nuclear-news

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

Hanford nuclear waste cleanup unlikely ever to be complete, and with a poor safety culture

Worst U.S. Nuclear Waste Dump Inches Closer to Cleanup, Engineering News Record (ENR) October 3, 2019, Tim Newcomb and Debra K. Rubin   The relics of the nation’s World War II and Cold War past spread across 580 sq miles of desert plateau in southeastern Washington state in the form of decaying buildings and massive waste storage tanks that sustained plutonium production from 1943 to 1987.For more than three decades at the massive Hanford site near Richland, Wash., the U.S. Energy Dept. has tasked employees and multiple contractors to assess and clean up the daunting environmental legacy of making America’s nuclear weapons. Billions of dollars have been spent, but billions more are needed.

Now, a core piece of the cleanup program nears a milestone after 17 years and $17 billion of construction: startup of the first phase of a new production complex to transform much of Hanford’s 56 million gallons of long-stored radioactive waste from weapons-making into inert glass for safe disposal and future decay.

Nearly 3,000 on-site employees are attached to Hanford’s Tank Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant, dubbed Vit Plant, including 1,500 trades workers. But as it pushes to meet court-imposed mandates, the project and its innovative technology still face big technical and funding uncertainties and stakeholder skepticism.

The project was conceived nearly two decades ago to pump the radioactive waste from 177 aging underground storage tanks, about 60 of which have leaked to the subsurface and likely into groundwater.

Using vitrification technology, the pumped waste will be heated to 2,100° F and blended with glass-forming materials. The molten mixture then will be poured into stainless steel canisters to cool and solidify, protecting humans and the environment from radioactivity as it dissipates over hundreds to thousands of years……..

the project—based on a design in a 1997 environmental impact statement—has been plagued by technical challenges and delays, and its cost now is about four times its original projection.

Project and government managers and regulators sparred regularly over scope changes, and progress and cost impacts that affected Bechtel performance incentives, most recently for 2018, says an April report in Tri-Cities-Herald, the regional newspaper that has followed the Vit Plant closely since its start. The newspaper notes improvements this year.

Even so, the current project price tag remains a moving target more than a decade from full completion, Years and billions of dollars beyond the original scope, DOE has tamped down expectations as safety and quality assurance issues emerged in the high-level waste (HLW) treatment process, some raised by whistleblowers, including one whose alarms resulted in his firing by site subcontractor URS, now part of AECOM, and a subsequent $4-million wrongful termination judgement.

Originally intending to treat all waste in a single stream, DOE in 2013 moved to create what is now called the Direct-Feed Low-Activity Waste (DFLAW) process, which will allow treatment of what the agency says is 90% of tank waste, which is considered “low-activity”, through a designated vitrification plant as engineers work out technical and design issues for high-level waste treatment.

Last month, Brian Vance, who heads DOE operations at Hanford, told the Washington state Dept. of Ecology in a “notice of serious risk” that his agency “cannot project with certainty” when the high-level waste or pretreatment plants will be completed…….

a congressionally mandated National Academies of Science draft report issued in mid-September raises concerns about the plant’s ability to treat the large amount of site low-level waste in time to meet the deadlines, based on existing design……..

Future Doubts

Tom Carpenter, executive director of leading site watchdog group Hanford Challenge, says no part of the Vit Plant should operate short of a complete and independent inspection that validates and verifies nuclear treatment quality.

“DOE seems to be doing everything in its power to simply walk away from its legal and moral obligations to deal with Hanford’s extraordinary radioactive waste inventories,” he contends, related to the proposed waste reclassification.

“I seriously doubt the HLW facility will ever operate for numerous reasons, and DOE will simply find that the waste is low-level, not high-level, dump concrete on the whole mess and call it good.”

While Carpenter supports vitrifying tank waste, he has concerns with what he calls consistent design flaws, a lack of quality control and a “poor nuclear safety culture”  at the site.

Carpenter cites whistleblower lawsuits and reassignment of employees who raised safety concerns.

For DOE and Bechtel, the focus remains on the 90% of waste they say they can successfully treat via the DFLAW process.

“There have been quality issues in the past that slowed things, but those have been addressed,” McCain says. “Having legacy issues behind us was a big burden off the project.”

David Reeploeg, vice president of federal programs for local economic development group TRIDEC, is encouraged with progress made in recent years, but says funding remains the “single biggest challenge.”

