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Russia launches ‘world’s biggest & most powerful’ nuclear icebreaker

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September 23, 2017 Posted by | Russia, technology | Leave a comment

Most Britons happy to live near wind turbines, but not near Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

Most Britons would not be happy living near the mini nuclear power stations
that Rolls-Royce and several other international companies want to build in
the UK, a survey has found. The government has promised the developers of
small modular reactors a slice of a £250m funding pot in a race to
position the UK as the place where the first generation of the power
stations should be built.

Polling by YouGov, however, believed to be the
first survey of public attitudes towards the plants, found that 62% of
people would be unhappy living within five miles of one. The poll,
commissioned by the climate change charity 10:10, found that only 24% would
be unhappy living near an onshore windfarm, which the Conservative party
has stymied with tougher planning rules.

The figure fell to 17% for community-owned windfarms. Ellie Roberts, a campaigner at 10:10, said:
“These results show just how wildly out of step with public opinion UK
energy policy has become.” Most small modular reactors (SMRs) would
generate less than a tenth of the power the projected Hinkley Point C will
provide, but are backed by industry as a cheaper option to big nuclear
plants and an opportunity for British firms to be first in a new
technology.

Harry Holt, the president of nuclear at Rolls-Royce, said:
“With demand for energy set to rise in the near future, in part due to
the growing popularity of electric cars, we believe that a UK SMR programme
is a vital addition to our national infrastructure.”

Guardian 18th Sept 2017

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/sep/18/most-britons-dislike-prospect-living-mini-nuclear-station

September 22, 2017 Posted by | technology, UK | Leave a comment

The problem of plutonium: justification for its reprocessing is now dead

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  

Forty years of impasse: The United States, Japan, and the plutonium problem http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2017.1364007   Masafumi Takubo &Frank von Hippel23 Aug 2017, Recently, records have been published from the internal discussions in the Carter administration (1977–80) on the feasibility of convincing Japan to halt its plutonium-separation program as the United States was in the process of doing domestically. Japan was deeply committed to its program, however, and President Carter was not willing to escalate to a point where the alliance relationship could be threatened. Forty years later, the economic, environmental, and nonproliferation arguments against Japan’s program have only been strengthened while Japan’s concern about being dependent on imports of uranium appears vastly overblown. Nevertheless, Japan’s example, as the only non-weapon state that still separates plutonium, continues to legitimize the launch of similar programs in other countries, some of which may be interested in obtaining a nuclear weapon option.

In June 2017, the National Security Archive, a nonprofit center in Washington, DC, posted four-decade-old documents from the Carter administration’s internal debate over how to best persuade Japan to defer its ambitious program to obtain separated plutonium by chemical reprocessing of spent power reactor fuel.11. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb597-Japanese-Plutonium-Overhang/.View all notes

Foreign civilian plutonium programs had become a high-level political issue in the United States after India used plutonium, nominally separated to provide startup fuel for a breeder reactor program in its first nuclear weapon test in 1974 (Perkovich 1999Perkovich, G. 1999India’s Nuclear BombOakland, CAUniversity of California Press. [Google Scholar]). The United States reversed its policy of encouraging the development of plutonium breeder reactors worldwide to avoid an anticipated shortage of uranium. The breeder reactors would convert abundant non-chain-reacting uranium 238 into chain-reacting plutonium and then use the plutonium as fuel, while conventional reactors are fueled primarily by chain-reacting uranium 235, which makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium.

The Ford administration (1974–77) blocked France’s plan to sell spent fuel reprocessing plants to South Korea and Pakistan but did not succeed in persuading Japan to abandon its nearly complete Tokai pilot reprocessing plant. Therefore, when the Carter administration took office in January 1977, it inherited the difficult plutonium discussion with Japan.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859705-Document-01-Louis-Nozenzo-Bureau-of-Political.View all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859705-Document-01-Louis-Nozenzo-Bureau-of-Political.View all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

Presumably with tongue in cheek, he opined that “[s]pace limitations are a real problem only for countries like Luxemburg.” (Luxemburg, about equal in area to St. Louis, Missouri, did not and still does not have a nuclear program.) Subsequently, it was pointed out that the volume of an underground repository for highly radioactive waste is determined not by the volume of the waste but by its heat output; the waste has to be spread out to limit the temperature increase of the surrounding buffer clay and rock (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]). Reprocessing waste would contain all the heat-generating fission products in the original spent fuel, and the heat generated by the plutonium in one ton of spent MOX fuel would be about the same as the heat generated by the plutonium in the approximately seven tons of spent low-enriched uranium fuel from which the plutonium used to manufacture the fresh MOX fuel had been recovered.

With regard to the issue of the need for plutonium to provide startup fuel for breeder reactors, Nosenzo noted that “experimental breeders currently utilize uranium [highly enriched in the chain-reacting isotope uranium 235] rather than plutonium for start-up and this will probably also be true of commercial breeder start-up operations.”44. This was not entirely correct. Although the United States, Russian, and Chinese experimental and prototype breeder reactors started up with enriched uranium fuel and all breeder reactors could have been, plutonium fuel was used to start up the prototypes in France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. See International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders(IAEA 1980IAEA. 1980International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders. Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency. [Google Scholar]) Table III. M. Ragheb, “Fermi I Fuel Meltdown Incident” (2014). Available at http://mragheb.com/NPRE%20457%20CSE%20462%20Safety%20Analysis%20of%20Nuclear%20Reactor%20Systems/Fermi%20I%20Fuel%20Meltdown%20Incident.pdf.View all notes

“[T]here is a strong need for a US position paper presenting the above rationale with supporting analysis,” Nosenzo wrote. “This would be of value, for example, with other governments in the nuclear suppliers context and more generally … for use by sympathetic foreign ministries attempting to cope effectively with their ministries of energy, of technology and of economics.”

The last point reflected the reality that the promotion of breeder reactors was central to the plans of powerful trade ministries around the world, including Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and that foreign ministries sometimes use independent analyses to push back against positions of other ministries that seem extreme to them. A few years ago, an official of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, for example, privately described the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, the driving force behind South Korea’s demand for the same “right” to reprocess as Japan, as “our Taliban.”

Japan planned to start operation of its Tokai reprocessing plant later that spring, and it appeared clear to Nosenzo that it would be impossible to prevent the operation of the almost completed plant. Another memo cited Prime Minister Fukuda as publicly calling reprocessing a matter of “life and death” for Japan.55. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859730-Document-05-Memorandum-from-Ambassador-at-Large.View all notes Japan’s government had committed itself to achieving what Glenn Seaborg, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission from 1961–71, had relentlessly promoted as a “plutonium economy,” in which the world would be powered by the element he had codiscovered.

Why would the Fukuda administration have seen the separation and use of plutonium as so critical? We believe that the Prime Minister had been convinced by Japan’s plutonium advocates that the country’s dependence on imported uranium would create an economic vulnerability such as the country had experienced during the 1973 Arab oil embargo, still a recent and painful memory. Indeed, according to a popular view in Japan, further back, in 1941, it was a US embargo on oil exports to Japan that had triggered Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The plutonium advocates argued that breeder reactors would eliminate resource-poor Japan’s vulnerability to a uranium cutoff by turning already imported uranium into a virtually inexhaustible supply of plutonium fuel for its reactors.

