Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What is spent nuclear fuel neutralization and why is it the best solution?

Dear Readers,

What is spent nuclear fuel neutralization, and why is it the BEST solution for nuclear waste?

I'm going to answer the second question first, because it's fairly easy to describe why spent nuclear fuel neutralization sounds like a good idea, but much more difficult to explain what it actually is. So first I'll go over why neutralization is the best solution for nuclear waste, then a bit of "elementary" nuclear physics, then a word or two about the inventor of the process, and then the explanation of how neutralization works.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

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Sections:
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(1) Why is neutralization the best solution for spent nuclear fuel?
(2) What (if any) are other possible options?
(3) What is a "fissile" atom?
(4) What is an "isotope"?
(5) What is "radioactive decay"?
(6) What does it mean to "split" ("cleave" or "fission") an atom?
(7) When will an atom decay on its own?
(8) What is a "criticality" event?
(9) Why is radiation harmful to living organisms?
(10) What is "spent nuclear fuel" (also known as "used fuel")?
(11) Why is spent fuel so dangerous?
(12) Why is it so difficult to figure out what to do with the spent fuel?
(13) Who is Dr. Peter Moshchansky Livingston?
(14) How does laser-based neutralization work?
(15) Is this doable?
(16) Who wrote this document?

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(1) Why is neutralization the best solution for spent nuclear fuel?
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Spent nuclear fuel is extremely hazardous material. It contains highly toxic heavy metals, it is radioactive, corrosive, flammable, and, under the right conditions it is explosive.

Untreated spent nuclear fuel must be isolated from air, water, and humanity for hundreds of thousands of years. Currently, spent nuclear fuel is stored in over 2,000 thin-walled dry casks around the country, at dozens of locations, and there is enough additional spent nuclear fuel in nuclear reactor cooling ponds to fill over 10,000 dry casks just in the United States.

Neutralization is a process that reduces the long-term radioactivity of the spent fuel. Neutralization splits the Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239, as well as any other fissile (meaning "able to be split") atoms in the spent fuel, using laser-produced, collimated photons in the 10 to 14 MeV (Million electron Volts) range.

The neutralization process (technically known as the "photofission process") produces fission products from the fissile isotopes. While the creation of additional fission products is certainly unfortunate, the many advantages of neutralization strongly outweigh this major (but unavoidable) disadvantage.

Elimination of the fissile isotopes would solve the most serious and dangerous problems with spent fuel:

First, neutralization would eliminate (not just reduce) the possibility of criticality events (see section 8, below), which is by far the biggest danger with spent fuel. A "criticality event" (a.k.a. "chain reaction") occurs when neutrons ejected from the nuclei of fissioning atoms enter the nuclei of other fissile atoms, causing those atoms to also split apart and give off more neutrons, in a cycle that increases exponentially over time. During a criticality event in spent nuclear fuel the chain reaction would not occur at anywhere near the speed of the chain reaction in a nuclear bomb, but it can occur fast enough and release enough heat to cause a massive thermal (i.e., non-nuclear) explosion, which would spread the nuclear spent fuel over a wide area. Estimates range from over 40 square miles (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) to thousands of square miles that would be permanently or nearly permanently contaminated and have to be abandoned. Large portions of the fuel would also be vaporized, to be carried globally by the wind. Statistically-significant health effects from a used-fuel accident could occur as much as 500 miles downwind (F. von Hippel, Princeton).

Virtually all experts on nuclear waste agree that avoiding a criticality event is the #1 task of any waste management system (example: T. Palmisano, SoCalEd). Airplane strikes, earthquakes, tsunamis, fires and terrorist attacks, as well as degradation of the internal components of the fuel assemblies that keep the fissile material separated, can all cause a criticality event by rearranging the configuration of the spent fuel inside a dry cask. The fuel pellets are normally carefully separated from each other both to help dissipate heat and to avoid a criticality event.

Second, neutralization would eliminate the risk of proliferation, which requires reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel to separate out the Uranium and Plutonium atoms in the waste, and then enriching the fissile atoms' percentage to make an atomic bomb (a mixture with at least 90% fissile atoms is generally required).

Third, neutralization would eliminate the possibility of reusing the fuel in meltdown-prone future reactors (ALL reactors are prone to -- or at least capable of -- suffering a meltdown).

Fourth, neutralization reduces the necessary storage time by a factor of about a thousand -- three orders of magnitude -- from at least half a million years (for the plutonium) to about half a millennia (for the fission byproducts). Nothing humans have ever created is expected to last for hundreds of thousands of years, but Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years, which means it must be isolated from the environment for ten to twenty times that length of time. Uranium-235 has a half-life of about 700 million years. (The main radioactive danger from "old" spent fuel -- after the initial load of fission products have decayed -- is caused by the radioactive daughter products created by the decay of the Plutonium and Uranium.)

If an accident in the left-over waste stream were to occur after neutralization (far less likely than before neutralization, mainly because the possibility of criticality events would have been eliminated), the time-span of hazardous effects of the accident on the environment would be reduced to about 20 human generations -- from at least 20,000 human generations.

And on top of all that: Neutralization can even be done AT A PROFIT -- because of the heat energy produced in the process (small compared to a nuclear reactor, and minuscule compared to an atomic bomb, but enough to make the process energy-positive). Another potential source of profit would be from the production of a variety of isotopes that already have industrial or medical uses.

