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Pilgrim Nuclear Station – a disturbing example of America’s radioactive trash crisis

stranded“…….the slow and expensive process of transferring some of the older, colder fuel rods—no longer potent enough to efficiently power the reactor, but still hazardous for millennia—into dry casks. The concrete-and-steel canisters, eighteen feet tall and weighing a hundred and eighty tons, have now begun to line up on Pilgrim’s concrete pad, a football field’s length from the Bay. Many in the scientific and activist communities see dry-cask storage as preferable to pools, but the fear among those in Plymouth and surrounding towns is that the casks will become a permanent fixture on the Cape. As John Mahoney, a town selectman in Plymouth, told us, “They’re going to stand on a concrete pad overlooking Massachusetts Bay for centuries, just like those statues on Easter Island.”…

the spent fuel would be moved from plants in thirty states to a handful of regional, aboveground storage facilities—what Kevin Kamps, a waste specialist at the watchdog Beyond Nuclear, has called “parking-lot dumps.” There the waste would sit, on concrete pads similar to the one at Pilgrim, for twenty, forty, maybe even a hundred years, until the federal government finds a more permanent scheme.

radiation-truckDry casks must be hauled on heavy, slow-moving trucks, or on freight trains, which at times pass through densely populated parts of the country. Moving the casks once is arduous and expensive enough, but the D.O.E.’s proposed solution—bringing them to a temporary way station, then to a final resting place—requires doing it at least twice. “Interim storage is, in my mind, a waste of time, money, and resources,” Gregory Jaczko, a physicist and former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told us.

terroristIn the meantime, the casks are stacking up, vulnerable not only to the powerful storms and rising seas that come with climate change but also to deliberate attack. A terrorist group could sabotage the plant’s power supply or cooling system, mount a direct assault on its personnel, fire a rocket

PILGRIM’S PROGRESS: INSIDE THE AMERICAN NUCLEAR-WASTE CRISIS, New Yorker, By  and NOVEMBER 25, 2016, “…..Pilgrim is one of the worst-rated nuclear facilities in the United States. Ever since it generated its first kilowatt of electricity, in December of 1972, it has been beset with mechanical failures and lapses in safety. In a single four-week stretch this summer, the plant was offline for a total of fifteen days because of a malfunctioning steam-isolation valve, elevated water levels in the reactor, and other problems. For years, Pilgrim’s detractors have kept steady pressure on Entergy and state officials through local protests, a sit-in at the governor’s office, and legal action. Last October, in a partial victory for activists, the company announced plans to shutter the plant, citing the expense of keeping it running in the face of cheap, abundant natural gas and increasingly competitive “renewable-energy resources.” The reactor is scheduled to go dark on May 31, 2019.

In the past two years, Entergy has started the slow and expensive process of transferring some of the older, colder fuel rods—no longer potent enough to efficiently power the reactor, but still hazardous for millennia—into dry casks. The concrete-and-steel canisters, eighteen feet tall and weighing a hundred and eighty tons, have now begun to line up on Pilgrim’s concrete pad, a football field’s length from the Bay. Many in the scientific and activist communities see dry-cask storage as preferable to pools, but the fear among those in Plymouth and surrounding towns is that the casks will become a permanent fixture on the Cape. As John Mahoney, a town selectman in Plymouth, told us, “They’re going to stand on a concrete pad overlooking Massachusetts Bay for centuries, just like those statues on Easter Island.”…

With waste still piling up at Pilgrim and sixty-some sites across the country, the federal government has been forced to pay the nuclear industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year for breach of contract—money that plant operators are not specifically required to spend on storage. “We are really much, much further behind than we were in 1983,” Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear engineer and the president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, said……

The Department of Energy, the agency with ultimate responsibility for the nation’s roughly seventy thousand tons of nuclear waste, has a plan—or, at least, a plan for a plan.  This spring and summer, the D.O.E. held forums in cities across the country, including Boston, to discuss a “consent-based siting initiative.” This initiative—not the identification of places to put the waste, per se, but a framework for gaining buy-in from a mistrustful public—could result in any number of storage scenarios. “We’re trying to continue making progress toward the development of what we call an integrated waste-management system,” John Kotek, the acting assistant secretary for the Office of Nuclear Energy, told us.

One option is consolidated interim storage. Under this plan, the spent fuel would be moved from plants in thirty states to a handful of regional, aboveground storage facilities—what Kevin Kamps, a waste specialist at the watchdog Beyond Nuclear, has called “parking-lot dumps.” There the waste would sit, on concrete pads similar to the one at Pilgrim, for twenty, forty, maybe even a hundred years, until the federal government finds a more permanent scheme. The D.O.E. sees this interim plan as a way to relieve communities like Plymouth of their waste burden (and the U.S. government of its payouts to the industry). But critics offer a weighty list of objections, chief among them that removing the waste from one community’s back yard requires putting it in another’s, creating more contaminated sites requiring future cleanup. The D.O.E. expects that some communities will step up and take the waste on anyway, but many people at this summer’s forums accused the agency of using public consent as a substitute for scientific and regulatory rigor.

Once sites are identified, then there’s the problem of transportation. Dry casks must be hauled on heavy, slow-moving trucks, or on freight trains, which at times pass through densely populated parts of the country. Moving the casks once is arduous and expensive enough, but the D.O.E.’s proposed solution—bringing them to a temporary way station, then to a final resting place—requires doing it at least twice. “Interim storage is, in my mind, a waste of time, money, and resources,” Gregory Jaczko, a physicist and former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, told us. Diane Turco, who retired early from her job as a special-education teacher to devote more time to the Cape Downwinders—she is now the organization’s president—doubts that the government could make the plan happen anyway. “We think it’s just a big show to placate the public,” she said. “We don’t see it going anywhere.” Some local officials and residents, recognizing that progress is liable to be slow, have asked the government to compensate them for serving as a de-facto nuclear dump.

In the meantime, the casks are stacking up, vulnerable not only to the powerful storms and rising seas that come with climate change but also to deliberate attack. A terrorist group could sabotage the plant’s power supply or cooling system, mount a direct assault on its personnel, fire a rocket from the Bay, or launch a suicide attack from the air—not such a difficult proposition, as Rifkin’s helicopter experiment proved. ….

a radioactive sword of Damocles, to a federal government legally obligated to solve America’s ever-growing nuclear-waste crisis. “If we don’t do something,” Allison Macfarlane, the chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2012 to 2014, said, “if we don’t have a plan, there’s a one-hundred-per-cent guarantee that this stuff gets into the environment.” ….http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/pilgrims-progress-inside-the-american-nuclear-waste-crisis

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November 28, 2016 - Posted by | safety, USA, wastes

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