Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Union of UNConcerned Scientists (review of Edwin Lyman's testimony before Congress, September 26, 2017)

Dear Readers,

On September 26, 2017 several "experts" testified before the House Oversight Committee regarding Monitored Retrievable Storage of nuclear spent fuel. One of the speakers was Dr. David Victor, chairman of SoCalEd's Community Engagement Panel, who wholly endorses anything the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or Southern California Edison wants to do. Another speaker was Dr. Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned (sic) Scientists.

Shown below (top) is a list of the main points from the written testimony submitted to the committee by Dr. Edwin Lyman, followed by the full review of Dr. Lyman's written comments.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

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According to Dr. Lyman's testimony, UCS believes that spent fuel can be managed safely at reactor sites "for many decades..."

The UCS's recommendation is to get the waste out of the spent fuel pools "to reduce the risk of catastrophic spent fuel pool fires"

The USC's recommends putting the waste in dry casks on site, providing "the security of dry cask storage is enhanced."

Unmentioned in Lyman's testimony are continued risks of tsunamis, airplane terrorism, neglect, nuclear war, chloride-induced stress-corrosion cracking (CISCC), or the use of eggshell-thin dry casks.

Also unmentioned by Lyman: Thick-walled ductile iron dry casks -- as used in most of the world -- can survive far tougher impact tests, drop tests, fire tests, and aren't subject to CISCC.

Lyman admits that nuclear waste disposal isn't "only a political problem" but is also a technical problem: "One should not underestimate the technical challenges [of building a repository that will isolate the waste] for hundreds of thousands of years."

Lyman states that "UCS is neither pro- nor anti-nuclear power..." and that the UCS has "not ruled out an expansion of nuclear power as an option" to combat global warming.

Lyman's four-part proposal for solving the nuclear waste problem makes a series of unrealistic assumptions: "Establish and maintain political momentum" for a permanent geologic repository; that such a location should be "consent-based, fair and technically sound"; that the spent fuel remain "safely and securely" at reactor sites until a permanent repository exists; that the waste be shipped safely and securely to the permanent repository.

Lyman's testimony discusses a current bill (H.R. 3053) which is intended to amend (and weaken) the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NPWA). Lyman is correct to condemn this bill, in its original form and as amended in 1987.

Lyman believes a Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) facility "would likely undermine the geologic repository program." (This is probably correct.)

Lyman admits that the MRS facilities would be "vulnerable to sabotage attacks that could lead to dispersal of radioactive materials."

Lyman fears theft by terrorists who want to make nuclear weapons -- but only after many decades, when the extremely hazardous fission products are less abundant in the spent fuel due to their eventual decay.

Lyman correctly points out that H.R. 3053 doesn't contain any mechanism "to ensure that DOE will not abandon searching for alternative [permanent] repository sites."

Lyman's solution is to have Congress set a time limit on how long waste can be stored at any MRC facility -- despite his admission that "After all, under the NWPA the NRC was required to make its decision [concerning Yucca Mountain] no later than October, 2012."

Lyman states that there is time to solve all these problems -- thus tacitly supporting continuing operation of nuclear power plants -- which is a far cry from the neutral position he claims the UCS holds.

Lyman closes by saying that "spent fuel can be stored safely and securely at reactor sites for many decades" and "there is no urgent need to rush forward with a less-than-optimal approach for the long term."

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Full review of the September 26, 2017 written testimony before Congress of Dr. Edwin Lyman, Senior Scientist, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned (sic) Scientists:
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Dr. Lyman's testimony starts, in its first sentence, with this: "UCS believes that spent fuel can be managed safely at reactor sites for decades..." Elsewhere in his written testimony he extends this to "many decades." (1)

The UCS's recommendation is to get the waste out of the spent fuel pools "to reduce the risk of catastrophic spent fuel pool fires" and put the waste in dry casks, providing "the security of dry cask storage is enhanced." That is a steep request since the current plan is to REDUCE security to practically nothing at dry-cask-only nuclear sites (a chain-link fence and one person on duty at a time with a handgun).

Unmentioned in Lyman's testimony are the continued risks of tsunamis, airplane terrorism, neglect, nuclear war, chloride-induced stress-corrosion cracking (CISCC), or the use of eggshell-thin (2) dry casks when far stronger casks are available. Thick-walled ductile iron dry casks -- as used in most of the world -- can survive far tougher impact tests, drop tests, fire tests, and aren't subject to CISCC. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements for dry casks are utterly inadequate for real-world conditions. This is all unmentioned by Lyman.

Lyman does say (pg 3) that spent fuel should be "managed safely and protected from terrorist attack until it can be buried in a geologic repository" but gives no details on how that management and protection can be done (not surprisingly, since it CAN'T be done). Later in Lyman's testimony (pg 9) he addresses the topic of dry cask safety again -- but only to say that the risk from terrorism or earthquakes are reduced if the spent fuel is in dry storage versus spent fuel pools.

In the third (final) paragraph of Lyman's summary statement, he first admits that nuclear waste disposal isn't "only a political problem" but is also a technical problem, stating: "One should not underestimate the technical challenges" of building a repository that will isolate the waste "for hundreds of thousands of years." But the fact is: Nothing mankind has ever built has lasted, or could possibly be expected to last that long. And yet Lyman's very next sentence assumes it can be done: "The foundation of such an effort is good science." More likely, the foundation of good science FICTION is to assume it can be done!