During the past 40 years, however, uranium has been abundant, cheap, and available from a variety of countries. Furthermore, as some foreign observers have suggested, if Japan was really concerned about possible disruptions of supply, it could have acquired a 50-year strategic reserve of uranium at a much lower cost than its plutonium program (Leventhal and Dolley 1994Leventhal, P., and S. Dolley1994. “A Japanese Strategic Uranium Reserve: A Safe and Economic Alternative to Plutonium.” Science & Global Security 5: 131. doi:10.1080/08929889408426412.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]). Indeed, because of the low cost of uranium, globally, utilities have accumulated an inventory sufficient for about seven years. Although it took several years for Congress to accept the Carter administration’s proposal to end the US reprocessing and breeder reactor development programs, Congress did support the administration’s effort to discourage plutonium programs abroad. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 required that nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries be renegotiated so that any spent fuel that had either originally been produced in the United States or had been irradiated in a reactor containing components or design information subject to US export controls could not be reprocessed without prior consent from the US government. Internally, however, the administration was divided over whether the United States could force its allies to accept such US control over their nuclear programs.

One of the final memos in the National Security Archives file, written in May 1980, toward the end of the Carter administration by Jerry Oplinger, a staffer on the National Security Council, criticized a proposal by Gerard Smith, President Carter’s ambassador at large for nuclear nonproliferation. Smith proposed that the administration provide blanket advance consent for spent fuel reprocessing in Western Europe and Japan.77. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859749-Document-22-Jerry-Oplinger-to-Leon-Billings-and.View all notes Oplinger characterized Smith’s proposal as “surrender” and argued that, even though the danger of further proliferation in Europe or by Japan was low, their examples could be used by other countries as a justification for launching their own plutonium programs.

The Carter administration did not surrender to the Japanese and the West European reprocessing lobbies but, in 1988, in exchange for added requirements for safeguards and physical protection of plutonium, the Reagan administration signed a renegotiated US–Japan agreement on nuclear cooperation with full, advance, programmatic consent to reprocessing by Japan for 30 years. In the original 1968 agreement, the United States had been given the right to review each Japanese shipment of spent fuel to the British and French reprocessing plants on a case-by-case basis and to make a joint determination on reprocessing in Japan. This right had allowed the United States to question whether Japan needed more separated plutonium. As a result of the 1988 agreement, by the time of the 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan had built up a stock of some 44 tons of separated plutonium, an amount sufficient for more than 5000 Nagasaki-type bombs (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2012Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2012. “The Current Situation of Plutonium Management in Japan,” September 11. [Google Scholar]), and the largest amount of MOX fuel it had loaded in a single year (2010) contained about one ton of plutonium (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

The initial period of the 1988 agreement will expire in 2018, after which either party may terminate it by giving six months written notice. This provides an opportunity for the US government to reraise the issue of reprocessing with Japan.

Unlike the 1968 agreement with Japan, the 1958 US–EURATOM agreement did not have a requirement of prior US consent for reprocessing of European spent fuel in West Europe. The Europeans refused to renegotiate this agreement, and, starting with President Carter, successive US presidents extended the US–EURATOM agreement by executive order year by year (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 1994Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Frans Berkhout and William Walker, “Atlantic Impasse,” September-October 1994. [Google Scholar]). Finally, in 1995, the Clinton administration negotiated language in a new agreement that the European reprocessors accepted as a commitment to noninterference (Behrens and Donnelly 1996Behrens, C. E., and W. H.Donnelly1996. “EURATOM and the United States: Renewing the Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation,” Congressional Research Service, April 26. Available at:https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metacrs312/m1/1/high_res_d/IB96001_1996Apr26.html; andhttp://ec.europa.eu/world/agreements/prepareCreateTreatiesWorkspace/treatiesGeneralData.do?step=0&redirect=true&treatyId=304 [Google Scholar]). By that time, the nonnuclear weapon states in Europe – notably Germany and Italy – had lost interest in breeder reactors and the only reprocessing plants listed in the agreement were those of United Kingdom and France. Reprocessing proponents in Japan often say that Japan is the only non-weapon state trusted by the international community to reprocess. In reality, Japan is the only non-weapon state that has not abandoned reprocessing because of its poor economics.

As Oplinger pointed out, Japan played a central role in sustaining large-scale reprocessing in Europe as well as at home. In addition to planning to build their own large reprocessing plant, Japan’s nuclear utilities provided capital, in the form of prepaid reprocessing contracts, for building large new merchant reprocessing plants in France and the United Kingdom. France also played a leading role in promoting reprocessing and in designing Japan’s reprocessing plant.

Oplinger insisted that the planned reprocessing programs in Europe and Japan would produce huge excesses of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of planned breeder programs: “Any one of these three projected plants would more than swamp the projected plutonium needs of all the breeder R&D programs in the world. Three of them would produce a vast surplus … amounting to several hundred tons by the year 2000.”

He attached a graph projecting that by the year 2000, the three plants would produce a surplus of 370 tons of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of breeder research and development. The actual stock of separated civilian plutonium in Europe and Japan in 2000 was huge – using the IAEA’s metric of 8 kilograms per bomb, enough for 20,000 Nagasaki bombs – but about half the amount projected in Oplinger’s memo (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]). This was due in part to operating problems with the UK reprocessing plant and delays in the operation of Japan’s large reprocessing plant. On the demand side, breeder use was much less than had been projected, but, in an attempt to deal with the surplus stocks, quite a bit of plutonium was fabricated into MOX and irradiated in Europe’s conventional reactors.

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  Japan officially abandoned its Monju prototype breeder reactor in 2016 after two decades of failed efforts to restore it to operation after a 1995 leak of its sodium secondary coolant and a resulting fire. Japan’s government now talks of joining France in building a new Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) in France, and France’s nuclear establishment has welcomed the idea of Japan sharing the cost.8

8. See: https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20161022/p2a/00m/0na/005000c.View all notes The mission for ASTRID-type fast-neutron reactors would be to fission the plutonium and other long-lived transuranic elements in spent low-enriched uranium fuel and MOX fuel, for which Japan will have to build a new reprocessing plant. According to France’s 2006 radioactive waste law, ASTRID was supposed to be commissioned by the end of 2020.99. See: http://www.andra.fr/download/andra-international-en/document/editions/305va.pdf, Article 3.1.View all notes Its budget has been secured only for the design period extending to 2019, however. In an October 2016 briefing in Tokyo, the manager of the ASTRID program showed the project’s schedule with a “consolidation phase” beginning in 2020 (Devictor 2016Devictor, N.2016. “ASTRID: Expectations to Japanese Entities’ Participation.” Nuclear Energy Division, French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, TokyoOctober 27. Available at:http://www.meti.go.jp/committee/kenkyukai/energy/fr/pdf/002_02_02.pdf [Google Scholar]). The next day, the official in charge of nuclear issues at France’s embassy in Tokyo stated that ASTRID would not start up before 2033 (Félix 2016Félix, S. 2016. Interview with Mainichi Shimbun, October27in Japanese. Available at:http://mainichi.jp/articles/20161027/ddm/008/040/036000c [Google Scholar]). Thus, in 10 years, the schedule had slipped by 13 years. It has been obvious for four decades that breeder reactors and plutonium use as a reactor fuel will be uneconomic. The latest estimate of the total project cost for Japan’s Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, including construction, operation for 40 years, and decommissioning, is now 13.9 trillion yen ($125 billion), with the construction cost alone reaching 2.95 trillion yen ($27 billion), including 0.75 trillion yen for upgrades due to new safety regulations introduced after the Fukushima accident. The total project cost of the MOX fuel fabrication facility, including some 42 years of operation and decommissioning, is now estimated at 2.3 trillion yen ($21 billion) (Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan 2017

Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan, “Concerning the Project Cost of Reprocessing, Etc.” July 2017 (in Japanese). [Google Scholar]). In the United States, after it became clear in 1977 that reprocessing and breeder reactors made no economic sense and could create a proliferation nightmare, it took only about five years for the government and utilities to agree to abandon both programs, despite the fact that industry had spent about $1.3 billion in 2017 dollars on construction of a reprocessing plant in South Carolina (GAO 1984GAO. 1984Status and Commercial Potential of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant, US General Accounting Office. Available at:http://www.gao.gov/assets/150/141343.pdf, p. 11. [Google Scholar]), and the government had spent $4.2 billion on the Clinch River Demonstration Breeder Reactor project (Peach How could Japan’s government have allowed reprocessing advocates to drive its electric-power utilities to pursue its hugely costly plutonium program over 40 years?

For context, it must be remembered that the United States, a nuclear superpower, has been much more concerned about nuclear proliferation and terrorism than Japan. Tetsuya Endo, a former diplomat involved in the negotiations of the 1988 agreement, depicted the difference in the attitude of the two governments as follows:

Whereas the criterion of the United States, in particular that of the US government … is security (nuclear proliferation is one aspect of it), that of the Japan side is nuclear energy. … [I]t can be summarized as security vs. energy supply and the direction of interests are rather out of alignment. (Endo 2014Endo, T. 2014Formation Process and Issues from Now on of the 1988 Japan-US Nuclear Agreement (Revised Edition). Tokyo: Japan Institute of International Affairs. In Japanese:http://www2.jiia.or.jp/pdf/resarch/H25_US-JPN_nuclear_agreement/140212_US-JPN_nuclear_energy_agreement.pdf [Google Scholar])As we have seen, in the United States, after India’s 1974 nuclear test, both the Ford and Carter administrations considered the spread of reprocessing a very serious security issue. Indeed, a ship that entered a Japanese port on 16 October 1976 to transport spent fuel to the United Kingdom could not leave for nine days due to the Ford administration’s objections (Ibara 1984

Ibara, T. 1984Twilight of the Nuclear Power KingdomTokyoNihon Hyoron Sha. in Japanese. [Google Scholar]). In Japan, the US concerns about nuclear proliferation and terrorism have been generally considered interference in Japan’s energy policy by a country that possesses one of the worlds’ largest nuclear arsenals. Even the eyes of parliament members opposed to reprocessing, antinuclear weapon activists and the media sometimes got blurred by this nationalistic sentiment.

Nevertheless, reprocessing is enormously costly and the willingness of Japan’s government to force its nuclear utilities to accept the cost requires explanation.

One explanation, offered by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2005Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2005Framework for Nuclear Energy PolicyOctober 11. Available at:http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/tyoki/tyoki_e.htm. [Google Scholar]), involves the political challenge of negotiating arrangements for storing spent fuel indefinitely at reactor sites. The government and utilities had promised the host communities and prefectures that spent fuel would be removed from the sites. The reprocessing policy provided destinations – first Europe and the Tokai pilot plant, and then the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. The JAEC argued that, since it would take years to negotiate indefinite onsite storage of spent fuel, nuclear power plants with no place to put spent fuel in the meantime would be shut down one after another, which would result in an economic loss even greater than the cost of reprocessing.

Japan’s nuclear utilities have had to increase on-site storage of spent fuel in any case due to delays in the startup of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which was originally to start commercial operations in 1997. Indeed, the utilities have adopted the dangerous US practice of dense-packing their spent-fuel cooling pools with used fuel assemblies. Storing spent fuel in dry casks, onsite or offsite, cooled by natural convection of air would be much safer (von Hippel and Schoeppner 2016von Hippel, F., and M.Schoeppner2016. “Reducing the Danger from Fires in Spent Fuel Pools.” Science & Global Security 24: 141173. Available at:http://scienceandglobalsecurity.org/archive/sgs24vonhippel.pdf. doi:10.1080/08929882.2016.1235382.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). In the United States, spent fuel is transferred to onsite dry cask storage after the dense-packed pools become completely full. It’s better to make this transfer as soon as the spent fuel gets cool enough. Such a shift to a policy of accelerated dry cask storage would require stronger nuclear safety regulation in both countries (Lyman, Schoeppner, and von Hippel 2017Lyman, E.M. Schoeppner, and F. von Hippel2017. “Nuclear Safety Regulation in the post-Fukushima Era.” Science 356: 808809. doi:10.1126/science.aal4890.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Second, there is the bureaucratic explanation. The bureaucracy has more power over policy in Japan than in the United States. In Japan, when a new prime minister is elected in the Diet, only the ministers change whereas, in the United States with a two-party system, policy making is shared by Congress and the executive branch to a greater extent, and a new president routinely replaces more than 4000 officials at the top of the bureaucracy.1010. See: “Help Wanted: 4,000 Presidential Appointees” (Center for Presidential Transition, 16 March 2016) at: http://presidentialtransition.org/blog/posts/160316_help-wanted-4000-appointees.php.View all notes (This works both for the better and worse as can be observed in the current US administration.) Also, in Japan, unlike the United States, the bureaucracy is closed. There are virtually no mixed careers, with people working both inside and outside the bureaucracy (Tanaka 2009Tanaka, H. 2009. “The Civil Service System and Governance in Japan.” Available at:http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan039129.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

Third, the provision of electric power has been a heavily regulated regional monopoly in Japan. Utilities therefore have been able to pass the extra costs of reprocessing on to consumers without eroding their own profits. This monopoly structure also has given utilities enormous power both locally and nationally, making it possible for them to influence both election results and the policy-making process. Thus, even if the original reprocessing policy was made by bureaucrats, it is now very difficult to change because of this complicated web of influence.

Japan has been gradually shifting toward deregulation, especially since the Fukushima accident, but a law has been passed to protect reprocessing by requiring the utilities to pay in advance, at the time of irradiation, for reprocessing the spent fuel and fabricating the recovered plutonium into MOX fuel (Suzuki and Takubo 2016Suzuki, T., and M. Takubo2016. “Japan’s New Law on Funding Plutonium Reprocessing,” May 26. Available at:http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2016/05/japans_new_law_on_funding.html. [Google Scholar]). The fact that nuclear utilities didn’t fight openly against this law, which will make them pay extra costs in the deregulated market, suggests that they expect the government to come up with a system of spreading the cost to consumers purchasing electricity generated by nonnuclear power producers, for example with a charge for electricity transmission and distribution, which will continue to be regulated.

