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The US Energy Department’s renewed promotion of plutonium-fueled reactors. 

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021  ”’…………. The US Energy Department’s renewed promotion of plutonium-fueled reactors. The US plutonium breeder reactor development program was ended by Congress in 1983. A decade later, the Clinton Administration shut down the Idaho National Laboratory’s Experimental Breeder Reactor II for lack of mission. At the time, I was working in the White House and supported that decision.

The nuclear-energy divisions at the Energy Department’s Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories refused to give up, however. They continued to produce articles promoting sodium-cooled reactors and laboratory studies on “pyroprocessing,” a small-scale technology used to separate plutonium from the fuel of the Experimental Breeder Reactor II .

During the Trump administration, this low-level effort broke out. With the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy headed by a former Idaho National Lab staffer and help from Idaho’s two Senators, the Energy Department and Congress were persuaded to approve the first steps toward construction at the Idaho National Laboratory of a larger version of the decommissioned Experimental Breeder Reactor II.

 The new reactor, misleadingly labeled the “Versatile Test Reactor,” would be built by Bechtel with design support by GE-Hitachi and Bill Gates’ Terrapower. The Energy Department awarded contracts to the Battelle Energy Alliance and to university nuclear-engineering departments in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Oregon to develop proposals for how to use the Versatile Test Reactor.

The current estimated cost of the Versatile Test Reactor is $2.6-5.8 billion, and it is to be fueled with plutonium. The Idaho National Laboratory’s hope is to convince Congress to commit to funding its construction in 2021.

The Energy Department also committed $80 million to co-fund the construction of a 345-megawatt-electric (MWe) “Natrium” (Latin for sodium) demonstration liquid-sodium-cooled power reactor proposed by GE-Hitachi and Terrapower which it hopes Congress would increase to $1.6 billion. It also committed $25 million each to Advanced Reactor Concepts and General Atomics to design small sodium-cooled reactors. And it has subsidized Oklo, a $25-million startup company financed by the Koch family, to construct a 1.5 MWe “microreactor” on the Idaho National Laboratory’s site to demonstrate an extravagantly costly power source for remote regions.

In all these reactors, the chain reaction would be sustained by fast neutrons unlike the slow neutrons that sustain the chain reactions in water-cooled reactors. The Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy has justified the need for the Versatile Test Reactor by the fast-neutron reactors whose construction it is supporting. In this way, it has “bootstraping” the Versatile Test Reactor by creating a need for it that would not otherwise exist.

This program also is undermining US nonproliferation policy..………..

April 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, reprocessing, USA | 1 Comment

Japan’s hugely costly nuclear reprocessing program.

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021,  ”………………Japan’s hugely costly reprocessing program. The United States has been trying to persuade Japan to abandon reprocessing ever since 1977. At the time, then prime minister Takeo Fukuda described plutonium breeder reactors as a matter of “life and death” for Japan’s energy future and steamrolled the Carter administration into accepting the startup of Japan’s pilot reprocessing plant. Today, Japan is the only non-nuclear-armed state that separates plutonium. Despite the absence of any economic or environmental justification, the policy grinds ahead due to a combination of bureaucratic commitments and the dependence of a rural region on the jobs and tax income associated with the hugely costly program. The dynamics are similar to those that have kept the three huge US nuclear-weapon laboratories flourishing despite the end of the Cold War.

For three decades, Japan has been building, fixing mistakes, and making safety upgrades on a large plutonium recycle complex in Rokkasho Village in the poor prefecture of Aomori on the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. The capital cost of the complex has climbed to $30 billion. Operation of the reprocessing plant is currently planned for 2023.

A facility for fabricating the recovered plutonium into mixed-oxide plutonium-uranium fuel for water-cooled power reactors is under construction on the same site (Figure 3 on original). The cost of operating the complex is projected to average about $3 billion per year. Over the 40-year design life of the plant, it is expected to process about 300 tons of plutonium—enough to make 40,000 Nagasaki bombs. What could possibly go wrong?

Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission reports that, because of the failures and delays of its plutonium useage programs, as of the end of 2019, Japan owned a stock of 45.5 tons of separated plutonium: 9.9 tons in Japan with the remainder in France and the United Kingdom where Japan sent thousands of tons of spent fuel during the 1990s to be reprocessed.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations pressed Tokyo to revise its reprocessing policy, especially after Japan’s decision to decommission its failed prototype breeder reactor in 2016.

Perhaps in response to this pressure, in 2018, Japan’s cabinet declared:

“The Japanese government remains committed to the policy of not possessing plutonium without specific purposes on the premise of peaceful use of plutonium and work[s] to reduce of the size of [its] plutonium stockpile.”

A step toward reductions that is being discussed would be for Japan to pay the United Kingdom to take title to and dispose of the 22 tons of Japanese plutonium stranded there after the UK mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant was found to be inoperable. Japan’s separated plutonium in France is slowly being returned to Japan in mixed-oxide fuel for use in reactors licensed to use such fuel.

If, as currently planned, Japan operates the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant at its design capacity of more than seven tons of plutonium separated per year, however, its rate of plutonium separation will greatly exceed Japan’s rate of plutonium use.  Four of Japan’s currently operating reactors are licensed to use mixed-oxide fuel but loaded only 40 percent as much mixed-oxide fuel as planned in 2018-19 and none in 2020. Two more reactors that can use mixed-oxide are expected to receive permission to restart in the next few years. In 2010, Japan’s Federation of Electric Power Companies projected that the six reactors would use 2.6 tons of plutonium per year. If the much-delayed Ohma reactor, which is under construction and designed to be able to use a full core of mixed-oxide fuel, comes into operation in 2028 as currently planned, and all these reactors use as much mixed-oxide fuel as possible, Japan’s plutonium usage rate would still ramp up to only 4.3 tons per year in 2033. (At the end of 2020 the Federation of Electric Power Companies announced its hope to increase the number of mixed-oxide-using reactors to 12 by 2030 but did not list the five additional reactors, saying only, “we will release it as soon as it is ready.”)

