Archive for the ‘wastes’ Category

Nuclear waste management: Is Finland’s Onkalo facility safe?

April 30, 2022

Nuclear waste management: Is Finland’s Onkalo facility safe?  https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/science-technology/nuclear-waste-management-is-finland-s-onkalo-facility-safe–82252 6 Apr 22,

The facility, set to begin operation in 2024, isn’t based on a foolproof concept

Finland, a nuclear energy champion, claimed it has figured out how to tackle one of the bigger issues with nuclear energy: Safely managing radioactive  waste. 

The country plans to store its nuclear waste in an underground facility called Onkalo. The structure, named after the Finnish word for “pit”, is a 500-meter-deep underground disposal facility designed to store used nuclear fuel permanently. 

The deep geological repository is usually built in places containing a stable rock.Finland can become the first to commission a plant to permanently store spent nuclear fuel. The idea is to encase the waste in corrosion-resistant copper canisters. These will be further encapsulated in a layer of water-absorbing clay. The setup will be buried in an underground tunnel. 

The facility is now equipped with 500 sensors to monitor the functioning of the entire system, according to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, a state-owned company and one of the contributors to the project.

“Monitoring brings evidence that the repository will be keeping the outside world safe from the nuclear fuel waste,” Arto Laikari, senior scientist from VTT, said. The state-owned company’s collaborator Posiva, a Finnish nuclear waste management organisation, has submitted the operating license for the facility and is awaiting approval.

In 2023, Posiva will do a final trial run of the disposal mechanism but without radioactive material, Erika Holt, project manager from VTT, told Down To Earth. It is expected to begin operations in 2024.

Problem of disposing nuclear waste

For years, the nuclear industry has been trying to find solutions to the waste problem. They are generated at various steps during the nuclear life cycle: Mining uranium ore, producing uranium fuel and generating power in the reactor.

The waste can remain radioactive for a few hours, several months or even hundreds of thousands of years. Depending on the extent of radioactivity, nuclear wastes are categorised as low-, intermediate- and high-level waste. 

About 97 per cent of the waste is either low- or intermediate-level. The remaining is high-level waste, such as used or spent uranium fuel. 

A 1,000-megawatt plant creates about 30 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste every year, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Even at low levels, exposure to this waste will be harmful to people and other living organisms as long as it remains radioactive,” Ramana explained.

Global endeavours

Some nations are storing waste on-site. But it carries the risk of radioactive leakage. In the United States, for instance, spent fuel is stored in a concrete-and-steel container called a dry cask, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

India and a handful of other nations reprocess about 97-98 per cent of the spent nuclear fuel to recover plutonium and uranium, according to data from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. 


India also recovers other materials like caesium, strontium and ruthenium, which finds application as blood irradiators to screen transfusions, cancer treatment and eye cancer therapeutics, respectively, according to the research institute. 

The remaining 1-3 per cent end up in a storage facility. India also immobilises the wastes by mixing them with glass, which is kept under surveillance in storage facilities.

But there are problems with this approach as well. Except for the plutonium and uranium, all the radioactive material present in the spent fuel is redistributed among different waste streams, Ramana said. “These enter the environment sooner or later.”

The plutonium and uranium intended for reuse in other nuclear reactors will also turn into radioactive waste, he added. 

Nations like Finland, Canada, France and Sweden are also looking at deep geological repositories to tackle spent nuclear fuel wastes. 

In January 2022, the Swedish government greenlit an underground repository for nuclear waste. Construction in Sweden will take at least 10 more years, Johan Swahn, director of MKG Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, a non-governmental environmental organisation, said.

Finland can share its experience with colleagues and partners worldwide, Holt said. “But each country and programme must have their own solutions. Worldwide, we work together to show nuclear energy (and the holistic views for responsible waste management) are viable for meeting CO2 targets,” she added.

Is the approach safe?

Experts associated with the project said that 40-years of theoretical and lab-based studies suggest that the geological repository is safe.

The bedrock provides a natural barrier to protect from radioactive release to the environment, such as water bodies and air, Holt explained.

The use of clay and copper provides a protective layer to ensure no release due to extreme conditions like earthquakes.

But Ramana argues that theoretical safety studies are not foolproof. There are significant uncertainties stemming from various long-term natural processes. These include climate change and the unpredictability of human behaviour over these long periods of time, he added. 

Besides, design failure could undermine claims about safety, the expert noted. For instance, a few scientists fear that copper canisters can become corrosive and crack.

Finland’s team chose copper because it corrodes slowly. But Peter Szakálos, a chemist at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, is not quite sure.