Plutonium separation programs also persist in France, India, and Russia. China, too, has had a reprocessing policy for decades, although a small industrial reprocessing plant is only at the site-preparation stage and a site has not yet been found for a proposed large reprocessing plant that is to be bought from France. Central bureaucracies have great power in these countries, as they do in Japan. France’s government-owned utility has made clear that, where it has the choice – as it has had in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear power plants it also operates – it will opt out of reprocessing. This is one of the reasons why reprocessing will end in the United Kingdom over the next few years as the preexisting contracts are fulfilled (IPFM 2015

IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

A final explanation put forward from time to time for the persistence of reprocessing in Japan is that Japan’s security establishment wants to keep open a nuclear weapon option. There already are about 10 tons of separated plutonium in Japan, however (with an additional 37 tons of Japanese plutonium in France and the United Kingdom), and the design capacity of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant to separate eight tons of plutonium, enough to make 1000 nuclear warheads per year, is far greater than Japan could possibly need for a nuclear weapon option. Also, Japan already has a centrifuge enrichment plant much larger than that planned by Iran. Iran’s program precipitated an international crisis because of proliferation concerns. Japan’s plant, like Iran’s, is designed to produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants, but the cascades could be quickly reorganized to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for 10 bombs per year from natural uranium. Japan plans to expand this enrichment capacity more than 10-fold.1111. For Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited’s current and planned enrichment capacities, see: http://www.jnfl.co.jp/en/business/uran/. It takes about 5000 separative work units (SWUs) to produce enough HEU for a first-generation nuclear weapon – defined by the IAEA to be highly enriched uranium (usually assumed to be 90 percent enriched in U-235) containing 25 kilograms of U-235.View all notes It is therefore hard to imagine that the hugely costly Rokkasho reprocessing project is continuing because security officials are secretly pushing for it.

The idea that Japan is maintaining a nuclear weapon option has negative effects for Japan’s security, however, raising suspicions among its neighbors and legitimizing arguments in South Korea that it should acquire its own nuclear weapon option. It also undermines nuclear disarmament. According to the New York Times, when President Obama considered adopting a no-first-use policy before leaving office, Secretary of State John Kerry “argued that Japan would be unnerved by any diminution of the American nuclear umbrella, and perhaps be tempted to obtain their own weapon” (Sanger and Broad 2016Sanger, D., and W. Broad2016. “Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons.” New York TimesSeptember 5. Available at:https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/06/science/obama-unlikely-to-vow-no-first-use-of-nuclear-weapons.html [Google Scholar]). It’s about time for both the security officials and antinuclear weapon movements to examine this concern more seriously.

Given the terrible economics of reprocessing, its end in Japan and France should only be a matter of time. As the 40-year-long impasse over Japan’s program demonstrates, however, the inevitable can take a very long time, while the costs and dangers continue to accumulate. The world has been fortunate that the stubborn refusals of Japan and France to abandon their failing reprocessing programs have not resulted in a proliferation of plutonium programs, or the theft and use of their plutonium by terrorists. The South Korean election of President Moon Jae-in – who holds antinuclear-power views – may result in a decrease in pressure from Seoul for the “right” to reprocess.

The combined effects of the “invisible hand” of economics and US policy therefore have thus far been remarkably successful in blocking the spread of reprocessing to non-weapon states other than Japan. China’s growing influence in the international nuclear-energy industry and its planned reprocessing program, including the construction of a large French-designed reprocessing plant, could soon, however, pose a new challenge to this nonproliferation success story. Decisions by France and Japan to take their completely failed reprocessing programs off costly government-provided life support might convince China to rethink its policy.

September 16, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, history, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

UK government being strongly lobbied by makers of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors

City AM 10th Sept 2017 ,A consortium developing small modular reactors is expected to urge the
government to push forward with a plan to develop so-called baby reactors
to secure the UK’s energy needs after the decommissioning of older
nuclear power stations. The government launched a competition to find the
best value SMR reactor design for the UK in 2016, and this week a
consortium led by Rolls-Royce will publish a report in Westminster which
claims it can generate electricity at £60 per megawatt hour, which is
two-thirds the price of recent large-scale nuclear plants.
http://www.cityam.com/271732/mps-review-baby-nuclear-reactor-plans-cheaper-source-secure

September 16, 2017 Posted by | politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

NuScale wooing Britain on Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

Chain reaction? NuScale seeks to reignite UK small nuclear reactor plans
US nuclear technology specialist NuScale Power has this week unveiled a new
action plan, in an attempt to kickstart UK efforts to establish the country
as a pioneer in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs).

Last year the UK government launched a competition to accelerate the development of
SMRs, amid predictions the technology could help cut greenhouse gas
emissions and curb the cost of nuclear power.

However, the promised £250m, five year R&D programme has been beset by delays and earlier this summer
reports suggested a ‘crunch’ meeting was recently called between government
officials and potential SMR developers over the competition.

NuScale, which is backed by US engineering giant Fluor Corporation, this week sought to
highlight the UK’s potential role as an SMR hub with the publication of an
action plan detailing how it could deliver the technology by the 2020s. The
five-point UK SMR Action Plan sets out how the firm would partner with UK
industry to deliver a multi-billion pound SMR venture, which could see UK
firms provide more than 85 per cent of the content required for UK
reactors.   https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/3016958/chain-reaction-nuscale-seeks-to-reignite-uk-small-nuclear-reactor-plans

September 11, 2017 Posted by | technology, UK | Leave a comment

Elon Musk’s warning: race for Artificial Intelligence could cause World war 3

Global race for AI will ‘most likely cause’ WWIII as computers launch 1st strike – Musk https://www.rt.com/usa/401957-ww3-ai-musk-strike/#.Wa2SHDrLvSE.facebook  4 Sep, 2017 Competition for superiority in Artificial Intelligence at national level will “most likely” cause World War Three, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk has said, warning that an AI may deem first use its best chance of winning.

“China, Russia, soon all countries with strong computer science. Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3,” Musk tweeted.The SpaceX founder says he doubts that North Korea can launch its own nuclear strike. He believes that Pyongyang “launching a nuclear missile would be suicide for their leadership, as South Korea, [the U.S.] and China would invade and end the regime immediately.”

Musk’s comments come days after Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “the future belongs to artificial intelligence” and whoever masters it first will rule the world.

“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world,” Putin said.

An avid anti-AI crusader, Musk appears to be more frightened by artificial intelligence, a rising phenomenon he is willing to put under control.

“If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea,” Musk said in August this year.

The entrepreneur has long warned about the perils AI might bring to humankind. He maintains there is a great probability that artificial intelligence, free of any regulation and oversight, is able to go rogue and turn on humans in the end.

“AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not. They were harmful to a set of individuals in society of course, but they were not harmful to society as a whole,” Musk said in mid-July during a public event.

September 6, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

Japan’s Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant runs into trouble yet again

Nuclear plant operator halts uranium production, https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20170903_04/The operator of a uranium enrichment plant in northern Japan has suspended uranium production to see if there are problems with its quality control system.

The plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, is the only commercial facility in Japan to enrich uranium for nuclear power generation. A division of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited that operates the plant was ordered to improve its quality control system last year.