In the third paragraph of Lyman's full testimony comes the most unequivocal of equivocations: "UCS is neither pro- nor anti-nuclear power..." (3) But as a "nuclear power safety and security watchdog" organization (pg 3), isn't five partial or complete meltdowns, in three different countries, in three different types of reactors -- enough to convince them of a problem? (4)

Lyman states that the UCS has "not ruled out an expansion of nuclear power as an option" to combat global warming -- despite every renewable option being cheaper, cleaner and more effective. So why not?

Lyman states that a "sustainable nuclear waste disposal strategy" (an oxymoron if ever there was one!) "must also have broad public acceptance at local, state, and national levels." (pg 3) Lyman wants Congress to pursue a "different and less adversarial approach" to siting a permanent repository. But that fact is: With all the access to information people now have, no one in their right mind is going to accept nuclear waste in their back yard. No community, no state has EVER wanted it, none ever will. It's time to stop making more nuclear waste, and it's time for the UCS to push for closure of ALL nuclear power reactors, research reactors, and naval propulsion reactors. The clock is getting dangerously close to midnight.

Lyman's four-part proposal for solving the nuclear waste problem is shallow at best: First, to "establish and maintain political momentum" for a permanent geologic repository -- he does not mention any particular place. He does not acknowledge that such a search has been going on longer than the UCS has been in existence. Second, that such a location should be "consent-based, fair and technically sound." That's a trio of impossibilities! Third, that the spent fuel remain "safely and securely" at reactor sites until a permanent repository exists (also impossible). And Fourth, that the waste be shipped safely and securely to the permanent repository (ditto). Lyman then condemns Congress for not confronting these issues. Fair enough.

The next few pages of Lyman's testimony discuss a current bill (H.R. 3053) being juggled around in Congress which is intended to amend (and weaken) the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NPWA). Lyman is correct to condemn the bill, in its original form and as amended in 1987. (5)

Lyman believes a Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS) facility "would likely undermine the geologic repository program." That is certainly true: It would siphon off funding, remove incentive, and -- most importantly but unmentioned by Lyman -- transfer liability from the reactor utilities that produced the waste to the American public. From the communities that used the energy produced to some poverty-stricken community that sees dollar signs that will probably only benefit the first generation, and then dry up. And there would need to be at least eight of these MRS facilities right now, with another one needed in less than a decade, forever until the reactors are closed. (6)

Lyman admits that the MRS facilities would be "vulnerable to sabotage attacks that could lead to dispersal of radioactive materials." (pg 6) This is the same risk he DOESN'T see at places like San Onofre if the waste stays there! Lyman also fears -- after many decades, when the extremely hazardous fission products are less abundant in the spent fuel due to their eventual decay -- theft by terrorists who want to make nuclear weapons. But storing that same fuel for "many decades" at over 70 sites can be done "safely"?

Lyman next points out that H.R. 3053 would require the NRC to make a decision regarding Yucca Mountain within 30 months after its passage, and further points out that this is a mandate that cannot be enforced since: "After all, under the NWPA the NRC was required to make its decision no later than October, 2012." That date came and went: The DOE abandoned (at least for the time being) the Yucca Mountain project in 2010.

And yet -- as Lyman correctly points out -- H.R. 3053 doesn't contain any mechanism "to ensure that DOE will not abandon searching for alternative [permanent] repository sites." But Lyman's solution is to have Congress set a time limit on how long waste can be stored at any MRC facility -- as if such limits would be enforced!

On page 7 Lyman gets down to UCS's alternatives, which he calls "more equitable and science-based." First is to develop geologic repositories (plural!) for "direct disposal of spent fuel." But not Yucca Mountain, about which he says the UCS concurs with Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission Report that "the process" of selecting Yucca Mountain was "flawed and contributed to the erosion of trust" and "caused it to stall." That's not what really stalled it, though. It was not just the PROCESS of picking Yucca Mountain that was flawed (though that was flawed too). The site itself was a disaster-waiting-to-happen. (7)

The problem is: ANY site would be a disaster-waiting-to-happen. Any interim site would be a disaster-waiting-to-happen. All the current sites are disasters-waiting-to-happen.

Lyman is right that "direct disposal" is -- in theory -- advantageous since transport accidents (and the likelihood of terrorist attacks) increase with every extra mile the fuel is moved: To an interim site, then perhaps to ANOTHER interim site (if time limits are adhered to for any one site), then to a permanent repository (or perhaps back to the first interim site). It's not very likely that the fuel will only be moved once, since no such permanent repositories exist, and storing the fuel near highly populated areas, in earthquake-prone tsunami zones -- is the very definition of suicidal insanity. And it is of course, what we do now -- and, unfortunately, what Lyman is satisfied with for "many decades."

H.R. 3053 seeks to overcome opposition to moving the waste to interim locations by removing democratic principles of self-determination: By preempting local and state authority. Lyman, however, feels that "there is surely a way to develop a process that at least is perceived...as fair." He does not attempt to describe such a thing.