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(2) What (if any) are other possible options?
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The current dangerous approach favored by some European nations is to reprocess the spent fuel rods by dissolving them in acids and then chemically separating out the highly radioactive daughter products such as Iodine 131, Cesium 144 and Cesium 137, then remove the Cadmium, Xenon (if any is left) and other slow neutron absorbers. When that is complete, the remainder is mixed with fresh Uranium Oxide and reformed into new fuel rods. This reconstituted mixture is called Mixed Oxide ("MOX") fuel and is compounded such that it cannot be turned into bomb material. However, after one or two fuel cycles the chemical methods no longer suffice to produce a re-usable fuel material. At that point, long term storage is needed.

Another dangerous but technically possible method of reducing the actinides (elements from Actinium (with 89 protons) to Lawrencium (with 103 protons)) in spent fuel is to place the fuel rods in a specially-constructed "breeder" reactor that can still fission the actinides despite the accumulated neutron absorbers in the fuel (this is made possible by using "fast" neutrons). However, this process "breeds" Plutonium (hence the name of the process) from the Uranium, resulting in an increased proliferation risk.

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(3) What is a "fissile" atom?
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The definition of a "fissile" atom is an atom whose nucleus can be split (fissioned) by a high-energy subatomic impact. This results in two (sometimes more) large fragments and a variety of smaller sub-atomic particles which are expelled at great speed -- nearly the speed of light. For example, "Alpha" particles are expelled at about 98% the speed of light, and "Beta" particles are expelled at about 99.7% the speed of light. Excess energy in the form of heat (fast- moving particles) is always a byproduct of the fission process.

In American reactors (both Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) and Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs, which are also pressurized, but not as much)) the splitting of atoms is accomplished with "slow" neutrons. When fissile isotopes such as Uranium-235 are split (fissioned), usually a few neutrons are expelled. These neutrons exit the nucleus of the atom at an extremely high speed. In American reactor designs, for a sufficient number of those neutrons to collide with the nuclei of other fissile atoms in the fuel and split those atoms in a chain reaction, the neutrons need to be slowed down. In PWRs and BWRs the neutrons are slowed down with "light" water (described below). Neutrons, being neutral in their electrical charge, are able to "get through" the electron cloud that surrounds the nucleus of an atom. Charged particles such as Beta particles (charge -1) and Alpha particles (charge +2) are deflected away from the nucleus by the electron clouds.

In order to achieve a sustained "chain reaction" in a nuclear reactor, it is necessary to bundle thousands of pounds of uranium and/or plutonium together in a relatively small space.

(Side comment #1: Atomic bombs use far less fissile material than a nuclear reactor, but compress it to a much smaller space in order to achieve a chain reaction resulting in a nuclear explosion. (Nuclear power reactors can be described as very slow nuclear bombs.)

(Side comment #2): There are other types of reactors. Canadian "CANDU" reactors, for example, use deuterium-enriched "heavy" water instead of "light" water to slow down the neutrons. Deuterium is a stable isotope of hydrogen with one neutron in addition to the single proton in its core. It's called "heavy" water because it is about 11% more dense than "light" water. Only 0.0156% of "light" water hydrogen atoms are deuterium, but "heavy" water has about 99.75% deuterium hydrogen atoms. What the nuclear industry calls "light" water is what runs out of your tap.

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(4) What is an "isotope"?
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Different isotopes of an element all have the same number of protons in their nucleus and the same number of electrons surrounding their nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons in their nucleus. Since the number of electrons is the same, different isotopes of an element react -- chemically -- the same. Living organisms cannot distinguish between different isotopes of an element.

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(5) What is "radioactive decay"?
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Fissile atoms (and some non-fissile atoms) are "radioactive" which means they will eventually decay on their own, usually by ejecting, at very high fractions of the speed of light, either an Alpha particle or a Beta particle. A Gamma Ray is usually also emitted in the process.

Alpha particles are extremely dangerous because they are so massive (on an atomic scale) and because they have a strong positive electrical charge from their two protons. They cannot penetrate solid matter very far: For example a single sheet of newspaper is an impenetrable barrier to an Alpha particle. But if an Alpha particle is ejected from an atom that is already inside a living organism, it can do a lot of damage. Alpha particles become Helium atoms after they slow down and "steal" two electrons from almost any atom nearby.

Beta particles become electrons when they slow down. Beta particles can penetrate several inches of human flesh.

Both Alpha particles and Beta particles are "charged" particles, because they have an unbalanced number of protons versus electrons when they are ejected from the nucleus of an atom. Alpha particles have two protons (along with two neutrons) and no electrons, Beta particles have no protons (and no neutrons) and one electron. The electrical imbalances are the main reason these particles are hazardous to human health: After being ejected, as they pass close to other atoms and molecules they produce "free radicals" in the body by stealing electrons from other atoms or by knocking electrons out of their orbits.

Gamma Rays are high-energy electromagnetic emissions called photons (the same as what a light-bulb emits, but at much higher energy levels). Gamma rays are often produced when an atom fissions or decays. Gamma rays travel at the speed of light, have no mass and no charge, and can penetrate completely through the human body. When they collide with matter they can displace electrons and alter atomic arrangements in molecules.