In a 2007 study, Szakálos and his team observed that copper could corrode in pure, oxygen-free water. “It’s just a matter of time — anything from decades to centuries — before unalloyed copper canisters start to crack at Onkalo,” he told Science journal.

On February 14, 2014, radioactive materials such as americium and plutonium leaked out of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a deep geological long-lived radioactive waste repository, following an accident. The facility dealt solely with a special class of wastes from nuclear weapons production.

“If a failure like this happened within two decades of opening the repository, what are the odds that such failures won’t happen over the millennia that these repositories [Finland’s Onkalo] are supposed to operate safely?”

Both the Finnish project and the Swedish decision are very important for the international nuclear industry because the latter can point to these facilities to prove the nuclear waste problem is solved, Swahn said. “But it is very uncertain whether copper as a container material is a good idea.”

The projects may still fail as the understanding of how copper behaves in a repository environment is still developing, the expert added.

New nuclear reactors will pose a bigger, hotter, more long-lasting waste problem

April 30, 2022

As Boris Johnson prepares a new push for nuclear power, the £131bn
problem of how to safely dispose of vast volumes of radioactive waste
created by the last British atomic energy programme remains unsolved.

The hugely expensive and dangerous legacy of the UK’s 20th-century nuclear
revolution amounts to 700,000 cubic metres of toxic waste – roughly the
volume of 6,000 doubledecker buses. Much of it is stored at Sellafield in
Cumbria, which the Office for Nuclear Regulation says is one of the most
complex and hazardous nuclear sites in the world.

As yet, there is nowhere
to safely and permanently deposit this waste. Nearly 50 years ago the
solution of a deep geological disposal facility (GDF) was put forward, but
decades later the UK is no nearer to building one.

Experts say new nuclear
facilities will only add to the problem of what to do with radioactive
waste from nuclear energy and that the “back end” issue of the
hazardous toxic waste from the technology must not be hidden.

An assessment by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) says spent fuel from new
nuclear reactors will be of such high temperatures it would need to stay on
site for 140 years before it could be removed to a GDF, if one is ever
built in the UK.

“It is essential to talk about the back end of the
nuclear fuel cycle when you are considering building new nuclear power
stations,” said Claire Corkhill, a professor of nuclear material
degradation at the University of Sheffield and a member of the Committee on
Radioactive Waste Management, an independent body that advises the
government.

Whilst we have a plan to finally and safely deal with the
waste, it is less certain how this will be applied to the modern nuclear
reactors that the government are planning to roll out. “These are
completely different to previous reactors and we are at a very early stage
of understanding how to deal with the waste.

In my personal view, I do not
think we should be building any new nuclear reactors until we have a
geological disposal facility available.” “The amount of legacy waste is
not small in terms of nuclear waste,” said Corkhill. “It is expensive
to deal with. These materials are hazardous and we are looking at an
underground footprint of some 20km at a depth of 200 metres to 1,000
metres.

So regarding new nuclear sites, we need to think about whether it
is possible to build a GDF big enough for all the legacy waste and the new
nuclear waste.” Steve Thomas, a professor of energy policy at the
University of Greenwich, said: “Despite 65 years of using nuclear power
in Britain, we are still, at best, decades away from having facilities to
safely dispose of the waste. Until we know this can be done, it is
premature to embark on a major new programme of nuclear power plants.”

A government spokesperson said: “This is not an either/or situation. As the
prime minister has said, nuclear will be a key part of our upcoming energy
security strategy alongside renewables. We are committed to scaling up our
nuclear electricity generation capacity, and building more nuclear power
here in the UK, as seen through the construction of Hinkley Point C – the
first new nuclear power station in a generation. Alongside this we’re
developing a GDF to support the decommissioning of the UK’s older nuclear
facilities.”

 Guardian 28th March 2022

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/mar/28/push-for-new-uk-nuclear-plants-lacks-facility-for-toxic-waste-say-experts

The importance of continuous cooling of nuclear spent fuel

April 30, 2022

Despite reassurances by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that
there is no imminent safety threat posed by the power isolation, it is
important to understand the potential impact going forward.

When nuclear
fuel is removed from the core of a reactor, it is redesignated as
“spent” nuclear fuel and often treated as a waste product for disposal.
But fuel will continue to dissipate heat due to radioactive decay, even
after being removed from the reactor core.

It is therefore of foremost
importance that the spent fuel material contained at the Chernobyl site is
adequately and continuously cooled to prevent a release of radioactivity.
At Chernobyl, as well as other sites, standard procedures to safely handle
such material involves placing the fuel into water-filled ponds, which
shield the near-field environment from radiation.

