nuClear news No.77, September 20156. Plutonium Conundrum A US Energy Department-commissioned study, which has been leaked to the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that it would be cheaper and far less risky to dispose of 34 metric tons of U.S. surplus plutonium at a federal nuclear waste repository in New Mexico than convert it into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for commercial nuclear power plants at the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina.
The unreleased report describes in detail the delays and massive cost overruns at the half-built MOX facility, located at the federal Savannah River Site. High staff turnover, the need to replace improperly installed equipment, and an antagonistic relationship between the local federal project director and the contractor are only some of the factors undermining the project. The new report also notes that there are “no obvious silver bullets” to reduce the life-cycle cost of the MOX approach.
According to UCS, a better alternative to turning the surplus plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel would be to “downblend” it, a method the Energy Department has already used to dispose of several metric tons of plutonium. It involves diluting the plutonium with an inert, nonradioactive material and then sending it to the nuclear waste site in New Mexico, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), for burial. The new report’s analysis supports that assessment. …….
Disposal beats MOX in US comparison http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/WR-Disposal-beats-MOX-in-US-comparison-2108151.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter 21 August 2015
America is reconsidering how it will dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium as the previous plan involving a MOX plant has been said to be twice as costly as a dilution and disposal option in a leaked Department of Energy (DOE) report.
The plutonium arises from a June 2000 nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Russia under which both countries would put 34 tonnes of plutonium beyond military use. Russia opted to use its plutonium as fuel for fast reactors generating power at Beloyarsk.
The USA, meanwhile, decided to build a mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel plant at Savannah River, where the plutonium would be mixed with uranium and made into fuel for light-water reactors. The design is similar to Areva’s Melox facility at Marcoule, but modified to handle metal plutonium ‘pits’ from US weapons and their conversion from metal to plutonium oxide. It is this part of the process that has been problematic. Construction started in 2007 with an estimated cost of $4.9 billion but work ran into serious trouble before being ‘zeroed’ in the DOE’s 2014 budget, putting development on ice.
The Union of Concerned Scientists yesterday published what it said was an unreleased DOE report that compared the cost of completing the MOX plant to other options. Use in fast reactors was considered briefly, but with this technology not readily available in the near term, the prime comparison was against a ‘dilution and disposal’ option which would see the plutonium mixed with inert materials and disposed of in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, in New Mexico.
Despite being 60% built, the MOX plant still needs some 15 years of construction work, said the leaked report, and then about three years of commissioning. Once in operation the plant would work through the plutonium over about 10 years with this 28-year program to cost $700-800 million per year – a total of $19.6-22.4 billion on top of what has already been spent. Not only is the price tag very high, but the timescale is too long: the report said this would not meet the disposal timeframe agreed with Russia.
The cost of the MOX plant could not be mitigated by income from sales of the MOX fuel because the regulatory process to gain approval to use MOX would be too burdensome for a commercial utility. The report said “it may be unlikely” that even a utility in a regulated market where fuel costs are passed on to consumers would “bear the risk of MOX fuel even if it is free”.
Dilution and disposal would cost $400 million per year, said the report, “over a similar duration” as MOX, working out at close to half the cost. Other advantages for dilution and disposal are that it requires no new facilities to be created or decommissioned after use, although the increase in WIPP disposal means “it may eventually become desirable to explore expansion of WIPP’s capacity” beyond currently legislated limits. This unique geologic disposal facility was said to be of “tremendous value to both DOE and the State of New Mexico”.
Review: MOX needs $800M a year http://www.aikenstandard.com/article/20150820/AIK0101/150829974/1121
Earlier this year, the Department of Energy commissioned the Red Team, a group led by Thom Mason, the director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to evaluate cost projections and alternatives to the MOX method of plutonium disposition. The method includes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility under construction at SRS.
The project is part of a nonproliferation agreement with Russia to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium.
“The Red Team concluded that if the MOX pathway is to be successful, then annual funding for the whole program would have to increase from the current $400 million per year to $700 to 800 million per year over the next 2-3 years, and then remain at $700 to $800 million until all 34 metric tons are dispositioned,” officials wrote.