As of June 2020, construction at Rokkasho on the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication facility that will process the plutonium separated by the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant was only 12 percent complete. It was still just a hole in the ground containing some concrete work with its likely completion years behind the currently planned 2023 operation date of the reprocessing plant.

Thus, as happened in Russia and the United Kingdom, the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant could operate indefinitely separating plutonium without the mixed-oxide plant operating. The reprocessing plant includes storage for “working stocks” containing up to 30 tons of unirradiated plutonium. If and when it begins operating, the mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant will itself have additional working stocks of at least several tons of plutonium. Therefore, even if Japan transfers title to the plutonium it has stranded in the United Kingdom and manages to work down its stock in France, the growth of its stock in Japan could offset those reductions.

The Biden administration should urge Japan’s government to “bite the bullet” and begin the painful but necessary process of unwinding its costly and dangerous plutonium program. A first step would be to change Japan’s radioactive waste law to allow its nuclear utilities to use the planned national deep repository for direct disposal of their spent fuel.

In the meantime, most of Japan’s spent fuel will have to be stored on site in dry casks, as has become standard practice in the United States and most other countries with nuclear power reactors. Because of its safety advantages relative to storage in dense-packed pools, the communities that host Japan’s nuclear power plant are moving toward acceptance of dry-cask storage. During the 2011 Fukushima accident, the water in a dense-packed pool became dangerously low. Had the spent fuel been uncovered and caught on fire, the population requiring relocation could have been ten to hundreds of times larger ………….

April 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

The problem of plutonium programs

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021    Among the Biden administration’s nuclear challenges are ongoing civilian plutonium programs in China and Japan. Also, South Korea’s nuclear-energy research and development establishment has been asserting that it should have the same “right” to have a plutonium program as Japan. These challenges have been compounded by a renewed push by the Energy Department’s Idaho National Laboratory to revive a plutonium program that was shut down in the 1980s. These foreign and domestic plutonium programs are all challenges because plutonium is a nuclear-weapon material.

Henry Kissinger’s State Department quickly discovered that the governments of Brazil, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan—all under military control at the time—had contracted for French or German spent-fuel “reprocessing” plants. The United States intervened forcefully and none of these contracts were fully consummated…………………..

…………….A possible path forward. During the Trump administration, the Energy Department fell back into the never-never land of plutonium-fueled reactors from which the United States extracted itself in the 1980s. Fortunately, the big-dollar commitments to the Versatile Test Reactor and the Natrium Reactor have not yet been made, and the Biden administration could use the excuse of budget stringency not to make those commitments.

In South Korea, the Biden administration will have to deal with the completion of the Idaho National Lab–Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute Joint Fuel Cycle Study. Although there will no doubt be obfuscation in the report, the conclusions of the 10-year study should have been obvious from the beginning: reprocessing is hugely costly, creates proliferation risks, and complicates spent fuel disposal. Fortunately, the anti-nuclear-energy Moon administration is unlikely to push for reprocessing. It will be much more interested in the opportunities that the Biden administration can provide to advance the Korean Peninsula denuclearization agenda. It should therefore be politically relatively easy for the Biden Administration to terminate cooperation on pyroprocessing.

China’s reprocessing and fast-neutron reactor program may be driven in part by China’s interest in obtaining more weapon-grade plutonium to build up the size of its nuclear arsenal. If that is the case, China’s incentive to build up could be reduced through nuclear arms control. Specifically, if China is building up its nuclear arsenal out of concern about the adequacy of its nuclear deterrent in the face of an unconstrained US missile-defense buildup, then the United States could examine the possibility of an agreement to limit missile defenses as an alternative to an open-ended, offense-defense arms race. That was the path of wisdom that the United States and Soviet Union chose with their 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

In Japan, the Biden administration will be faced with the continued unwillingness of the powerful Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry to wind down Japan’s dysfunctional plutonium program.  But, if a linkage could be made between constraining China’s nuclear buildup and ending Japan’s hugely costly reprocessing program, that might help tip the balance in Japan’s internal debate over reprocessing.

April 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, technology | Leave a comment

The United States collaborates on nuclear pyroprocessing with South Korea. 

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021,  ”…………………………………The United States collaborates on pyroprocessing with South Korea. The Idaho and Argonne National Laboratories also continue to promote the pyroprocessing of spent fuel. After the Clinton Administration shut down the Experimental Breeder Reactor II in 1994, the laboratory persuaded the Energy Department to continue to fund pyroprocessing as a way to process Experimental Breeder Reactor II spent fuel and blanket assemblies into stable waste forms for disposal in a deep underground repository. The proposal was to complete this effort in 2007. According to a review by Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, however, as of the end of Fiscal Year 2016, only about 18 percent of the roughly 26 metric tons of assemblies had been processed at a cost of over $200 million into waste forms that are not stable. (Since then, an additional three percent has been processed.)

During the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Cheney accepted Argonne’s argument that pyroprocessing is “proliferation resistant” and the two US national laboratories were allowed to share the technology with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute.

At the beginning of the Obama administration, however, a group of safeguards experts from six Energy Department national laboratories, including Argonne and Idaho, concluded that pyroprocessing is not significantly more resistant to proliferation than PUREX, the standard reprocessing technology originally developed by the United States to extract plutonium for its weapons.