Neutrons are also released by spent nuclear fuel. Although they are neutrally charged, they are relatively heavy and are very damaging. Free neutrons (not bound up with one or more protons in the nucleus of an atom) decay by emitting a Beta particle (and sometimes a Gamma Ray) and become a Hydrogen nucleus (one proton). The half-life of a free neutron is just over 10 minutes. Sometimes the emitted electron (Beta particle) remains with the newly-created proton, but very rarely.

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(6) What does it mean to "split" ("cleave" or "fission") an atom?
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Splitting an atom is not the same as a radioactive decay: Instead, the usual process (in a nuclear reactor or an atomic bomb) is to bombard the atom with neutrons, and eventually one is "captured" in the nucleus of the fissile atom. This causes the atom to cleave, or split into two approximately equal (but rarely exactly equal) portions, and usually several neutrons are also released. The large fragments that are left when atoms are split are called "fission products," which are almost always also radioactive. One can think of the reason fission products are radioactive this way: They have too many neutrons to be stable, because as you go up the periodic table from hydrogen (1 proton and (in most cases) no neutrons) to plutonium (94 protons and 145 neutrons (for Pu-239)) and beyond, the proportion of neutrons to protons in the nucleus of stable isotopes increases. So when you cleave an atom near the top end of the periodic table, the resultant fractions -- or "fission products" -- have far too many neutrons to be stable.

The sum of the masses of the two fission products and any neutrons that are also released does not add up to the full mass of the original fissile atom because the reaction emits energy as well, mainly in the form of Gamma Rays. The energy released produces heat -- the heat produced in an atomic explosion is far hotter than the sun. Under much slower fissioning rates, the energy released provides the heat for nuclear power reactors, and is used to boil water. For example: A Uranium-235 fission event might create a Cesium-137 atom and a Rubidium atom, as well as releasing a number of neutrons. (The particular isotope of Rubidium that is created will depend on how many neutrons are also released.) Both the Cesium and the Rubidium atoms have too many neutrons to be stable. At some later time, the fission products will decay; for example the Cesium-137 atom will emit a Beta particle to become Barium-137. In 85% of the cases, the Barium is created with an excited nucleus, so that after some time it emits a 0.662 MeV Gamma Ray photon. In the remaining 15% of cases, the new Barium atom is already in the ground state and does not emit a Gamma Ray. (This is technically called the branching ratio.)

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(7) When will an atom decay on its own?
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A radioactive atom is in an "excited" state which means it has more energy than it can keep. As to exactly when any particular radioactive atom will decay, that's guesswork. However, any sufficiently large sample of atoms of a particular isotope will decay, statistically, with very predictable mean times. For example, the half-life (the time it takes for half the atoms to decay) for a reasonably large quantity of Plutonium-239 (say, a milligram, which may not sound like much, but is millions of trillions of atoms of any element) is about 24,100 years. The half-life of Uranium-235 is about 700 million years. The half-life of Uranium-238 is about 4 1/2 billion years, and yet there are so many atoms in a single milligram of U-238 that -- for many centuries -- about a million Alpha particle decays will occur every 24 hours. (The rate will slowly decline as the U-238 is used up.)

Most fission products have much shorter half-lives than Uranium and Plutonium: 30 years or less for nearly all of the fission products. There are seven known fission product isotopes that have much longer half-lives, but fortunately these are created only in relatively minute quantities in nuclear reactors, by natural decay, and by the neutralization process.

(Side comment #1): Approximately 3,000 different isotopes are known for all the elements from atomic number 1 (Hydrogen) through atomic number 118 (Oganesson). Most of these isotopes are radioactive. All elements above lead (atomic number 82) have no stable isotopes, and Technetium (atomic number 43) and Promethium (atomic number 61) also do not have any stable isotopes.

(Side comment #2): The seven long-lived fission products in spent nuclear fuel are: Technetium-99 (211 thousand years) , Tin-126 (230 thousand years), Selenium-79 (327 thousand years), Zirconium-93 (1.5 million years), Cesium-135 (2.3 million years), Palladium-107 (6.5 million years) and Iodine-129 (15.7 million years).

(Side comment #3): The process that determines the moment of a nuclear decay is how soon a nucleus in an excited state can emit a Alpha or Beta particle, and/or a Gamma Ray, to drop down in energy level to the ground state (or to an intermittent, less excited, state). The difference in energy levels "before" and "after" a nuclear decay is known as the emission energy. An exact prediction of the time is not possible for several reasons, including the quantum-mechanical Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which states (among other things) that one cannot measure both the position and the velocity of a particle accurately at the same time (you would need to know both to know the exact energy level of the excited state).

There is a reciprocal relation between the spread in the before- and after-emission energies (known as the "line width") and the decay time. The broader the line width, the faster the decay rate. Hence long lived isotopes emit particles with very narrow energy line widths.

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(8) What is a "criticality" event?
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A criticality event occurs not from proximity of fissile atoms per se, but from neutrons emitted by fissioning atoms being absorbed by the nuclei of other atoms, causing those atoms to split. The word "criticality" means that on average there is more than one neutron that is released per fission event caused by a previous fission event.

