High Level Radioactive Waste - Spent Fuel Assemblies
Radioactive fuel: Radioactive fuel rods are placed in the reactor core to produce the heat needed to generate electricity. After one or two years the fuel rods are no longer useful for producing electricity; however they remain intensely radioactive and thermally hot. To protect the public from intense radiation and to cool the rods down, the spent fuel rods are placed in a pool of cool water.
Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool
Pilgrim’s spent fuel pool
contains far more radioactive fuel than the reactor’s core. The core holds 580 rods, about 1/3 are removed at each refueling outage to the
spent fuel pool – outages occur every 24 months.
GE Mark I & II Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) -Spent Fuel Pools Designed like Pilgrim's are especially vulnerable to attack
General Electric Mark I and Mark II boiling water reactor (BWR) designs (32 reactors, nationwide) have large inventories of highly radioactive waste – used reactor fuel assemblies – currently stored in densely packed elevated storage pools, above and outside the primary containment structure.
Their nuclear waste storage pools are located near the roof and are vulnerable to a variety of attacks from above, below, and on three sides. Massachusetts citizens live in the shadow of two of these highly vulnerable reactors – Pilgrim in Southeastern Massachusetts and Vermont Yankee, just over our northwestern border.
SAFER STORAGE SOLUTIONS
Dry Casks Need to Be Secured or Hardened - two proposals
Typically when industry moves to dry cask storage, they place the casks on a concrete pad – like bowling pins waiting for a strike. However, it is not September 10th; therefore it is necessary to place them in a less vulnerable position. The schematic below by Dr. Gordon Thompson makes sense.
PROPOSAL #1 Dispersed Hardened Cask Storage Proposal
PROPOSAL #2 - Holtec International H-Storm 100U -Underground Storage Proposal
Holtec International, a major cask design and manufacturing company, has developed a design for a new ISFSI storage module that is said to be more robust against attack than present modules. The new module is the HI-STORM 100U module, which would employ the same MPC as is used in the present Holtec modules. For most of its height, the 100U module would be underground. Holtec has described the robustness of the 100U module as follows:
"Release of radioactivity from the HI-STORM 100U by any mechanical means (crashing aircraft, missile, etc.) is virtually impossible. The only access path into the cavity for a missile is vertically downward, which is guarded by an arched, concrete-fortified steel lid weighing in excess of 10 tons. The lid design, at present configured to easily thwart a crashing aircraft, can be further buttressed to withstand more severe battlefield weapons, if required in the future for homeland security considerations. The lid is engineered to be conveniently replaceable by a later model, if the potency of threat is deemed to escalate to levels that are considered non-credible today."
Canisters are passively cooled and can hold the same heat load as the existing system. Holtec says that the system can be used at any site, even on a coastal plain or site with a high water table, because the metal canisters are welded and completely sealed off from the surrounding substrate. Preservatives will be applied to protect the concrete from groundwater. A surveillance program would monitor for groundwater.
Estimation of Cost to Offload Spent Fuel from Pilgrim's Pool after 5 years of Decay in the Spent Fuel Pool.
Capital cost to offload fuel, assuming 210 kgU per assembly and capital cost of $100-200 per kgU for dry storage $54-109 million. [Source: Pilgrim- Massachusetts Attorney General's Request for a Hearing and Petition for Leave to Intervene with Respect to Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc.'s Application for Renewal of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Operating Licensee Massachusetts, May 2006 -Adams Accession Number ML061630088, Table 8].
Who will pay for
Safer Dry Storage?
NATIONAL INVENTORY OF SPENT FUEL & ITS MANAGEMENT; NRC WASTE CONFIDENCE DECISION
Spent fuel is often measured in terms of metric tons of heavy metal (MTHM), based on the fresh (pre-irradiation) form of the fuel. As of early 2008, about 57,000 MTHM of commercial spent fuel was in storage across the USA, in 35 states. This stock of fuel is growing at the rate of about 2,000 MTHM annually. The majority of this stock of fuel is stored in pools at operating reactors. Those pools are equipped with high-density racks. The remainder of the fuel is stored in ISFSIs. There are 49 licensed ISFSIs across the USA, of which 45 are at reactor sites.20 At some of those reactor sites, decommissioning activities have removed the reactor, leaving an ISFSI as the remaining major facility on the site.
