Tag Archives: disposal of nuclear waste

Institutions Go Way But Not Nuclear Waste

The Trump administration  is asking Congress for money to resume work on the Yucca Mountain nulcear waste storage in Nevada.  But that may not end local opposition or a longstanding political stalemate. And in the meantime, nuclear plants are running out of room to store spent fuel….As the waste piles up, private companies are stepping in with their own solutions for the nation’s radioactive spent fuel. One is proposing a temporary storage site in New Mexico, and another is seeking a license for a site in Texas.

Most experts agree that what’s needed is a permanent site, like Yucca Mountain, that doesn’t require humans to manage it.  “Institutions go away,” says Edwin Lyman, acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s no guarantee the owner will still be around for the duration of time when that waste remains dangerous, which is tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

A California company says it has a viable plan for permanent storage. Deep Isolation wants to store spent fuel in holes drilled at least 1,000 feet underground in stable rock formations. The company says the waste would be separate from groundwater and in a place where it can’t hurt people.  “I like to imagine having a playground at the top of the Deep Isolation bore hole where my kids and I can go play,” says CEO Elizabeth Muller.  In November 2018, Muller’s company conducted a test north of Austin, Texas. Crews lowered an 80-pound canister into a drilled hole. It was a simulation, so no radioactive substances were involved. The goal was to determine whether they could also retrieve the canister.  The test was successful, and that’s important. Regulators require retrieval, because new technology could develop to better deal with the spent fuel. And the public is less likely to accept disposal programs that can’t be reversed, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Proving the waste can be retrieved may be the easy part. The bigger challenge is federal law, which doesn’t allow private companies to permanently store nuclear waste from power plants.  Current law also says all the waste should end up at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. By contrast, Deep Isolation’s technology would store waste at sites around the country, likely near existing nuclear power plants.

Jeff Brady, As Nuclear Waste Piles Up, Private Companies Pitch New Ways To Store It, NPR, Apr. 30, 2019

Disused, Dangerous and Nuclear

Most of radioactive waste arising from nuclear applications consists of disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRS). Radioactive sources are used in different devices in medical, industrial and agricultural facilities. They have to be accounted for and when they are no longer usable, they have to be recovered, dismantled, stored and, as the case may be, prepared for transportation. Therefore, countries with or without nuclear power programmes have to make sure they have the ability to properly manage them. The IAEA is supporting capacity building in both regulatory framework and operation and can support removal operations. The IAEA is also developing tools (mobile tool kits, mobile hot cells, transport packages) and supporting the strengthening of regional capabilities.

In an effort to scale up the safe and secure management of disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRS), the IAEA on September 19, 2017 introduced a new concept of Qualified Technical Centres.

“At the IAEA we receive a large number of requests for assistance in characterization, conditioning and removal of all categories of DSRS,” said Christophe Xerri, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, Xerri, Director, IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology  “The idea behind this initiative is to increase the worldwide capability to manage DSRS by encouraging countries with well-equipped centres and trained personnel to provide technical services for the management of DSRS, within their countries and regionally.”…

The IAEA regularly dispatches expert missions to Member States to provide advice and guidance for the recovery and conditioning of DSRS. The most recent missions include recovery and conditioning of DSRS in Honduras in July, in Ghana in August and in Malaysia in September 2017…

During the event, experts from several Member States highlighted recent projects and activities related to DSRS management. Participants learned details of a South American Source Removal Project, with 29 sources to be removed from five countries. The event also included presentations on national regulatory infrastructure for inventories of radioactive sources and progress made on the integration of mobile hot cell with borehole disposal system.

Excerpts from IAEA Announces Concept of Qualified Technical Centres for the Management of Disused Sealed Radioactive Sources, IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy, Sept. 19, 2017

Nuclear plutonium Live

South Carolina is suing the U.S. government to recover $100 million in fines it says the Department of Energy owes the state for failing to remove one metric ton of plutonium stored there.  The lawsuit was filed on August 7, 2017.

Congress approved fines of $1 million per day for the first 100 days of each year through 2021, beginning 2016, if the weapons-grade plutonium was not removed from the Savannah River Site at the state’s border with Georgia, the attorney general’s office said.   The federal government cannot break its obligations and “leave South Carolina as the permanent dumping ground for weapons-grade plutonium” said in the complaint.

Built in the 1950s, the U.S.-owned Savannah River Site processes and stores nuclear materialss.  A U.S. treaty with Russia in 2000 [The Plutonium Disposition Agreement]* required each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, left over from the Cold War.

The United States began building a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility, known as the MOX project, at the Savannah River Site to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium by mixing it with uranium to form safer fuel pellets for use in commercial nuclear reactors.  But the project is years overdue and billions over budget, and the technology for the new fuel fabrication is not fully developed. Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2016 pulled out of the plutonium pact amid rising tensions over Ukraine and Syria.  The Trump administration proposed in the fiscal year 2018 budget to scrap the project and pursue diluting the plutonium and disposing it underground, an alternative called for by the Obama administration.

Excerpts from   Harriet McLeod, South Carolina seeks $100 million from U.S. over plutonium removal, Reuters,  Aug. 9, 2017

*through which the United States and Russia agreed to immobilize 68 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

Japan’s Nuclear Waste

Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste…[W]ith a number of Japan’s nuclear reactors closed down for good in the wake of the Fukushima accident, the need for a permanent storage site is more pressing than ever.

The disaster, in which a 13-meter tsunami triggered by an off-shore earthquake crippled four reactors at the plant and caused massive amounts of radioactivity to escape into the atmosphere, also underlined just how seismically unstable the Japanese archipelago is and the need for the repository to be completely safe for 100,000 years.

“They have been trying to get this plan of the ground for years and one thing they tried was to offer money to any town or village that agreed to even undergo a survey to see if their location was suitable,” she said.  “There were a number of mayors who accepted the proposal because they wanted the money – even though they had no intention of ever agreeing to host the storage site – but the backlash from their constituents was fast and it was furious,” Smith added.  “In every case, those mayors reversed their decisions and the government has got nowhere,” she said. “But I fear that means that sooner or later they are just going to make a decision on a site and order the community to accept it.”

The security requirements of the facility will be exacting, the government has stated, and the site will need to be at least 300 meters beneath the surface in a part of the country that is not subject to seismic activity from active faults or volcanoes. It must also be safe from the effects of erosion and away from oil and coal fields. Another consideration is access and sites within 20 km of the coast are preferred.

The facility will need to be able to hold 25,000 canisters of vitrified high-level waste, while more waste will be produced as the nation’s nuclear reactors are slowly brought back online after being mothballed since 2011 for extensive assessments of their safety and ability to withstand a natural disaster on the same scale as the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Fukushima.

When it is released, the government’s list is likely to include places in Tohoku and Hokkaido as among the most suitable sites, because both are relatively less populated than central areas of the country and are in need of revitalization efforts. Parts of Tohoku close to the Fukushima plant may eventually be chosen because they are still heavily contaminated with radiation from the accident.

Excerpts from Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste, Deutsche Welle, May 4, 2017

Pollution-Left-Behind at Nuclear Weapon Sites

About a mile from homes in Missouri’s St. Louis County lies a radioactive hot spot with contamination levels hundreds of times above federal safety guidelines. But there are no plans to clean it up.  That is because the location, tainted with waste from atomic-weapons work done in local factories decades ago, has been deemed by the federal government to be effectively inaccessible and not a threat. The site, which runs along and underneath a railroad track, is far off the beaten path and the contamination is covered and anchored in place, said Bruce Munholand of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is removing weapons-related waste at dozens of sites in the St. Louis area.

However, a group of private researchers funded by an environmental activist, including a former senior official of the Clinton administration’s Energy Department, is challenging those assurances.  They say a recent sampling they did suggests contamination from the radioactive hot spot is entering a nearby stream, known as Coldwater Creek, and then traveling downstream into the yards of homes. The contamination involves thorium, a radioactive material that can increase a person’s risks for certain cancers if it gets inside the body, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The dispute over the hot spot is part of a larger debate nationally over the radioactive legacy of the nuclear-weapons program. With dozens of locations being cleaned up, one question is how much contamination can safely be left behind. In many of these sites, cleanup issues involve how accessible particular locations are to the public and what future uses might be.

Some of the St. Louis weapons-related waste was stored for a time in piles above ground. Portions of it were eventually dumped in a landfill in the area, where heated arguments continue over what to do with it. Some waste simply fell off trucks and railcars as it was being transported.

Dr. Kaltofen and his fellow researchers—Robert Alvarez, the former Energy Department official, and Lucas Hixson, a nuclear researcher in Michigan—recently did a study regarding possible off-site contamination from that local landfill, known as West Lake. Published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, the study was funded by a St. Louis-area environmental activist.

In doing further work in the area, “we followed a breadcrumb trail of microscopic particles upstream from the residential neighborhoods and found this hot spot,” said Dr. Kaltofen. Sampling found levels of radioactive thorium at up to nearly 11,000 picocuries per gram, some 700 times the federal cleanup standard of 15 picocuries per gram being used by the Corps…. If contamination is still getting into Coldwater Creek and being carried into yards during floods, the hot-spot’s level of contamination and proximity to the stream makes it a prime suspect, he argued.

Excerpt from Radioactive Hot Spot Prompts Researchers’ Concerns, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 28, 2017

Nothing Outlasts the Fukushima Disaster

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe moves to reopen Japanese nuclear plants that were all shut after the disaster on March 11, 2011, a distrustful public is pushing back. A court on March 9, 2016ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. to halt two of the four reactors that have been restarted, saying the utility had failed to show the public they were safe. The utility called the ruling “unacceptable” and said it would appeal….However, near the ruined Fukushima reactors……Growing swaths of land are covered with black bags full of slightly radioactive soil.

The hardest parts of the cleanup haven’t even begun. Tepco, as Tokyo Electric is known, has yet to draw up plans for removing highly radioactive nuclear fuel that melted through steel containment vessels and now sits at the bottom of three Fukushima reactors.The company estimates that the nearly $20 billion job of decommissioning the plant could take another three or four decades. That is not counting damages and cleanup costs expected to reach some $100 billion or more, including about $50 billion paid to evacuees. Legal wrangling over the disaster continues. In February 2016, three former Tepco executives were charged with professional negligence.

Tepco also is working to reduce a total 400 tons of rain and groundwater that breach the plant’s defenses daily, becoming contaminated and requiring treatment and storage. But a wall of frozen earth meant to reduce the flow has run into resistance from regulators.On large parts of the site, workers can now walk around without full-face shields or hazmat suits, using simple surgical masks for protection.Fukushima was once a prized post for elite engineers and technicians in Japan’s nuclear heyday. Now, unskilled laborers make up the bulk of a workforce of about 6,000 workers, down from a peak of 7,450 in 2014. “There’s a constant stream of people who can’t find work elsewhere,” said Hiroyuki Watanabe, a Communist city councilman in Iwaki, about 30 miles away. “They drift and collect in Fukushima.”…

Looking ahead, the biggest issue remains the reactors. No one knows exactly where the molten nuclear debris sits or how to clean it. Humans couldn’t survive a journey inside the containment vessels, so Tepco hopes to use robots guided by computer simulations and video images. But two attempts had to be abandoned after the robots got tripped up on rubble.“The nature of debris may depend on when the nuclear fuel and concrete reacted,” said Pascal Piluso, an official of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. “We are talking about extremely varied and complex debris.”….A government panel recently questioned Tepco’s ability to tackle the daunting task of decommissioning while seeking profit for its shareholders. The disaster nearly pushed the company to bankruptcy, prompting the government to buoy it with ¥1 trillion ($9 billion  (really????) in public money and pledge government grants and guarantees to help Tepco compensate victims.”…

Excerpts  from Fukushima Still Rattles Japan, Five Years After Nuclear Disaster, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 8, 2016

Illegal Nuclear Imports – Lebanon

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has filed a lawsuit against merchants responsible for importing radioactive products into Lebanon, a judicial source told The Daily Star Thursday.  Berri filed the case with the State Prosecution on March 11, 2015, on behalf of himself as both a citizen of Lebanon and the speaker of Parliament, the source added.

The case targets those who participated “in the crime of importing radioactive products to Lebanon, which has negative effects on public health and the environment.”Berri requested that the locations of radioactive products be determined, the suspects detained and the material sent back to the source. State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud tasked criminal investigators with carrying out the probe…

The move came after the local newspaper As-Safir reported that Defense Minister Samir Moqbel had made a decision to transform a  into a landfill for radioactive waste.  After Berri voiced his rejection to the plan, Army Commander Gen.Jean Kahwagi assured him that it would not go through.  The Secretary General of the National Council for Scientific Research Mouin Hamzeh also told As-Safir that the plan violated environmental laws, because the landfill would be close to touristic and residential areas….

As-Safir’s report also stated that “gangs and mafias” had been smuggling radioactive products from Syria and Iraq through illegal crossings on the Lebanese borders.

Excerpt, Lebanon speaker sues over radioactive imports, Daily Star, Mar. 12, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has filed a lawsuit against merchants responsible for importing radioactive products into Lebanon, a judicial source told The Daily Star Thursday.  Berri filed the case with the State Prosecution on March 11, 2015, on behalf of himself as both a citizen of Lebanon and the speaker of Parliament, the source added.

The case targets those who participated “in the crime of importing radioactive products to Lebanon, which has negative effects on public health and the environment.”Berri requested that the locations of radioactive products be determined, the suspects detained and the material sent back to the source. State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud tasked criminal investigators with carrying out the probe…

The move came after the local newspaper As-Safir reported that Defense Minister Samir Moqbel had made a decision to transform a  into a landfill for radioactive waste.  After Berri voiced his rejection to the plan, Army Commander Gen.Jean Kahwagi assured him that it would not go through.  The Secretary General of the National Council for Scientific Research Mouin Hamzeh also told As-Safir that the plan violated environmental laws, because the landfill would be close to touristic and residential areas….

As-Safir’s report also stated that “gangs and mafias” had been smuggling radioactive products from Syria and Iraq through illegal crossings on the Lebanese borders.

Excerpt, Lebanon speaker sues over radioactive imports, Daily Star, Mar. 12, 2015