They also provide a
medium for heat transfer from the fuel to the water via continuous
circulation of fresh, cool water. If circulation is compromised, such as
the recent power shutdowns, the fuel will continue to emit heat. This can
make the surrounding coolant water evaporate – leaving nothing to soak up
the radiation from the fuel. It would therefore leak out to the
surroundings.

 The Conversation 10th March 2022

https://theconversation.com/chernobyl-and-zaporizhzhia-power-cuts-nervous-wait-as-ukraine-nuclear-power-plants-could-start-leaking-radiation-178975

Plutonium problems won’t go away

April 30, 2022

Plutonium problems won’t go away, By Chris Edwards, Engineering and Technology, February 15, 2022 

  Nuclear energy’s environmental image is as low as carbon’s,with its clean fuel potential being tarnished by legacy waste issues. Are we any closer to resolving this?

At the end of 2021, the UK closed the curtain on one part of its nuclear waste legacy and took a few more steps towards a longer-lasting legacy. A reprocessing plant, built at the cost of £9bn in the 1990s to repackage waste plutonium from pressurised water reactors in the UK and around the world for use in new fuel, finally converted the last remaining liquid residue from Germany, Italy and Japan into glass and packed it into steel containers. It will take another six years to ship it and all the other waste that belongs to the reactor owners, who are contractually obliged to take it back.

Even when the foreign-owned waste has headed back home, the UK will still play host to one of the largest hoards of plutonium in the world, standing at more than 110 tonnes. It amounts to a fifth of the world’s total and a third of the global civilian stockpile of 316 tonnes. Despite operating a smaller nuclear fleet than France’s, the UK has 1.5 times more plutonium.

It was never meant to end this way. The long-term dream was for fission-capable fuel to keep going round in a circle, only topped up with virgin uranium when necessary. The plutonium produced during fission could itself sustain further fission in the right conditions. However, fast-breeder reactors that would be needed to close the cycle remain largely experimental, even in countries such as Russia where their development continues. Driven by both safety concerns and worries about nuclear proliferation that might result from easier access to separated and refined plutonium-239, the West abandoned its fast-breeder programmes decades ago.

It is possible to reprocess spent fuel into so-called mixed-oxide fuel, but it is only good for one use in a conventional reactor. Other actinides build up and begin to poison the fission process. The only prospects for change lie in so-called Generation IV reactors, but these designs have yet to be tested and may continue to fall foul of proliferation concerns.

While operators around the world have mulled over the practicality of fuel reuse, containers of both processed and reprocessed fuel have lingered in storage tanks cooled by water despite, in some countries, being earmarked for deep burial for decades. In the late 1980s, the US Department of Energy (DoE) settled on Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the single destination for the country’s spent nuclear fuel, and scheduled it for opening a decade later. By 2005, the earliest possible opening date had slipped by 20 years. It remains unopened and will probably never open. In the interim, much of the fuel has lingered in water-filled cooling tanks while politicians consider more localised deep-storage sites.

Fukushima provided a wake-up call to the industry, not just about the problems of controlling reactors but their spent fuel. After the tsunami, engineers were concerned that without replenishment pumps, the water in the storage tanks for the spent fuel would evaporate. If the fuel then caught fire, it would likely release radioactive tritium and caesium into the atmosphere. In a stroke of luck, water leaked into the damaged ponds. Now the issue for operators of some older reactors is that the fuel canisters are just corroding into the water instead.Experts such as Frank von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University, recommend storage pools should only be used until the fuel is cool enough to be transformed into glass, immersed in concrete or both, and transferred to dry storage, preferably in a deep geological disposal facility (GDF).At a conference last November organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Laurie Swami, president and CEO of Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organisation, claimed “there is scientific consensus on the effectiveness of deep geologic repositories” for highly radioactive waste.

The UK similarly settled 15 years ago on a plan to build its own GDF for high-level waste in tandem with the establishment of a single government-owned body responsible for organising where the waste goes, in the shape of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The GDF took a small step forward at the end of 2021 when two candidate sites were announced, both close to the Cumbrian coast. The local communities have agreed in principle that the NDA can investigate where they are suitable for a set of tunnels that may extend under the Irish Sea. With the project at such an early stage, the country remains years away from opening a GDF. Finland, in contrast, has pressed ahead and expects its GDF to open in 2025, while Sweden is likely to have the second one in the world.

At the same time, there is an enormous volume of other irradiated material that cannot economically be put into deep storage. In a keynote speech at the IAEA’s conference, James McKinney, head of integrated waste management at the NDA, explained that a lot of radioactive waste is contaminated building material. The Low-Level Waste Repository at Drigg in Cumbria was designed for this kind of waste, but McKinney stressed that capacity is “precious” and in danger of running out if all the material is taken there. Over the past decade, the NDA and its subcontractors have been working to divert as much waste as possible from the Drigg site by reprocessing and repackaging it.

