nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

Concern over longterm safety of Holtec’s plan for Oyster Creek’s nuclear wastes

Oyster Creek shutdown in NJ could leave high taxes, giant casks of dangerous radioactive waste  https://www.app.com/story/news/local/land-environment/2019/06/19/nuclear-power-oyster-creek-closes-jersey-shore-decommissioning-speeds-up/1274417001/  

FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE, THIS JERSEY SHORE TOWN WILL BE LEFT WITH THEIR NUCLEAR PLANT’S DANGEROUS LEGACY — CANISTERS CONTAINING RADIOACTIVE WASTE.

Amanda Oglesby, Asbury Park Press, June 19, 2019   Three miles of pine forest separate Paul Berkowicz’s ranch-style home from a cluster of towering canisters on a concrete pad containing one of mankind’s most dangerous substances.

For decades, the 68-year-old retired educator has lived and worked near the Oyster Creek Generating Station, the nation’s oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant until it stopped energy production in September.

Since the plant’s opening a half-century ago, residents of Lacey Township relished the high-paying jobs and the low taxes the plant helped provide.

With decommissioning, nuclear jobs will dry up. Property taxes are expected to spike. And, for the foreseeable future, the town’s 30,000 residents will be left with the plant’s dangerous legacy — the stored canisters, or casks, containing radioactive waste.

It’s not what Berkowicz expected when he purchased his home here in the 1970s. He believed the plant’s radioactive waste, which can sicken and kill, would be removed from Lacey. In reality, towns across the United States, Lacey included, will likely be stuck with the waste for decades to come.

“I’m not anti-power plant or anti-nuclear power,” said Berkowicz as he sat as his dining room table. “I’m anti- having hundreds of places where you’re storing this thing that will be poisonous for 1,000 years.

“Nobody would have agreed to have a power plant anywhere, in any community, if they were going to have the next generations live with the waste,” he added.

A national problem

Across the nation, residents of communities where nuclear plants are closing face similar concerns. At least 15 nuclear power plants are scheduled to close, or are being taken apart, across the United States.

The company looking to dismantle Oyster Creek, Holtec International, is also applying to purchase and decommission Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York, the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the Palisades Power Plant in Covert, Michigan.

As the nuclear industry shrinks, its spent radioactive fuel — waste totaling more than 80,000 metric tons, or enough to fill a football field about 20 meters deep — will be left behind in towns like Lacey.

Just how big is nuclear power?
The United States currently has 98 commercial nuclear reactors operating at 60 plants in 30 states.
Those 98 reactors feed approximately 20% of the nation’s electricity consumption.

How the material will be stored and for how long are questions vexing plant neighbors, public officials and environmentalists in communities even hundreds of miles from the closing plants.

High stakes are attached to the answers.

More than 138,000 people live within 10 miles of Oyster Creek.  Lacey Township is a middle class, suburban community in central New Jersey, about 35 miles north of Atlantic City.

Situated in an environmentally sensitive region, the plant lies along the eastern edge of the Pinelands National Reserve, a 1.1 million-acre expanse of unique pine forest that spreads across 22 percent of New Jersey.

Oyster Creek also sits on the western shores of Barnegat Bay, a 660-square-mile body of brackish water that is one of the region’s top tourist attractions, behind its miles of sandy ocean beaches.

Underneath Oyster Creek runs another integral natural asset, the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. This 3,000-square-mile, 17 trillion-gallon aquifer provides drinking water and agricultural irrigation for most of south New Jersey.

These sensitive environmental jewels have not deterred Holtec, based in Camden, New Jersey, from seeking to buy the power plant from owner Exelon Generation. Holtec has applied to dismantle the facility — and to do so decades sooner than first envisioned by Exelon .

Holtec’s work — and profits — would be funded by the plant’s $1 billion trust fund, a decades-old pot of money reserved for the tedious process of decommissioning.

Some environmentalists warn the company will be challenged to both quickly and efficiently demolish Oyster Creek, while at once protecting the environment and the health and safety of workers and the public.

“Decommissioning… has been pretty limited to date,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear, a group that advocates abandoning nuclear power in favor of other power sources. “It’s not like we have experience in this.”

From decades to years

Holtec proposes taking down Oyster Creek, and other plants it’s preparing to purchase, in a mere eight years, thanks to new technology and streamlined processes.

Exelon first proposed a 60-year decommissioning.

Gunter worries that a push for quick profits could eclipse caution and safety concerns.

“With an accelerated number of plants that are being decommissioned, we could possibly see broader risks,” he said.

Key to Holtec’s speedier plan is an expedited process for removing spent nuclear fuel from the plant and putting the material into storage casks.

The Holtec design allows hot fuel to be loaded into the casks in under 3 years of storage in cooling pools, instead of the minimum 5 years.

But are they safe?

Holtec says its casks are designed to last 300 years, although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission only licenses casks for 40 years, with the expectation companies will apply for renewals periodically.

The casks “are very safe. They do require that people continue to monitor,” said Robert S. Bean, associate director of the Center for Radiological and Nuclear Security at Purdue University.  “These facilities will not be allowed to put the stuff in casks and walk away.”

Edwin Lyman, acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear safety watchdog, isn’t as confident the casks will hold up.

“As materials and facilities age, unexpected things crop up,” said Lyman. He added that Holtec’s claims that its casks are designed to last 300 years are “totally unproven.”

Yet, Lyman said cask storage is the safest place for spent fuel.

Are the casks safe?