The Aiken Standard will have more on the MOX review in Friday’s paper.
USA’s Experimental Breeder Reactor-II now permanently entombed, World Nuclear News
01 July 2015 The main clean-up contractor at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Idaho Site, has entombed an historic nuclear reactor in place and treated the reactor’s remaining sodium coolant….CH2M-WG, Idaho, LLC (CWI) said yesterday that crews with the Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) Program recently completed pouring more than 3400 cubic yards of concrete grout into the basement of the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II) building to fill in any remaining void spaces and effectively entomb the reactor.
Workers also removed and treated the last of the sodium coolant from the reactor’s nine heat exchangers. The exchangers were used to cool the liquid metal and direct the steam to a generating turbine to produce electricity when the reactor was operating.
The EBR-II was the basis of the US Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program…….. The reactor was shut down in 1994 and its fuel was removed and transported to another site facility for safe storage.
The DOE grouted the reactor in place instead of removing it to protect workers from industrial hazards and radiological risks, CWI said. Crews filled the reactor vessel with grout over two years ago and recently completed the remainder of grouting at the facility under CWI’s contract.
Japan eases fuel rules for India nuclear deal, Japan Times KYODO, JUN 19, 2015 Japan has given in to India’s demand that it be allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from Japanese-made reactors, negotiation sources said, marking a major shift in Japan’s stance against proliferation.
India, a nuclear power that conducted its first weapons test in 1974 using reprocessed plutonium, has not joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Japan has been seeking measures to guarantee India will not divert extracted plutonium — which could be used to build nuclear weapons — for military use, but no agreement has been reached on the issue, the sources said Thursday…..http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/06/19/national/japan-eases-fuel-rules-for-india-nuclear-deal/#.VYSSFfmqpHw
Nuclear Reprocessing Pay more, risk more, get little,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 21 May 15 Hui Zhang“…… Lately, advocates for fast neutron reactors have been arguing that breeders and reprocessing can reduce the long-term hazards associated with burial of high-level waste. But these long-term benefits are offset by short-term risks and costs.
For example, breeder advocates argue that the risks surrounding leakage in geological repositories could be reduced if all the long-lived isotopes of plutonium and other transuranics contained in spent fuel were transmuted (or fissioned), thus significantly reducing the doses of radioactivity that could escape due to any leakage. But studies show that long-lived fission and activation products in spent fuel—not isotopes that could be fissioned through breeders and reprocessing—dominate the radioactivity doses that leakage could release.
Plutonium, in fact, is quite insoluble in deep underground water. So, reprocessing delivers no obvious long-term benefits in reducing leaked doses of radioactivity—but it does involve routine releases of long-lived radioactive gases from spent fuel. Reprocessing also increases the risk that tanks for high-level liquid waste might explode.
(In a similar vein, advocates for fast neutron reactors argue that reprocessing, by reducing the need to mine uranium, can reduce human radiation exposure. But any such benefit is canceled out because plutonium reprocessing and recycling themselves expose workers and the public to radiation. In short, the net effects may well be negative.)
Meanwhile, all reprocessing and fast neutron reactor programs currently under consideration significantly increase the economic costs of nuclear energy. This means that nuclear decision makers must choose between achieving rather insignificant reductions in the long-term hazards associated with nuclear waste—and achieving short-term gains in the areas of safety, security, human health, and the environment.
The choice seems rather clear-cut. The US National Academy of Sciences concluded in 1996, based on a review of the costs and benefits of reprocessing and fast neutron reactor programs, that “none of the dose reductions seem large enough to warrant the expense and additional operational risk of transmutation.” That assessment remains valid today…….http://thebulletin.org/reprocessing-poised-growth-or-deaths-door/pay-more-risk-more-get-little
Crisis for Areva’s La Hague plant as clients shun nuclear, News Daily May 6, 2015 EMMANUEL JARRY FOR REUTERS BEAUMONT-HAGUE, France – Areva’s nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in La Hague needs to cut costs as its international customers disappear following the Fukushima disaster, and its sole remaining big customer, fellow state-owned French utility EDF, pressures it to cut prices.
Located at the westernmost tip of Normandy, La Hague reprocesses spent nuclear fuel for reuse in nuclear reactors and is a key part in Areva’s production chain, which spans uranium mining to fuel recycling.
Its valuation and outlook are crucial for the troubled French nuclear group, which is racing to find an equity parter after four years of losses have virtually wiped out its capital……….
One of the world’s biggest nuclear waste storage facilities, La Hague’s four pools hold the equivalent of about 50 reactor cores under four meters of water.
Protected by 1.5 meter thick anti-radiation concrete walls, employees in space suits cut up spent nuclear fuel rods, extract uranium and about one percent of plutonium, and melt the remaining waste into glass for eventual deep storage.
Areva says reprocessing reduces natural uranium needs by 25 percent but opponents say that separating plutonium from spent nuclear fuel increases the risk of nuclear proliferation.
The United States does not reprocess its nuclear fuel, but Britain has a large reprocessing plant in Sellafield. A planned recycling plant in Rokkasho, Japan – modeled on La Hague – has been plagued by problems and is years behind schedule.
Since the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Areva’s reprocessing unit has lost nearly all of its international customers.
The company’s “back-end” sales – which include reprocessing, logistics and decommissioning – have fallen to 1.53 billion euros in 2014, 18 percent of Areva’s turnover, from 2 billion euros, 30 percent of nuclear revenue, in 2004.
In the past decades, more than 32,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel has been reprocessed at La Hague, of which nearly 70 percent for EDF, 17 percent for German utilities, nine percent for Japanese utilities and the rest for Swiss, Belgian, Dutch and Italian clients.
This year, La Hague expects to treat 1,205 tonnes of spent fuel, of which just 25 tonnes will come from abroad. That leaves Areva with EDF virtually as its sole customer, and although both firms are state-owned – Areva 87 percent, EDF 85 percent – EDF has played hardball in contract negotiations.
La Hague extracts plutonium from used nuclear fuel, which it then sends to Areva’s Melox plant in southeast France, which produces MOX fuel – a mixture of plutonium and spent uranium – for 22 (soon 24) of EDF’s 58 reactors.
The arrival of new management at both companies since the start of the year has ended years of hostility between France’s two nuclear champions, but a 6.5 billion euro contract to treat and recycle 1,100 tonnes per year of EDF’s spent fuel for the 2013-2020 period has still not been signed…………http://newsdaily.com/2015/05/crisis-for-arevas-la-hague-plant-as-clients-shun-nuclear/
successfully developing deep-hole disposal techniques would be a great development for society
it could be devastating for next-generation nuclear developers attempting to utilize existing used nuclear fuel stockpiles
Why Sending Nuclear Waste to the Center of the Earth is Bad News for General Electric,Motley Fool By Maxx Chatsko April 30, 2015 “………the U.S. Department of Energy is set to experiment with a technique to dispose of nuclear wastes by drilling 3-mile boreholes into the Earth’s crust and then, well, dropping radioactive materials into their geological tombs. For good
………Fergus Gibb, the technique’s pioneer, told The Engineer that each bore hole, measuring roughly 3 miles deep and 2 feet wide, would cost just a few tens of millions of dollars to drill. …
Reprocessing in China: A long, risky journey, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 15 Hui Zhang“………Should China continue pursuing its plans for fast breeder reactors and commercialized reprocessing? Good reasons exist for avoiding this course of action. First, because most of China’s power reactors are newly built, Beijing will face little pressure over the next two decades to reduce its spent fuel burden. And spent fuel can be stored safely, at low cost, in dry casks—or disposed of safely in a deep geological repository.
Second, China faces no shortage of uranium resources for the foreseeable future. The nation’s identified resources more than tripled between 2003 and 2012, to 265,500 metric tons from 77,000 metric tons. China’s potential uranium reserves amount to more than 2 million tons. Beijing in recent times has also secured huge overseas uranium resources—about three times as large as its own identified uranium reserves. More such reserves could easily be added.
