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


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