Casks are a technology Holtec has worked to perfect since it began manufacturing them in 1992. They are designed not only to contain radiation, but to withstand disasters like missile strikes and explosions, said Joy Russell, senior vice president of business development for Holtec.

Not everyone is sold on the technology.

Putting nuclear fuel into casks before it has properly cooled is “dangerously premature,” said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar of nuclear, environmental and energy policies at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington.

“It’s called faith-based safety,” said Alvarez, who previously served as a staff expert to the U.S. Senate on the United States’ nuclear weapons program. “It’s basically taking a gamble on the basis of no technical support.”

James Conca, an environmental scientist and expert in nuclear waste disposal, said missteps involving nuclear energy garner outsize attention.

“It’s kind of frustrating,” he said. “Nuclear has the worst rep, and there’s reasons for that, but it’s actually quite safe.”

Casks are hardly new to communities built up around nuclear plants.

Across the United States, more than 90,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel is awaiting disposal, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Of that, more than 80,000 metric tons are from the nation’s fleet of commercial reactors.

In New Jersey, more than 3,117 metric tons of nuclear fuel have been left from more than 60 years of energy generation, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. New York has more than 4,314 metric tons. Pennsylvania, home of the notorious Three Mile Island nuclear plant, has more than 7,000 metric tons.

With no permanent repository established, casks are the only long-term solution for storage.

Radiation, asbestos among concerns

Forty-five miles north of Midtown Manhattan, on the north side of Indian Point nuclear plant, 45 stone-gray casks hold the leftovers of decades of nuclear power generation, on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River.

The canisters, standing 11 feet wide by 22 feet high, serve an integral function in the afterlife of a nuclear plant, entombing dangerous radioactive elements like Cesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, fuel bi-products created inside the reactor vessel.

Inside the cask
Casks hold dangerous radioactive elements like Cesium-137, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, fuel bi-products created inside reactors, which remain dangerous for generations.

Here’s what they do to people.

Chart

Cesium 137
Can burn skin, cause radiation sickness and damage tissue. In high doses, it can cause cancer.
Strontium-90
Is absorbed like calcium within the body and can lead to bone cancer, bone marrow cancer, and cancer in the tissues near bones.
Plutonium 239 and 240
Both remain dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. If inhaled, plutonium particles can scar the lungs, damage bones, liver and spleen and cause cancer. Source: CDC and EPA reports

Nuclear safety experts say these thick concrete and steel vessels are safer than holding spent fuel within the reactor core or cooling pool, where the risk of accident or fire is a slim, but real, possibility.

Cesium-137 can burn skin, damage tissue and cause radiation sickness for generations. Strontium-90 is absorbed by human bones and can cause cancer. Plutonium-239 can scar lungs, damage bones and organs and cause cancer. It remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.

The fuel gives off heat for years after it is removed from the reactor core.

The casks at Oyster Creek were nearly 20-degrees hotter than the air around them when measured in 2002, according to a monitoring report filed with the NRC.

Some radiation does escape the thick walls of the casks — about 1.5 millirems per hour of gamma radiation or less, and about 1 millirem per hour of neutron radiation, according to the report.

These are small doses. For comparison, a chest X-ray emits about 10 millirems and a full body CT scan about 1,000 millirems, according to the NRC. The average person receives a radiation dose of about 620 millirem a year, half of which is from cosmic rays and the Earth’s natural radiation.

“From a cask, the risk is not that great, compared to the things we worry about, (like) the reactor core itself,” said Bean.

But nobody sees storage casks as a lasting solution to the nation’s nuclear waste dilemma.

The federal government had originally promised to dispose of the material in a repository to be built at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The plan fell apart due to geological concerns and political pressure.

Instead, fuel has been accumulating at plants across the nation.

Berkowicz, the Lacy resident, wants to see action.

“All of these states (with nuclear waste) should get together,” he said. “What are you going to do with this virtually eternal poison?.. You’ve got to do something with it.”

Lacey Mayor Timothy McDonald wants more help from Washington in charting the long-range future of Oyster Creek, such a staple of this community that an atom is incorporated into the municipal seal.

And radioactive waste is not what most worries McDonald.

“I’m more concerned with the tearing down of the buildings,” he said. Filled with decades worth of radioactive materials, Oyster Creek is also contaminated with asbestos, according to decommissioning documents.

Without the proper precautions — special containment systems, worker gear and sawing equipment, for example — the worry is dangerous dust and debris could sicken workers or contaminate the environment.

Some say faster is preferred

Yet McDonald and municipal officials support the plant being razed sooner rather than later.

A speedier decommissioning would give town officials hope for the eventual re-purposing of the sprawling property.

“The faster we can get this thing down, and get to redoing the property down there, the better off Lacey Township is, but we have to do it safely,” he said.

If the sale of Oyster Creek to Holtec goes through, Holtec spokeswoman Caitlin Marmion said the company would take every precaution to protect workers, public health and the environment.

“Stringent environmental standards will continue throughout the decommissioning process,” she said in an email.

“All radiation is completely removed from materials prior to any open-air demolition. Managing fugitive dust and debris during deconstruction is a key part of the planning and mandatory for the protection of workers, the community and the environment,” Marmion said.

Berkowicz isn’t convinced that residents near the plant have nothing to fear. He worries less about decommissioning than what will be left behind after the plant is gone: Holtec says 63 towering casks of radioactive spent fuel will remain.

 “It’s a deadly poison,” Berkowicz said.

Advertisements

June 20, 2019 - Posted by | USA, wastes

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: