program. Nor do they generally goad officials to abandon such projects. Such acts are fundamentally political: Fears and hopes drive them. Certainly, to understand why the US government launched and subsequently killed Clinch River requires knowledge not just of what the public and its political leadership thought, but also of how they felt.

Unwarranted fears of uranium’s scarcity fueled interest in fast-breeder reactors. …….in 1945, uranium 235, a fissile uranium isotope that can readily sustain a chain reaction, was believed to be so scarce, it was assumed there was not enough of it to produce nuclear electricity on a large scale. Scientists saw the answer in fast-breeder reactors………

The Atomic Energy Commission publicly promoted their commercialization with confident, cartoonish optimism. In one publication, the commission asked the upbeat question: “Johnny had three truckloads of plutonium. He used three of them to power New York for a year. How much plutonium did Johnny have left?” The answer: “Four truckloads.”

Unfortunately, this pitch glossed over two stubborn facts. First, because plutonium is so much more toxic and difficult to handle than uranium, it is many times more expensive to use as a reactor fuel than using fresh uranium. Second, because plutonium fast-breeder reactors use liquid metal coolants, such as liquid sodium, operating them safely is far more challenging and expensive than conventional reactors.

When private industry tried in the early 1960s to operate its own commercial-sized fast-breeder, Fermi I, the benefits were negative. Barely three years after Fermi 1 came online, a partial fuel meltdown in 1966 brought it down. It eventually resumed operations before being officially shut down in 1972.

These facts, however, are rarely emphasized. Those backing breeders—whether it be in 1945, 1975, or today—focus not on reliability and economics, but rather that we are about to run out of affordable uranium. For the moment, of course, we are not. Uranium is plentiful and cheap as is enriching it. This helps explain why the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and the United States, no longer operate any commercial-sized fast-breeder reactors and are in no immediate rush to build new ones………

When the Atomic Energy Commission argued the case for building a breeder reactor in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it projected 1,000 reactors would be on line in the United States by the year 2000 (the real number turned out to be 103) and that the United States would soon run out of affordable uranium. Also, by the mid-1960s, the commission needed a new, massive project to justify its continued existence. Its key mission, to enrich uranium for bombs and reactors, had been completed and was overbuilt. The commission was running out of construction and research projects commensurate with its large budget. A breeder-reactor- commercialization program with all the reprocessing, fuel testing, and fuel fabrication plants that would go with it, seemed a worthy successor.

But the most powerful political supporter of Clinch River, then-President Richard Nixon, focused on a different point. Nixon saw the project less as a commercial proposition than as a way to demonstrate his power to secure more votes by providing government-funded jobs while at the same time affirming his commitment to big-science, engineering, and progress……….

the Energy Department videotaped safety tests it had conducted of how molten sodium might react once it came in contact with the reactor’s concrete containment structure. Concrete contains water crystals. Molten sodium reacts explosively when it comes in contact with oxygen, including oxygen contained in water. What the test demonstrated and the video showed was concrete exploding when it came in contact with liquid sodium.

This set off waves of worry at the department………

Just weeks before the final vote, the Congressional Budget Office released its financial assessment of the Energy Department’s last ditch effort to use loan guarantees to fund the project. Even under the most conservative assumptions, the budget analysts determined that the loan guarantees would only increase the project’s final costs. This helped push the project over a political cliff. The final Senate vote: 56 against, 40 for. All of the 16 deciding votes came from former Clinch River supporters.

No commercial prospects? Militarize. Nixon backed numerous science commercialization projects like Clinch River, including the Space Shuttle Program and the supersonic transport plane……… While the Space Shuttle Program won congressional support, the envisioned satellite contracts never materialized. The program became heavily dependent on military contracts. Finally, our national security depended upon it.

Although Clinch River never was completed, as its costs spiraled, it too attracted military attention. …….

Essentially, it didn’t matter when you asked–1971 or 1983—Clinch River was always another seven years and at least another $2.1 billion away from completion. ……

With Clinch River, what we now know, we may yet repeat. Fast-reactor commercialization projects and support efforts, such as Argonne National Laboratory’s Small Modular Fast Reactor, the US-South Korean Pyroreprocessing effort, the Energy Department’s Virtual (Fast) Test Reactor, France’s Astrid Fast Reactor Project, the PRISM Reactor, the TerraPower Traveling Wave reactor, India’s thorium breeder, Russia’s BN-1200, China’s Demonstration Fast-Breeder Reactor, continue to capture the attention and support of energy officials in Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, France, the US, and India. None of these countries have yet completely locked in their decisions. How sound their final choices turn out to be, will ultimately speak to these governments’ credibility and legitimacy.

In the case of Clinch River, the decision to launch the program ultimately rested on a cynical set of political calculations alloyed to an ideological faith in fast reactors and the future of the “plutonium economy.” Supporters saw this future clearly. As a nuclear engineer explained to me in 1981 at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the United States technically could build enough breeder reactors to keep the country electrically powered for hundreds of years without using any more oil, coal, or uranium. When I asked him, though, who would pay for this, he simply snapped that only fools let economics get in the way of the future.

This argument suggests that the case for fast reactors is beyond calculation or debate, something mandatory and urgent. That, however, never was the case, nor is it now. Instead, the equitable distribution of goods, which is a key metric of both economic and governmental performance (and ultimately of any government’s legitimacy and viability), has always taken and always must take costs into account. In this regard, we can only hope that remembering how and why Clinch River was launched and killed will help get this accounting right for similar such high-tech commercialization projects now and in the future. https://thebulletin. org/2019/02/the-rise-and- demise-of-the-clinch-river- breeder-reactor/?utm_source= Bulletin%20Newsletter&utm_ medium=iContact%20email&utm_ campaign=ClinchRiver_February6