Neutrons that have slowed down have a much greater chance of being absorbed by another atom's nuclei. Thus, materials (such as water) that moderate (slow down) the neutron can result in many more fissions. This is one reason why putting water on a spent fuel fire -- if you could get close enough to it -- might be a terrible mistake.

Atoms that absorb neutrons, including heavy atoms that don't fission, will inhibit criticality.

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(9) Why is radiation harmful to living organisms?
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Radioactive decay products (Alpha particles, Beta particles, Gamma Rays, x-rays and neutrons) can all damage DNA, although the precise mechanisms vary. In general, all forms of radiation knock electrons out of their orbits, pushing or pulling them away from atoms and molecules, causing those atoms and molecules to become "ionized," and sometimes changing the configuration of the atoms in a molecule (perhaps turning a protein into a carcinogen by rearranging the precise positions of the atoms).

Neutrons, if they are slow enough (called "thermal" neutrons), can enter the nucleus of many elements, causing that atom to become radioactive in a process known as neutron activation. At some point in the future the atom will release a decay product of its own. Neutrons are very damaging to living tissue. Neutron activation can also contribute to the eventual breakdown of materials that are used to contain spent nuclear fuel, such as stainless steel, which is an alloy of several different elements.

When a Gamma Ray encounters matter, it is most likely to collide with an electron (Gamma Rays rarely collide with a nucleus of an atom, except for very powerful Gamma Rays). When a Gamma Ray collides with an electron,the electron gets ejected from its orbit at tremendous speed, often having absorbed all of the energy of the Gamma Ray. The ejected electron (called a "Compton" electron) then collides with other electrons, knocking them out of their orbits, and leaving a path (or "cloud") of destruction (dead and damaged cells) in its wake. These dead cells can cause inflammation, and if they are among cells that are not replaced in the body (such as heart muscle cells and brain cells), the damage will be permanent. Also, if the damage is to the DNA within the cell, the cell might reproduce (and/or possibly also die) at a different rate from normal, which can be a cause of cancer.

In addition to being unable to distinguish radioactive isotopes from non-radioactive isotopes of the same element, the human body (and other living things) can mistake many fission products for useful atoms such as mistaking radioactive Strontium for stable Calcium, or radioactive Cesium for stable Potassium.

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(10) What is "spent nuclear fuel" (also known as "used fuel")?
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New, unused nuclear fuel pellets for American styles of reactors originally contain from about 3% to about 5% Uranium-235 oxide (U-O2), and the rest (about 95% to 97%) is Uranium-238 oxide. The fuel pellets (about the size of a pinky bone) are contained in long fuel rods (12 to 15 feet in length), which are usually made of Zirconium. The Zirconium-clad fuel rods are bundled into assemblies of about 200 to 250 fuel rods each. There are as many as 200 fuel rod bundle assemblies, and millions of fuel pellets in a nuclear reactor at any one time. The oldest 1/3 or 1/2 of the assemblies are replaced every 18 months (1/3) or two years (1/2), depending on original U-235 enrichment percentage and power output ("burn-up") during the previous period.

Once the fuel assemblies are removed from the reactor, the fuel is considered "spent," but it has become about ten million times MORE radioactive -- and more toxic -- than "fresh" (unused) nuclear fuel. Spent fuel must be cooled in a pool under about forty feet of water for at least five years after being removed from the reactor.

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(11) Why is spent fuel so dangerous?
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Spent nuclear fuel is extremely toxic. Whereas bare, unused nuclear fuel pellets (fuel that has never been placed inside a reactor) can be handled with gloves (to protect from Alpha particles), fuel pellets that have been in a reactor for four to six years are so radioactive that, it's said, you could not pass next to one pellet on a motorcycle at 60 miles per hour without receiving a fatal dose of radiation.

The main health risks from spent fuel comes from the fission products with relatively short half-lives, and from the Plutonium, with a half-life of about two dozen millennia.

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(12) Why is it so difficult to figure out what to do with the spent fuel?
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Most of the spent fuel is Uranium-238, which is not "fissile" and cannot be used to create a nuclear explosion, but it is still a hazardous substance, both as a heavy metal and because of its radiological properties.

Spent nuclear fuel is a proliferation risk because about 2% of used reactor fuel is left-over, unfissiled Uranium-235 and artificially-produced Plutonium-239 (created when a Uranium-238 nucleus absorbs a neutron and then ejects a beta particle). Both U-235 and Pu-239 can be extracted and used to make nuclear bombs. The Plutonium can be separated by a relatively simple chemical process; the fissile Uranium isotope would need to be chemically separated along with the rest of the Uranium and then enriched using a long series of centrifuges or some other process.

An additional problem for spent fuel management is that radiation destroys containers for the spent fuel at the atomic level: It can rearrange the atoms in protective alloys (such as so-called "stainless" steel) that surround the fuel, leading to fissures and cracks, which can allow radioactive gases to escape. Radioactive gases that are produced by the nuclear reactions can crack fuel rods and the ceramic fuel pellets themselves.

Over the enormous length of time the spent nuclear fuel is hazardous, any containment designed to keep the fuel separated from itself can deteriorate, allowing the fuel to rearrange into a configuration that can cause a criticality event. A criticality event in spent nuclear fuel can release enough energy in a short enough amount of time to cause a massive explosion -- NOT anywhere near the speed and size of an atomic bomb, but nevertheless powerful enough to vaporize the spent fuel, releasing trillions of nanoparticles into the atmosphere, which can travel for thousands of miles, and contaminate the surrounding land around the site.