In any event, the cost of uranium accounts for only a small percentage of the cost of power that reactors generate. Simply put, the cost of uranium will not increase in the foreseeable future to levels that would justify the cost of reprocessing and breeder reactors. To the extent that China is concerned about potential disruptions in its uranium supply, it could easily and inexpensively establish a “strategic” uranium stockpile.
China should carefully examine the experiences of nations that have launched large reprocessing programs and built demonstration breeder reactors in the expectation that the commercialization of these reactors would follow. Commercialization did not follow in those countries—but huge expenses were incurred for cleaning up reprocessing sites and disposing of separated plutonium. For China, there is no urgent need to go down this risky road.
Plutonium recycling is much more expensive, and much less safe and secure, than operating light water reactors with a once-through fuel cycle. As for nuclear waste, dry cask storage is a safe, flexible, and low-cost option that can postpone for decades the need either to reprocess spent fuel or to dispose of it directly—allowing time for technology to develop. China has no convincing rationale for rushing to build commercial-scale reprocessing facilities or plutonium breeder reactors. http://thebulletin.org/reprocessing-poised-growth-or-deaths-door8185
Reprocessing in China: A long, risky journey, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Hui Zhang , April 15 Since 1983, a closed fuel cycle has been an official element of China’s nuclear energy policy. According to proponents, plutonium reprocessing and breeder reactors will allow full utilization of China’s uranium resources, drastically reduce the volume of radioactive waste that must be stored in an underground repository, and establish a way to dispense with the spent fuel accumulating in China’s reactor pools.
But Beijing’s attempts to develop commercially viable reprocessing facilities and breeder reactors have been afflicted with technological difficulties, serious delays, and cost overruns. At this point—especially taking into account China’s ample uranium resources and its easy access to additional resources abroad—it appears very doubtful that reprocessing and fast reactors are the proper way forward for China’s nuclear energy sector.
Not according to plan………..
Parallel with development of the pilot reprocessing plant, China has been working to establish commercially viable plutonium breeder reactors. According to a plan in place until 2013, development of breeder reactors was to be a three-stage process. The first stage was to complete a project known as the China Experimental Fast Reactor. The second stage would involve building, by about 2020, a few demonstration fast reactors. Finally, commercialized fast reactors would be deployed around 2030. Progress always ran far behind schedule.
The China Experimental Fast Reactor is a sodium-cooled experimental fast reactor using technology developed for Russia’s BN-600 reactor. The project, with a planned capacity of 20 megawatts, was approved in 1995. Construction began in 2000. As with the pilot reprocessing plant, the experimental fast reactor encountered many difficulties during construction. Capital cost estimates had to adjusted twice, with each estimate double the previous one. The reactor went critical in July 2010 and, by July 2011, 40 percent of its full power was incorporated into the grid. The reactor, however, was online for only 26 hours during the remainder of 2011, and it produced the equivalent of just one full power-hour. Not until December 2014 did the reactor manage to operate at full capacity for 72 hours. So 19 years passed between project approval and operation at full capacity.
As for the second stage of the pre-2013 plan, CNNC in 2009 signed an agreement with Russia’s Rosatom to jointly construct two copies of Russia’s BN-800 fast neutron reactor in China. But Beijing has not officially approved the project. As with the French reprocessing plant, Chinese experts complain that Russia is demanding too high a price. It is not clear when or if the project will go forward. Instead, CNNC in 2013 began focusing on the development of the indigenous 600-megawatt China Fast Reactor (CFR-600). The start of construction is envisioned for 2017, with operations to commence in 2023—but the government has not approved the project yet.
Experts from CNNC have also, since 2013, urged the development of China’s first commercial fast reactor—a 1,000-megawatt reactor based on experience gained from the CFR-600. But CNNC expert Gu Zhongmao—an advocate of the closed fuel cycle—said at a recent workshop on nuclear energy in East Asia that “China needs at least another 20 to 30 years of effort before commercialization of fast reactor energy systems, and there are so many uncertainties ahead. It is beyond our ability to draw a clear picture 20 years ahead.”…………. http://thebulletin.org/reprocessing-poised-growth-or-deaths-door8185
Will Energy Secretary Moniz benefit France in MOX nuclear boondoggle deal? Or make AREVA accountable?