Not only does the project need hundreds of millions of dollars every year to meet milestones and agreements, he says it will be “critically important for DOE and its regulators to identify ways to reduce the long-term cost and schedule for Hanford cleanup,” something that the Vit Plant’s history has already shown won’t be an easy task.https://www.enr.com/articles/47720-worst-us-nuclear-waste-dump-inches-closer-to-cleanup

October 5, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | 1 Comment

Nuclear waste awareness tour begins

Nuclear waste awareness tour begins   https://www.reformer.com/stories/nuclear-waste-awareness-tour-begins,586462 October 3, 2019

By Susan Smallheer, Brattleboro Reformer

BRATTLEBORO — Leona Morgan isn’t in Vermont this week for leaf peeping, but for environmental justice.

The Navajo woman from Albuquerque, N.M., is an indigenous community organizer and she wants the people of Vermont and New England what getting rid of the nuclear waste from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant means to her community.

Morgan, along with a group of anti-nuclear activists are touring New England this week to draw attention to what they concede is an oft-forgotten or ignored problem — where does the nuclear waste go?

Pulling a giant wooden mock cask that was built to resemble a cask used to transport — not store — high level radioactive waste, the activists are hoping the large dumbbell-looking prop will prompt discussion of the unsolved issue.

“It’s our job to wake them up,” Deb Katz, the executive director of the Citizens Awareness Network, said of residents.

Morgan said the nuclear industry — whether it is the existing 14,000-acre Waste Control Specialties (WCS) facility in west Texas, or its proposed expansion or a proposed Holtec nuclear storage facility just over the border in New Mexico — was overwhelming the communities in that region.

She said putting nuclear waste in that area, which she said is geologically unstable from a huge amount of oil and gas drilling, is dangerous and racist. The area is already home to the U.S. Department of Energy’s waste isolation pilot plant, which houses government-generated nuclear waste, including low-level plutonium. All those projects, Morgan said, are within 50 miles.

It is a largely Hispanic and Navajo area, she said, and the companies and politicians who are behind the nuclear project are “old, white men.”

“We are specifically targeted,” Morgan said.

The six-day tour has been organized by Citizens Awareness Network, a regional anti-nuclear organization based in Shelburne Falls, Mass. Katz and others made a brief stopover in Brattleboro on Wednesday with its large mock canister, as the group was making its way from the Vermont Law School to Greenfield, Mass., for a rally and concert.

“It is vital that citizens understand the issues and what’s at stake,” said Katz. “Until the criteria of sound science and environmental justice are the drivers behind any disposition, high-level nuclear waste must remain onsite,” she said.

All three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation have supported consolidated interim storage facilities, Katz said. Their support, she said, is based on the desire to get the high-level radioactive waste out of Vermont.

But she said that inherently unfair and short-sighted.

The stalled construction of a national depository at Yucca Mountain outside Las Vegas is still stalled, despite statements by President Donald Trump that he supports it. The project had been suspended during the Obama administration.

“This is an old bad idea,” said Diane D’Arrigo, the radioactive waste project director for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C.

Vermont Yankee emptied its spent fuel pool and completed the transfer of its thousands of spent fuel rods — the most dangerous of the radioactive waste — last year into a storage facility on the grounds of Vermont Yankee in Vernon. The fuel is now in large concrete and steel canisters called dry cask storage and will remain there until the federal Department of Energy builds a nuclear waste facility to store it for the thousands of years it remains dangerous. Yucca Mountain was once targeted as that facility.

But the anti-nuclear activists said a new push for interim waste storage facilities in west Texas and eastern New Mexico would be dangerous and that the nuclear fuel “should only be moved once.”

Moving the waste comes with many complications and potential dangers, Katz said, not to mention that thousands of shipments would come from dozens of nuclear power plants that have either shut down or will be shutting down.