In 2014, the US-Republic of Korea Agreement for Cooperation on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy was due to expire, but the negotiations on a successor agreement bogged down over Korea’s insistence that the new agreement include the same right to reprocess spent fuel as the 1988 US-Japan Agreement for Cooperation.

The compromise reached the following year was that the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute and the Idaho National Laboratory would complete their Joint Fuel Cycle Study on “the technical, economic, and nonproliferation (including safeguards) aspects of spent fuel management and disposition technologies.” If the United States could be convinced that the proliferation risks of pyroprocessing were manageable, the secretary of energy would give consent for South Korea to use the technology on its territory. The final report from the joint study is due this year.

Meanwhile, in 2017, Moon Jae-in was elected president of the Republic of Korea on a platform that included not building any more nuclear power plants in South Korea. Fast-neutron reactors and pyroprocessing obviously do not fit with that policy. This gives the Biden administration an opportunity to end a cooperative nuclear-energy research and development program that is contrary to both US nuclear nonproliferation policy and South Korea’s energy policy. The United States could propose instead a joint collaborative program on safe spent fuel storage and deep underground disposal……………

April 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, South Korea, technology, USA | Leave a comment

China’s ambiguous plutonium policy.

Plutonium programs in East Asia and Idaho will challenge the Biden administration, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Frank N. von Hippel | April 12, 2021 ”…………………….China’s ambiguous plutonium policy. China is estimated to have produced between 2.3 and 3.5 tons of weapon-grade plutonium before it halted production in 1988. China is also estimated to have doubled the number of its nuclear warheads since the end of the Cold War to about 300, with a public call from one government-owned journal for a further increase to 1000.

That would require more weapon-grade plutonium.

China is, in fact, building a “demonstration” reprocessing plant and two plutonium breeder reactors. Breeder reactors produce weapon-grade plutonium in the uranium “blankets” surrounding their cores. This plutonium ordinarily would be mixed in with the non-weapon-grade plutonium recovered from the core and recycled into new fuel, but could be kept separate and used for weapons.

One troubling development that suggests that China may be reconsidering the civilian character of its plutonium program is that, since 2017, it has halted making the public annual declarations to the International Atomic Energy Agency of its civilian plutonium stocks required by the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium. China was one of nine countries, including France and the United States, that committed to make those declarations starting in 1997. An International Atomic Energy Agency official has informed me that that the agency “does not request those member states to submit updates and has no role in connection with the implementation of these voluntary commitments.” One of the other states that are parties to the guidelines could, however, ask China why it has stopped submitting updates.

China’s National Nuclear Corporation has been negotiating since 2007 with France’s Orano to purchase technology for a large reprocessing plant like Japan’s that could separate up to eight tons of reactor-grade but weapon-usable plutonium per year. France’s finance minister said in 2018 that the sale could “save” France’s nuclear industry.

Unless the economic competitiveness of breeder reactors proves to be better in China than elsewhere, however, the rate of plutonium separation by the French plant would be vastly in excess of the amount that China could use to start a realistic number of breeder prototypes. Other countries, including France, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom, have been down this road before and ended up with huge stocks of reactor-grade plutonium (Figure 1 on original). One would hope that China would learn from rather than emulate their folly.

The Biden administration should engage France on the wisdom of Orano’s continued promotion of plutonium separation worldwide through offers of both reprocessing services and technology.

If China moves ahead with its own large-scale reprocessing program, it will make it more difficult to pressure Japan to end its plutonium program, which both countries clearly understand provides Japan with a nuclear-weapon option.

The Obama administration suggested to Beijing a bilateral multidisciplinary dialogue on pros and cons of civilian reprocessing. The Biden administration could press again for such a private discussion. Perhaps, backing away from reprocessing would become more attractive in both Beijing and Tokyo if they made their decisions in parallel…………..

April 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, technology | Leave a comment

There’s a long and devastating history behind the proposal for a nuclear waste dump in South Australia,

There’s a long and devastating history behind the proposal for a nuclear waste dump in South Australia,,,,Katherine Aigner

PhD candidate Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy, Australian National University   On Saturday at the Adelaide Festival there will be a public showing of Australian Atomic Confessions, a documentary I co-directed about the tragic and long-lasting effects of the atomic weapons testing carried out by Britain in South Australia in the 1950s.

Amid works from 20 artists reflecting on nuclear trauma as experienced by Indigenous peoples, the discussion that follows will focus on the ways in which attempts at nuclear colonisation have continued in South Australia, and are continuing right now.

For the fourth time in 23 years South Australia is being targeted for a nuclear waste dump — this time at Napandee, a property near Kimba on the Eyre Peninsula.

The plan is likely to require the use of a port, most probably Whyalla, to receive reprocessed nuclear fuel waste by sea from France, the United Kingdom and the Lucas Heights reactor in NSW via Port Kembla.

The waste will be stored above ground in concrete vaults which will be filled for 100 years and monitored for a further 200-300 years.

Nuclear waste can remain hazardous for thousands of years.

The Barngarla people hold cultural rights and responsibilities for the region but were excluded from a government poll about the proposal because they were not deemed to be local residents.

The 734 locals who took part backed the proposal 61.6%

The Barngarla people are far from the first in South Australia to be excluded from a say about proposals to spread nuclear materials over their land.

It’s not the first such proposal

Australian Atomic Confessions explores the legacy of the nine British atomic bombs dropped on Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950s, and the “minor trials” that continued into the 1960s.

After failed clean-ups by the British in the 1960s followed by a Royal Commission in the 1980s, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency conducted a cleanup between 1995 and 2000 it assures us was successful to the point where most of the contaminated areas at Maralinga fall well within the clean-up standards applied for unrestricted land use.

