Disposing Nuclear Waste

There are currently 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants in the United States supplying 20% of our energy needs.  The newest one is over 30 years old.

More than 20 applications for new or expanded nuclear power plants are awaiting approval by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the necessity increases to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change.  Nuclear energy emits fewer green house gases than solar.  See chart below.

Yet permanent solutions to nuclear waste disposal are still not available in America.  Taxpayers are not interested in picking up the tab on storage of the nation’s waste in their backyards, expensive construction overruns, or nuclear accidents.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_power_accidents_by_country#United_States  lists nuclear accidents in America up to 2013.

According to the Congressional Research Service, at the end of 2009,  there were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel  (increasing 2,400 tons annually) kept in about 70 interim storage pools throughout the United States.  Surprisingly, this only amounts to the size of one football field piled 15 feet high.


All U.S. nuclear power plants store spent fuel assemblies in pools constructed of reinforced concrete several feet thick, with steel liners.  The water is typically about 40 feet deep, and serves both to shield the radiation and cool the rods.  Water temperature is critical.

As the pools near capacity, some of the older spent fuel is moved into “dry cask” storage on site.  Fuel is typically cooled at least 5 years in the pool before transfer to cask.  Nuclear Regulatory Commission has authorized transfer as early as 3 years; the industry norm is about 10 years.

The NRC believes the pools and dry casks provide adequate protection of the environment, public health, and public safety.  The issue is the length of time it takes for the radioactive fuel to become inert, which is considerably longer than the life of the container.

After September 11, 2001, the NRC ordered plant operators to take several measures that would mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack or plane crash.  These measures would also be effective in tornadoes, earthquakes or a tsunami like the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in Japan.

D. Richard (“Rip”) Anderson, of Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico is an innovator in the field of probabilistic risk assessment.  He led the successful certification process for the nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico that stores military radioactive waste.   He coauthored the Sandia National Laboratories Performance Assessment Methodology for Long-Term Environmental Programs Report which establishes methodology to identify technically sound nuclear waste management strategies that reduce overall cost and prioritize activities by focusing scientific and engineering efforts on what is most important to repository performance.   He participates in peer review of the science at Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada, which was slated to be the permanent storage repository for all American radioactive waste.  Yucca Mountain still has no authorization to open.

Former Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham said,  “A central facility, as opposed to on-site situations, is a much safer approach.  Settings in metropolitan areas are not safer than storing nuclear waste under a mountain that is 1,000 feet below the earth.”  Yet transporting the waste has Nevada residents concerned.  Abraham goes on to say that the wiser approach would have been to recommend a 250-year repository to store nuclear waste.  Yucca Mountain is a 10,000-year site.

Mr Abraham is now the board chair for Uranium Energy Corp., that acquires property in Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado; historically the most concentrated area for uranium mining in the U.S.  It has positioned itself well to capitalize on the world’s overwhelming demand for more uranium, for more energy, for cheaper energy and for a cleaner environment.

Uranium is a nonrenewable metal found in rocks all over the world.  Expired Russian nuclear warheads represent much of the 58 million pounds of uranium used in American reactors.  In 2012, 17%  came from the United States and 83% came from Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Canada, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, China, Malawi, and Ukraine.

Mining vein-type deposits is a typical open pit or underground mine. The processed, concentrated uranium product is typically a bright yellow or orange powder called yellowcake, and the waste stream from these operations are called mill tailings.  Mill tailings are highly radioactive and commonly include many toxic compounds.

Solution mines expose uranium sand to a groundwater solution with a slightly elevated Ph using oxygen, carbon dioxide, or caustic soda. The uranium dissolves into the water which is retrieved and circulated through a resin bed in order to extract and further concentrate the uranium into yellowcake. The water is returned to the ground where the mining process is repeated.

Nuclear energy is water intensive throughout the process.  At a time when clean water is becoming more scarce, it is a critical aspect of concern.

The processes for mining, refining uranium ore and making reactor fuel require large amounts of energy.  The plants are constructed with large amounts of metal and concrete manufactured with large amounts of fossil fuel.  They are very expensive and time consuming to build, mostly due to regulations and consent.

“America has always risen to great challenges, and our dependence on oil is one of the greatest we have ever faced. It’s a threat to our national security, our planet and our economy”.  “Achieving this goal will not be easy.  Energy independence will require far more than the same Washington gimmicks and continued dependence on costly and finite resources.  It will require a sustained and shared effort by our government, our businesses, and the American people.  But America has overcome great challenges before.  With clarity of direction and leadership, there is no question that we possess the insight, resources, courage and the determination to build a new economy that is powered by clean and secure energy”.  To read the entire Obama/Biden New Energy for America Plan click on http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/edg/media/Obama_New_Energy_0804.pdf

Meanwhile, Germany has decided to shut down its 17 nuclear power plants by 2022 and greatly expand its renewable energy investments, part of the global nuclear political fallout following  the Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster.  Other countries, such as Switzerland and Italy, have stopped all new nuclear projects.  France is decidedly supporting its nuclear industry.

With forecasts for energy demand growth in the U.S. much lower than they were just five years ago, we still have a long way to go to ensure 25 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2025 and to implement an economy‐wide cap‐and‐trade program that reduces greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

How You Can Help:

Until next week,mountains_3

Garbage Girl


The Most Environmentally Wasteful Design


When one considers how magnificent the human design is, one has to wonder why our needs and desires became so wasteful.

Wasteful design begins with the creator not considering the full impact their creations have on the surrounding environment, both in the making of the design and the finished life of the design.

So, should we fault our creator for making us the most wasteful design on our planet?

Probably not.  Whether we were created by God or evolved from bacteria, we have cumulatively turned into a real threat to the only place we can live.

We are unable to mobilize defenses against this threat.  We consciously or unconsciously ignore it.  We are misinformed about it.  We cannot avoid it because the threat is us.  So, what we have become is so big and so destructive that it hijacks our own sense of common good and responsible choice.

The symptom is not being able to full cycle everything we desire and need.  And our desires and needs are never ending.

We produce pervasive contaminants, harmful pollutants, damaging particles, poisonous atmospheres, everything we use, eat, and do everyday takes something from the earth and does not give back.  The waste is inescapably part of everyday life.

Could our planet reject us?  Could we change?  What is required of each of us to affect a change that is large enough to reverse the direction we are heading?

Spiritual communities may have the answers.  For the first time in human history, our continuing existence depends on our ability to unify with one another.  Our fractious political systems have not produced that unity, so we need to do it ourselves.  We need to inspire each other to tackle change.  The effort we put forth to unify humanity and protect the planet can have an enormous impact.


What you can do to help:

  • Become knowledgeable of how your choices affect the planet and the communities you make choices with.
  • Join or create a community of people and unite for changes that protect the environment.
  • Let businesses know they need to be responsible for the complete life of the product they put into the life of our planet.
  • It’s not about us.  It’s about the planet we live on.
  • Buy less.  Use less.  Be more magnificent.

Until next week,images-1

Garbage Girl




College Waste.Org


In a couple of weeks, students will be flooding into our nation’s colleges, filling dorms and apartments with temporary furniture and personal items that get the honorary decorating title;  “Early College Style”.

Fear not!  Last year’s students left or threw out their defining decor and a cool new organization reclaimed it all and got it ready for a new batch of needy students.

Started by University of New Hampshire student, Alex Freid, Trash2Treasure collects usable dumpster-bound items during move out in May, puts it in storage over the summer and sells it back to the students the next fall at a yard sale.  The money they make from the move-in sale cycles back into the program, allowing them to run it again the next year.


Spurred by the success of Trash2Treasure’s, Alex founded a national nonprofit called the Post-Landfill Action Network, or PLAN.   “When the only solution is a dumpster, everything looks like trash” is the slogan that inspired him to create change.

PLAN’s goal is to encourage students all over the country to set up programs that diminish waste on campus.  But, the more important goal is to set up a national network of student-led zero waste movements.  That way, no individual school has to reinvent the wheel.  PLAN is currently raising money for an online guide to make it easier for every campus that wants to clean up their act.

Another very active organization is Planet Aid, especially when textiles are concerned.   They have recognizable bright yellow  bins that can be hosted, free of charge, in addition to recycling programs and clothing drives to keep textiles out of landfills.images

They claim the clothes collected in their bins are repurposed into something new, or sold to developing countries with the proceeds going towards development projects like Teacher Training, Child Aid, and Farmers’ Clubs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Yet, they are on Charity Watch’s  list of organizations that do not do what they say they are doing.  Planet Aid made over $42 million in 2013 from selling their items.  With such a ready market of buyers willing to pay large sums of money for used clothing, shoes, and textiles like the ones Planet Aid collects, it can’t assert that items worth millions and millions of dollars would end up in a landfill.   However!  11 million tons of textiles are dumped in landfills every year and that number is growing.
http://www.planetaid.org/blog/curbing-the-college-waste-problem  and   https://www.charitywatch.org/charitywatch-articles/planet-aid-39-s-34-recycling-34-program-debunked-/88

Then there are the chemical, biological, medical, universal, and radioactive wastes generated in a variety of clinical, research, service, maintenance, and cleaning operations throughout our colleges.  These waste materials must be properly managed by staff, students and professors prior to collection and/or disposal.

Then there are the dyes, glazes, pigments, sharps, toners, papers, sculpting materials and canvases used in art schools.

Then the food, paper, metal, plastic and all of those single serving containers in the cafeteria and vending machines.

Add in the batteries and electronics.

images-1And finally the parties! Much needed to reduce the stress from throwing out all that stuff, resulting in a lot of trashed students.


In New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Waste Reduction & Recycling puts out a Resource Book with information and ideas on developing college waste reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, buying recycled products and packaging programs.  http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/8801.html

Colleges all have departments of solid waste management and procurement offices that can be trained to reach zero waste on their campus.   Directives concerning zero waste programs should come out of the President’s Office.  When upper management is behind the program others will participate.   Students, faculty, custodial staff, office staff… everyone can be inspired to join the effort!

Pepperdine University leads the list of colleges closest to zero waste.  Only 22% of the waste produced at this school ever makes it to a landfill. The other 78% is recycled, an amazing diversion rate.  Computers, monitors, printers, and cell phones can be donated through the IT center Tech Central or recycled at a number of locations on campus.  Green waste, like tree and brush trimmings, are composted and reused for fertilizer and pathways.  Food waste is also cut down by composting and by a meal system involving points, not buffet-style meals, so students aren’t tempted to be wasteful.  Even construction materials are recycled after building projects conclude, at the high rate of 80%.    http://www.thebestcolleges.org/11-college-recycling-programs-that-put-all-others-to-shame/

If you google average college student waste you will get a surprising number of participating college programs all over the country coming up with some very creative ways to reduce waste and improve students’ waste awareness.

Then there are the outrageous dorm rooms that make college so fun!  http://www.buzzfeed.com/cindyc22/20-dorm-rooms-you-wish-were-yours-d9x3#.lfbWxNl7j6


Have a blast!  Learn a lot!  Become aware of your annual 640 pounds of student garbage!  And recycle all that creativity!

Until next week,Unknown

Garbage Girl

Philadelphia Zoo Rethinks Waste


This summer, the Philadelphia Zoo is featuring  an exhibit of animals and nature sculptures made from used materials.  “Second Nature–Junk Rethunk”  features works of art to show the connection between human behavior and animal endangerment.

This is so well done that I have to devote most of my blog to sharing this work with you.  So!  Let’s go to the Zoo!


White rhino made from 250 silver serving trays by local artist Leo Sewell.  Silver was used to process photographs, leading to the nature awareness message, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints”.


An eight-foot long crocodile made from chewing gum by Italian artist Maurizio Savini.   Chewing gum is a worldwide problem, costing businesses and taxpayers millions of dollars per year to clean up if not properly disposed.  Chewing gum cannot typically be recycled or composted.


Gigantic gorilla made from cardboard collected onsite at the zoo by Montreal artist Laurence Vallieres.  The sculpture emphasizes our HUGE use of trees for paper and packaging that destroy forest habitats.


Polar bear cubs by Australian artist James Corbett made from  used spark plugs that came from auto workshops.  This brings our carbon emitting car culture into the climate change debate that threatens their environment.


Massive roots made from plastic water bottles by Aurora Robson raises awareness about how so much plastic gets into our oceans.


Great ape made from car doors by New Mexico artist, Don Kennell,  makes the connection to the future of mountain gorillas in Virunga Preserve and SOCO Oil’s efforts to undo the protection this last habitat offers our cousins.


Butterflies and flowers made from car hoods, kitchen tools, traffic signals, heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts, artificial turf and road plate by the collaborative artist group FLUX  establishes a connection between our lifestyle and the imbalance of pollination in our shared environment.


A shadow “Thinker” by Rodin contemplates a gorilla skull made from lighting an assembled pile of discarded electronics by Diet Wiegman from the Netherlands.  It suggests that we should  think more about the possible extinction of our fellow primates.


Precious Few is animals carved from crayons by Vietnamese artist Diem Chau to bring specific attention to many of our endangered species.  An Amur tiger, a Sumatran orangutan and a Panamanian golden frog .

According to the World Wildlife Fund, “destructive human activities” have increased the rate of species extinction from 100 to 1000 times the natural rate.  Since all animal and plant life is part of a complex ecosystem, our disregard for removing one or more of these parts damages the ecosystem, sometimes beyond restoration.

Destructive human activities that endanger species are unsustainable hunting, illegal hunting, trophy hunting, killing large predators that threaten our domestic animals,  introducing invasive species, introducing diseases, pollution and habitat destruction from greed, our unsustainable lifestyles, and over populating our shared home.

This brings us to the discussion about whether zoos are sanctuaries of education and entertainment or unnecessary imprisonment of our fellow residents.

The first modern zoo, the Imperial Menagerie in Vienna, Austria  was established in 1752 and continues to attract visitors to this day.  In Germany, the world’s largest animal collection, Zoo Berlin (formerly The Berlin Zoological Gardens) houses more than 15,000 animals from almost 1,700 species according to online encyclopedia, Encarta.

All U.S. animal exhibitors, like the 265-acre,  Bronx Zoo, must apply for and receive a license from the Department of Agriculture.

175 million people visit the over 10,000  zoos around the world every year, proving that we never grow tired of observing wildlife.

Good zoos play an important role in conservation, education and research and have helped get a few endangered species back in the wild.   They engage local populations in species preservation efforts.  Membership and admissions funding supports animal conservation and preserve management.  All wildlife conservation organizations work with zoos.

How You Can Help:

  • Donate money or time to The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Sierra Club, International Crane Foundation, Friends of Haleakala National Park, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Oceana, or Conservation International.  These organizations all spend 80% or more of their funding toward conservation so your money goes a long way.
  • Discover your local wildlife preserves and help to keep them viable.
  • Watch and share Virunga: The Movie.  https://www.facebook.com/virungamovie   They really need a lot of help!
  • Adopt an animal symbolically with WWF   http://gifts.worldwildlife.org/gift-center/gifts/Species-Adoptions.aspx?sc=AWY1303WCI00
  • Donate time.  All zoos and preserves have volunteers.  Imagine actually helping The Smithsonian’s National Zoo, The Bronx Zoo or the San Diego Zoo do their work!
  • Let the Philadelphia Zoo know how great their showcase is. http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Get-Involved/Membership/Join-The-Zoo.htm
  • Most zoos have reciprocal memberships so visit your favorite animals in your favorite cities.
  • Learn how your waste affects our world.
  • Take a nature vacation and discover how extraordinary wildlife is in a healthy environment.

Until next week,  images-10

Garbage Girl






Solar Roadways: Waste or Reality

You have to click on this video to get the full blast of excitement being generated by Scott and Julie Brusaw from their farm in Idaho.   The excitement generated over $2M at Indiegogo, one of its highest funded projects to date.  With the additional funding from the Federal Department of Transportation they have been able to make prototypes and hire academics to further research their idea.  The video alone has gotten16M hits.

The idea is great!  The reaction they are getting is great.  Or  not so great.  If you clicked on the video, you got a taste of the future without oil.  Its pretty wild to think that 18,641 miles of American roadways could solve our carbon problem, melt snow, warn us of danger, eliminate electric wires, make phone poles obsolete, remove street lights, fuel cars, and change surface designs according to our latest needs.

Add tarmacs, driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, bikeways, playgrounds and anything else that is currently under asphalt and you have the capacity to produce ALOT of “free” renewable energy.

Welcome to the  Solar Roadways world.  A tempered glass surface covering LED lights and a solar panel generates sun produced electricity from every road in America.  Hexagonally shaped, interlocking pieces can cover any surface.  The independent sections make them easy to switch out if they need maintenance or repair.

Channels are required along the solar roadside to carry the wiring.  These channels could also carry and store electric wires, phone wires, electric outlets, cables, wires to light the roads, stop lights, and highway signs.  They could fuel electric cars and act as drains to direct water away from the road.

So, that’s great, right?!

The not-so-great responders argue that the output won’t be enough to fuel anything.  The installation and construction costs will, of course, be outrageous.  Its not safe to drive on glass.  The glass cannot carry required weight loads.  The light pollution will be too much in some areas.  The heating units need to be operational before snow covers the panels.  When it snows the sun is not out.  The roads are outside and the outside gets dirty.  Solar power needs to be stored to use later.  The angle of the lights won’t be visible while driving in daylight.  The surface is noisy.  Shade from cars in heavy or stopped traffic, trees along a country road, or city buildings will affect the entire string of solar panels.  The LEDs and heating elements are not connected to the photovoltaics so these elements require electricity from the grid 24/7.  The heaters alone require more power than the available photovoltaics in the hexagon can supply.

And on and on.  Sure!  The idea needs more research and testing.  Is this a false start or did solar roads actually get the spark  that inspires others to test these ideas and theories until they work?    Airplanes were once considered impossible, microchips are still hard to imagine, the world connected by 1s and 0s?

Check out what these guys are doing! http://electrical-engineering-portal.com/innovative-approach-to-maglev-trains-solar-energy


Engineers in Amsterdam  all ready say their system is working better than expected while testing a 70-metre bike path that generated 3,000 kWh, or enough electricity to power a small household for a year.

Their panels were made for extreme durability supporting 12 ton fire trucks as opposed to the US version of 250 pound tractors.  Designed to last the same amount of time as rooftop solar panels, 20 years, the tests show only one fault with some of the protective coating delaminating in high temperature fluctuations.   Jan-Hendrik Kremer of Renewable Energy Systems, Imtech, Stan Klerks from TNO, the parent company of SolaRoad and their team of engineers are credited for the Netherlands getting on the solar road map first.  Using rows of crystalline silicon solar cells  embedded into the concrete of the path and covered by a thick, tempered glass, they coated the surface with a special non-adhesive and tilted it at an angle so the dust and dirt would not accumulate.

Design lab, Studio Roosegaarde, has created a solar bike path that lit up the night with a LED inspired Starry Starry Night.


The opposing forces all have their own videos too https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mzzz5DdzyWY

In the meantime, Morocco and other sunny mid east cities have been perfecting solar thermal energy far longer than we have. Germany announced a record 78% of its energy needs are supplied by renewable sources.  Its time for us to embrace this.

How You Can Help:

  • Support the solar industry.
  • Lift your hat to everyone who comes up with new ideas, because even failed ideas have led to success.
  • Educate yourself on the realities of solar.   In 1972, the price of an average watt of solar power stood at $75.  In 2012, that dropped to less than $1 per watt. By 2015, solar modules from China are expected to run the consumer just 42 cents per watt. In 2016, solar power will be competitive with electricity from the conventional power grid in almost every U.S. state.
  • There are a number of reputable suppliers ready to get you started saving money and resources.

Until next week,    images-1

Garbage Girl