By bringing waste management under one umbrella instead of dividing it among power-station operators, the NDA has been able to change procurement strategies to favour the use of much more R&D for waste handling. “The destination of radioactive waste can be changed through interventions,” McKinney adds. “At this moment, we estimate some 95 per cent of potential low-level waste is being diverted away [from Drigg]. Twelve years ago, the opposite would be true.”

A recent example of this in action is the dismantling of pipes that were once installed at the Harwell research centre. More than 1,500 sections of metal pipe were delivered to oil-and-gas specialist Augean, which is using high-pressure water jets to remove radioactive scale so the metal can be recycled instead of needing long-term storage.

Getting less manageable waste away from the storage tanks presents another major challenge, particularly if it comes from the oldest reactors. For example in the UK, when spent Magnox fuel was taken out of the reactors, the magnesium cladding around it was stripped away and moved to Sellafield’s Magnox Swarf Storage Silo (MSSS). Though the swarf itself is just intermediate-level waste, Sellafield’s operator regards emptying the silo ready for transfer to long-term dry storage as one of the more hazardous projects on the site. Stored underwater to keep them cool, the packages of swarf gradually corrode and release hydrogen gas and contaminants, which can escape into the ground. Moving the waste for treatment can itself lead to more escapes.

To manoeuvre 11,000 cubic metres of waste out of the 22 chambers of the MSSS, it has taken more than two decades to design, build and install two out of three shielded enclosures and grabbing arms that can lift out pieces of the swarf and prepare it to be immobilised in concrete or glass.

The time it has taken to even begin to clean up the MSSS illustrates the core issue that faces decommissioning and clean-up programmes: the sheer difficulty of trying to handle even moderately radioactive materials in circumstances where access was never considered when these structures were first built and filled. Everything in this kind of decommissioning calls for ungainly long-distance manipulators because there is no other way to protect the clean-up crews.

As engineers struggled to deal with the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, many people in Japan thought the same thing, and expressed surprise that a country that had invested so much in robotics research had none that it could send into the reactors to even perform a survey.

Japan was not alone with this issue: no country had a dedicated nuclear-accident response robot. Work on robots began decades ago but continued only in fits and starts for the most part. After a serious incident in 1999 at an experimental reactor at Tokaimura, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry set aside $36m to develop remote-controlled machines. But the projects ended within a few years.

To help deal with the immediate problems at Fukushima, the US research agency DARPA was quick to repurpose the military and disaster robots to which it had access, originally planning to send them on Navy ships across the Pacific. But it quickly emerged that this would be too slow

At a conference organised by the International Federation of Robotics Research on the 10th anniversary of the accident, Toyota Research chief scientist Gill Pratt said the first robots “got there in the overhead luggage of commercial flights”. For all of them it was a baptism of fire.

(Here this aticle continues with a discussion on robot technology – which must be remotely done and turns out to be very problematic)

………………………………………….Deep burial seems to be the easiest way to deal with long-lived waste, assuming no-one tries to dig it up without heavy protection and good intentions hundreds or thousands of years into the future. But the question of how safe it is if the repository breaches accidentally is extremely hard to answer.

Plutonium is unlikely to be the biggest problem. Although it oxidises readily to dissolve in water, the short-lived fission products such as strontium-90 and caesium-137 could be more troublesome if they escape the confines of a storage site, according to analyses such as one performed by SKB as part of Sweden’s programme to build a deep burial site there.The half-lives of these isotopes are far shorter than those of plutonium, so the risk from them will subside after a couple of hundred years rather than the thousands for plutonium. But what if they could be shortened to days or even seconds? Any radiation could then be contained or used before the waste is repackaged.

This is the promise of laser transmutation, which uses high-energy beams to displace neutrons in donor atoms that then, with luck, smash into those unstable isotopes to produce even more unstable atoms that quickly decay. In one experiment performed by Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory, a laser transmuted atoms in a sample of iodine-129, with a half-life measured in millions of years, to iodine-128. A similar experiment at Cambridge converted strontium-90 to the medical labelling chemical strontium-89.

The bad news is that the energy required to perform transmutation at scale is enormous and not all isotopes are cooperative: their neutron-capture volumes are so small the process becomes even less efficient.Nobel laureate Gérard Mourou believes careful control over high-energy pulsed lasers will bring the energy cost of transmutation down significantly. He is working with several groups to build industrial-scale systems that could begin to clean up at least some of the high-activity waste.