Another hazard of spent fuel comes from the Zirconium ("Zirc") cladding. Zirconium is pyrophoric and must be kept away from air, and it can decompose water into an explosive mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

America currently has no permanent storage method for spent nuclear fuel, despite having produce nearly 100,000 tons of it over the past 70 years (including commercial and military production). Temporary storage in thin-walled "dry casks" and massive "spent fuel pools" is both risky and expensive. Other countries have either no permanent solution, or in one or two cases, very expensive schemes which may not -- or, more probably, won't -- work.

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(13) Who is Dr. Peter Moshchansky Livingston?
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Dr. Livingston is an inventor with more than 40 patents to his name, mostly for chemical processes and related equipment. Dr. Livingston is also an atomic bomb test military veteran. Dr. Livingston not only witnessed a number of bomb tests in Nevada, he took an active part in carefully measuring their effects, using instruments (such as oscilloscopes) placed in tunnels at various distances from the underground blasts, which were protected with heavy doors designed to close in fractions of a second -- after the initial explosion but before the pressure wave struck (the doors didn't always work!). While working at the Nevada Test Site (as it was then called), he also calculated and measured the effects of the Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) from above-ground tests, and many other aspects of atomic explosions.

Approximately seven years ago Dr. Livingston applied for a patent for the process of laser-based neutralization of spent nuclear fuel. Earlier this year (April, 2017) the U. S. Patent Office approved Dr. Livingston's patent. It had languished for about 6 1/2 years, only to finally be challenged and initially rejected by the patent office last fall (2016), and then, after review, all the important aspects of the patent were accepted. (One of the original challenges was that "collimating" the photons was not a new concept, it can be done with flashlights, for example. But the review agreed that collimating light (photons) with a flashlight, versus collimating with a laser, are in fact vastly different things.)

Dr. Livingston's original patent application and the final version are available online for all to see. Here is the URL for the original patent application:
http://goo.gl/7ro0tZ (goes to the USPTO).

The patent number is: US 9,613,726 B2, and is also available online.

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(14) How does laser-based neutralization work?
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Atomic bombs and nuclear power plants use neutrons, but you don't need to use neutrons to split the fissile isotopes. You can use other high-energy particles or rays. Very high-energy collimated photons produced by lasers can be used. This is the basis of Dr. Livingston's process.

For photofission to occur, the photons must impact the fissile atoms, which are inside the spent fuel rods. Although the cross section of the nuclei for the actinide series of elements is small, for stopping Gamma Rays in the 10 to 14 MeV range it is not insignificant (~0.5 barn (a "barn" is the standard measure of the diameter of an atomic nucleus)).

The first step is to obtain the collimated photons. Although this aspect has not been finalized, prior devices have shown how it could be done. Swiss researchers, for example, have demonstrated a similar concept which produces x-rays in the KeV range. When electrons from a "free electron laser" (F.E.L.) are passed through a special type of crystal, very high energy Gamma Rays are emitted.

Here is Dr. Livingston's description of how this could be done:

"The free electron laser in this manifestation does not employ [a] magnetic sandwich wiggler, nor does it have any feedback route. The wiggler could be a crystal structure in which the passage of electrons are bunched in a manner somewhat similar to a klystron [(a "linear-beam vacuum tube" used to amplify high frequency radio waves)]. Of course, bunching the electrons creates photons co-moving with the electrons that gather power from and slow down the electron stream. Eventually a nearly collimated beam of photons is produced with an energy of the initial electron stream." (From Dr. Livingston's letter to a fellow scientist, forwarded to this author.)

But where would the high-energy electrons come from? Dr. Livingston suggests that they could come from the spent fuel itself -- for example, from the Cobalt-60, which emits Gamma Rays of approximately 1.3 MeV. When these high-energy Gamma Rays impact electrons, sometimes all of the energy is transmitted to the electron.

The next step is to organize these electrons. Dr. Livingston again: "To create a dense electron cloud I would design a magnetron type cavity in which the magnetron field strength is sufficient to keep the electrons moving in curved or even circular orbits." After that, a "magnetic prism" would select out the 1.3 MeV electrons, followed by "focusing lenses" to guide free electrons into a collimated path.

The electron beam then enters an accelerator using "pulsed laser beams" with peak energy levels in the 10s of MeVs. What emerges are "spent" electrons (which, being charged particles, are easily "bent" out of the way) and collimated photons of the necessary energy level.

Dr. Livingston again: "With this source of Gamma Rays, a spent fuel rod will absorb most of the Gamma Rays, of which some will induce photofission. Of course neutron poisons have no influence on the process.

"It is [a] matter of a simple calculation to show that the recovered radiant energy, converted to heat, would generate enough electrical power to run the gadget.

"At the end of the process, a 2% concentration of fissile material in the spent rod could be reduced to nearly zero, thus reducing the required dry storage time from 500,000 years to perhaps several hundred."