Lyman next returns to the subject of storing the nuclear waste at the reactor sites -- where approximately 99% of the spent fuel currently remains, even after more than 50 years of commercial operation at some of the sites. His first priority is NOT shutting down the reactors so the spent fuel could begin the permanent process of slowly reducing its lethality. Instead, Lyman wants those spent fuel pools to hold less fuel -- completely ignoring the fact that if a pool with fresh fuel (fuel recently removed from the reactor) drains, it will be a catastrophe, even if that's the only fuel in the pool. In order to maintain his position of "neutrality" Lyman ONLY worries about "dangerously overloaded" spent fuel pools. He does point out that a spent fuel pool fire could contaminate "30,000 square miles" just with "average weather conditions." (8) Lyman's recommendation is NOT to close the reactors and start the cooling process: It's to move older fuel into dry casks on site. Keep doing what the industry has been doing for more than a decade: Creating additional targets for airplane strikes, atomic bombs, terrorists, asteroids, etc.. Just do it faster, so the pools are "thinned out." Lyman then lists several "incentives" the NRC could offer to induce reactor sites to thin out their pools, adding that this would create "good [(sic)] jobs in the dry cask storage construction industry."

Lyman admits that the risks wouldn't "go down to zero" even with more of the fuel in dry casks. He mentions -- almost casually -- that dry casks are also vulnerable to terrorism ("[o]ne must also be concerned about...") and notes that two years ago the NRC started to consider stricter standards, then dropped the development of those standards "for at least five years" (until at least 2020).

In the last two pages of his testimony Lyman discusses transportation risks of moving spent fuel, stating (correctly) that plans "for ensuring that the public and the environment will be protected during such transportation are simply not adequate." He'd like to see Congress fund additional studies. Why shouldn't the industry fund those studies -- and NOT at ratepayer expense? After stating that current plans are "simply not adequate" Lyman only wants the NRC to "consider...whether new security standards are needed."

Lastly, Lyman states that there is time to solve all these problems -- thus tacitly supporting continuing operation of nuclear power plants -- which is a far cry from the neutral position he claims the UCS holds. He closes by saying that "spent fuel can be stored safely and securely at reactor sites for many decades" and "there is no urgent need to rush forward with a less-than-optimal approach for the long term." This is just plain wrong. (9)

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

The author has studied nuclear issues for more than 40 years, has interviewed numerous nuclear scientists and other experts, and has a private collection of over 500 books and videos regarding nuclear power. He is a computer programmer and lives approximately 15 miles from 3.5 million pounds of nuclear waste located at San Onofre.

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Footnotes:
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(1) Lyman's written testimony before Congressional Oversight Committee:
https://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/lyman-oversight-committee-nuclear-waste-testimony-corrected-9-26-17.pdf

(2) The thickness of a chicken egg's shell is about 1.35% the thickness of the egg; that of the 5/8ths inch thick dry casks currently in use is about 1.65% the thickness of a dry cask, and some dry casks are only 1/2 inch thick. The density of a dry cask is also far, far higher than the density of an egg.

(3) Lyman states that the UCS has more than half a million "supporters" (pg 3). UCS's own 2016 annual report (their most recent to date) states "over 100,000" members -- a significant difference. That's about one out of every 3200 Americans (assuming they're nearly all Americans).

2016 Union of Concerned Scientists' annual report:
http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2016/11/annual-report-2016.pdf

Wikipedia gives the UCS membership as "over 200,000":
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_of_Concerned_Scientists

(4) Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), Fukushima (2011, three reactors). Earlier melted-fuel accidents occurred at Windscale (1957), Santa Susana (1959), SL1 (1961), and Fermi 1 (1966), plus lost reactors at sea: USS Thresher (1963), USS Scorpion (1968). (Also: K-159 (2003), K-141 (Kursk, 2000), K-8 (1970), K-219 (1986), K-278 (1989) plus the intentionally sunk K-27 (1982).)

(5) H.R. 3053 would allow so-called "temporary" or "interim" nuclear waste storage sites to be constructed without any progress on a national repository, in effect allowing what would probably become "de facto" (as Lyman puts it) permanent storage sites. Lyman doesn't follow this policy to its inevitable conclusion, that the "interim" sites would eventually -- or quickly -- become horrific SuperFund cleanup sites, after the casks -- inevitably -- fail at some point in the future. Lyman says they'll be "monitored" which really means: We'll watch them fail. When an airplane crashes into them, when the airplane's burning fuel cracks open the thin-walled dry casks, when the place becomes a massive inferno -- remote cameras will capture the event.

(6) H.R. 3053 caps the amount of spent fuel at each MRS facility at 10,000 metric tons -- an enormous amount -- but there is already over 70,000 metric tons in America that needs to be stored. Granted, eight facilities might be easier to protect than the 70+ locations that now store spent fuel -- but nearly all of those current sites are already protecting operating reactors and operational spent fuel pools -- and therefore are currently required to have far more than one security guard with a pea shooter on hand at all times.

(7) At the time of Yucca Mountain's abandonment, there were over 300 technical problems Nevada's scientists had identified and challenged the project with -- many so severe there was no foreseeable solution OTHER than to abandon the project -- such as potential volcanic activity in the area, earthquake activity, water seepage through the mountain, and many other problems. California's scientists had identified several dozen more technical problems with the plan, including excessive groundwater flow rates into aquifers used by farms, towns and cities in California. It is safe to say that Yucca Mountain should never -- and probably will never -- be built.

(8) Lyman states that the plume could stretch from "Maine to Georgia," evidently ignoring, for purposes of illustration, the fact that Maine has no nuclear power plants.

(9) For a thoroughly documented discussion of what's wrong with the thin-walled dry casks, visit: www.sanonofresafety.org



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Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author: "The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry"
Free download: acehoffman.org
Blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com
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Email: ace [at] acehoffman.org

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Nuclear Waste Management: The view through the years...

Dear Readers,

There is a long -- if often shallow -- history of looking at the nuclear waste problem. But it's still a problem. Below is a list of books in my collection (there are undoubtedly many others) on the subject of nuclear waste, or with significant sections about nuclear waste, with dates of publication and several quotes from each one. Many other books in my collection have some mention of the problem, going back to the 1940s (most that old simply deny it's a problem, saying we'll rocket nuclear waste to the sun, drop it under the polar ice caps, bury it in deep sea trenches, or reuse it in other reactors).

These quotes show the immense difficulty of attempting to isolate radionuclides, of transporting nuclear waste, and of finding a permanent repository or even interim storage. Again and again over the decades, people were sure all these problems would be solved "soon." Yet as of today, none of them have been solved. The problems remain intractable, and the solutions are still as elusive as ever.

Note: In a few cases, I have added some comments to the quotes, which are clearly delineated.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

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'Population Control' Through Nuclear Pollution (1970, Tamplin & Gofman, forward by Paul Ehrlich (Chapter 8))

Quotes:

"We are producing waste products that must be maintained in isolation from the environment for a thousand years or more. Guarding this radioactive garbage is one of the prices that future generations will have to pay, in addition to the genetic consequences they will suffer from the radioactivity which we are presently introducing into the environment, either deliberately or under the guise of waste disposal" (pg 170)

"A large nuclear electric plant producing 1000 megawatts of electrical power uses the same amount of uranium in one year as a 25 megaton uranium-fission bomb. And this means the production of strontium-90 and cesium-137 and other radioisotopes equivalent to that produced in such a 25-megaton bomb." (pg 171)
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Everyone's Trash Problem: Nuclear Wastes (1979, Hyde & Hyde)

Quotes:

"There is no way of hurrying the decay from radioactive to non-radioactive; final disposal must be by natural decay." (pg 79)

"The search for places to store high-level radioactive wastes is not new. As long ago as 1957 permanent disposal was recommended by a special committee of the National Academy of Science -- National Research Council. Since then many ideas have been explored. A well-known one is to shoot long-lived wastes into space via rocket." (pgs 80-81)

Regarding deep sea burial: "Canisters would be buried in claylike ooze that covers the ocean floor in regions that are geologically quiet. They would be dropped from winch-equipped ships and would force their way 30 meters below the floor before coming to rest." (pg87) "One area being studied is 600 miles north of Hawaii." (pg 88)
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Plutonium, Power, and Politics: International Arrangements for the Disposition of Spent Nuclear Fuel (1979, Gene I. Rochlin)

Quotes:

"There is no doubt that throughout the twenty-plus-year history of commercial nuclear power...it has been the assumption of nuclear industry and nuclear agencies alike that spent reactor fuel would be reprocessed." (pg 79) Note: That is undoubtedly why they currently prefer monitored, RETRIEVABLE storage solutions. But: "By early 1974...[d]ifficulties were reported from all quarters from reprocessing of higher burn oxide fuels." (pg 79)

"Fresh fuel charged to [a Light Water Reactor] is made up of about 3 percent U-235 and 97 percent U-238. After its full residence in the core (about three years for a PWR, four for a BWR), the spent fuel consists (by mass) of about 95 percent U-238, 1 percent plutonium, 1 percent residual U-235, and about 3 percent light elements produced by fission of uranium and plutonium. There are also small amounts of other heavy elements, particularly neptunium, americium, and curium..." (pg 83) Note: "High Burn-up fuel contains up to 5% U-235, and after use in a reactor, contains correspondingly more fission products, plutonium, etc..

"There are in principle three options for dealing with the spent fuel. It could be treated as a waste for ultimate disposal. It could be stored offsite, in surface or subsurface facilites, for an interim period ranging from one to several decades pending a decision as to whether it should then be disposed of or reprocessed to recover the fissile content. Or it could be stored for a period ranging from a few months to perhaps a decade and then reprocessed." (pg 81)

"The safety of a mined geologic repository can be analyzed in terms of three different time periods: 1) The operational period, when the repository is open; 2) The 'thermal' period, that is, the first few hundred years after closure, during which time the radioactivity and the heat production of the wastes are dominated by the fission products; 3) The actinide decay period, which extends to several hundreds of thousands of years. (pg 99)

"The back end of the nuclear fuel cycle is clearly in disarray." (pg 100)
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Unpaid Costs of Electrical Energy (1979, William Ramsey (Chapter 5))

Quotes:

"...spent fuel is presently being stored temporarily at each reactor site, with the fuel rods immersed in pools of water. This present system is perhaps inelegant, but it would be surprising if this kind of local storage could not be continued safely over the next decades, or at least until such time as a permanent solution has been found to the waste problem." (pg 61)

"Critics of nuclear power...say that if the strontium 90 produced in one year of spent fuel were to be dispersed into river basins all over the country, it would be enough to contaminate the annual freshwater runoff of the United States to several times the acceptable limits." (pg 63)

"Storage in salt beds is not the only possibility; rock formations, ice caps, and the ocean floor have all been proposed as storage areas. Even shooting off the wastes somewhere into outer space has had its proponents." (pg 92)
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Too Hot To Handle? (1983, 3 editors)

Quotes:

"Much of the concern about plutonium arises from the facts that chemical separation of plutonium from uranium is conceptually simple and pure plutonium can be handled rather easily because of its low level of radioactivity. The separation could be carried out without appreciable difficulty were it not for the fact that plutonium discharged from light-water reactors is mixed with actinides and highly radioactive fission products." (pg 52)

"Among the possibilities for disposal sites for radioactive wastes are continental geologic formations, the sea bed, ice sheets, and space beyond the earth's atmosphere." (pgs 53-54)

"The...radioactive waste management program is now widely considered to have been seriously deficient. President Carter acknowledged that 'past governmental efforts to manage radioactive wastes have not been technically adequate. Moreover they have failed to involve successfully the States, local governments or the public in policy or program decisions.'" (pg 165)
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Management of Tritium at Nuclear Facilities (1984, IAEA)

Note: Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen. It is highly toxic.

Quotes:

"In BWRs the proportion of the [tritium] activity released with off-gases is 10 to 50%...[i]n PWRs 99% of the moderator and coolant activity [of tritium] is present in liquid phase, and 1% is in gaseous phase. Because of their low concentration, both gaseous and liquid tritiated effluents are released to the air after proper dilution, so the releases are much below the release levels permitted." (pg 5)

"In a gas container filled initially with T2 [(tritium gas)] the pressure increases with time from radioactive decay to He3, with the pressure ultimately reaching twice the filling pressure...the disadvantage of gas storage is the potential for [leakage] through valves. The advantage is that the tritium is easily recoverable for use at any time." (pg 28) Note: One of the main "uses" of tritium is as a trigger in nuclear weapons. It is also used in emergency exit signs, graticals for rifle scopes, etc..
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Nuclear Power in Crisis (1987, Edited by Andrew Blowers and David Pepper)

Quotes:

"As early as 1952 James Conant, the President of the American Chemical Society, asserted that nuclear energy would founder because the problem of radioactive waste disposal was unsoluble. It is not surprising that a man of Conant's eminence -- a former President of Harvard University and a member of the wartime US National Defense Research Committee that was intimately involved with the Manhattan Atomic Bomb Project -- should make such a sombre and prophetic assessment, as he had direct access to the key atomic researchers of the era...Another skeptic was Professor George L. Weil who wrote in 1955: 'The beneficial prospects associated with the development of nuclear energy have been widely publicized. On the other hand, discussions of the unpleasant aspects have been limited almost exclusively to the technical meetings and publications.' (Weil, 1955). It was Weil who extracted the first fuel rod from the first atomic reactor in Chicago, December, 1942." (pg 132; this chapter was written by Andrew Blowers and David Lowry)

"The Department of Energy (DOE) is investigating potential sites in the south and west for siting a deep underground repository, which it is hoped will be operating by the end of the [20th] century. The investigation poses the question of whether the earth, 1000 to 3000 feet underground, can contain radioactivity for one million years or so without releasing it, and highlights the problem of transporting high level waste over large distances, affecting many communities en route." (pgs 178-179; this chapter was written by Marvin Resnikoff)
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Understanding Radioactive Waste (1989, Raymond L. Murray)

Quotes:

"The fuel is no longer suitable for operation in a reactor, but precautions must still be taken to avoid accidental criticality." (pg 67) "Of special interest [in designing dry storage] are the ability to remove decay heat with a safe cladding temperature and to protect the cladding against corrosion by use of an inert cover gas such as helium or nitrogen." (pg 69) "One concept is the Monitored Retrievable Storage (MRS), a large facility located geographically between the generating companies and the fuel disposal site. The fuel would be repackaged at the MRS for disposal." (pg 69) This book also describes some of the tests that transportation cask designs are supposed to survive: "...a 30-foot fall on a flat, unyielding surface...a 40-in. fall onto a metal pin 6 in. in diameter...a 30-min. exposure to a fire at a temperature of 1475 degrees F." (pg 95). (The book does not note, but it SHOULD be noted, that jet fuel burns up to 1500 degrees F., hot enough to significantly weaken steel containers. Gasoline burns at 1880 degrees F., LNG burns even hotter.)
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Site Unseen: The Politics of Siting a Nuclear Waste Repository (1990, Gerald Jacob)

Quotes:

"...efforts in the early 1970s to site a repository at Lyons, Kansas, failed -- when state geologists revealed serious problems with the site. (pg 45) "Problems at temporary storage facilities, such as the leaking Hanford tanks, gave temporary storage a bad reputation." (pg 134) "While the [Nuclear Waste Policy Act] was meant to restore public confidence in Congress and the nuclear establishment, lack of confidence in existing and future institutions was used to justify permanent disposal in a geologic repository...The poor record of nuclear management over the past thirty years left little reason to assume it would be more effective in the future." (pg 135)
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Trashing The Planet (1990, Dixie Lee Ray & Lou Guzzo (DLR signed copy))

Quotes:

"In 1968, the General Accounting Office recommended a vigorous long-term waste management program..." (pg 145) "...we have reached an impasse with the plan to put spent fuel into deep geological repositories. State after state has adopted the not-in-my-backyard attitude..." (pg 152)

Note: Ray believed the waste should be reprocessed to extract the "useful" fissile and industrial isotopes, and the remaining waste "should be disposed of in the ocean."(pg 153) Ray also claimed there are vast dead zones ("deserts in the sea") (pg153) and that the current natural burden of radionuclides in the oceans overwhelm anything mankind could add. Ray opposed land-based solutions including Yucca Mountain, Hanford, etc..
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The Nuclear Energy Option: An Alternative for the 90s (1983 - 1992, Bernard L. Cohen)

Cohen was sure that any and all nuclear waste solutions would be safe and feasible, at least compared to handling arsenic, and that terrorists would be more likely to bust a large dam, release a poison gas into a building's ventilation system, napalm a sports arena, or poison a city's water supply, than attack a nuclear facility (pgs 245 - 246).

Quotes:

"[w]e may eventually expect about 2 million cancers for each pound of plutonium inhaled by people." (pg 247)

"It...seems unlikely that an operating solar power plant can ever cost less than $1,000 per peak kilowatt. Since their power output over day and night is only about 20% of the peak, this corresponds to a cost of $5,000 per average kilowatt. The cost estimate for a new generation of nuclear power plants is under $2,000 per average kilowatt." (pg 261). Note: In August, 2016 the average cost of PV (photovoltaic)-generated electricity was estimated to be about 15 - 20% LESS than "advanced nuclear" (source: US Energy Information Administration). The price difference is expected to continue to expand in favor of PV.
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Atomic Harvest: Hanford and the Lethal Toll of America's Nuclear Arsenal (1993, Michael D'Antonio, forward by Stewart Udall)

Quotes:

"Called the Basalt Waste Isolation Project, the dump would be the final resting place for nearly all the nation's high-level radioactive waste." (pg 31) The project was cancelled in 1987, causing the loss of 1200 jobs in the area. (pg 211)
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The Nuclear Waste Primer (League of Women Voters Education Fund, 1993 Revised Edition)

Quotes:

"In 1970, the Atomic Energy Commission tentatively selected a full-scale repository site in the salt deposits near Lyons, Kansas. The site was chosen without a formal search...the Lyons site was abandoned two years later...in 1974 the federal government again began a search for possible permanent repository sites, beginning with a survey of underground rock formations in 36 states...In February, 1983...DOE formally identified nine potentially acceptable sites located in Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas, Utah, and Washington...in December 1984, the department recommended further study of sites at Yucca Mountain, Nevada; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Hanford, Washington...all three state governments opposed the study of sites within their states." (pg 49) "The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 also required DOE to identify a site for a second high-level waste repository...the search for a second site centered on granite formations in 17 eastern, southern, and midwestern states...Most of the hearings were contentious..." (pgs 49-50)

"The 1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act did authorize DOE to site and construct a monitored retrievable storage facility, with strong restrictions. The department cannot select an MRS site until a permanent repository site has been recommended, and construction cannot begin until the NRC has issued a construction license for a repository. Only a limited amount of spent fuel can be stored at any time -- spent fuel equivalent to 10,000 metric tons of heavy metal before a repository is operating and 15,000 metric tons of heavy metal when a repository is operating." (pg 54)

"As of 1992, four counties and 16 Indian tribes had applied for grants to study the feasibility of locating a storage facility within their jurisdictions; three counties and seven tribes were awarded grants. However, one county and four tribe subsequently withdrew from the process. DOE initially decided not to conduct a siting process of its own but to rely on the voluntary process...to identify a site for an MRS in time for a facility to be operating by January 1998." (pg 54)

The Primer has a table, courtesy Worldwatch Institute, December, 1991, listing sixteen countries' target dates for their high-level waste burial programs. The earliest date given was Germany, 2008, followed by the U.S. and France, 2010 (two, Russia and China, did not provide estimates). (pg 63)
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Environmental and Ethical Aspects of Long-Lived Radioactive Waste Disposal (Proceedings of an International Workshop organized by the Nuclear Energy Agency in co-operation with the Environmental Directorate, OECD, Paris, September, 1994)

Quotes:

"...it is inappropriate to use traditional discounting techniques over long periods of time...One reason the technique does not work is simple mathematics: since the present value of future benefits declines the farther out into the future they occur, even with a very low discount rate a health benefit saving thousands of lives 10,000 years from now would have a negligible present value." (pg 130)

"[D]iscounting can lead to inequitable distribution of health benefits: 'When using a 10 percent discount rate, for example, we value 100 lives saved 30 years in the future the same as 6 lives saved in the present." (pg 131)

"...it is difficult to see how we can decide on a method of final disposal which is 'irreversible', irrevocable, in the sense that the need for reparability is not met to any reasonable extent. Then too, it also becomes clear that the demands for safety in operation and reparability are, in part, in conflict with each other. Safety in operation requires, at least in a certain sense, a sealed repository. Reparability requires, in a somewhat different sense, an accessible repository. The technical question of how both these requirements can be met simultaneously is still insufficiently explored." (pg 291)
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Not In My Back Yard (1994, Jane Anne Morris, published in San Diego, California)

Quotes:

"Today, the U.S. government in general, and the military branches in particular, are regarded as the perpetrators of the worst toxic cleanup mess in the nation: The problem of radioactive wastes. For a half century, the government has handled its nuclear-weapons-related projects without much interference...Public participation (except for paying for it) was next to nil." (pg 226)

"Even when national security was not an issue, Congress was often no help at all, as when it exempted the Department of Energy from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations." (pg 227) Note: DOE is still exempted.
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Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Nuclear Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada (1999, U.S. DOE)

Quotes:

"Ceramic Coatings. A thin coating (1.5 millimeters (0.06 inch) or more) of a ceramic oxide on the outer surface of the waste package could increase the life of the waste package by slowing the rate at which the waste package will corrode." (pg E-3) Note: Despite plans to leave waste in thin (5/8ths inch) stainless steel canisters for decades at reactor sites and interim storage locations, there are no plans to coat the dry casks with ceramics.