Even if lasers can be made more efficient, there are further problems. For one, the waste needs to be separated as otherwise the stray neutrons will transmute other elements in the sample, generating unwanted actinides. This will not only increase the cost of reprocessing, it will increase the risk of proliferation, as it will lead to plutonium that is far easier to handle and move around, the one outcome that deep burial is meant to avoid……………………https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2022/02/plutonium-problems-won-t-go-away/

Russia’s secret nuclear waste city – Ozersk, City 40

April 21, 2022

Russian city hiding chilling Cold War secret from world  https://www.9news.com.au/world/ozersk-city-40-secret-russian-city-cold-war-graveyard-of-the-earth/9644dcbb-e94f-44c6-b69e-4e3e4ca96455

By Richard Wood • Senior Journalist Jan 9, 2022 There has been a “slow-motion” disaster unfolding over the past 70 years at one of Russia’s most secretive sites. Ozersk, codenamed City 40, was the birthplace of the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program at the dawn of the Cold War.

On the surface, it was a clean modern city that boasted good housing, spacious parks and high quality schools to attract the country’s top nuclear scientists.And its purpose was seen as so important that Russian authorities effectively hid it from the rest of the country and the world. But while, the work of Ozersk’s army of scientists developing Russia’s plutonium supplies was cloaked in secrecy, its environmental impact proved harder to contain.Today its legacy of radiation pollution has earned Ozersk the title ‘Graveyard of the Earth’.

Building Russia’s nuclear shield

Ozersk’s origins can be traced to the US dropping atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 at the end of World War II.

Alarmed at the terrifying new weapon of mass destruction, Russian leader Josef Stalin ordered his scientists to build a nuclear arsenal to combat the American threat.The Mayak plant deep in the Urals was founded in 1948 to develop essential large scale plutonium supplies for the Soviet atomic bomb. The work needed hundreds of workers.

Ozersk was founded nearby, initially as a sort of shanty town of wooden huts to house the workers. But over ensuing yeas, it grew to become a modern city of 100,000 people, with many of its citizens working at the Mayak plant.

‘Plutopias’

US environmental historian Kate Brown has described Ozersk and its counterpart nuclear cities in the US as “Plutopias”, a merging of the words plutonium and utopia. Professor Brown, who wrote Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, told Nine.com.au that Ozersk residents were the envy of most Russians.

‘When I wrote about plutopia, I mean by that special, limited-access cities exclusively for plutonium plant operators who were well paid and lived comfortably. The people who lived in them were ‘chosen’,” Professor Brown said.”The plutonium cities such as Ozersk provided wonderful opportunities because not only was the housing very cheap and the wages very good, but the schools were good.”

But in Cold War Russia this all came at the price of intrusive security and curbs on personal freedom.Ozersk did not appear on maps and its citizens were struck from the national census.Residents were even forbidden to contact families and friends for up to years.

And for decades, the city was ringed by barbed wire fences and guard posts and entry was strictly controlled.

Lake of Death’

Professor Brown said both the Russians and American governments were prepared to cut corners in their dash to develop an edge in nuclear weapons.

And in 1957 one of the cooling systems at the Mayak plant, near Ozersk, failed, causing one of the tanks that contained the plant’s nuclear waste to overheat and explode.

While there were no casualties from the blast itself, more than 20 million curies of nuclear waste were swept up by the wind and scattered around the nearby countryside.The full effects of the Mayak radiation release and other incidents took years, even decades to become fully apparent, Professor Brown said.

The plutonium disasters were not big, explosive overnight affairs. They were slow-motion disasters that occurred over four decades,” she sai d.Officials from the Mayak plant also ordered the dumping of its waste into nearby lakes and rivers, which flow into the the Arctic Ocean.

Prof Brown said one of the lakes near Mayak has been so heavily contaminated by plutonium that local people have renamed it the ‘Lake of Death’.

‘Cover up’

The scale of the pollution was hushed up by Russian authorities for decades.

“Thanks to exhaustive efforts by the Soviet government and the already secretive nature of the location, for a long time, no one outside of the Ozersk area was even aware that it happened.

“It wasn’t until renegade Soviet scientists exposed the cover-up in the 1970s that scientists started to grasp the extent of the disaster.”

Radioactive spills have also happened at other secret Russian military and industry sites.In August 2019 a brief spike in radioactivity was recorded following a mysterious and deadly explosion at the Russian navy’s testing range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea.The explosion killed two servicemen and five nuclear engineers.

Campaigners expose contamination

Today the Mayak plant now serves the more peaceful purpose of reprocessing spent radioactive fuel.In Ozersk many restrictions have been eased, with residents free to leave when they want.

But the city is still surrounded by thick walls and guard fences, and entry by outsiders is strictly controlled by government officials.And while efforts have been made to clean up the environment, radiation pollution remains a threat to the health of residents.

recent study showed that Ozersk residents are more than twice as likely to develop lung, liver, and skeletal cancers and far more likely to experience chronic radiation syndrome.Prof Brown says Russian environmental activists still face threats and persecution for exposing the radiation levels.

“They’ve paid a heavy price in terms of prosecution by the state and receiving threats of fines and even jail,” she said.  “But they were determined to expose what really was disaster by design.”

Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey has misled South Australia, in greatly minimising the amount of Intermediate Level nuclear waste intended for Napandee farm site.

December 26, 2021

So on the basis of the above figures the amount of ILW contained in the big canister that Rowan mentioned is actually only 0.1 per cent by volume of the ILW intended for Napandee. (In other words the documented volume of ILW intended for Napandee is about 1000 times more than what he stated).

Andrew Williams, Fight to stop sa nuclear waste dump in South Australia, 1 Dec 21, Rowan Ramsey stated that the TN-81 canister in the Interim Waste Store at Lucas Heights is the only Intermediate Level Waste intended for Napandee. This is not correct.

The large canister that he mentioned contains reprocessed used nuclear fuel from the old decommissioned HIFAR reactor, which ARPANSA notes as having radioactivity at the higher end of the ILW range.

That means it must remain safe from people and the environment for 10,000 years according to International guidelines followed by the Australian regulator. Another load of reprocessed used nuclear fuel from the old HIFAR reactor is due back next year and is intended to end up at Napandee, in the same type of TN-81 container.

Of the waste intended for Napandee, this highly hazardous reprocessed nuclear fuel is the most radioactive. However there is a lot more intermediate level waste (ILW) than what is in these two big containers intended for Napandee. All of the reprocessed highly hazardous used nuclear fuel produced by the existing OPAL reactor over its operating life is intended for Napandee in years to come.

However during the production of radioactive isotopes (some of which are used in nuclear medicine) ILW is produced. The Australian Radioactive Waste Management Framework (2018) reports total ILW at 1770 cubic metres, with 95% by volume as federal gov. wastes. It is intended to produce a further 1,960 cubic metres over the next 40 years (all intended for Napandee), most of which will be produced at Lucas Heights. (This is documented and can be checked).

All of this ILW is intended to go to Napandee for up to 100 years of above ground storage. A TN-81 container can hold up to 28 canisters, each containing 150 litres of vitrified reprocessed fuel waste. 28×150 litres = 4,200 litres = 4.2 cubic metres. So on the basis of the above figures the amount of ILW contained in the big canister that Rowan mentioned is actually only 0.1 per cent by volume of the ILW intended for Napandee. (In other words the documented volume of ILW intended for Napandee is about 1000 times more than what he stated).

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) must be required to fully inform the Kimba community of the safety and financial risks of the nuclear dump

December 26, 2021

[importance of] the community at Kimba getting their own full and independent assessment and report on the government’s intentions for Napandee assisted by both government funding and by access to all records and information for that purposeAnother issue forThe Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)

NAPANDEE ASSESSMENT
It is the intention of ANSTO to store intermediate level nuclear waste at the proposed nuclear waste management facility at Napandee near Kimba in South Australia for an indefinite period but suggested to be 30 years

Since it is merely the storage of the intermediate level waste ANSTO is suggesting that it is not necessary to obtain any licences from ARPANSA for that purpose and consequently will not be making any application to ARPANSA in that regard

This is clearly against the concept of the enabling legislation and irrespective of this suggestion ARPANSA as the statutory regulator must insist on ANSTO having an appropriate licences for both the storage of the intermediate waste at Napandee and for the construction of the required facility for the increased storage capacity at Lucas Heights



Should there be any reluctance by ARPANSA in enforcing the licensing compliance by ANSTO then legal action will need to be taken by way of mandamus by interested parties which would be the Kimba community to make certain that the required licences will be sought by ANSTO

In order to ensure that the community position is fully protected ARPANSA should provide adequate funding either directly or by
government grant to the community to enable them to obtain proper and detailed legal advice and to undertake any appropriate actions that may be required or necessary to protect their position


This should be coupled with the community at Kimba getting their own full and independent assessment and report on the government’s intentions for Napandee assisted by both government funding and by access to all records and information for that purpose

This is an essential requirement for enabling the community at Kimba to understand and negotiate with full knowledge of the safety case required for the Napandee facility as the independent assessment will no doubt be critical of the inappropriate and unsuitable site selection and nature of the facility by way of above the ground storage

The special rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council for the sound management and disposal of hazardous substances including nuclear wastes and for the rights of indigenous peoples are aware of the Kimba community concerns and will monitor the situation and if necessary take appropriate action to ensure protection of their human rights


Radionuclides found from Hinkley nuclear mud Bristol Channel Citizens Radiation Survey .