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(15) Is this doable?
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Absolutely. It's not as "efficient" as fissioning atoms with slow ("thermal") neutrons in a nuclear reactor, but that's not the point. Besides, slow neutrons cannot penetrate deeply into a spent fuel rod because the rods have become loaded with "poisons" (the nuclear industry term, also known as "absorbers") during its time in the reactor. (These "poisons" are the reason the fuel was removed and replaced: It could no longer sustain a profitable chain reaction, even though many fissionable atoms (some of the U-235 and newly-created Pu-239) still exist in the fuel.)

Nothing in this process is unattainable. Although as yet no collimated (or nearly collimated) beam of Gamma Rays has been devised, there are plans for a special type of free electron laser using pulsed laser fields as accelerators that might work. To bring the process to "industrial realization" will still require substantial work -- and money -- but the funding needed will be small compared to the ultimate costs of spent fuel storage or worse: The cost of a fire and/or criticality event at a spent fuel storage site.

The advantages of using neutralization are overwhelming for a nation -- and a planet -- that is now swamped in nearly a hundred thousand tons of spent nuclear fuel (in America alone, with nearly five times that amount globally), with no safe way to store it, no safe place to put it, and no safe way to get it there even if there was a place to store it. Neutralization would be accomplished at the site where the fuel was generated, making transportation vastly safer and easier, because there would no longer be any danger of a criticality event.

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(16) Who wrote this document?
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Ace Hoffman is a computer programmer, and has been researching nuclear issues as a private citizen for approximately 45 years. Hoffman has interviewed scores of experts, including scientists who worked on the Manhattan project, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, nuclear engineers and nuclear physicists. Opinions expressed here are his own, as are any mistakes.

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Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author: "The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry"
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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:
-----------------------------------------

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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Note: This communication may have been intercepted in secret, without permission, and in violation of our right to privacy by the National Security Agency or some other agency or private contractor.
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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)
-----------------------------------------
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.
-----------------------------------------
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."
-----------------------------------------

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

===============================================
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
===============================================




-----------------------------------------
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

-----------------------------------------

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

San Onofre's battle for the future: The NIMBYs versus the realists...

August 30th, 2017

The agreement concluded earlier this week between Southern California Edison and Citizen's Oversight is a complete waste of activists' energy -- or worse.

It accomplishes nothing but to assuage the fears of the most poorly-educated "Interested Parties." It does not protect California, it does not put a single dent in the nuclear industry or Southern California Edison's profits (the money for the agreement will come out of ratepayer's pockets). In fact, in gives the nuclear industry a go-ahead to keep on creating nuclear waste and confirms that concerned citizens can be hoodwinked -- along with their lawyers.

Not only that, but those citizens who signed the agreement have -- in writing -- the "affirmative duty to support the settlement and its costs" before the California Public Utilities Commission, by "offering testimony in support of a CPUC application to approve costs associated with the transportation and storage of SONGS Spent Fuel."

In other words, the approximately $4 billion dollars that ratepayers have ALREADY put into the "decommissioning fund" will NOT be used for offsite storage costs, or costs of transportation thereto. Ratepayers will be expected to pay those additional costs -- whatever they may be, and however long they last.

Not one citizen ever signed on to centuries of cost burdens for storing nuclear fuel that is no longer "commercially reasonable" to use. "Commercially Reasonable" is a phrase that comes up often in the agreement: It means SCE can do nothing if the cost is too high, and does not need to balance potential risks against cost benefits -- if a transportation and offsite storage plan meets the minimal Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards for safety -- standards which are way too lax -- SCE can do it if they want to, but don't have to if the cost is too high by some "Commercially Reasonable" standard they can make up as they go along.

SCE can -- and will -- just let the waste sit where it is, on the beach, letting salt corrode the containments day by day, for decades or even centuries. Until long after they're out of business.

Moving the waste to another location is NOT a solution to the nuclear waste problem. It's a transference of risk, and according to the agreement, must also include a transfer of liability. In fact, it's worse than no solution at all: The agreement enables other old, corroding and decaying nuclear power plants (such as Palo Verde, Diablo Canyon, Indian Point and more than 90 other operating old reactors in America) to claim they've "solved" the waste problem and keep operating, and keep making more waste, and keep transferring liability to others.

When the plants were built, the public was assured the waste would be removed as soon as it was cool enough to transport -- about five years at the time, although the more highly enriched fuel used by most reactors today generally requires even longer. The spent fuel pools (every reactor has one) were made to accommodate only about five years worth of highly toxic (radioactively) and exceedingly hot (thermally) spent fuel under 40 feet of water. A new spent fuel pool today would cost nearly a billion dollars.

The years went by, and there was still no place to put the waste. And America didn't need to extract plutonium from the "spent" nuclear fuel for bombs anymore (we have more than enough of that already for the thousands of nuclear bombs we still maintain). In any case, reprocessing proved too expensive and too polluting to bother with when mining uranium (and poisoning uranium miners) was (and is) cheap in comparison to reprocessing costs. So the utilities just started packing the spent fuel tighter and tighter together in the pools at each nuclear power reactor site.

The pools eventually got so full after being reracked again and again, that even a lax federal safety standard could not be met. (Reracking is a risky business in itself: Virtually every fuel bundle needs to be lifted and rearranged in order to pack older fuel in amongst the newer fuel, to keep the maximum thermal temperature and radioactivity as low as possible. A few years ago San Onofre dropped a large heavy metal beam used for that purpose into the pool because its equipment is so old.)