NRC Waste Confidence Decision
WASTE CONFIDENCE DECISION [Federal Register Notice: 73 FR 197—10.09.08 Docket ID-2008-0482 and Docket-ID-2008-0404] [see Fed Reg Vol 73, No 197, Oct 9, 2008 59551]
The Commission finds reasonable assurance that sufficient mined geologic
repository capacity can reasonably be expected to be available within 50–60
years beyond the licensed life for operation (which may include the term of
a revised or renewed license) of any reactor to dispose of the commercial
high-level radioactive waste and spent fuel originating in such reactor and
generated up to that time.
NRC downplays the severity of problems that come with siting and licensing a repository and incorrectly concludes that political resistance rather than legitimate technical problems is the reason that Yucca has not opened and is unlikely to do so. In the oft chance that Yucca does open, its maximum capacity of 77,000 metric tons will be met by waste generated by 2009 requiring the development of another storage facility east of the Mississippi. NRC may opine that Congress will change this law; however that is not assured. It seems that NRC has not fully appreciated that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is opposed to Yucca Mountain as is President Barack Obama.
NRC's "Nuclear Waste Confidence Decision," requests the public to blindly take a leap of faith and enter into NRC’s world of make-believe, absent any factual basis. It is another confidence game or scam whereby the NRC attempts to gain the confidence of the American public that the high-level radioactive waste dilemma will be solved down the road and therefore nuclear utilities can continue making unlimited amounts of waste and storing it onsite unsafely - at the least cost to the industry.
Resources: NRC’s Rulemaking Docket, NRC-2008-0428, Waste Confidence decision Update, at http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/rulemaking-ruleforum/rulemaking-dockets/2008/index.html
Comments submitted are easily accessed by clicking on "NRC-2008-0428" on left. Key comments include: Comments By Texans For A Sound Energy Policy And Commenters On Proposed Waste Confidence Decision Update And Proposed Rule Regarding Consideration Of Environmental Impacts Of Temporary Storage Of Reactor Operations Prepared By Ms. Diane Curran, Esq; New York Attorney General’s Office, 02,06,09, comment 26; and Comment of The Offices of the Attorneys General of the States of New York and Vermont and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on Waste Confidence Decision Update and Consideration of Environmental Impacts of Temporary Storage of Spent Fuel After Cessation of Reactor Operation 2009/02/06, Comment (21)
YUCCA MOUNTAIN-PERMANENT OFFSITE STORAGE OPTION?
A Federal Repository, Won’t Solve Waste Problem –any time soon
Nevada Senator Harry Reid announced February 2, 2010 that the Obama Administration will eliminate all funding for the Yucca Mountain Project and will withdraw the Department of Energy's license application.
At the same time, a panel of judges at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted permission for attorneys to temporarily suspend preparations for Yucca Mountain license hearings. It was the first in what could be a series of NRC rulings that could lead to the eventual withdrawal of the Energy Department's application to build a nuclear waste repository at the Nevada site. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Monday the Department of Energy in the next month will file a motion with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission seeking to withdraw the license application “with prejudice,” meaning it could not be re-filed.
In light of the Administration’s decision not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, President Obama directed Secretary Chu to establish the Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for nuclear wastes. The Commission will provide advice and make recommendations on issues including alternatives for the storage, processing, and disposal of civilian and defense spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. The Commission will produce an interim report within 18 months and a final report within 24 months.
The members of the Blue Ribbon Commission are: Lee Hamilton, Co-Chair; Brent Scowcroft, Co-Chair ;Mark Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO; Vicky Bailey, Former Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Former IN PUC Commissioner; Former Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs; Albert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, UCLA ;Pete V. Domenici, Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; former U.S. Senator (R-NM); Susan Eisenhower, President, Eisenhower Group; Chuck Hagel, Former U.S. Senator (R-NE); Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute; Allison Macfarlane, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University; Dick Meserve, Former Chairman, Nuclear Regulatory Commission; Ernie Moniz, Professor of Physics and Cecil & Ida Green Distinguished Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology ;Per Peterson, Professor and Chair, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California – Berkeley; John Rowe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exelon Corporation ;Phil Sharp, President, Resources for the Future
Although it has been argued that the future of the US nuclear energy industry rests on the licensing of Yucca Mountain, few seem to share that contention today. While it is true that several states, including California, cannot proceed with new nuclear build in the US unless a satisfactory spent fuel resolution emerges, there is growing support for simply leaving the waste where it is, waiting for new technologies to be developed that can more effectively recycle and burn the remaining fuel produced by the nation’s fleet of light water reactors.
In response to Yucca’s potential demise, NRC updated its so-called waste confidence rule. Until recently, the waste confidence findings stated that a geologic repository would be available by 2025 and that spent nuclear fuel could be safely stored for at least 30 years beyond the licensed operation of a reactor. In October 2009, the NRC sought public comment on proposed extensions of these timings. It proposed to revise the rule to say that repository capacity will be available within 50 to 60 years after the licensed operation of any reactor, and that spent fuel generated in any reactor can be safely stored without significant environmental impact for at least 60 years beyond the licensed operation of the reactor.
Investigating other sites may run into the same NIMBY problems that Yucca Mountain has faced. Federal centralized interim storage has been proposed repeatedly as a solution, but no such facility has been developed because of, among other reasons, fears that such a facility would evolve into a permanent facility. The simplest solution appears to be continued onsite dry cask storage.
Pilgrim will remain a "high-level waste site" for decades. Therefore it is critically important that it be stored more safely - low density spent fuel pool storage and the rest stored in secured and dispersed dry casks.
Yucca Mountain Lawsuit; Court Overrules Government's
Lax Radiation Standards for Nuclear Waste - July, 2004
this ruling, the Yucca Mountain Project should be finished. The U.S.
Department of Energy (DOE) must show that it can prevent groundwater
contamination above drinking water standards at the compliance boundary for
300,000 years - a standard that the DOE's own analysis shows the Yucca
Mountain site cannot meet. The EPA faces the choice of either appealing the
decision or revising its standard. Proponents of Yucca may go to Congress
for a rule change so they will not have to follow the National Academy of
Shipping Pilgrim’s Spent Fuel Rods to Yucca:
By 2012, Pilgrim will have 3,859 spent radioactive fuel assemblies;
if re-licensed to operate until 2032, Pilgrim will have generated
nearly 8,000 all toll.
Very long, heavy haul trucks
(huge monsters, with a pusher truck in back, puller truck in front, and
scores or even hundreds of tires with maximum speed of 5 mph or less) could
also be used to get the waste from Pilgrim to the nearest rail head.
Trucks: hold 9 BWR assemblies per truck sized casks – (1) cask per truck – requiring approximately 428 trucks to ship waste accumulated by 2012.
Highway Truck and Rail
REPROCESSING - NUCLEAR WASTE OPTION?
Reprocessing only makes the radioactive waste problem worse, even though it is promoted as “recycling.” The “recycling” portion generally applies to just that one percent of spent fuel that consists of plutonium isotopes. In the absence of economical breeder reactors (which still remain a nuclear pipe dream), the plutonium would be used as mixed oxide fuel in light water reactors at considerable expense.
The current commercial reprocessing technology, PUREX (for plutonium-uranium extraction) is huge and polluting. The largest such installation in the world is located on the Normandy peninsula in France. The radioactive liquid waste discharges from that and the similar facility in northwestern England have polluted the seas all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Ten of the twelve parties to the Oslo-Paris accords (OSPAR) have asked the French and British to stop the discharge, but they have not done so. (The other two parties are France and Britain; they abstained and hence are not bound by the vote.)
The fission product stream, which has most of the radioactivity, would still need to be disposed of in a deep geologic repository. Most of the long-lived radioactivity in this stream consists of cesium-137 and strontium-90, with half-lives of about 30 and 29 years respectively. But there are also significant amounts of iodine- 129 and cesium-135, which have half-lives in the millions of years.