It reported to the president that steps were taken, which turned out not to be true.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority then approved measures to prevent similar irregularities. The operator met the government requirements for producing uranium in May.

In one of a series of safety mishaps, a fire started at an emergency power generator. The operator had failed to replace parts for 28 years, more than 10 years longer than recommended by the manufacturer.

Officials at the authority said they wonder if the operator has the ability to determine problems and challenges. Japan Nuclear Fuel decided to take uranium out from enrichment facilities and once again check quality control problems.

September 4, 2017 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Debunking the hype about Generation IV “new nuclear”

James Hansen’s Generation IV nuclear fallacies and fantasies, REneweconomy, Jim Green, 28 Aug 2017http://reneweconomy.com.au/james-hansens-generation-iv-nuclear-fallacies-fantasies-70309/

The two young co-founders of nuclear engineering start-up Transatomic Power were embarrassed earlier this year when their claims about their molten salt reactor design were debunked, forcing some major retractions.

The claims of MIT nuclear engineering graduates Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie were trumpeted in MIT’s Technology Review under the headline, ‘What if we could build a nuclear reactor that costs half as much, consumes nuclear waste, and will never melt down?’

MIT physics professor Kord Smith debunked a number of Transatomic’s key claims. Smith says he asked Transatomic to run a test which, he says, confirmed that “their claims were completely untrue.”

Kennedy Maize wrote about Transatomic’s troubles in Power Magazine: “[T]his was another case of technology hubris, an all-to-common malady in energy, where hyperbolic claims are frequent and technology journalists all too credulous.” Pro-nuclear commentator Dan Yurman said that “other start-ups with audacious claims are likely to receive similar levels of scrutiny” and that it “may have the effect of putting other nuclear energy entrepreneurs on notice that they too may get the same enhanced levels of analysis of their claims.”

Well, yes, others making false claims about Generation IV reactor concepts might receive similar levels of scrutiny … or they might not. Arguably the greatest sin of the Transatomic founders was not that they inadvertently made false claims, but that they are young, and in Dewan’s case, female. Ageing men seem to have a free pass to peddle as much misinformation as they like without the public shaming that the Transatomic founders have been subjected to. A case in point is climate scientist James Hansen ‒ you’d struggle to find any critical commentary of his nuclear misinformation outside the environmental and anti-nuclear literature.

Hansen states that 115 new reactor start-ups would be required each year to 2050 to replace fossil fuel electricity generation ‒ a total of about 4,000 reactors. Let’s assume that Generation IV reactors do the heavy lifting, and let’s generously assume that mass production of Generation IV reactors begins in 2030. That would necessitate about 200 reactor start-ups per year from 2030 to 2050 ‒ or four every week. Good luck with that.

Moreover, the assumption that mass production of Generation IV reactors might begin in or around 2030 is unrealistic. A report by a French government authority, the Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety, states: “There is still much R&D to be done to develop the Generation IV nuclear reactors, as well as for the fuel cycle and the associated waste management which depends on the system chosen.”

Likewise, a US Government Accountability Office report on the status of small modular reactors (SMRs) and other ‘advanced’ reactor concepts in the US concluded: “Both light water SMRs and advanced reactors face additional challenges related to the time, cost, and uncertainty associated with developing, certifying or licensing, and deploying new reactor technology, with advanced reactor designs generally facing greater challenges than light water SMR designs. It is a multi-decade process …”

An analysis recently published in the peer-reviewed literature found that the US government has wasted billions of dollars on Generation IV R&D with little to show for it. Lead researcher Dr Ahmed Abdulla, from the University of California, said that “despite repeated commitments to non-light water reactors, and substantial investments … (more than $2 billion of public money), no such design is remotely ready for deployment today.”……  http://reneweconomy.com.au/james-hansens-generation-iv-nuclear-fallacies-fantasies-70309/

August 28, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, spinbuster | Leave a comment

The danger of NASA testing bomb-grade materials for its Mars mission

Why is NASA testing bomb-grade materials for its Mars mission? , Alan J. Kuperman, Edwin Lyman, Baltimore Sun, 24 Aug 17    A new space race is afoot. President Donald Trump and CEOs Elon Musk (Tesla) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) are all advocating manned missions to Mars, a tantalizing objective. However, in humankind’s drive to explore strange new worlds, we must be careful not to endanger life here on Earth.

Regrettably, to power its Mars mission, NASA’s Goddard Space Center is trying to develop a nuclear reactor fueled by weapons-grade, highly enriched uranium — the stuff of the Hiroshima bomb — threatening to undermine decades of progress in phasing out such dangerous material from reactors worldwide to reduce risks of nuclear terrorism and proliferation.

Instead of violating U.S.-led nonproliferation norms, NASA should embrace an ongoing alternative reactor design that uses fuel made with low-enriched uranium, unsuitable for nuclear weapons.

If terrorists got hold of a sufficient quantity of highly enriched uranium, they could set off an actual nuclear explosion simply by slamming two pieces of the material together. This was the principle behind the Hiroshima bomb that killed tens of thousands in 1945. The resulting devastation from blast effects, fire and high radiation would dwarf that from an improvised “dirty bomb,” which disperses relatively tiny amounts of radioactive material.

In the 1960s, the United States foolishly exported large quantities of weapons-grade uranium for civilian applications, opening huge security risks. Belatedly recognizing this error, Washington launched a global effort in the 1970s to phase out use of such bomb-grade fuel, eventually eliminating hundreds of pounds annually from research reactors and medical isotope production. More recently, Congress has even started funding the U.S. Navy to explore converting its own nuclear reactors in aircraft carriers and submarines to safer low-enriched uranium fuel.

But NASA inexplicably is headed in the opposite direction, proposing to renew use of bomb-grade uranium in U.S. space reactors for the first time since 1965. Each of NASA’s proposed “Kilopower” reactors would use at least 65 pounds of highly enriched uranium, more than sufficient for a nuclear weapon. Indeed, the U.S. government requires maximum security for even a fraction of that amount — a mere 11 pounds.

NASA plans to start testing its bomb-grade uranium space reactor next month at a former nuclear weapons testing site in Nevada. Other countries and private interests could well respond by pursuing their own highly enriched uranium space reactors, increasing both proliferation and terrorism risks.

The U.S. government needs to practice what it preaches. No competitor would forego bomb-grade uranium if NASA charges ahead with use of this dangerous material. Now is the moment to make clear that the global norm against highly enriched uranium in reactors applies to space missions too.

A space reactor could instead use low-enriched uranium fuel, unsuitable for bombs, just like state-of-the-art nuclear research reactors on Earth……

Admittedly, it would take some time to perfect a new space reactor using low-enriched uranium. Fortunately, there is no great rush. Just last month, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, William Gerstenmaier, acknowledged that the space agency’s budget lacks funding for a manned mission to Mars, estimated to cost $100 billion to $1 trillion over a quarter-century. Even the wealthiest private companies are unlikely to pony up such resources in the near future…..http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-op-0821-nasa-uranium-20170815-story.html

August 25, 2017 Posted by | safety, technology, USA | 1 Comment

Risky venture for Utah counties? will they gamble on speculative thorium nuclear venture?