"The probability of a criticality event would be very low. This is based on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission design requirement (10 CFR Part 60) that specifies that two independent low-probability events must occur for criticality to be possible and that this requirement will be part of the licensing basis for the repository." (pg H-3)

"[A]ircraft crashes on the vulnerable area of the repository are not credible because the probability would be below 1 X 10^-7 per year, which is the credible limit specified by DOE." (pg H-11) Note: This statement and the calculations that accompany it were written BEFORE 9-11.

"Meteorite Impact. This event would not be credible based on a strike frequency of 2 X 10^-8 per year for a damaging meteorite...This estimate accounts for the actual area of the Waste Handling Building roof given previously..." (pg H-13)

"Sabotage...The repository would not represent an attractive target to potential saboteurs due to its remote location and low population density in the area...DOE expects that both the likelihood and consequences of sabotage events would be greater during transportation of the material to the repository..." (pg H-16) Note: What does this opinion suggest about current waste storage policies?
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Information Digest (2002, 2003 editions, Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Quotes:

(2002 Edition): Currently, there are 20 operating independent spent fuel storage installation sites (ISFSIs) in the U.S." (pg 86)

(2003 Edition): Currently, there are 27 operating independent spent fuel storage installation sites (ISFSIs) in the U.S." (pg 86)
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The Best Option for Nuclear Waste: We Don't Know How to Store it Forever. Let's Leave the Solution to a Generation That Will (2004, Technology Review Magazine Cover Story (M.I.T.'s Magazine of Innovation))

Quotes:

"Once the fuel was underground at Yucca, it would be hot enough to boil ground water into steam. Steam could corrode the containers or break up surrounding rock, raising uncertainty about secure burial." (pg 40)

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined that an F-16's crashing into the casks...is a 'credible accident.'" (pg 44) Note: An F-16 is a relatively small aircraft.
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Too Hot To Touch (2013, Alley & Alley)

Quotes:

"The [Blue Ribbon Commission] report discussed at length the underlying reasons why the US nuclear waste program is in complete disarray..." (pg 317)

"In late 1975, the newly formed ERDA [Energy Research and Development Administration] announced a reinvigorated plan to address disposal of high-level radioactive waste. The Nuclear Waste Terminal Storage Project...was ambitious. Six repositories were to be identified...The first two...would start operating at a pilot scale by 1985...All six would be operating by the mid 1990s." (pg 178)

"On December 20, 1982...the House and Senate passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA)...President Reagan declared mission accomplished. 'The Act,' he proclaimed, 'provides the long overdue assurance that we now have a safe and effective solution to the nuclear waste problem.'" (pg 191)
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Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants (2014, NRC Pamphlet)

Quotes:

"Several nuclear power plants completed decommissioning in the 1990s without a viable option for disposing of their spent nuclear fuel because the Federal Government did not construct a geologic repository as planned." Also: "After cleanup...dry cask safely stored and monitored until disposal." The pamphlet claims decommissioning fund ranging from "$300 million to $400 million" are adequate, but does NOT note that that amount does not cover monitoring the spent nuclear fuel "until disposal."
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Compiled by:
Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

The author, an independent researcher and computer programmer, has a collection of approximately 500 books and videos on nuclear issues, and has studied the problem for more than 40 years.

-----------------------------------------
Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author: "The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry"
Free download: acehoffman.org
Blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com
YouTube: youtube.com/user/AceHoffman
Subscribe to my free newsletter today!
Email: ace [at] acehoffman.org

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: Max S. Powers' America's Nuclear Wastelands (2008)

Dear Readers,

Two weeks ago on a conference call between half a dozen long-time activists working for safer storage of the vast pile of nuclear waste at San Onofre (3.5 million pounds, approximately, of spent reactor fuel) Mike Aguirre, the lawyer who had just settled a nothingburger with Southern California Edison that took his law firm out of the running to help local residents fight against SoCalEd's cost-saving plan to store the waste in flimsy thin-walled so-called "stainless" steel cans, on the promise that SCE would keep on trying to find someone else to take the waste (which they had been trying to do for decades anyway and were going to continue to try to do) Mike recommended a book he had read, and -- after misnaming the author several times -- said it's where he figured out the solution to the problem, and he wanted us all to read it. Did not offer to send copies.

I found a used library copy on the Internet, and paid more for the shipping than for the book. Under 200 pages, in small type but with lots of pictures, I read it cover-to-cover yesterday. This is (or will be shortly) a book review.

Worse than merely agreeing to help SCE find a better home for the nuclear waste -- something we all want to do, actually, since it's in an earthquake zone, a tsunami zone, a high-population area, and exposed to the crack-inducing salty air 24/7 -- Aguirre & Company (including Ray Lutz and Patricia Borchmann, two local activists) agreed to help SCE dump their liability for the waste once it gets beyond the fence at SanO, and they also agreed, in writing, to support SCE's application to the California Public Utilities Commission seeking to have ratepayers pay for SCE's search for a new home for the waste -- up to $4,000,000, which is a pitifully small amount (SCE spends nearly that much just holding four "Community Engagement Panel" meetings each year), and SCE only has to search for a "commercially reasonable" location, whatever THAT means. One thing it definitely means is that they can reject even a plan that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves, if they don't like the financial terms.

And the #1 financial term they are seeking is to dump the liability for whatever happens to the nuclear waste on someone else.

That's why, immediately after the "agreement" was publicized (the negotiations had been held secretly for several months), Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona announced that they, for one, would NOT take the waste. Naturally: They didn't want the added cost and liability. They'd be fools to want it.

America's Nuclear Wastelands certainly has an intriguing title, and a picture of several atomic bomb craters on the cover. The subtitle is "Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup" but while accountability is discussed several times in the book, liability isn't mentioned at all. It's mainly about politics, which the author thinks is the main reason nuclear waste is a problem at all.

Max Powers is a word twister. He uses inappropriate terms to make his points, like "low energy" for the alpha emissions from plutonium (pg.42), and "in concentrations large enough to harm people" (pg.9), which indicates he doesn't believe in the Linear, No Threshold ("LNT") theory of radiation damage, which has been accepted by the vast majority of unbiased scientists for years -- including the government's own Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) committee -- as the best estimate. Further proof that he believes there is a threshold is his claim that Columbia River fish "no longer contain potentially dangerous levels of radioactivity" (pg 79). But perhaps the best proof is when he talks about "Hormesis" (though he doesn't use the term): "There are, however, scientists who argue that low doses have no effect, or even beneficial effects..." (pg28). Powers assumes the Hiroshima studies were accurate (pg26). Actually, they are an excellent case study -- in how to bias a study! (For example, babies who were born and died to Hiroshima survivors were simply not counted if they died before the age of five.)

It's interesting to note that the first time any activist is mentioned in Powers' book, he (the activist) is described as "accost[ing]" and "berating" the author. (The activist, from Idaho, had ample justification, since the author had, in official testimony at a hearing, just complimented the cleanup job the Idaho National Labs was doing. (A job which, a decade later (August, 2017), the LA Times said is still "causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.))

Powers' book does have some interesting facts: The government had estimated it would take over $200 billion and at least 70 years to clean up 113 nuclear radiological environmental wastelands. He listed more than half a dozen states which have been considered at some point for hosting a high-level nuclear waste dump: Kansas, Washington, Nevada, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas, "upper New England" (Vermont or Maine) and states in the midwest (pg54).

But mostly, he just sides with those who believe that the nuclear waste problem is "political" and that concerned citizens are overly-worried because they can't balance the threat from smoking cigarettes or driving cars against the threat from nuclear waste accidents. He says "Not In My Back Yard syndrome" (NIMBYism) isn't based on science (pg. 97), and doesn't realize it might also be based on past failures of cleanup agencies.

Powers calls the bribes that have been offered to local communities around proposed nuclear waste dumps "monetary awards" (pg. 100). He says that nuclear waste can be transported safely, but politics gets in the way (pg.110). He thinks the "wildlife refuge" they made out of Rocky Flats is a successful clean-up job (pgs70&71; pg 170). In reality, they wouldn't spend the money to make the area around the main complex clean enough to release it back to the public for unrestricted use, so they fenced it off, let mule deer propagate within, and called it a wildlife refuge. There is still a much more highly contaminated zone in the middle of the refuge.

Powers mentions, but does not discuss the problems with, rocketing nuclear waste to the sun, or dropping it in the deep blue sea near a subduction zone (pgs76&77). He calls Yucca Mountain a "carefully crafted process" (pg 99) and said it would be operating by 2019 (pg.42). He says the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) is a complete success (pgs 5&44 and elsewhere, though in his defence, his book was written before the explosion and plutonium release). Powers asserts that mixed-oxide ("MOX") fuel made from nuclear bombs would be a good way to get rid of the plutonium (pg65) (it hasn't worked out). He believes only about 50 people died because of Chernobyl, plus "heightened levels of leukemia" among cleanup workers and thyroid cancer in children (pg10), but doesn't provide estimates for either group.

He claims states have "significant" say over nuclear waste regulations, then admits they don't, then asserts they do again (pgs.33&34). Correct answer: They don't.

Perhaps the most odd thing about Mike Aguirre recommending this awful book is that, coming off a treaty negotiated in secrecy, the book recommends "openness and trust" (pg158). It recommends "trust funds" be set up, but SCE has no plans to do that for the spent fuel. It recommends...wait for it...TOURISM to pay for managing long-term stewardship of nuclear waste where possible, such as at Hanford, Washington (often cited by others as the most polluted place in America), his example being the B Reactor Museum there, which he endorsed and which has since opened.

The current estimated price tag for cleaning up Hanford is nearing $20 billion. By comparison, the budget for the entire Smithsonian complex of approximately 30 museums (which does not include the B Reactor Museum) is currently about $100 million/year.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

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B-reactor museum web site:
http://b-reactor.org/

LA Times article on INL cleanup:
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-na-idaho-nuclear-waste-2017-story.html

This book review was also published at MWCNEWS:
http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/68114-americas-nuclear-wastelands.html
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-----------------------------------------
Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author: "The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry"
Free download: acehoffman.org
Blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com
YouTube: youtube.com/user/AceHoffman
Subscribe to my free newsletter today!
Email: ace [at] acehoffman.org

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