The “Environmental Justice and Nuclear Waste Tour” started in Burlington on Tuesday, and made appearances in Montpelier, South Royalton, Brattleboro and Greenfield, Mass., on Wednesday. On Thursday, there is a legislative briefing at the Massachusetts State House, and afterwards a series of meetings in Massachusetts communities near the now-closed Pilgrim nuclear station. Then on Sunday, it’s back to western Massachusetts for an event and concert in Florence, Mass.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

October 5, 2019 Posted by | indigenous issues, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

USA’s stranded plutonium nuclear wastes

Post & Courier 30th Sept 2019  Dogged by faulty assumptions and lacking political will, the federal
government squandered billions of dollars and an opportunity to dispose of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear material by chasing a massive construction project in South Carolina that was doomed from the start.
Instead, the U.S. Department of Energy stranded a huge stockpile of plutonium — the lethal metal at the core of nuclear weapons — at a federal installation on the state’s wooded western edge, with plans to
leave it there for decades.   https://www.postandcourier.com/news/how-the-us-government-wasted-billion-and-stranded-tons-of/article_24bc000a-da1d-11e9-bb44-87644323c969.html
.wordpress.com/

October 4, 2019 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear waste is piling up – governments need to stop dithering and take action 

Nuclear waste is piling up – governments need to stop dithering and take action   https://theconversation.com/nuclear-waste-is-piling-up-governments-need-to-stop-dithering-and-take-action-123977  Claire Corkhill
Research Fellow in nuclear waste disposal, University of SheffieldSeptember 26, 2019   The UK government has launched a process to find a volunteer community who would be willing to host a £12 billion geological disposal facility for nuclear waste. It’s about time – the initiative comes after seven decades of successive governments putting the decision off. The situation is similar in many other countries, with dangerous nuclear material being stored unsafely because of political inaction.

In the UK, nuclear waste is currently kept in safe but high-maintenance conditions, with some canisters deteriorating, at Sellafield in Cumbria. This is costing tax payers £3 billion per year.

The new geological disposal facility is a vast underground bunker, to be buried around 500m below the Earth’s surface. It is intended to safely store approximately one Wembley Stadium’s worth of highly radioactive waste that has been generated over the past 70 years. Here, it will be isolated from the biosphere – and human populations – for the 100,000 years it will take for the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

Radioactive waste is generated from nuclear energy, military uses and also the extensive use of isotopes in medicine. The most highly radioactive portion comes from spent nuclear fuel – the used uranium fuel from inside nuclear reactors and the materials produced through recycling of spent nuclear fuel. The latter includes fission products that are transformed to glass and plutonium (which is currently neither a resource nor a waste).

These materials contain radioactive isotopes that have half-lives (the amount of time taken for half of the radioactivity to decay) of tens to hundreds of thousands of years. This means any storage solution must be extremely long-lived. That’s a significant challenge – the oldest known man-made materials are of the order of several thousands of years old.

The principle of geological disposal of nuclear waste is to use multiple barriers, much like a set of Russian Dolls. This makes it possible to contain the waste and prevent it from meeting with groundwater which would start to dissolve it – releasing radioactive materials to the environment. Engineered barriers are intended to contain the waste until most of the radioactivity has decayed.

If the disposal vaults are dug in a good, impermeable rock (such as clay or mudstone), the geology provides a natural barrier that will isolate the waste from the biosphere. This will reduce the likelihood of human intrusion into the facility. Being several hundreds of metres below the ground, there will also be long transport pathways to delay any significant migration of radioactive materials from the waste to the biosphere until far into the future.

International issue

The UK is not the only country opting for this solution. In Finland, construction of the Onkalo facility has already begun. A licence application has even been made to start disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

But progress in other nations has stalled: in France protesters surround the disposal facility in the village of Bure, while in Sweden, the Environmental Court has rejected the construction licence for a facility near the coastal town of Forsmark, due to safety concerns over the corrosion resistance of copper canisters.

In the USA, senators are suing the Federal Government for not building a disposal facility. The lack of a disposal facility has meant that thousands of metric tonnes of spent nuclear fuel, have built up – stored temporarily in dry casks at sites across the country.

The controversy is expected to extend to the UK’s new geological disposal siting process. Recent media articles have criticised the idea that see all areas of the UK – including national parks – could be suitable to host a facility. A previous siting process, launched in 2003, failed to find a site. Although two local authorities from near the Sellafield site came forward, Cumbria County Council was able to veto the vote.

The government hopes that new communities will step forward in this second process. It has proposed an incentive package offering communities £1m per year for having discussions about hosting the facility. This will increase to £2.5m per year when geological investigations are undertaken.

But environmentalists are likely to object, as they fear a better storage facility will only lead to more nuclear power stations. And indeed, Oliver Eden, former parliamentary undersecretary for energy under Theresa May’s government between 2017-2019, highlighted the disposal facility as being “the key to the future of the UK’s new nuclear build programme … providing a safe and secure way to dispose of the waste new nuclear reactors produce.”

Whatever the outcome of the current siting process, something must be done about nuclear waste. Leaving it for our grandchildren to deal with is simply not fair. What’s more, we can’t assume that future civilisations will be able to keep it safe.

The first step on the road to a solution is to initiate a public conversation about what we should do with the world’s most dangerous materials in the long term. If you are interested, a good first step could be to watch the video above and start discussing the topic with your friends, family and local authorities.

September 30, 2019 Posted by | UK, wastes | Leave a comment

A rude concrete sign indicates a deadly truth about nuclear radiation and cancer

 

September 24, 2019 Posted by | health, OCEANIA, USA, wastes, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Shutdown of Three Mile Island’s infamous nuclear plant symbolises the end of the nuclear energy era

Three Mile Island’s infamous nuclear plant shuts down after 45 years  https://www.engadget.com/2019/09/21/three-mile-island-nuclear-plant-shuts-down/

It won’t be free of radioactive material until 2078.
Jon Fingas@jonfingas  An important if ignominious chapter in American nuclear energy has come to a close. Exelon has shut down Three Mile Island’s Generating Station Unit 1 reactor after 45 years of use. The reactor isn’t the one behind the accident in March 1979, but this effectively marks the closure of the plant — Unit 2, the reactor that failed, has been dormant for the past 40 years. It didn’t directly provide a reason, but it had warned in 2017 that it would shut down the plant in 2019 due to the high running costs.

This doesn’t mark the end of the overall story, however, as it’ll take decades to clean up. Some of the teardown will take place quickly. Staff will remove the reactor’s fuel supply in the next few weeks and store it in the used fuel pool. It’ll take much longer to fully decommission the reactor, however. Exelon estimated that the plant won’t be fully clear of radioactive material until 2078, or more than a century after it entered service. Unit 2 is expected to close in 2036.

Unit 1 has been relatively safe, with the only notable incident being an air pressure change that briefly exposed 20 employees to a mild amount of radiation. However, the reactor has long lived in the shadow of Unit 2, whose partial meltdown exposed nearly 2 million people to radiation. There don’t appear to have been any publicly disclosed health effects, but the incident led to stricter oversight and, along with the Chernobyl disaster, defined the public perception of nuclear energy.

Exelon wasn’t shy in trying to pin the blame on local government. It claimed that Pennsylvania law “does not support the continued operation” of the reactor, and that rules “fail to evenly value clean energy resources” while dirty power sources could “pollute for free.” It doesn’t think nuclear is getting a fair shake compared to renewables and other clean energy sources, in other words. It has also complained about low natural gas prices that make Unit 1 difficult to run.

It’s not certain just what happens next, but the odds aren’t high for a revival. While nuclear is relatively clean, the rises of both renewables and natural gas have reduced the demand for it. Like it or not, the industry has moved on — the closure is a symbol of that transition.

September 22, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment

Radioactive debris to stay above vital aquifer in Idaho for 20 years more?

Agency could keep Three Mile Island nuclear debris in Idahohttps://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/agency-mile-island-nuclear-debris-idaho-65652583 ByKEITH RIDLER, ASSOCIATED PRESS BOISE, Idaho — Sep 16, 2019, 
Nuclear waste stored in underground containers at the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Idaho. Federal authorities want to store the partially melted core from one of the United States worst nuclear accident for another 20 years in Idaho.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 it’s considering a request from the U.S. Department of Energy to renew a license to store the radioactive debris from the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. The core of a reactor south of Harrisburg, Pa., partially melted in 1979.

The partially melted reactor core from the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history could remain in Idaho for another 20 years if regulators finalize a license extension sought by the U.S. Energy Department, officials said Monday.

The core from Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania partially melted in 1979, an event that changed the way Americans view nuclear technology.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has determined there would be no significant impact from extending the license to store the core at the 890-square-mile (2,305-square-kilometer) site that includes Idaho National Laboratory.

“No significant radiological or non-radiological impacts are expected from continued normal operations,” the commission said about its finding.

The agency would also have to complete a safety evaluation report before renewing the license. Commission spokesman David McIntyre said that will likely happen in the next several days.

Holly Harris, executive director of the Idaho-based nuclear watchdog group Snake River Alliance, wasn’t immediately available to comment.

The Energy Department site sits atop the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, a Lake Erie-size underground body of water that supplies cities and farms in the region with water.

The new license would be good through 2039, four years past a deadline the Energy Department initially set with Idaho to remove the radioactive waste.

State and federal officials say the waste could still be shipped out of Idaho ahead of the 2035 deadline and would not affect the 1995 agreement that contains penalties for missed deadlines.

Idaho is already fining the Energy Department for missing a deadline involving radioactive liquid waste stored at the site.

It’s not clear where the Three Mile Island waste could be moved, as the U.S. doesn’t have a designated repository.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says there’s some 77,000 tons (70,000 metric tons) of spent nuclear fuel stored at commercial nuclear sites around the country because there’s no place else to put it.

The Department of Energy said no additional material would be added to the waste storage site in Idaho.

The previous license expired in March. It said the maximum amount of Three Mile Island debris that could be stored at the Idaho site was 183,000 pounds (83,000 kilograms) of damaged nuclear fuel assemblies and 308,000 pounds (140,000 kilograms) of material removed from the reactor vessel.

Court battles between Idaho and the federal government culminated with the 1995 agreement requiring the Energy Department to clean up the Idaho site as well as prevent the area from becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump.

Exelon Generation, the company that owns the remaining nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, has said it will shut down the facility by the end of this month.

The company blamed economic challenges and what it said are market flaws that fail to recognize the value of nuclear plants.

Agency keeps Three Mile Island nuclear debris in Idaho By KEITH RIDLER, ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOISE, Idaho — Sep 16, 2019,

The Energy Department site sits atop the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, a Lake Erie-size underground body of water that supplies cities and farms in the region with water.

The new license would be good through 2039, four years past a deadline the Energy Department initially set with Idaho to remove the radioactive waste.

State and federal officials say the waste could still be shipped out of Idaho ahead of the 2035 deadline and would not affect the 1995 agreement that contains penalties for missed deadlines.

Idaho is already fining the Energy Department for missing a deadline involving radioactive liquid waste stored at the site.

It’s not clear where the Three Mile Island waste could be moved, as the U.S. doesn’t have a designated repository.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says there’s some 77,000 tons (70,000 metric tons) of spent nuclear fuel stored at commercial nuclear sites around the country because there’s no place else to put it.

The Department of Energy said no additional material would be added to the waste storage site in Idaho.

The previous license expired in March. It said the maximum amount of Three Mile Island debris that could be stored at the Idaho site was 183,000 pounds (83,000 kilograms) of damaged nuclear fuel assemblies and 308,000 pounds (140,000 kilograms) of material removed from the reactor vessel.

Court battles between Idaho and the federal government culminated with the 1995 agreement requiring the Energy Department to clean up the Idaho site as well as prevent the area from becoming the nation’s nuclear waste dump.

Exelon Generation, the company that owns the remaining nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, has said it will shut down the facility by the end of this month.

The company blamed economic challenges and what it said are market flaws that fail to recognize the value of nuclear plants.

THE BIG LIE AS USUAL
“No significant radiological or non-radiological impacts are expected from continued normal operations,” the commission said about its finding. THE WASTE IS IMPROPERLY STORED IN BARRELS OVER ONE OF THE LARGEST AQUIFERS IN THE NW USA

September 20, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Plan to keep Three Mile Island nuclear debris dumped in Idaho 

Agency considering storing Three Mile Island nuclear debris in Idaho 

https://kywnewsradio.radio.com/articles/ap-news/agency-considering-three-mile-island-nuclear-debris-idaho, AP NEWS SEPTEMBER 18, 2019  BOISE, Idaho (AP— Federal authorities want to store the partially melted core from one of the United States’ worst nuclear power accidents for another 20 years in Idaho.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday it’s considering a request from the U.S. Department of Energy to renew a license to store the radioactive debris from the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant.

The core of a reactor south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, partially melted in 1979. The commission says continuing to store the debris at the Energy Department’s 890-square-mile site in eastern Idaho that includes the Idaho National Laboratory will have no significant impact.

The license would be good through 2039, four years past an agreement the Energy Department has with Idaho to remove the high-level radio

September 19, 2019 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Russia’s nuclear torpedoes at the bottom of the sea

A Dead Russian Submarine Armed with Nuclear Torpedoes was Never Recovered, National Interest, Robert Farley, September 15, 2019

Key point: She rests at a depth of 15,000 feet —too deep to make recovery practical. 

The Bay of Biscay is one of the world’s great submarine graveyards. In late World War II, British and American aircraft sank nearly seventy German U-boats in the Bay, which joined a handful of Allied and German subs sunk in the region during World War I. On April 12, 1970, a Soviet submarine found the same resting place. Unlike the others, however, K-8 was propelled by two nuclear reactors, and carried four torpedoes tipped by nuclear warheads.

The Novembers (627):

The November (Type 627) class was the Soviet Union’s first effort at developing nuclear attack submarines…….
 The Novembers were too loud to plausibly find their way into close enough proximity to a NATO port to ever actually fire a nuclear torpedo in wartime conditions…….
On April 8, K-8 suffered two fires, resulting in a shutdown of both nuclear reactors. The boat surfaced, and Captain Vsevolod Borisovich Bessonov ordered the crew to abandon ship. Eight crew members, trapped in compartments that were either flooded or burned out, died in the initial incident. Fortunately, a Soviet repair vessel arrived, and took K-8 under tow. However, bad weather made the recover operation a difficult prospect. Much of K-8’s crew reboarded the submarine, and for three days fought a life-and-death struggle to save the boat. Although details remain scarce, there apparently was no opportunity to safely remove the four nuclear torpedoes from K-8, and transfer them to the repair ship.
Unfortunately, the loss of power onboard and the difficult weather conditions were too much for the crew to overcome. On April 12, K-8 sank with some forty crew members aboard, coming to rest at a rough depth of 15,000 feet. The depth made any effort at recovering the submarine, and the nuclear torpedoes, impractical……
R
The loss of K-8 (along with the several accidents that afflicted her sisters) undoubtedly helped the Soviet Navy learn important lessons about distant operations, if only at extraordinary costs in human lives. And her nuclear torpedoes remain at the bottom, an enduring monument to most dangerous missions of the Cold War. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/dead-russian-submarine-armed-nuclear-torpedoes-was-never-recovered-80416

September 16, 2019 Posted by | oceans, Russia, wastes, weapons and war | Leave a comment

How to warn distant future generations about nuclear waste?

How do you leave a warning that lasts as long as nuclear waste? Phys Org, by Helen Gordon, 13 Sep 19  “……. First, it is difficult to predict how future generations will behave, what they will value and where they will want to go. Second, creating, maintaining and transmitting records of where waste is dumped will be essential in helping future generations protect themselves from the decisions we make today. Decisions that include how to dispose of some of today’s most hazardous material: high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants.

The red metal lift takes seven juddering minutes to travel nearly 500 metres down. Down, down through creamy limestone to reach a 160-million-year-old layer of clay. Here, deep beneath the sleepy fields and quiet woods along the border of the Meuse and Haute-Marne departments in north-east France, the French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (Andra) has built its underground research laboratory.

The laboratory’s tunnels are brightly lit but mostly deserted, the air dry and dusty and filled with the hum of a ventilation unit. Blue and grey metal boxes house a series of ongoing experiments—measuring, for example, the corrosion rates of steel, the durability of concrete in contact with the clay. Using this information, Andra wants to build an immense network of tunnels here.

It plans to call this place Cigéo, and to fill it with dangerous radioactive waste. It is designed to be able to hold 80,000 cubic meters of waste……

High-level radioactive waste is primarily, spent fuel from nuclear reactors or the residues resulting from reprocessing that fuel. This waste is so potent that it must be isolated from humans until its levels of radiation, which decrease over time, are no longer hazardous. The timescale Andra is looking at is up to one million years……. Some scientists call this long-lived waste “the Achilles heel of nuclear power,” and it’s a problem for all of us—whatever our stance on nuclear. Even if all the world’s nuclear plants were to cease operating tomorrow, we would still have more than 240,000 tonnes of dangerously radioactive material to deal with.

Currently, nuclear waste is stored above ground or near the surface, but within the industry this is not considered an acceptable long-term solution. This kind of storage facility requires active monitoring. As well as regular refurbishment it must be protected from all kinds of hazards, including earthquakes, fires, floods and deliberate attacks by terrorists or enemy powers.

This not only places an unfair financial burden on our descendants, who may no longer even use nuclear power, but also assumes that in the future there will always be people with the knowledge and will to monitor the waste. On a million-year timescale this cannot be guaranteed.

So, after considering a range of options, governments and the nuclear industry have come to the view that deep, geological repositories are the best long-term approach. Building one of these is an enormous task that comes with host of complex safety concerns.

Finland has already begun construction of a geological repository (called Onkalo), and Sweden has begun the licensing process for its site. Andra expects to apply for its construction license within the next two years.

If Cigéo goes into operation it will house both the high-level waste and what is known as intermediate-level long-lived waste—such as reactor components. Once the repository has reached capacity, in perhaps 150 years’ time, the access tunnels will be backfilled and sealed up. If all goes according to plan, no one will ever enter the repository again……..

For waste buried deep underground, the major threat to public health comes from water contamination. If radioactive material from the waste were to mix with flowing water, it would be able to move relatively swiftly through the bedrock and into the soil and large bodies of water such as lakes and rivers, finally entering the food chain via plants, fish and other animals.

To prevent this, an underground repository such as Cigéo will take great care to shield the waste it stores. Within its walls there will be metal or concrete containers to block the radiation, and liquid waste can be mixed into a molten glass paste that will harden around it to stop leakage…….

Deep geological repositories are designed as passive systems, meaning that once Cigéo is closed, no further maintenance or monitoring is required. Much more difficult to plan for is the risk of human intrusion, whether inadvertent or deliberate.

In 1980, the US Department of Energy created the Human Interference Task Force to investigate the problem of human intrusion into waste repositories. What was the best way to prevent people many thousands of years in the future from entering a repository and either coming into direct contact with the waste or damaging the repository, leading to environmental contamination?

Over the next 15 years a wide variety of experts were involved in this and subsequent projects, including materials scientists, anthropologists, architects, archaeologists, philosophers and semioticians—social scientists who study signs, symbols and their use or interpretation………

In the very long term, though, these plans also have a major drawback: how can we know that anyone living one million years in the future will understand any of the languages spoken today?

Think of the differences between modern and Old English. Who of us can understand “Ðunor cymð of hætan & of wætan”? That—meaning “Thunder comes from heat and from moisture”—is a mere thousand years old.

Languages also have a habit of disappearing. Around 4,000 years ago in the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan and north-west India, for example, people were writing in a script that remains completely indecipherable to modern researchers. In one million years it is unlikely that any language spoken today will still exist……. https://phys.org/news/2019-09-nuclear.html?fbclid=IwAR2Kyunn90VCKgkNnwyGsMDYSYi3-UghDX7UNKcZNILzBuflZq2Gkq7daZE

September 14, 2019 Posted by | 2 WORLD, wastes | Leave a comment

Strong drumbeat of opposition to Yucca Mountain nuclear dump continues

  Beyond Nuclear 
As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, a coalition of Nevadans — from Western Shoshone Indians, to environmentalists, to local, state, and federal officials — have come together yet again to express their adamant opposition to the scheme to dump 70,000 metric tons or more of highly radioactive wastes at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. This continues 32 years of resistance, ever since the 1987 “Screw Nevada” amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 singled out Western Shoshone land as the only site in the country to be further considered for an irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste permanent geological repository. In that time, more than a thousand environmental, and environmental justice, organizations have fought the dump at every twist and turn (see 750 of them listed here). Native Community Action Council secretary Ian Zabarte has achieved hard won, official intervening party status in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Yucca dump licensing proceeding, in his effort to defend Western Shoshone treaty rights. (The photo shows NCAC’s Zabarte at right, and Beyond Nuclear’s Kevin Kamps at left, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during a youth climate rally in 2018.)
As the Nevada Current reported about the recent forum, calls are growing for Democratic candidates for president to be bold and clear in their opposition to the Yucca dump. Nevada has the first Western presidential campaign caucus, coming just after the earliest contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. The Current reports: “At least five current Democratic presidential candidates — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and [Kamala] Harris — have signed on to [U.S.] Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s [Democrat-Nevada] bill to force the federal government to request Nevada’s consent before storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Julian Castro, Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg have also expressed their opposition to the federal government’s proposal, while Andrew Yang has said he supports it.” The Trump administration is seeking to restart the Yucca Mountain dump project, which the Obama administration wisely cancelled as “unworkable” in 2010 (not to mention scientifically unsuitable, environmentally unjust, non-consent based, inter-generationally unjust, regionally inequitable, etc.!)

September 14, 2019 Posted by | opposition to nuclear, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

No more room for Belgium’s nuclear waste 

No more room for Belgium’s nuclear waste   https://www.brusselstimes.com/all-news/belgium-all-news/67262/no-more-room-for-belgiums-nuclear-waste/  , Alan Hope, The Brussels Times, 08 September 2019  Belgium has no more room in its storage spaces for low-grade nuclear waste, according to the latest annual report from Belgoprocess, the government agency responsible.

September 8, 2019 Posted by | EUROPE, wastes | Leave a comment

Nuclear waste problem to be explored by China, in giant underground lab

China plans giant underground lab to research nuclear waste, By Julie Zaugg and Nanlin Fang, CNN, September 6, 2019  China is building a laboratory up to 560 meters (1,837 feet) underground in the middle of the Gobi desert to carry out tests on nuclear waste, officials have confirmed.

September 8, 2019 Posted by | China, wastes | Leave a comment

China grapples with problem of its growing nuclear wastes

some analysts and many members of the public remain sceptical about whether it is really safe.

China earmarks site to store nuclear waste deep underground

Researchers will conduct tests at the location in Gansu to see whether it will make a viable facility to store highly radioactive waste safely
Scientists say China has the chance to become a world leader in this field but has to find a way to ensure it does not leak, SCMP, Echo Xie   September 06, 2019  China has chosen a site for an underground laboratory to research the disposal of highly radioactive waste, the country’s nuclear safety watchdog said on Wednesday.

Officials said work would soon begin on building the Beishan Underground Research Laboratory 400 metres (1,312 feet) underground in the northwestern province of Gansu.

Liu Hua, head of the National Nuclear Safety Administration, said work would be carried out to determine whether it was possible to build a repository for high-level nuclear waste deep underground. ……..   [China] needs to find a safe and reliable way of dealing with its growing stockpiles of nuclear waste. …..

Some Chinese scientists said the country had the chance to lead the world in this area of research but others have expressed concerns about safety. ……

Despite broad scientific support for underground disposal, some analysts and many members of the public remain sceptical about whether it is really safe.

Lei Yian, an associate professor at Peking University’s school of physics, said there was no absolute guarantee that the repositories would be safe when they came into operation…….

China is also building more facilities to dispose of low and intermediate-level waste. Officials said new plants were being built in Zhejiang, Fujian and Shandong, three coastal provinces that lack disposal facilities.

At present, two disposal sites for low and intermediate-level waste are in operation in Gansu and Guangdong provinces. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3025903/china-earmarks-site-store-nuclear-waste-deep-underground

 

September 7, 2019 Posted by | China, wastes | Leave a comment

A very small nuclear reactor still results in expensive and risky decommissioning

Environmental groups concerned about demolition plan for Saskatoon’s SLOWPOKE-2 nuclear reactor, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-nuclear-reactor-demolition-concerns-1.5264231

Groups worried about transportation of nuclear waste, pouring treated water into sewer,


David Shield
 · CBC News ·Aug 30, 2019 
 Environmental groups from across the country are expressing concerns about the decommissioning of a small nuclear reactor near the University of Saskatchewan campus.

The Saskatchewan Research Council is applying to dismantle its SLOWPOKE-2 reactor. The demolition would likely happen next year, but before that happens the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will hold a hearing in Ottawa next month to look at approving the plan.

Environmental groups’ concerns about the plan include the intentions to release treated water from the reactor pool into the City of Saskatoon’s sewer system and to send the non-radioactive building materials to a private landfill.

“We don’t know what the cumulative effect or the additive effect of the radioactive burden is going to be of either of those practices,” said Brennain Lloyd, project manager of Northwatch, an environmental group in northern Ontario.

Other concerns include the fate of the reactor pool itself. The proposed plan includes filling the empty pool with concrete, rather than removing the contaminated site completely, as long as the site meets radioactivity guidelines.

Michael Poellet of Saskatchewan’s Inter-Church Uranium Committee Educational Co-operative (ICUCEC) questioned leaving the pool site in the ground.

“The issue there is that the cement in the pool has absorbed radioactivity,” said Poellet. “It’s not assured that the cement will be able to keep that radioactivity within that cement.”

Northwatch, along with the ICUCEC and Nuclear Waste Watch, have all applied to provide comment at the hearing.

The groups said they have important questions, including concerns about eight cubic meters of nuclear waste being transported hundreds of kilometres to a holding facility in South Carolina and parts of the reactor being sent to long-term storage in Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario.

“It’s a big deal project,” said Lloyd. “It seems to have been flying under the radar but it needs to come out out front.” Continue reading

August 31, 2019 Posted by | decommission reactor, USA | Leave a comment