Will Utah counties fund thorium reactor?  Salt Lake Tribune,  14 Aug 17,  “….Now a Utah startup is developing a thorium reactor, perhaps the first in the U.S. in half a century, and a consortium of eastern Utah counties is exploring whether to participate in the project. The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) last month issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) seeking a “project analyst” to evaluate “a thorium energy facility for producing electricity, etc. as proposed by Alpha Tech Research Corp.”……

 concerns about the use of limited county resources in such a speculative venture. Nor is it clear how the thorium proposal squares with the coalition’s legal mission, which is to “build essential regional infrastructure elements,” such as pipelines, roads, transmission and rail needed to deliver extracted minerals and power to markets…….
The coalition’s financing and procurement practices have recently come under intense scrutiny by Utah Treasurer David Damschen, who believes the group could be flouting accountability standards.
As a new member of the state Community Impact Board (CIB), which gives out federal mineral royalties to rural counties, Damschen has raised numerous concerns about the coalition’s management of CIB grants— its sole source of revenue. At recent meetings, the state treasurer has openly wondered whether the coalition steers contracts to insiders instead of the best qualified people and spends public money in ways that provide minimal public benefit…….

 thorium technology has years of costly research and development ahead before it’s ready to produce power and isotopes, according to Mike Simpson, a University of Utah metallurgical engineering professor.

“It‘s not accurate to say it’s proven to work. Aspects of it have been proven, but everything that has to be tied together hasn’t happened,” said Simpson….. many technical hurdles remain and these rural counties are not positioned to help address these challenges other than siting assistance for a reactor, Simpson added.

August 18, 2017 Posted by | technology, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

Thorium nuclear reactors? a very risky enterprise for Utah

crucially the technology, regulation, and business structures necessary to support a thorium reactor may not yet exist.

A coalition of South Carolina utilities developing what would have been the nation’s first new commercial nuclear reactor recently announced a decision to suspend that project partway through construction, following years of delay, billions of dollars in cost overruns. 

While a thorium reactor might avoid some of these challenges, others are likely systemic to the state of the nuclear power industry from a technological, regulatory, and business perspective, and would be hard for the counties to avoid. The counties may also have more proximate opportunities to achieve similar goals, including by facilitating or developing renewable energy infrastructure.

Will Utah counties fund thorium reactor? JDSUPRA,  PretiFlaherty 17 Aug 17, Could a coalition of rural counties in Utah and a startup company develop a thorium-fueled nuclear reactor for electric power and other purposes?

According to its website, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is currently comprised of seven counties in eastern Utah: Carbon, Daggett, Duchesne, Emery, San Juan, Sevier, and Uintah.  The website describes the Coalition’s main roles and mission as “to identify revenue-producing infrastructure assets that will benefit the region” and “to plan infrastructure corridors, procure funding, permit, design, secure rights-of-way and own such facilities,” with operation and maintenance possibly outsourced to third parties.

Apparently under consideration by the Coalition are energy projects, including a “thorium energy” project and a “hydrogen plant” project.  For example, the “Procurement” section of the Coalition’s website includes a Request for Qualifications for Project Analyst for Potential Thorium Energy and Hydrogen Plant Projects, as well as a Request for Qualifications Project Financial Analyst on Potential Thorium Energy Project.

Under the Project Analyst RFQ, which closed August 1, 2017,

The Coalition seeks an individual or team to act as a Project Analyst to advise it and its member counties on two proposed projects, how to evaluate emerging technologies, and the respective project teams. One project is a thorium energy facility for producing electricity, etc. as proposed by Alpha Tech Research Corporation. The second project consists of hydrogen plants to be used as fueling stations for hydrogen/electric semi-trucks as proposed by Nikola Motor Company, LLC.

Responsibilities defined in this original RFQ would include evaluation of the thorium energy and hydrogen plant projects, including an evaluation of “the feasibility and viability of projects in general, as well as the proposed projects, and determine how the Coalition and its members may use their assets to best benefit the public.”

According to its website, Alpha Tech Research Corp.’s motto is “Changing the face of nuclear power with clean, safe, molten salt reactor technology.”  But little other public information is easy to find on the company.

………crucially the technology, regulation, and business structures necessary to support a thorium reactor may not yet exist.

Fifteen days after the Project Analyst RFQ closed, the Coalition issued another request for qualifications “to seek an individual or team to act as a Project Analyst to advise it and its member counties on a proposed project related to thorium energy. In addition, the Coalition seeks guidance on how to evaluate emerging technologies, and companies or groups proposing projects to the Coalition. The thorium energy facility for producing electricity, etc. is proposed by Alpha Tech Research Corporation.” Proposals under this subsequent RFQ are due by 2:00 PM on October 2, 2017.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune, a coalition representative reported, “The coalition’s initial request for qualifications drew no adequate responses by its Aug. 1 deadline.”  (Query why not.)

It’s unclear how far the Utah counties’ efforts can go.  The coalition’s stated criteria for evaluating potential projects include requiring appropriate project benefits (such as facilitating needs in rural Utah that would otherwise go unaddressed), as well as avoidance of any “fatal flaws” (such as “obvious non-Coalition sponsor that should take the lead”, project success unlikely” and “low perceived benefit compared to cost.”)  The coalition is presumably at the stage where it is seeking expert advice to help it evaluate the thorium energy project under these criteria.

In its materials, the coalition emphasizes its expectation to rely on public-private partnerships, in part to allocate project risk to private entities with special expertise in taking those risks.  But developing the first commercial thorium reactor inherently involves a variety of risks — including developing a technology that works, securing all necessary regulatory approvals, and having business or financial arrangements in place that make the project a success.  These risks could pan out in the counties’ favor — but might not.  A coalition of South Carolina utilities developing what would have been the nation’s first new commercial nuclear reactor recently announced a decision to suspend that project partway through construction, following years of delay, billions of dollars in cost overruns.  While a thorium reactor might avoid some of these challenges, others are likely systemic to the state of the nuclear power industry from a technological, regulatory, and business perspective, and would be hard for the counties to avoid. The counties may also have more proximate opportunities to achieve similar goals, including by facilitating or developing renewable energy infrastructure……http://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/will-utah-counties-fund-thorium-reactor-26541/

August 18, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, technology, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

UK govt inviting plans for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors.

Utility Week 15th Aug 2017, Major players in the nuclear industry have been summoned by the government
to present their plans for the development of small modular reactors.
NuScale and Rolls-Royce among companies reportedly invited to talks with
the government over the next few weeks. Hitachi and Westinghouse have also
been invited.

The meeting is likely to relate to a competition launched by
the government in March 2016 to find the best value SMR design for the UK.
The results were originally due to be revealed last autumn alongside a
roadmap for the development of SMRs. Appearing before the House of Lords
science and technology committee in March former energy minister Jesse
Norman told members the competition would be “back on track” soon.
http://www.utilityweek.co.uk/news/nuclear-players-to-present-smr-plans-to-ministers/1309792

August 18, 2017 Posted by | politics, technology, UK | Leave a comment

Pyroprocessing causes MORE nuclear wastes, not less

The Pyroprocessing Files http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/the-pyroprocessing-files. ED LYMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST | AUGUST 12, 2017, The ARTICLE BY RALPH VARTABEDIAN in the Los Angeles Times highlights the failure of the Department of Energy’s decades-long effort to chemically process a stockpile of spent nuclear fuel at Idaho National Laboratory, ostensibly to convert the waste to forms that would be safer for disposal in a geologic repository. A secondary goal was to demonstrate the viability of a new type of processing spent fuel—so-called pyroprocessing. Instead, it has demonstrated the numerous shortcomings of this technology.

