Tag Archives: high-level radioactive waste

The Near-Near Future of Nuclear Waste

Temelin Nuclear Power Plant, Czech Republic. Image from wikipedia

Czech plans for dealing with nuclear waste have been put under the spotlight once again thanks to a European Commission warning calling for the country to outline its plans for deal with nuclear waste. The Czech Republic was last week one of five states which the Commission said had failed to pass on their long-term nuclear waste plans by the original deadline of August 2015. The other countries include, somewhat ironically, largely non-nuclear Austria, Italy, Portugal, and Croatia.

The Czech Republic has around 10,000 tonnes of high radioactive nuclear waste, mostly stemming from the spent fuel of its nuclear power plants which begin operating in the mid-1980s, but also from other civil activities. The spent fuel is stored on site at nuclear power plants but the barrels containing it will wear out long before the contents become safe.

The Czech Republic set out a strategy to deal with high radioactive nuclear waste already in 2002 with the main focus on finding a deep storage site. The preliminary search has been focused on seven localities which are reckoned to be geologically suitable as well as near the Dukovany nuclear power plant. But there have been vociferous public protests at most of the sites causing the current government to back down and promise that no steps will be taken in the face of opposition. Even so, a timeline for choosing a deep repository has already been set with the selection of a site due to take place in 2025, construction started in 2050, and the final facility ready by 2065.

But the aged 2002 strategy is now being updated with public consultation part of the process. Environmentalists on one side argue that the existing framework focused primarily on the search for a deep repository should be overhauled and that the country should take its time and keep its options option with technological advancement likely offering other options for radioactive waste in the near future. 

Excerpts from BRUSSELS CALLS FOR CZECH STRATEGY FOR RADIOACTIVE WASTE, Radio Prague, July 24, 2017

Drilling Deep into the Earth for Nuclear Waste

Rugby, North Dakota

The federal government plans to spend $80 million ( assessing whether its hottest nuclear waste can be stored in 3-mile-deep holes, a project that could provide an alternative strategy to a Nevada repository plan that was halted in 2010.  The five-year borehole project was tentatively slated to start later this year on state-owned land in rural North Dakota, but it has already been met with opposition from state and local leaders who want more time to review whether the plan poses any public danger…The Department of Energy wants to conduct its work just south of the Canadian border on 20 acres near Rugby, North Dakota — in part because it’s in a rural area not prone to earthquakes — but is prepared to look elsewhere if a deal can’t be reached. Some sites in West Texas and New Mexico have expressed interest in becoming interim sites for above-ground nuclear waste storage, but it’s not clear if they would be considered for borehole technology.

Project leaders say the research will require months of drilling deep into the earth but will not involve any nuclear waste. Instead, dummy canisters without radioactive material would be used in the project’s third and final phase.  The research team will look at deep rock to check its water permeability, stability, geothermal characteristics and seismic activity — a central concern with burying the hot radioactive waste deep underground….

If the technology proves successful and the government moves forward with deep borehole disposal, there must be no fracking-related injection wells in the vicinity…which some research has linked to seismic activity.

Currently, high-level radioactive waste — both from government sources and utilities’ nuclear power plants — is without a final burial site. The waste at power plants is stored on site in pools of water or in heavily fortified casks, while the government’s waste remains at its research labs.

But the 16,000-foot-deep boreholes could be used for high-level radioactive waste from the department’s decades of nuclear work originally slated to go to Yucca, including nearly 2,000 canisters of cesium and strontium now being stored in water at the department’s Hanford Site in Washington state.

Excerpts from , Feds seek borehole test for potential hot nuke waste burial, Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2016

Closing Down Nuclear Plants in the United States

pilgrim nuclear plant image from US NRC

In Massachusetts, residents who live near Entergy Corporation’s Pilgrim Generating Station, worry about health and environmental threats from the spent radioactive fuel that remains at the plant once the power plant closes. And they’re not being quiet about it.  “My house is six miles across open water from the reactor,” says Mary Lampert, the director of the citizen group Pilgrim Watch. “I can see it from my house, which is real motivation to get to work on the very serious issues that threaten our communities.”  Lampert says she and her fellow activists celebrated when they heard that Entergy had decided to close the plant, but their joy was short-lived when they learned about the continued presence of radioactive waste….because no state wants to be a permanent repository,” Lampert says.