When the pools couldn't accommodate any more spent fuel, the reactor companies turned to "temporary" dry cask storage. Dry cask storage is MUCH cheaper than building a new spent fuel pool. Whether it is safer is highly debatable, but even if it is in some ways safer, on the other hand, by enabling the reactor to keep operating and create more and more spent fuel, any conclusion that dry cask storage is safer than pool storage per ton of fuel is counterbalanced by the increased amount of fuel that must be stored -- and by the operating reactor itself, as well as the higher risk of recently-removed fuel compared to older fuel.

But dry casks, like spent fuel pools, was only supposed to be a "temporary" solution so the reactors could keep operating. For about 20 years the dream -- the nightmare -- of Yucca Mountain has been used as an excuse to keep the plants open while the waste piles up, even when reactor pools have been reracked three or more times (creating extremely hazardous conditions in case of a loss-of-water accident or sabotage). Dry casks pile up around the reactor. For 20 years any activist who said: "But what about the waste?!?" was simply told: "Yucca Mountain."

Yucca Mountain was stopped -- but NOT because of political infighting -- that's the lie the nuclear industry wants you to believe. No: It was stopped because there were more than 300 problems Nevada scientists had identified (many completely unsolvable, such as earthquake, volcano, and water intrusion problems) and several dozen more problems that California scientists had identified (including downstream radioactive pollution from underground water movement after an accident).

Another HUGE problem with Yucca Mountain, which will be at least as big a problem anywhere else, was that almost nobody in Nevada wants it, and they've fought against it vigorously for years. So too with proposed "Interim" storage sites in New Mexico and western Texas. A few local residents expect to find high-paying jobs -- mostly in management -- but other than that, nobody wants somebody else's nuclear waste.

One of the proposed temporary storage sites, as described in the agreement, was Arizona's Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, which is part-owned by Southern California Edison.

But the day after the announcement of the settlement, PVNPP released a statement they had obviously been holding until SCE gave them the go-ahead: They would NOT be taking anyone else's nuclear waste. Palo Verde already has storage plans for roughly 200 canisters which are currently being filled -- and plenty of room for more -- but they don't want the added liability, and probably know perfectly well they'll be stuck with the added waste forever if they take it. It's just a simple business decision for them, but puts 50 million people who live near San Onofre in danger -- or rather, keeps them in danger.

The nuclear industry as a whole absolutely opposes transferring nuclear waste from closed reactor sites to still-operating reactors (where the many risks from the operating reactors far exceed the added risk from the spent fuel, by several orders of magnitude). If it became a standard practice, dozens of reactors would shut down immediately rather than become de facto "Interim Storage Sites" for other reactors. This would of course be good for the nation for reactors to close, and would save millions of dollars in costs: For specifying new sites, for security, and for maintenance. Only closing ALL the reactors would be better. But the industry, of course, opposes it.

Meanwhile, the waste at 100 operating reactors around the country continues to accumulate. Each dry cask nuclear waste storage container is huge, but only about 1/2 inch thick of so-called "stainless" steel, weighing (together with its contents) at least two hundred thousand pounds. The containers are liable to rust, causing "stress corrosion cracking" (SCC). They cannot be inspected (or even safely approached). There are now about 2,000 dry storage canisters in America, each one vulnerable to airplane strikes (accidental OR on purpose), explosive charges, and degradation as the years go by.

The only real solution is to stop making more nuclear waste.

Any effort at neutralizing the uranium and plutonium -- possible through a patented process -- still leaves -- and in fact creates more -- fission products, which have relatively short decay periods (half-lives of about 30 years or less in most cases) compared to plutonium and uranium. These short half-lives mean the resulting waste is much more hazardous if it gets out (especially because some of it (cesium, for instance) bioaccumulates), but it is hazardous for much less time. Plutonium is hazardous for about a quarter of a million years. Most fission products are hazardous for 600 years or less.

The biggest advantage of neutralization -- besides reducing the storage time from hundreds of millennia to half a dozen centuries (still more than twice as long as the United States has existed as a country) is that it eliminates the possibility of a criticality event. Criticality events are possible with spent fuel because in a fire or accident, the fuel pellets can become rearranged to the point where radioactivity suddenly sharply increases, causing a devastating thermal explosion. It's not a nuclear bomb, but it can spread fine particles of radioactive waste over a wide area and for hundreds of miles downwind.

Moving San Onofre's waste away from the coast, away from 50,000,000 residents, sounds like a great -- and simple -- idea. But nothing in the nuclear business is what it seems, and nothing is simple.

There are numerous unsolved problems which apply to ALL sites: just moving nuclear waste from one place to another is extremely risky: Not only because of terrorism and infrastructure issues -- the roads, rails and bridges in America are in terrible shape, and the terrorists have access to drones and powerful (and extremely HOT) explosives. You cannot hide a slow-moving train or truck convoy. There are only a few roads and rail lines that can be used, so the routes are well known. The canisters they propose to use for transport are incapable of withstanding numerous accident scenarios, such as oncoming train collisions, exploding fuel trucks nearby, bridges falling on top of them or out from under them, etc. etc..

Some activists who support the NIMBY solution (Not In My Back Yard, aka: "get it out of here, I don't care where it goes") have pointed out that "the military moves nuclear fuel and waste all the time." But that doesn't tell the whole story. First of all, they can get away with far less safe procedures since they aren't regulated by the civilian Nuclear Regulatory Commission (for what it's worth).

Additionally, the military is dealing with much lighter amounts -- hundreds of pounds at a time instead of hundreds of THOUSANDS of pounds at a time. A nuclear submarine is NEVER refueled during its life and transports itself most of the way to the "final" resting place for the fuel, while nuclear aircraft carriers are refueled only once. Military nuclear fuel is U-235 enriched to nearly 20 times the level of commercial nuclear fuel (4 to 5% versus about 80%). The electricity military propulsion reactors must produce is in the tens of megawatts, far less than the 1,100 megawatts of a typical commercial reactor, so they can be much smaller. Thus, the total amount (by weight) of each military spent fuel shipment is correspondingly far less. Bombs are even smaller and more highly enriched perhaps as much as 95% U-235 and Pu-239). Nevertheless, a area in Spain is still highly contaminated with plutonium from a military plane crash in the mid 1960s, and one that accidentally fell in North Carolina in 1961 had five of six safety systems fail...one left. Another one, an H-bomb lost off the coast of Georgia in 1958, was finally found in 2004 -- but can't be moved. There have been many other incidents and near-misses with the military moving nuclear materials. Some incidents, undoubtedly, have never been made public.

Commercial nuclear waste being transported in America has ONE safety system that might remain intact: The outer steel transport container. Everything else is highly suspect and shouldn't be relied on at all. Some of the zirconium fuel cladding in every container are sure to be cracked already (each container contains nearly ten thousand fuel rods in as many as 37 fuel assemblies (or "bundles), and close to a million fuel pellets). The thin 1/2 inch inner dry storage cask cannot be inspected (especially on the INSIDE) and may be cracked after sitting in a damp, salty environment for years if not decades. The outer steel transport container is to be reused possibly hundreds of times over tens of thousands of miles. So it may already be damaged by the time an accident it was designed to survive happens.

And those accidents -- the ones the transport cask is designed to survive -- are minor compared to what might really happen. For example: Fires surrounding the cask in an accident are expected to burn for not more than about 20 minutes. A drop onto a post is expected to be from not more than about 30 feet, and the post it lands on is expected to be not less than four inches in diameter. If it falls in water, the depth is expected to be less than about 50 feet. None of these (and many other) standards are good enough. And the NRC's federal rulings on nuclear safety cannot be strengthened by individual states wanting more stringent regulations. The feds will come in and overrule any attempt by the states to regulate safety. All they are left to regulate is who will pay for it, and in California, it's invariably the ratepayers.

This settlement deal is no deal at all, but a license for the utility to risk trillions of dollars in damages for many decades to come.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA
The author has been studying nuclear issues as a private citizen for more than 40 years. He has seen dozens of spent fuel proposals come and go.

-----------------------------------------------------------
My initial reaction to the agreement:
-----------------------------------------------------------
This "agreement" appears to simply require Edison to spend up to but not more than $4,000,000 looking for offsite storage, which they were doing anyway. Pursuant to CPUC approval, SCE can charge the $4 mil to ratepayers. The key section is C1(c) which stipulates that relocation "must" result in the transfer of liability (unless SCE can come up with a "Commercially Reasonable" alternative). C1(e) further stipulates that SCE doesn't have to do anything if they can't get it paid for out of the decom fund or with fresh funds from DOE.

Section D asserts that SCE can stop looking for a place when they use up the money or when they feel like giving up the search.

In return, Plaintiffs dismiss their lawsuit, agree not to sue again (except if they feel this Agreement has been breached by SCE), nor to encourage anyone else to sue, and Plaintiffs will gleefully take $800,000 to the bank [termed legal "expenses" by the agreement].

In other words, it's all a big load of "quap".

Ace H.

Note: "quap" is the term for nuclear waste originally coined by the great writer H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The Shape of Things to Come, The Outline of History, The War in the Air and many other classics.
-----------------------------------------------------------
Torgen Johnson's comments on the agreement:
-----------------------------------------------------------

The first step is to assume a worst case (and most likely) scenario that the fuel will be stranded at San Onofre indefinitely. The fuel must therefore be moved into the most robust fuel containment possible...10" - 19.75" thick cast iron dry casks.

The second step is to imagine that the industry is going to ditch the fuel onto a smaller, politically weaker community than ours. Ethically and morally those along the transport route and those on the receiving end deserve the most robust fuel containment possible.
That is not the fuel containment system that any one of us is getting at the moment.
We must fight for the safer, thicker, monitored, containment casks and protect the receiving community as if they are our extended family members.

Torgen J.
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Note #1: Attorney Mike Aguirre immediately "unsubscribed" from my list after receiving this newsletter.

Note #2: Donna Gilmore assures me that the NRC does have jurisdiction over the military nuclear waste shipments.  I'm not sure, perhaps they have "review status" or something.  They certainly do not inspect shipboard reactors or bombs!  Also, there are already over 200 dry casks at PVNPP.  And lastly, she reminds me that the casks will corrode anywhere -- just probably faster near the shore.