It is particularly important to disseminate accurate information about the failure of this DOE program to dispel some of the myths about pyroprocessing. The concept of the “Integral Fast Reactor”—a metal-fueled fast neutron reactor with co-located pyroprocessing and fuel fabrication facilities—has attracted numerous staunch advocates.

In addition to Argonne National Laboratory, which first developed the technology, the concept has been promoted in the popular media (most notably in the 2013 documentary Pandora’s Promise) and by GE-Hitachi, which seeks to commercialize a similar system. South Korea has long sought to be able to implement the technology, and countries such as China, Japan and Russia all have expressed interest in pursuing it. But this interest has been driven largely by idealized studies on paper and not by facts derived from actual experience.

DOE internal documents reveal problems

The LA Times article refers to a June 2017 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report that draws on documents that UCS received in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. UCS initiated the request in 2015 to seek information that could shed light on DOE’s troubled program for pyroprocessing 26 metric tons of “sodium-bonded” metallic spent fuel from the shutdown Experimental Breeder Reactor-II (EBR-II).

Pyroprocessing is a form of spent fuel reprocessing that dissolves metal-based spent fuel in a molten salt bath (as distinguished from conventional reprocessing, which dissolves spent fuel in water-based acid solutions). Understandably, given all its problems, DOE has been reluctant to release public information on this program, which has largely operated under the radar since 2000.

The FOIA documents we obtained have revealed yet another DOE tale of vast sums of public money being wasted on an unproven technology that has fallen far short of the unrealistic projections that DOE used to sell the project to Congress, the state of Idaho and the public. However, it is not too late to pull the plug on this program, and potentially save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

History of the pyroprocessing program

DOE originally initiated the pyroprocessing program for EBR-II spent fuel in the mid-1990s as a consolation prize to Argonne-West National Laboratory (now part of present-day Idaho National Laboratory) after it cancelled the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) program. The idea was that the metal-based spent fuel from the reactor could be pyroprocessed in a facility connected to the reactor, which would extract plutonium, uranium and other elements to be fabricated into new reactor fuel. In theory, this could be a system that could convert its nuclear waste into usable fuel on site and thus could be largely self-contained. Pyroprocessing was billed as a simpler, cheaper and more compact alternative to the conventional aqueous reprocessing plants that have been operated in France, the United Kingdom, Japan and other countries.

Although DOE shut down the EBR-II in 1994 (the reactor part of the IFR program), it allowed work at the pyroprocessing facility to proceed. It justified this by asserting that the leftover spent fuel from the EBR-II could not be directly disposed of in the planned Yucca Mountain repository because of the potential safety issues associated with presence of metallic sodium in the spent fuel elements, which was used to “bond” the fuel to the metallic cladding that encased it. (Metallic sodium reacts violently with water and air.)

Pyroprocessing would separate the sodium from other spent fuel constituents and neutralize it. DOE decided in 2000 to use pyroprocessing for the entire inventory of leftover EBR-II spent fuel – both “driver” and “blanket” fuel – even though it acknowledged that there were simpler methods to remove the sodium from the lightly irradiated blanket fuel, which constituted nearly 90% of the inventory.

Little progress, big cost overruns

However, as the FOIA documents reveal in detail, the pyroprocessing technology simply has not worked well and has fallen far short of initial predictions (Figure 1) (Refs. 1-3). Although DOE initially claimed that the entire inventory would be processed by 2007, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 15% of the roughly 26 metric tons of spent fuel had been processed. Over $210 million has been spent, at an average cost of over $60,000 per kilogram of fuel treated. At this rate, it will take until the end of the century to complete pyroprocessing of the entire inventory, at an additional cost of over $1 billion.

But even that assumes, unrealistically, that the equipment will continue to be usable for this extended time period. Moreover, there is a significant fraction of spent fuel in storage that has degraded and may not be a candidate for pyroprocessing in any event (Ref. 4). The long time to completion is problematic because DOE has an agreement with the state of Idaho to remove all spent fuel from the state by the year 2035. The FOIA documents reveal that DOE is well aware that it is not on track to comply with this obligation (Ref 5). Yet DOE has not made any public statements to that effect and continues to insist that it can meet the deadline.

More waste, not less

 An impure uranium waste product is deposited on a cathode in a  pyroprocessing cell (Source: Idaho National Lab)

What exactly is the pyroprocessing of this fuelaccomplishing? Instead of making management and disposal of the spent fuel simpler and safer, it has created an even bigger mess. Pyroprocessing separates the spent fuel into three principal waste streams. The first is an enriched uranium metal material called the “spent fuel treatment product.” Because this material contains unacceptably high levels of plutonium and other contaminants, the uranium cannot be used to make new nuclear fuel unless it is further purified; thus it is a waste product. Meanwhile, the material is accumulating and taking up precious space at INL storage facilities, causing its own safety issues.

The second waste stream is the molten salt bath that is used to dissolve the spent fuel. Fission products and plutonium have accumulated in this salt for 20 years. Eventually it will have to be removed and safely disposed of. But for various reasons—including cost and a lack of available space for the necessary equipment—INL is reconsidering the original plan to convert this waste into a stable ceramic waste form. Instead, it may just allow it to cool until it hardens and then directly dispose of it in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico (Ref. 6).

The third waste stream consists of the leftover metal cladding tubes that encased the nuclear fuel, and the metal plenums that extended above the fuel region, which are contaminated with fission products and sodium. The original plan was to convert these scraps into a stable, homogeneous waste form. But the FOIA documents reveal that DOE is also reconsidering this plan, and considering redefining this material as transuranic or low-level waste so it could be disposed of without further processing in WIPP or a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility. Storage of the accumulating metal scrap material is also becoming an increasing burden at INL (Ref. 7).

In other words, pyroprocessing has taken one potentially difficult form of nuclear waste and converted it into multiple challenging forms of nuclear waste. DOE has spent hundreds of millions of dollars only to magnify, rather than simplify, the waste problem. This is especially outrageous in light of other FOIA documents that indicate that DOE never definitively concluded that the sodium-bonded spent fuel was unsafe to directly dispose of in the first place. But it insisted on pursuing pyroprocessing rather than conducting studies that might have shown it was unnecessary.

Everyone with an interest in pyroprocessing should reassess their views given the real-world problems experienced in implementing the technology over the last 20 years at INL. They should also note that the variant of the process being used to treat the EBR-II spent fuel is less complex than the process that would be needed to extract plutonium and other actinides to produce fresh fuel for fast reactors. In other words, the technology is a long way from being demonstrated as a practical approach for electricity production. It makes much more sense to pursue improvements in once-through nuclear power systems than to waste any more time and money on reprocessing technologies that pose proliferation, security and safety risks. DOE continues to consider alternatives to pyroprocessing for the blanket fuel (Ref. 8). It should give serious thought to the possibility of direct disposal of the remaining inventory without processing.