While the volume of high-level waste is reduced after it is solidified in a glass matrix, reprocessing creates additional streams of waste besides the liquid discharges noted above. Specifically, intermediate-level waste, a waste classification used in France and other European countries, would be created in significant amounts. This waste must be disposed of in a geologic repository as well.
Overall, reprocessing increases the volume of radioactive waste greatly when all waste streams are taken into account and does not eliminate the need for a deep geologic repository.
The uranium stream that results from reprocessing consists of 95 percent of the nuclear material weight of spent fuel (U-238 plus U-235). It becomes contaminated with traces of fission products, notably technetium-99, as well as plutonium and neptunium-237. The contamination with these materials, which are much more radioactive than the uranium itself, creates considerable problems for the re-use of the uranium. Before it can be used again, it must be chemically processed and re-enriched to 3 to 5 percent U-235 content. The trace contamination results in contamination of the enrichment plant and creates additional radioactive exposure hazards for workers. For instance, in 1999, the Paducah uranium enrichment plant in Kentucky became notorious for not having warned its workers adequately about these trace contaminants in the uranium. A subsequent analysis determined that plutonium and neptunium were concentrated in certain process streams at the plant and created the potential for high worker doses. Trace contamination with plutonium and other radionuclides at Paducah was an important factor in the legislation that Congress passed in the year 2000, setting up a compensation program for nuclear weapons workers made sick by exposure to radiation and chemicals. The Paducah plant belongs to the U.S. Department of Energy; it is currently used only for commercial uranium enrichment. In the past it was used both for military and commercial purposes.
While public information is scarce, it is interesting to note that France sends at least some of the contaminated uranium recovered at its La Hague reprocessing plant to Russia rather than re-enriching at home. If reprocessed uranium were to be disposed of as a waste instead of being re-enriched, this would also pose considerable problems. They would be more difficult than those faced by depleted uranium because the specific activity of the reprocessed uranium is roughly double that of depleted uranium; in addition it contains transuranic and fission product contaminants.
Finally, all uranium enrichment results in a stream of depleted uranium, which is uranium depleted in the fissile isotope U-235. Depleted uranium consists mainly of the non-fissile isotope uranium-238 (99.7 to 99.8 percent usually). Some of this depleted uranium has been used for a variety of commercial and military purposes, the latter including tank armor and shells that have spread contamination on battlefields and testing areas in several countries. But the vast majority of it still remains as an orphan waste of the commercial and military nuclear enterprise. There is at present no place to dispose of depleted uranium in a way that would conform to prevailing radiological safety and health norms. Nor is there any program in place find one. It will not be easy. The characteristics of the waste make it akin to what is called transuranic waste (or Greater than Class C waste) and it should be handled accordingly – that is disposed of in a deep geologic repository. But the depleted uranium sits at various sites in nuclear states, including three in the United States – Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Paducah, Kentucky, and Portsmouth, Ohio.
Institute of Energy and Environmental Research http://www.ieer.org/
Beyond Nuclear http://www.beyondnuclear.org/images/documents/fs_france.pdf
RESOURCES HIGH LEVEL WASTE
Pilgrim- Massachusetts Attorney General's Request for a Hearing and Petition for Leave to Intervene with Respect to Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc.'s Application for Renewal of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant Operating Licensee Massachusetts, May 2006 -Adams Accession Number ML061630088
Massachusetts Attorney General's Request for a Hearing and Petition for Leave to Intervene with Respect to Entergy Nuclear Operations Inc.'s Application for Renewal of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant Operating License , May 2006- Adams Accession Number 061640065
2009/02/06-Environmental Impacts of Storing Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Waste from Commercial Nuclear Reactors: a Critique of NRC's Waste Confidence Decision and Environmental Impact Determination, NRC Electronic Library Adams Accession No. ML090960723
C-10 Research and Education Foundation: http://www.c-10.org/nuclear-waste-storage.html
Nuclear Spent Fuel & Homeland Security, The Case for Hardened Storage: View 10 minute presentation
Institute for Resource and Security Studies: http://www.irss-usa.org/pages/enpub.html
Science and Global Security, Princeton University