$30+billion Plutonium (Pu) Fuel Project, Good for France; Bad for America: AREVA-MOX Ça Pue! Pe-yoo! Minimg Awareness, 5 Apr 15 [Recall that Areva is 89.9% French State owned and would be long gone if it weren’t for French taxpayers keeping it afloat. Furthermore, Areva has been under police investigation for years in France due to what is known as the Uramin scandal. After the French State the largest shareholder is Kuwait (Kuwait Investment Authority at 4.8%.]
From Savannah River Site Watch:
“Now, we’re being told the real reason for continuing construction of the $12.7 MOX plant at SRS – “it’s good for France!” Part of DOE’s foreign aid program fostered by Senator MOX….
“French ambassador impressed with MOX”
Aiken Standard, March 17, 2015,
We all know that with the gracious assistance of big-spender Senator Lindsey Graham that the bankrupt company AREVA has thrived on the transfer of US tax payer money into their coffers and are getting desperate as their plans for reprocessing of commercial spent fuel in the US have gone down the drain.
“We want to save the jobs in South Carolina because it’s good for the state, he (Wilson) believes it’s good for the U.S. and to me, it’s good for France,” Araud said. (Gerard Araud, France’s Ambassador to the United States)
“The MOX facility is being designed by AREVA, a French company that is also the parent company to the MOX contractor, CB&I-AREVA MOX Services. Gilles Rousseau, the chief operating officer for the contractor, expressed his gratitude for having Araud on site.”
“Business at its Ugly Usual at DOE: As of April 4, 2015, there is No Accountability to the Tax-Paying Public for the U.S. DOE’s Grossly Mismanaged $30+-billion Plutonium Fuel (MOX) Project, a Textbook Case of Big Government’s Inability to Manage a Costly, Complex Project. When will Secretary of Energy Moniz and Congress act to hold those responsible accountable?
As DOE spins out of control in its management of large projects, the MOX coverup drags on and on and on. When will there be any accountability for the failed MOX project?
SRS Watch requested in a letter hand delivered to US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz on July 29, 2014 that he “Take immediate steps to hold managers in DOE, NNSA and Shaw AREVA MOX Services accountable for the massive cost overruns and schedule delays associated with MOX project.”.http://www.srswatch.org/uploads/2/7/5/8/27584045/letter_to_moniz_from_srs_watch_july_28_2014.pdf
Will Secretary Moniz act responsibly and fulfill his obligations as a public servant? Will he hold specific individuals accountable and make sure that their glaringly inadequate abilities in managing the MOX boondoggle are not used elsewhere in DOE? Let us know who you think must be held accountable: firstname.lastname@example.org https:// ……….miningawareness.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/30billion-plutonium-pu-fuel-project-good-for-france-bad-for-america-areva-mox-ca-pue-pe-yoo/
More errors with Monju nuclear reactor maintenance found, Mainichi, 27 Mar 15 Several more maintenance problems have been discovered at the Monju fast-breeder reactor facility in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, which has been banned from operation following the discovery of over 10,000 cases of maintenance errors in 2013, it has been learned.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) secretariat revealed on March 25 that the newly discovered maintenance errors — which involve the facility’s piping system — mean that Monju operator Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) may have violated safety regulations……..http://mainichi.jp/english/english/newsselect/news/20150326p2a00m0na007000c.html
Due to Fukushima, Japan now must choose to go in one of two directions that are largely exclusive: either towards a reactor restart choice that leads to a minimalist phase-out of separated plutonium over time; or towards a maximalist reliance on separated plutonium over time in a closed fuel cycle………
Should Japan opt to start enough reactors to justify reactivating the plutonium fuel cycle, then the implications for nuclear terrorism would be substantial. The train of logic for maximum spent fuel arising from a closed nuclear fuel cycle is radically different to that for the once-through fuel cycle. In this trajectory, the following would occur:
- Japan starts many more light water reactors, sooner rather than later, and extends reactor lifetimes beyond forty years, and constructs new reactors
- This choice enables far more MOx fuel fabrication and recycling of MOx fuel to these reactors than in the once-through fuel cycle usage; this choice would either slowly reduce or rapidly increase the stockpile of separated plutonium that would be supplemented (if the central state is willing to subsidize heavily the utilities for using MOx fuel) by reprocessing the spent fuel from the operation of the light water reactors
- Thereby generating a new stream of separated and un-separated plutonium in Japan to store and secure, and available for diversion or attack.