Links to FOIA documents

Below are links to some of the documents that UCS obtained from its FOIA request. We will provide more documents and analyses of them soon.

August 14, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

In the effort to deal with nuclear waste, pyroprocessing created even more problems

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

The Idaho National Lab created a ‘wonder fuel.’ Now, it’s radioactive waste that won’t go away, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-na-idaho-nuclear-waste-2017-story.html, Ralph VartabedianContact Reporter, 13 Aug 17  In the early days of atomic energy, the federal government powered up an experimental reactor in Idaho with an ambitious goal: create a “wonder fuel” for the nation.

The reactor was one of the nation’s first “breeder” reactors — designed to make its own new plutonium fuel while it generated electricity, solving what scientists at the time thought was a looming shortage of uranium for power plants and nuclear weapons.

It went into operation in 1964 and kept the lights burning at the sprawling national laboratory for three decades.

But enthusiasm eventually waned for the breeder reactor program owing to safety concerns, high costs and an adequate supply of uranium. Today, its only legacy is 26 metric tons of highly radioactive waste. What to do with that spent fuel is causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.

The reactor was shut down in 1994. Under a legal settlement with Idaho regulators the next year, the Department of Energy pledged to have the waste treated and ready to transport out of the state by 2035.

The chances of that happening now appear slim. A special treatment plant is having so many problems and delays that it could take many decades past the deadline to finish the job.

“The process doesn’t work,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has documented the problems in a new report. “It turned out to be harder to execute and less reliable than they promised.”

Many of the cleanup efforts, like the one in Idaho, are years or even decades behind schedule, reflecting practices that were far too optimistic when it came to technology, costs and management know-how.

Jim Owendoff, the acting chief of the Energy Department’s environmental management program, recently ordered a 45-day review of the entire $6-billion-a-year radiation cleanup effort. “What I am looking at is how we can be more timely in our decision-making,” he said in a department newsletter.

The Idaho reactor, located at the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory, was designed to produce electricity while it “breeds” new fuel by allowing fast-moving neutrons to convert non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium.

But the complexity of breeder reactors led to safety problems.

Only one breeder reactor ever went into commercial operation in the U.S. — the Enrico Fermi I near Detroit, which suffered a partial core meltdown in 1966. Construction of a breeder reactor on the Clinch River in Tennessee was stopped in 1983.

A reactor using similar technology above the San Fernando Valley experienced fuel core damage in 1959 that is believed to have released radioactive iodine into the air.

Ultimately, the nation never faced a shortage of uranium fuel, and now the Energy Department is spending billions of dollars to manage its surplus plutonium. Unlike uranium, the “wonder fuel,” as the lab called it, was bonded to sodium to improve heat transfer inside the reactor.

The sodium has presented an unusual waste problem.

Sodium is a highly reactive element that can become explosive when it comes in contact with water and is potentially too unstable to put in any future underground dump — such as the one proposed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

To remove the bonded sodium, the government used a complex process, known as pyroprocessing, which was developed to also separate plutonium from the spent fuel. The spent fuel parts from the reactor are placed in a chemical bath and subjected to an electrical current, which draws off the sodium onto another material. The process is similar to electroplating a kitchen faucet.

Back in 2000, the project managers estimated in an environmental report that they could treat 5 metric tons annually and complete the job in six years.

But privately, the department estimated that it would take more than twice that long, according to internal documents that Lyman obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Even that was unrealistic, because it assumed that the treatment plant could work around the clock every day of the year, without down time for maintenance or allowance for breakdowns. Lyman found that during one year — 2012 — no waste at all was processed.

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

The problem with the breeder reactor waste is just one of many environmental issues at the lab, located on a high desert plateau near Idaho Falls. The federal government gifted the Idaho lab with additional radioactive waste for decades.

After the highly contaminated Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver was shut down in 1993, the waste was shipped to Idaho. The Navy has been sending in its spent fuel from nuclear-powered ships.

The lab is dealing with tons of waste containing artificial elements, so-called transuranic waste. The Energy Department promised to move an average of 2,000 cubic meters to a special dump in New Mexico, but it has missed that goal for several years, because of an underground explosion at the dump. The Energy Department declined to answer specific questions about the breeder waste cleanup, citing the sensitivity of nuclear technology. It blamed the slow pace of cleanup on inadequate funding but said it was still trying to meet the deadline.

“When the implementation plan for the treatment of the [spent fuel] was developed in 2000, there was very limited nuclear energy research and development being performed in the United States,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“The funding for this program has been limited in favor of other research and development activities. The Department remains strongly committed to the treatment of this fuel in time to meet its commitments to the State of Idaho.”

Susan Burke, who monitors the cleanup at the laboratory for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, said the state will continue to demand that the waste be ready for shipment out of Idaho by 2035.

“The Energy Department is doing the best it can, but our expectation is that they will have to meet the settlement agreement,” she said.

Idaho watchdogs are skeptical.

“There is some bad faith here on the part of the Energy Department,” said Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director at the Snake River Alliance, a group that monitors the lab. “The department is misleading the public. Not much information has been given out, but enough to be skeptical that the technology works well enough to meet the settlement.”

Lab officials declined to comment.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

He presented a technical paper about pyroprocessing at a conference held in July by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Lyman said he believes the Energy Department has little chance of success in the program.

“They are just blowing smoke,” he said. “It is a failure and they can’t admit it, because they don’t have a backup plan that would satisfy the state.”

August 14, 2017 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Poor future for many decades for New Generation Nuclear Reactors

New Generation Nuclear Reactors Unlikely to Deliver on Design, EcoWatch, By Paul Brown, 9 Aug 17

New generation nuclear reactors, promised for the last 18 years by the U.S. Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) as a way to provide cheap and plentiful supplies of electricity, are unlikely to be fulfilled any time in the next 30 years.

That is the conclusion of university researchers who have used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the program’s budget history to find out what designs the government has spent $2 billion of public money on supporting.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego and Carnegie Mellon University described the research program as “incoherent” and said the government was “unlikely” to deliver on its mission to develop and demonstrate an advanced nuclear reactor by mid-century.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said much of the money that was supposed to be spent on civilian reactors was spent instead on supporting infrastructure, where the main focus was defense programs and not commercial opportunities……..

Overall, the technology’s prospects appear grim, with implications that go beyond energy.

“Without a sense of urgency among NE and its political leaders,” Abdulla warned, “the likelihood of advanced reactors playing a substantial role in the transition to a low-carbon U.S. energy portfolio is exceedingly low…..

These reported failings in the U.S. research program come at a difficult time for the industry when across the world the current “new” generation of large nuclear reactors is proving difficult to build on time and on budget, and some projects are being abandoned mid-way through construction…….

Most of the money now being spent on research into new generations of nuclear power stations is being provided by nuclear weapon states. Most countries that have never had nuclear weapons but have invested in nuclear power stations are now phasing them out and putting their development money into cheaper renewableshttps://www.ecowatch.com/new-generation-nuclear-2471347067.html

August 11, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, technology, USA | Leave a comment