Nonetheless, Makhijani says, while decommissioning is risky, because parts of the reactors are highly radioactive, it is less risky for the surrounding public in compared to operating an aging nuclear plant.  “There are mainly two different kinds of big risks associated with nuclear power,” Makhijani explains. “One of them we have seen dramatically in Fukushima: the operating nuclear reactor fails, has a meltdown and [there is] a massive release of radioactivity. That is the risk that goes away when you shut down the nuclear reactor and remove the fuel.”There are risks associated with removing the fuel because some of it is still very hot and needs to be cooled. A loss of coolant, for example, could lead to fires. But as the fuel gets older, it cools down significantly and these risks decline, Makhijani says. “If you thin out these pools and have dry storage, the risks to the surrounding population become quite low,” he explains.

Entergy Corporation says it has set aside nearly a billion dollars to decommission the plant and to protect public health and safety.

Excerpt, Adam Wernick, Even plans to close nuclear power plants stir controversy, PRI,  Nov. 21, 201

Stop Fukushima Freeways in the United States: the Campaign

stop fukushima freeways. image from http://www.nirs.org/fukushimafreeways/stopfukushimafreeways.htm

Over 250 intensely radioactive nuclear waste shipments would cross through
the Washington DC metropolitan area and thousands more would travel across the roads, rails
and waterways of the nation, if [the Yucca Mountain permanent repository in Nevada is approved]….The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), an NGO, released maps of the likely routes radioactive shipments would use…

According to the map, highly radioactive waste fuel from nuclear power reactors in Virginia and
Maryland would pass through the DC area on railroad tracks next to Metro Rail trains, including
passing though Union Station. Each shipment contains several times more radioactive material
than the Hiroshima bomb blast released, with 20 to 50 tons of irradiated fuel assemblies in each  canister….  [Accident may happen during the shipments]…The shipments would also be vulnerable to attack or sabotage….Large-scale nuclear waste transport would also occur if, as some in Congress advocate, a“centralized interim storage” site for high-level radioactive waste were created.

Excerpts from Stop Fukushima Freeways Campaign Kicks Off, Nuclear Information and Resource Service Oct. 27, 2015

The Lurking Nuclear Waste: Idaho National Laboratory

Referring to the accident at the Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One (SL-1) at the Idaho National Laboratory. A fatal nuclear reactor accident occurred there in January 1961. The three men that were killed due to exposure to radioactivity where buried in lead coffins.

The U.S. Energy Department has canceled  in October 2015 a plan to ship to the Idaho National Laboratory spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors out of state, a controversial proposal that drew protests from two former governors and a lawsuit from one of them. Incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden in January 2015 expressed conditional support for two proposed deliveries of the high-level radioactive waste, saying it would raise the lab’s profile and boost the local economy around Idaho Falls, where the facility is located.

But talks between the Department of Energy (DOE) and Idaho broke down amid mounting opposition to the plan by two of Idaho’s former governors, one of whom filed a lawsuit last month seeking information he said the federal agency was concealing about the proposal.

Cecil Andrus, a Democrat who served four terms as governor, said at the time that he suspected DOE’s intent was to turn the sprawling research facility along the Snake River into a de facto nuclear dump in the absence of a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste elsewhere in the United States.  Earlier this year, Andrus and former Governor Phil Batt, a Republican, accused DOE of violating a 1995 agreement that banned such shipments to Idaho.Specifically, they said the Energy Department had not yet complied with a provision of the accord requiring removal of nuclear waste already stored at the lab to reduce impacts on an aquifer that supplies drinking water to tens of thousands of Idaho residents.

In a statement sent Friday to Idaho National Lab workers, the director, Mark Peters, said he had been informed that the state and DOE “were unable to reach an understanding that would have enabled the first of two recently discussed shipments of research quantities of spent nuclear fuel to come to INL.” [see also 2011 Memorandum of Agreement on Storage of Research Quantities of Commercial Spent Fuel at the Idaho National Laboratory]  Peters said in his statement that the spent nuclear fuel in question would be delivered instead to “another DOE facility,” though it was not made clear where the materials were now destined.