Although it does not follow automatically, this vision of the revived closed fuel cycle also implies that:
- The fast reactor is developed in order to burn actinides to reduce the waste disposal problem (whether it would do so is debatable)
- The fast reactor would be developed to breed plutonium based on the argument that doing so makes Japan more independent from external nuclear fuel supply.
All the steps in this second path which maximizes separated fuel involves more transport, more bulk processing and storage, and creates more opportunity for non-state actors to divert fissile material or to attack directly the spent fuel stocks in pools or other nuclear materials process sites in the envisioned “closed” fuel cycle. In short, this trajectory maximizes the nuclear terrorist threat, directly and indirectly, over the next thirty years, especially when the demonstration effect on other states to follow suit are taken into account. For exactly this reason, the United States has reaffirmed recently that it does not favor MOx use and breeder activity in Japan or elsewhere……..http://nautilus.org/napsnet/napsnet-special-reports/nuclear-terrorism-risks-in-northeast-asia-japans-reactor-restart-and-spent-fuel/
Savannah River Site Becoming World’s Nuclear Dumping Ground, despite Safety Risks By: GLORIA TATUM Atlanta Progressive News 6-9-2014
“……..We are wasting money and increasing the risk of a terrorist accident if we build that MOX plant at SRS. Plutonium fuel cost more than uranium fuel and there’s plenty of uranium on the planet. So we are taking other people’s plutonium to keep a MOX plant running and no one wants to buy the output from it,” Gundersen told APN.
Plutonium is a man made element derived from the transformation of uranium through fission. Plutonium, Pu-239, has a half life of 24,100 hundred years; that’s the time it will take for half of the plutonium to radioactively decay. Radioactive contaminants are dangerous for ten to twenty times the length of their half-lives, meaning that if plutonium gets into the environment, it will be dangerous essentially forever. If ingested into the body, it causes DNA damage in tissue, and cancer.
The use of MOX fuel does not get rid of plutonium; instead it becomes part of the lethal soup of ingredients termed “high level nuclear waste.” There are no safe long-term storage for nuclear waste, only interim storage solutions for waste that will remain hazardous for thousands of years.
“When I hear plutonium in the environment, it becomes a problem not only for the next generation – we were not even a [human] species a quarter of a million years ago – we might be a new species before this stuff completely disintegrates from the environment,” Gundersen said. http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/nuclear-dumping-ground-despite-safety-risks.html
Citizens living downstream from the site have complained for years of high levels of cancer and death in their community, which they attribute to the SRS and Plant Vogtle’s nuclear reactors across the river on the Georgia side.
“The DOE is more interested in jobs this year and totally forgetting about the environmental costs for the next 300 or a thousand years. It’s unfair to the people of Georgia and South Carolina to make some money now and pollute the Savannah River for a thousand years,” Gundersen said. http://www.fairewinds.org/secretly-dumping-peoples-problems/#sthash.mtEhWriM.dpuf
- 1 NUCLEAR ISSUES
- business and costs
- climate change
- indigenous issues
- marketing of nuclear
- opposition to nuclear
- politics international
- Religion and ethics
- secrets,lies and civil liberties
- weapons and war
- 2 WORLD
- MIDDLE EAST
- NORTH AMERICA
- SOUTH AMERICA
- Christina's notes
- Christina's themes
- RARE EARTHS
- resources – print
- Resources -audiovicual