December 25, 2021

 

 Radionuclides found…! Bristol Channel Citizens Radiation Survey, Tim Deere-Jones, Stop Hinkley C. A new survey has concluded the spread of man-made radioactivity from reactor discharges into the Bristol Channel is far more extensive and widespread than previously reported.

The research has also detected a high concentration of radioactivity in Splott Bay, which could be linked to the controversial dumping of dredged waste off the Cardiff coast in 2018.The survey was undertaken over the summer by groups from both sides of the Bristol Channel after EDF Energy refused to carry
out pre-dumping surveys of the Cardiff Grounds and Portishead sea dump sites where they have disposed of waste from the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant.

The survey found that shoreline concentrations of two radio nuclides (Caesium 137 and Americium 241)
typical of the effluents from the Hinkley reactors and indicators of the presence of Plutonium 239/240 and 241, do not decline significantly with distance from the Hinkley site as Government and Industry surveys had previously reportedOverall, the study found significant concentrations of Hinkley derived radioactivity in samples from all 11 sites, seven along the Somerset coast and four in south Wales and found unexpectedly high concentrations in sediments from Bristol Docks, the tidal River Avon, the
Portishead shoreline, Burnham-on-Sea and Woodspring Bay.

 Public Enquiry 11th Dec 2021

Research finds ‘significant concentrations’ of radioactivity in
samples taken from across the Somerset and south Wales coast. Nation Cymru 9th Dec 2021

Europe to pay half for raising Russia’s dangerous sunken submarines, – while Russia builds new ones!

December 25, 2021

The sunken submarines K-27 and K-159 are the potential source of contamination of the Arctic, the riskiest ones,”

As Moscow this spring took the Chair of the Arctic Council, the need to lift dangerous nuclear materials from the seabed was highlighted as a priority.

No other places in the world’s oceans have more radioactive and nuclear waste than the Kara Sea.

Europe to pay half … it is a dilemma that international partners are providing financial support to lift old Cold War submarines from the ocean, while Russia gives priority to building new nuclear-powered submarines threatening the security landscape in northern Europe. 

EU willing to co-fund lifting of sunken nuclear subs from Arctic seabed  https://thebarentsobserver.com/en/nuclear-safety/2021/11/europe-offers-pay-russia-raise-sunken-nuclear-subs The Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership (NDEP) has decided to start a technical review aimed to find a safe way to lift two Cold War submarines from the Barents- and Kara Seas. By Thomas Nilsen   

“We are proceeding now,” says a smiling Jari Vilén, Finland’s Ambassador for Barents and Northern Dimension.

Projects aimed to improve nuclear safety are some of the few successful arenas for cooperation still going strong between the European Union and Russia.

“In roughly two years time we will have the understanding on what and how it can be done, what kind of technology has to be used,” Vilén elaborates with reference to the two old Soviet submarines K-159 and K-27, both rusting on the Arctic seabed with highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel elements in their reactors.

(more…)

Humboldt nuclear reactor is dead and gone, but its highly radioactive wastes live on.

December 25, 2021

Is this the final chapter? The NRC will soon revoke the operating license for PG&E Unit #3, formally ending its official existence. But the waste is still on-site. The NRC considers cask storage a temporary solution and suggests a 40-year life span. Some hope the casks can last up to 100 years but even this is far shorter than the time needed to safely store high-level waste.


Lori Dengler | Decommissioning a nuclear power plant is a long slow process,  
https://www.times-standard.com/2021/11/20/lori-dengler-decommissioning-a-nuclear-power-plant-is-a-long-slow-process/By LORI DENGLER |November 20, Nothing happens quickly with a nuclear plant. Power is generated through fission, a process of splitting atoms in a controlled way. Once fission begins, it can be slowed or increased, but there’s no on-off switch and a controlled shutdown takes 6-12 hours. The radioactive byproducts last for millennia.

The fuel at PG&E’s former nuclear facility at King Salmon was small ceramic uranium oxide pellets compressed into fuel rods. A single new rod is only mildly radioactive, but when groups of rods (assemblies) are brought closely together in a reactor core, fission commences. PG&E’s Unit #3 was a boiling water reactor (BWR), where water pumped into the core was brought to a boil and steam produced electricity.

All first-generation nuclear reactors were BWRs. Built in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, seven became operational in the US and none are operating today. In the late 1960s, the second generation BWRs came online with improved efficiency, lifespan, containment, and safety features. The Fukushima-Daichi Nuclear Power Plant that failed during the 2011 Japan tsunami was this type. Of the 93 operating reactors in the US today, 31 are BWRs.

During its 13-year operational history, the Humboldt nuclear facility generated most of the county’s electricity. It was shut down yearly for refueling and maintenance and the spent fuel rods were placed in a cooling pool on the site. The pool was within the containment structure and made of steel-lined reinforced concrete several feet thick.

Spent fuel and reactor waste has been and continues to be the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry. In the early decades of the nuclear era, it was often glossed over as something that science and technology could solve. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) classifies nuclear waste as high level or low level depending upon how long-lived the radioactive material is.

Low-level waste is produced by medical facilities, research labs, commercial facilities and in reactor operations. Often short-lived, it has radioactivity levels only slightly above background and can be safely handled with simple precautions. Small amounts can be disposed as ordinary trash and larger amounts moved on highways to approved low-level waste repositories.

It’s the high-level waste that is the big problem. High-level waste is predominately spent nuclear fuel rods. “Spent” is a misnomer as it still contains a substantial amount of energy. Unlike the new, unused fuel rods, they are now highly radioactive and very hot. That’s because once fission starts, can’t be totally stopped. Not all the uranium has been used up; it’s just no longer concentrated enough to be economically worthwhile. Fission is a complex process and creates toxic daughters such as cesium-137 and strontium-90. Fission releases neutrons which may be captured by other uranium atoms to form heavier elements such as plutonium. They aren’t as hot as the daughters but take much longer to decay. Plutonium-239 has a half-life (the time for half to be used up) of 24,100 years.

I admit to much ignorance when it comes to nuclear reactors. In talking about the Humboldt plant, I used to remark how silly it seemed that new fuel rods could be transported on highways and used ones could not. Now I understand why. There is no fission going on in the new ones and emissions are very low.

PG&E announced intentions to decommission Unit #3 in 1983. Three years later, the company requested a SAFTOR license amendment from the NRC. SAFSTOR means “possess-but-not-operate” so that the plant is maintained and monitored and much of the waste can decay before dismantling begins. In 2003, PG&E submitted an application to the NRC to begin transferring the spent fuel rods into dry cask storage.

The Humboldt plant produced 390 spent fuel assemblies in its lifetime. After several years in a storage pool, the NRC considers the waste cool enough to be moved into a dry cask storage facility on site. High-level waste repositories are known as ISFSIs (independent spent fuel storage installation). Finding an ISFSI spot on Buhne Point was problematic in many ways.

The biggest problem was that the ISFSI had to be on the PG&E site. Buhne Point site is exposed to earthquake and tsunami threats, erosion, and sea-level rise. Many people were involved with environmental and hazards studies over the years including a number of HSU geology grads. A site was selected at an elevation of 44 feet just to the west of Unit #3 with the capacity to store 37 tons of high-level waste in six casks.

I attended a community meeting about the ISFSI plan in the early 2000s. It was well attended with scientists, environmental organizations, and other community representatives. What surprised me most was that everyone agreed it was the best solution to a problem all of us wish we never had. Oh, if only time travel were possible – PG&E would be the first in line to reverse the decision to build the Humboldt nuclear facility. But given the legal realities, this was the best option.

NRC issued the Humboldt SAFSTOR license to PG&E in November 2005. By 2008, all of the spent fuel had been moved to the dry casks. The active decommissioning of the site began in 2009 and included removal of the reactor vessel, nuclear systems, containment structure, and other infrastructure. Even the soils at the site were removed. The final step was site restoration and soil remediation. It’s unclear what the footprint of the former nuclear facility may eventually become; at present, it is a parking lot.

Is this the final chapter? The NRC will soon revoke the operating license for PG&E Unit #3, formally ending its official existence. But the waste is still on-site. The NRC considers cask storage a temporary solution and suggests a 40-year life span. Some hope the casks can last up to 100 years but even this is far shorter than the time needed to safely store high-level waste.

Note: The Humboldt ISFSI is covered at http://archive.wmsym.org/2010/pdfs/10217.pdf. If anyone wants to get into the weeds with nuclear reactor technology, see https://www.amacad.org/sites/default/files/academy/pdfs/nuclearReactors.pdf.

Lori Dengler is an emeritus professor of geology at Humboldt State University, an expert in tsunami and earthquake hazards. Questions or comments about this column, or want a free copy of the preparedness magazine “Living on Shaky Ground”? Leave a message at 707-826-6019 or email Kamome@humboldt.edu  https://www.times-standard.com/2021/11/20/lori-dengler-decommissioning-a-nuclear-power-plant-is-a-long-slow-process/