But experts remain sceptical, given the near-surface burial of plutonium and contamination remaining across a wide area.

The Tjarutja people are allowed to move through and hunt at the Maralinga site with their radiation levels monitored but are not permitted to camp there permanently.

We are told that what happened in the 1950s wouldn’t happen today, in relation to the proposed nuclear waste dump. But it wasn’t our enemies who bombed us at Maralinga and Emu Field, it was an ally.

In exchange for allowing 12 British atomic bombs tests (including those at the Monte Bello Islands off the northern coast of Western Australia), the Australian government got access to nuclear technology which it used to build the Lucas Heights reactor.

It is primarily the nuclear waste produced from six decades of operations at Lucas Heights that would be dumped onto Barngarla country in South Australia, closing the links in this nuclear trauma chain.

Nuclear bombs and nuclear waste disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples, yet Australia still has not signed up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration requires states to ensure there is no storage or disposal of hazardous materials on the lands of Indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.

Nor has Australia shown any willingness to sign up to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which came into force on January 22 this year after a lobbying campaign that began in Australia and was endorsed by Indigenous leaders worldwide.

Aboriginal people have long known the dangers of uranium on their country.

Water from the Great Artesian Basin has been extracted by the Olympic Dam copper-uranium mine for decades. Fragile mound springs of spiritual significance to the Arabunna People are disappearing, posing questions for the mining giant BHP to answer.

Australian uranium from BHP Olympic Dam and the now-closed Rio Tinto Ranger mine fuelled the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Senior traditional custodian of the Mirrar people, Yvonne Margarula, wrote to the United Nations in 2013 saying her people feel responsible for what happened.

It is likely that the radiation problems at Fukushima are, at least in part, fuelled by uranium derived from our traditional lands. This makes us feel very sad.

The Irati Wanti (The Poison, Leave It!) campaign led by a council of senior Aboriginal women helped defeat earlier proposals for nuclear waste dumps between 1998 and 2004.

There remains strong Indigenous opposition to the current nuclear waste proposal.

Over the past five years, farmers have joined with the Barngarla People to protect their communities and the health of the land.

In 2020 the government introduced into the Senate a bill that would do away with traditional owners’ and farmers’ rights to judicial reviews and procedural fairness in regard to the use of land for the facility.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt is deciding how to proceed.

April 10, 2021 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, history, indigenous issues, politics, wastes | Leave a comment

Uncertain future for EDF’s Dungeness nuclear power station. It may have to shut down early.

Reuters 8th April 2021, DF Energy, owned by French utility EDF, is exploring a range of scenarios for its Dungeness B nuclear plant in Britain, including bringing forward its decommissioning date of 2028, it said on Thursday. The 1.1 gigawatt Dungeness B plant, in Kent on the south coast of England, has been offline since 2018 as the company has been carrying out inspections and maintenance of pipes carrying steam to the turbine. EDF Energy has also been trying to complete repair work on corrosion identified during inspections of safety back-up systems.

The plant is currently forecast to return to service in August. It was designed in the 1960s and first started generating
electricity in 1983. EDF Energy said it has spent more than 100 million pounds ($138 million) on the plant during its current outage and it has a number of ongoing technical challenges that make its future uncertain.

April 10, 2021 Posted by | business and costs, decommission reactor, UK | Leave a comment

Like the other nuclear powers, China wants to put a dirty great radioactive waste dump on indigenous land.

China’s $422m underground lab will probe massive national nuclear waste dump in remote Gansu, Global Construction Review, 

9 April 2021 | By GCR Staff 

China will spend $422m building an underground laboratory to find a way of storing high-level radioactive waste from the country’s growing fleet of nuclear power plants deep underground.

If successful, a repository that could store a hundred years worth of strontium-90, cesium-137 and plutonium-239 istopes will be built.

Building just the lab itself will be a feat. Wang Ju, vice-president of the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology, told the China Daily newspaper that it would be sited in granite 560m below ground in the Beishan region of Gansu province, in China’s remote northwest .  …………..

The offices and laboratories on the surface will have a floor area of 2.4ha within a 247ha site, however the underground complex will require the excavation of 514,200 cubic metres, along with 13.4km of tunnels. At present work is under way on supporting infrastructure, such as paved roads.

The lab, which was listed as a major scientific project in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), will take seven years to build. If its research proves successful, a long-term underground repository for high-level waste will be added nearby by 2050……..

April 10, 2021 Posted by | China, wastes | Leave a comment

Texas lawmakers want to ban dangerous radioactive waste.

Texas lawmakers want to ban dangerous radioactive waste.

Texas lawmakers want to ban dangerous radioactive waste.    The proposal would give a nuclear waste company a big financial break.

A bill advancing in the House seeks to ban spent nuclear fuel, one of the most dangerous types of radioactive waste, from coming to Texas.

TEXAS TRIBUNE, BY ERIN DOUGLAS APRIL 8, 2021  As a nuclear waste company’s plan to store the most dangerous type of radioactive waste in West Texas moves forward at the federal level, state lawmakers are aiming to ban the materials from entering the state.

Environmental and consumer advocates for years have decried a proposal to build a 332-acre site in West Texas near the New Mexico border to store the riskiest type of nuclear waste: spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, which can remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

A bill advancing in the House, filed by Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, whose district includes Andrews County — where the proposed facility would be located — seeks to stop the plan by banning that type of radioactive waste from being disposed of or stored in Texas.

But House Bill 2692 would also give that same company a big break on state fees it pays for its existing disposal facility for lower-risk radioactive waste.

“This bill bans high-level waste altogether,” Landgraf said during a committee hearing in March, “and focuses on making low-level waste the safest and best, most competitive and most efficient facility it can be.”

Waste Control Specialists has been disposing of the nation’s low-level nuclear waste, including tools, building materials and protective clothing exposed to radioactivity, for a decade in Andrews County. The company is currently pursuing, with a partner, a federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to store spent nuclear fuel on a site adjacent to its existing facility.

Waste Control Specialists and Interim Storage Partners — a joint venture between WCS and Orano USA, a subsidiary of one of the world’s biggest nuclear power companies — declined to comment on the proposed bill through a spokesperson.

Interim Storage Partners applied for the license in 2016. Scientists agree that spent nuclear fuel, which is currently stored at nuclear power plants, should be stored deep underground, but the U.S. still hasn’t located a suitable site. The Interim Storage Partners plan proposes storing it in above-ground casks until a permanent location is found. It expects federal regulators to make a decision sometime this year.

The plan faces stiff opposition from Gov. Greg Abbott, some oil companies that operate in the region and environmentalists over concerns about the risk of groundwater contamination and transportation accidents. Abbott wrote to federal regulators last year asking them to deny the license application, stating that the proposal presents a “greater radiological risk than Texas is prepared to allow.”………

The facility currently accepts Class A, B and C radioactive waste, which typically includes a wide range of contaminated items such as radioactive gloves, shoe covers and medical tubes. Some environmental and consumer advocates asked Landgraf to also include a ban on “greater than Class C” waste in his bill as well — it falls into what nuclear waste experts call a gray area between the lower-level categories and spent nuclear fuel. That type of waste is currently banned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission may soon consider regulations that would allow WCS to accept that waste.

Landgraf said he chose not to include a ban on that type of waste in the bill because it is technically not considered “high level” by the federal government, although it is currently treated that way for disposal purposes. Nuclear waste experts have told the Tribune that this category can be wide ranging, both in terms of danger and the time it will remain radioactive………….

April 10, 2021 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Nuclear waste director: Proposed New Mexico nuclear waste storage facility is illegal, 

Nuclear waste director: Proposed New Mexico nuclear waste storage facility is illegal, (The Center Square) 7 Apr 21, – Safety and economic concerns over a proposed nuclear waste storage facility near Carlsbad have prompted the state of New Mexico to sue the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

To be built by Holtec in southeast New Mexico, the facility would be an above-ground complex for storing spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants.

The state’s lawsuit is built on legal concerns.

Holtec has stated the federal government is going to fund the facility, but according to federal law, utilities are responsible for storage, said Don Hancock, director of the Southwest Research and Information Center’s Nuclear Waste Program.

The state argues consistently throughout the complaint that this whole facility is illegal because the federal law doesn’t authorize the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to authorize this kind of consolidated facility,” he told The Center Square.

Hancock added that the state’s entire list of complaints is 47 pages long.

“The federal government has said in law that this spent fuel, this irradiated fuel from nuclear power plants, is highly toxic and highly dangerous, and its permanent disposal requires it to be disposed deep underground in stable geologic formations, so that’s the law,” he said. “This facility is none of that.”

Holtec and NRC attempted to circumvent that issue by terming the storage facility as temporary, however, the state pointed out that Holtec and NRC can’t provide a timeframe for when it would be moved and have admitted they don’t have any plans for where it would go, said Hancock.

These legal concerns only compound the economic issues raised.

The facility would be built in the middle of the biggest oil and gas production areas in the state and poses a significant threat to operations.

“In the best of all circumstances it would be disruptive and, the worst of all circumstances, it would close down a multi-million dollar industry,” Hancock said.

Disruption would be caused by global perceptions that New Mexico oil producers are OK with having an illegal nuclear storage facility nearby that could leak into the supply of oil, Hancock said. The worst-case scenario is a leak that leaves New Mexico’s oil supply radioactively contaminated and causes billions of dollars in economic damage.

“If there was a leak or an accident and the nation and the world heard there was a major nuclear accident in the middle of the oil and gas production field of New Mexico or Texas, what do you think people are going to think about that?” he asked.

After failed attempts to get the NRC to consider their concerns, the state turned to the courts to make their voice heard, said Hancock.

“The state feels ignored,” he said.

April 8, 2021 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Bill Gates backs costly nuclear reactor design fueled by nuclear-weapon-usable plutonium

Bill Gates’ bad bet on plutonium-fueled reactors  BFrank N. von Hippel | March 22, 2021

One of Bill Gates’ causes is to replace power plants fueled by coal and natural gas with climate-friendly alternatives. That has led the billionaire philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder to embrace nuclear power, and building nuclear power plants to combat climate change is a prospect worth discussing. But Gates has been persuaded to back a costly reactor design fueled by nuclear-weapon-usable plutonium and shown, through decades of experience, to be expensive, quick to break down, and difficult to repair.

In fact, Gates and his company, Terrapower, are promoting a reactor type that the US and most other countries abandoned four decades ago because of concerns about both nuclear weapons  proliferation and cost.

The approximately 400 power reactors that provide about 10 percent of the world’s electric power today are almost all water-cooled and fueled by low-enriched uranium, which is not weapon usable. Half a century ago, however, nuclear engineers were convinced—wrongly, it turned out—that the global resource of low-cost uranium would not be sufficient to support such reactors beyond the year 2000.

Work therefore began on liquid-sodium-cooled “breeder” reactors that would be fueled by plutonium, which, when it undergoes a fission chain reaction, produces neutrons that can transmute the abundant but non-chain-reacting isotope of natural uranium, u-238, into more plutonium than the reactor consumes.

But mining companies and governments found a lot more low-cost uranium than originally projected. The Nuclear Energy Agency recently concluded that the world has uranium reserves more than adequate to support water-cooled reactors for another century.

And while technologically elegant, sodium-cooled reactors proved unable to compete economically with water-cooled reactors, on several levels. Admiral Rickover, who developed the US Navy’s water-cooled propulsion reactors from which today’s power reactors descend, tried sodium-cooled reactors in the 1950s. His conclusion was that they are “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.” That captures the experience of all efforts to commercialize breeder reactors. The United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan all abandoned their breeder-reactor efforts after spending the equivalent of $10 billion or more each on the effort.

Today, despite about $100 billion spent on efforts to commercialize them, only two sodium-cooled breeder reactor prototypes are operating—both in Russia. India is building one, and China is building two with Russian help. But it is not clear India and China are looking only to generate electricity with their breeders; they may also be motivated in part by the fact that breeder reactors produce copious amounts of the weapon-grade plutonium desired by their militaries to expand their nuclear-weapon stockpiles.

The proliferation risks of breeder-reactor programs were dramatically demonstrated in 1974, when India carried out its first explosive test of a nuclear-weapon design with plutonium that had been produced with US Atoms for Peace Program assistance for India’s ostensibly peaceful breeder reactor program. The United States, thus alerted, was able to stop four more countries, governed at the time by military juntas (Brazil, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan), from going down the same track—although Pakistan found another route to the bomb via uranium enrichment.

It was India’s 1974 nuclear test that got me involved with this issue as an advisor to the Carter administration. I have been involved ever since, contributing to the plutonium policy debates in the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries.

In 1977, after a policy review, the Carter administration concluded that plutonium breeder reactors would not be economic for the foreseeable future and called for termination of the US development program. After the estimated cost of the Energy Department’s proposed demonstration breeder reactor increased five-fold, Congress finally agreed in 1983

Gates is obviously not in it for the money. But his reputation for seriousness may have helped recruit Democratic Senators Cory Booker, Dick Durbin, and Sheldon Whitehouse to join the two Republican senators from Idaho in a bipartisan coalition to co-sponsor the Nuclear Energy Innovations Capabilities Act of 2017, which called for the VTR.

I wonder if any of those five Senators knows that the VTR is to be fueled annually by enough plutonium for more than 50 Nagasaki bombs. Or that it is a failed technology. Or that the Idaho National Laboratory is collaborating on plutonium separation technology with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute at a time when about half of South Korea’s population wants nuclear weapons to deter North Korea.

Fortunately, it is not too late for the Biden administration and Congress to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and to zero out the Versatile Test Reactor in the Department of Energy’s next budget appropriations cycle. The money could be spent more effectively on upgrading the safety of our existing reactor fleet and on other climate-friendly energy technologies.

Frank N. von Hippel

Frank N. von Hippel is a co-founder of the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University’s School of Public and International…

March 23, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Fukushima disaster 10 years on: How long will it take to clean up the nuclear waste?

Streets have been rebuilt, while radiation decontamination has progressed steadily since the Fukushima earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident 10 years ago. But few residents have returned.  Straits Times, 

Decontamination and living with ‘black bags’

Piles of black bags were generated by the vast, painstaking clean-up and then transported from other storage places. Those black bags have occupied more than 90 blocks ranging from 180 sq m to 6,500 sq m in the northern part of Tomioka since 2015.

According to a 2018 report from Japan’s Ministry of the Environment, the estimated total quantity of decontaminated soil will be somewhere between 16 and 22 million cubic metres after volume reduction. This is 13 to 18 times larger than the volume of the Tokyo Dome.

The Ministry says the total will likely be at the lower end of the provided range, in a latest reply to The Straits Times’ query.

Limits of decontamination

The “decontamination” only involves soil removal in flatland areas – the government has said that it is impossible to clear the soil in mountainous areas, but more than 70 per cent of the hardest-hit areas are mountainous.

Mr Nobuyoshi Ito is one of those who live in the mountainous areas where vast decontamination is hard to carry out.

Mr Ito first moved to Iitate village in Fukushima prefecture in 2010 after he retired as an IT engineer, to work as an “apprentice farmer”.

He had no ties with the village before that, but the self-professed “guinea pig” ended up staying on there, in open defiance of government orders to evacuate, and against his children’s wishes for him to live with them in Niigata prefecture on the west coast.

“When the government asked us to evacuate… I asked if there would be criminal charges if I continued to live here,” he told The Straits Times in 2016. “They said no.”

He carries a dosimeter around with him all the time, measuring anything he can lay his hands on from soil, plants to animal carcasses. He also owns a laboratory-grade radiation measuring machine at his cabin, deep in the mountains in the village.

He has become one of the most visible critics of the government, which he accuses of vested interests in lifting exclusion zones too quickly.

He thinks the government’s decision to not decontaminate forested mountainous areas will backfire due to factors such as rain that may spread radioactive material, and in a study last year found that 43 out of 69 locations along the Olympic torch relay route had radiation levels above the government limits.

He told The Straits Times that he fears that Tokyo is overly eager to portray that everything was “under control”, given that this could give the impression that it is “case closed”.

One possible explanation for the limited effect of decontamination in forests is the rapid shift in the main reservoir of Caesium-137 – a major contributor to the total radiation released – from litter and topsoil layers to the underlying mineral soil, according to a 2020 research paper published in Nature Journal.

Non-profit Greenpeace notes that such standards in towns neighbouring the nuclear plant would not pass in other parts of the world.

The indefinite future: Where to permanently store 16 million bags of nuclear waste

Removed soil and waste are stored in the interim storage facilities within the prefecture only for a certain period before the government finds permanent places.

The law requires that the final disposal site of high-level nuclear waste should be outside of Fukushima by March 2045.

Two fishing villages in Hokkaido are vying to host the final storage facility of Japanese nuclear waste for half a century, splitting communities between those seeking investment to stop the towns from dying, and those haunted by the 2011 Fukushima disaster who are determined to stop the project.

I cannot give a deadline at this moment. We will consider the entire schedule based on the progress at the two new potential sites, along with nationwide public relations activities.


A deputy director in a division of the economy ministry that deals with radioactive waste.

March 22, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima continuing, wastes | Leave a comment

With ”regulatory capture” of USA’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission, California’s got nuclear fuel buried 108 feet from the sea  

Nuclear Fuel Buried 108 Feet From the Sea, BY ROBERT HUNZIKER  “The most toxic substance on Earth is separated from exposure to society by ½” of steel encased in a canister.” (Blanch)

That eye-opener comes from renowned nuclear expert Paul Blanch in reference to spent fuel rods removed from San Onofre Nuclear Generation Plant buried near the sea on California’s southern coastline 50 miles north of San Diego.

Seventy-three 20-foot tall canisters of highly toxic nuclear spent fuel rods are nestled underground within 108 feet of the Pacific Ocean and not far from Interstate 5 from which passersby catch a glimpse of 73 large rectangular lids poking above ground, thus sealing the most toxic substances on Earth ensconced in ½” dry casks. (Footnote: In contrast, German CASTOR V/19 ductile cast iron casks, with permanent integrated monitoring, are nearly two-feet thick)

What could possibly go wrong on the seashore?

At the outset of San Onofre’s plans for its 73 buried canisters, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission itself admitted: (1) the thin ½” stainless steel canisters could crack within 30 years (2) there’s no current technology to inspect, repair or replace cracked canisters (3) limited monitoring means leaks may not be detected soon enough. (Source: It is not believed the foregoing has changed one iota.

Unfortunately, when it comes to nuclear risks, what can go wrong isn’t known until it actually goes wrong. Then, it’s too late. Which explains the contention of a professional group associated with that discussed issues of credibility and truthfulness of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a public hearing on March 9th, 2021. More on that follows later.

The 73 San Onofre rectangular lids symbolize the final act of decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, remnants of 50 years of nuclear power. Nobody knows with any degree of certainty the consequences of highly toxic spent fuel rods buried within 108 feet of the ocean. Is it risky or not risky? Is it even possible to define the risk?

In truth, the risks of nuclear power cannot be adequately defined. Experience shows that the risk factors have no ceiling, no comparisons, no analogies, nothing similar, only disastrous results when things go wrong. More to the point, it’s a grand experiment of juggling the most potent substance on the planet. Like a hot potato, nobody knows what to do with it, other than bury it somewhere somehow that hopefully keeps it secure. Is a beachfront 108 feet off the ocean a good, secure location?

Still, given enough time, nuclear risks are defined via incidents, e.g., Fukushima, which exposed the consequences of failure of identifying nuclear risks. If it were otherwise, Fukushima would’ve been better prepared. They weren’t!

According to Prime Minister Naoto Kan /Japan, 2011: “We did not anticipate such a huge natural disaster could happen.” At the tensest moments, PM Kan was briefed on plans for complete evacuation of Tokyo, a horrific beyond belief event that came far too close for comfort! Nowadays, the former PM is an antinuke protestor.

It’s worth noting that Fukushima houses 10 nuclear reactors and 11 open pools of water containing spent fuel rods. If exposed to open air, spent fuel rods erupt into a sizzling zirconium fire followed by massive radiation bursts of the most toxic material known to humanity. It can upend an entire countryside and force evacuation of major cities, literally begging the impossible question of whether San Onofre’s remnants threaten all of Southern California?

Throughout America nuclear facilities contain open pools of spent fuel rods. According to the widely recognized nuclear expert Paul Blanch: “Continual storage in spent fuel pools is the most unsafe thing you could do.” Some spent fuel rods have been removed and stored in dry casks, but what if the dry casks are buried 108 feet from the Pacific Ocean? And, what of dry casks only ½” thick filled with radioactive spent fuel rods running a 500°F temp inside and 400°F on the canister’s exterior? By all appearances, it is an extremely lively affair!

That goes to the heart of questions posed at a recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission public hearing on March 9th. Thereupon, on behalf of the general public, three professionals drilled down into the procedures of the NRC whilst questioning its credibility. The bios of those three professionals:

Paul Blanch, registered professional engineer, US Navy Reactor Operator & Instructor with 55 years of experience with nuclear engineering and regulatory agencies, widely recognized as one of America’s leading experts on nuclear power.

Stuart H. Scott, founder and Executive Director of Facing Future, best known for bringing Greta Thunberg to the 2018 UN climate negotiations in Poland (COP-24) and for convincing Dr. James Hansen, the 32-year veteran Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies to COP-21, to attend Paris ’15.

Charles Langley, Executive Director of, a public advocate with more than 25 years of experience in the field of energy law, energy policy, and utility rate setting.

According to, the NRC is a “captive regulator” that accedes to nearly every request for regulatory relief for the nuclear power industry, as well as relaxation of safety rules and enforcement for the industry, in fact, following the command of industry insiders. But, when it comes to the general public, the NRC summarily rejects nearly every public petition aimed at strengthening the rules or following enforcement of existing rules. The petition process at the NRC is a one-sided affair that leaves the public out in the cold. From 1975- 2012 there were 387 petitions filed under provisions of the code, only two granted substantive relief, and one of those was from the nuclear industry. So, over 37 years there were, in actuality, more like a thousand petitions submitted by the public, and only one made it. It should be noted that rejections of petitions cannot be appealed.

On the other hand, when an industry player makes requests, according to Paul Blanch, working for a public utility, asking NRC for “a deviation from the rules” on a phone call got approved within one hour.

As it happens, the field of play with the NRC is lopsided. Industry players can ask any questions of NRC, but the public can only ask “process questions,” which does not lead to adequate answers, if any answers at all. Moreover, according to “The NRC is providing inaccurate and false information to the public… At issue is the fact that the NRC is claiming that a flooding event at the SONGS (San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station) Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation or ISFSI is ‘non-credible’.”

Really? Non-credible? What does that mean?

According to “ISFSI is an Orwellian word used by the NRC to describe a toxic beachfront nuclear waste dump containing a spent nuclear fuel depot that is deadly radioactive for 250,000 years. The SONGS “ISFSI” is located 108 feet from the beach, in a tsunami inundation zone next to an earthquake fault line. It contains 73 thin-walled stainless steel cans weighing upwards of 100,000 pounds each. Each 20-foot high canister contains the same amount of Cesium-137 that was released into the atmosphere during the entire Chernobyl event. The cans themselves are only guaranteed to last for 25 years.”

What happens if a king tide, during full moon, or tsunami strikes and triggers a loss of cooling for the containers? Therefore, demanded the NRC provide a realistic flood analysis, with consequences spelled out. But, according to the petitioners, the NRC has never analyzed a loss of cooling of the 73 buried canisters. That fact alone is beyond comprehension. How could they not? Will they now?

Furthermore, nobody can explain what happens with ruptured casks. The San Onofre casks are filled with helium gas with natural conduction airflow surrounding each individual container, which are thin casks ½” thick.

In all, Public Watchdog’s research found that NRC misrepresented information. At the hearing, petitioners exposed inept Nuclear Regulatory Commission processes, responses, and a lack of credibility, claiming the NRC is merely a rubber stamp for the nuclear industry and not at all responsive to public queries.

The following is a condensed version of the issues brought forth on the virtual meeting with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

It should be noted that NRC rejected the group’s Oct 13th petition on the dubious grounds of the term “not credible.” Failure or leakage of the canisters, according to NRC, is “not credible.” But “not credible” is not defined anywhere in NRC documents. Of course, no answers came at the scheduled meeting.

An important pursuit at the hearing was exposure of deficiencies of the Holtec Umax spent fuel storage system at San Onofre, as well as exposing its use at other locations in the US. Not only that but a king tide could wash over the canisters, no tsunami needed. A few feet of water would be disastrous. Meanwhile, there are no contingency plans to remove flooded water from the canisters in an emergency. Which is insidiously irresponsible: “Each canister contains more radioactive cesium than released at Chernobyl, each of 73 canisters, plus there are over 3,000 in this country.” (Blanch)

The Holtec canisters provide a 1/2” to 5/8” barrier between the most toxic material in the world and a Chernobyl-size release of radiation. The canisters must be kept full of helium gas, welded shut, thus they can never be examined on the inside for cracks or leaks, and scandalously, not monitored for temperature, pressure, or radiation. But yet, the NRC says failure is “not credible.”

Was Chernobyl not credible?

Was Fukushima not credible?

Making matters worse, there’s no provision for drainage of water in the underground canisters. A king tidal wave could flood, and as water boils off, nobody would know what to do to save Southern California from some level of mass evacuation. Additionally, there are no provisions to refill the canisters with pressurized helium should pressure drop. These are obvious risks factors, plus: San Onofre is located within an inundation zone for tsunamis. It’s also close to Camp Pendleton, a legitimate enemy target.

“We regard the NRC’s preliminary decision to reject our petition as irresponsible and wrong and it places millions of people in Southern California at risk that is unquantifiable.” (Petitioners)

When NRC receives petitions, they can be rejected by an unspecified number of PRB members and the petitioner does not know if it’s only one member a minority a majority or whatever. No logical reasons are given for rejections of petitions and no supporting documentation.

The San Onofre canisters need to be removed and placed into thick-wall casks and transported to a new repository in New Mexico. “The biggest problem is the NRC failure to admit there is a problem.” (Blanch)

In the final analysis, the NRC abrogates its own mission statement, which is to license and regulate civilian use of radioactive materials to protect public health and safety to promote the common defense and security and protect the environment. Yet, by all appearances, the NRC is more akin to an emotionless Frankenstein monster that belittles detractors via evasion and disdain without any answers for credible questions. What a trip!

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at

March 22, 2021 Posted by | secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Russia planning to dispose of highly dangerous nuclear reactor cores of submarine at bottom of Kara Sea

March 22, 2021 Posted by | ARCTIC, Russia, wastes | Leave a comment

New research to determine plutonium pollution and its sources

EurekAlert 19th March 2021,  Researchers looking at miniscule levels of plutonium pollution in our soils have made a breakthrough which could help inform future ‘clean up’ operations on land around nuclear power plants, saving time and money.
Publishing in the journal Nature Communications, researchers show how they have measured the previously ‘unmeasurable’ and taken a step forward in differentiating between local and global sources of plutonium pollution in the soil. By identifying the isotopic ‘fingerprint’ of trace-level quantities of plutonium in the soil which matched the isotopic fingerprint of the plutonium created by an adjacent nuclear reactor, the research team was able to estimate levels of plutonium in the soil which were attributable to reactor pollution and distinguish this from plutonium from general global pollution. This is important to provide key information to
those responsible for environmental assessment and clean up.

March 22, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD | Leave a comment