Energy Department cancels plan to ship nuclear waste to Idaho, Reuters, Oct. 23, 2015

Russia Improves Nuclear Waste Management

Krasnoyarsk, Russia

Russia has introduced an automated system for the accounting and control of its radioactive substances and waste that encompasses more than 2000 organizations. The system follows an order by state nuclear corporation Rosatom, 113 subsidiaries of which account for 96% of the country’s radioactive substances and waste.  The system automates the collection and monitoring of the availability, production, transmission, receipt, processing, conditioning, siting and deregistration of radioactive substances and waste, as well as their changes in status, properties and location….Full implementation of the system is scheduled for late 2015…[T]he system is needed for the implementation of a Russian government decree on the procedure for state registration and control of radioactive waste.”The new solution enables a high level of quality control in the movement of radioactive substances and waste and provides complete data for assessment of the financial responsibility for handling them,.”

In June 2011, the Russian legislature passed the Radioactive Waste Management Law developing a unified state radioactive waste management system that brought Russia into compliance with the United Nations Joint Convention on the Safe Management of Spent Nuclear Fuel ( adopted in 1997 entered into force in 2001). In April 2012, the state-run national operator for radioactive waste, NO RAO, was created to manage this process.

Plans for disposal of low- and intermediate-level wastes are to be in place by 2018. It is expected to establish repositories for 300,000 cubic metres of low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste, and an underground research laboratory in Nizhnekansky granitoid massif at Zheleznogorsk near Krasnoyarsk for study into the feasibility of disposal of solid high-level radioactive waste and solid medium-level long-lived wastes by 2021. A decision on final high-level radioactive waste repository is expected by 2025.

Excerpts from Russia makes progress with radwaste data management, World Nuclear News, Feb. 23, 2015

 

From Germany to South Carolina: Nuclear Waste

castor cask

The U.S. Department of Energy said on June 4, 2014 it will study the environmental risk of importing spent nuclear fuel from Germany that contains highly enriched uranium, a move believed to be the first for the United States.  The department said it is considering a plan to ship the nuclear waste from Germany to the Savannah River Site, a federal facility in South Carolina.  The 310-acre site already holds millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste in tanks. The waste came from reactors in South Carolina that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons from 1953 to 1989.

The Energy Department said it wants to remove 900 kilograms (1,984 pounds) of uranium the United States sold to Germany years ago and render it safe under U.S. nuclear non-proliferation treaties.  A technique for the three-year process of extracting the uranium, which is contained in graphite balls, is being developed at the site in South Carolina, according to the Energy Department.

[The radioactive waste to be imported to the United States from Germany consists of 152 30-tonne CASTOR casks containing 290,000 graphite balls from the  AVR gas-cooled prototype reactor, stored at the Juelich research center [Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ)], and 305 CASTOR casks containing 605,000 graphite balls from the THTR-300 reactor, stored at the Ahaus waste site. While the waste contains some US-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU), the amount is unclear as the material was irradiated and has been in storage for over 20 years since the reactors closed.]

Some critics question whether the department has fully developed a clear plan to dispose of the radioactive waste.”They’re proposing to extract the uranium and reuse it as fuel by a process that has never been done before,” said Tom Clements, president of SRS Watch, a nuclear watchdog group in South Carolina….

Sources told Reuters in May that German utilities were in talks with the government about setting up a “bad bank” for nuclear plants, in response to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to close them all by 2022 after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Excerpt from  Harriet McLeod, German nuclear waste may be headed to South Carolina site, Reuters, June 4, 2014

Storage of Nuclear Waste in the United States: giant casks

The nuclear disaster in Japan and the abandonment of a spent fuel repository at Yucca Mountain, Nev., have prompted TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority)-

The UAE Goes Forward with its Nuclear Energy Program

EnergySolutions has been awarded a four year contract to design and supply waste management systems for the United Arab Emirates’(UAE) nuclear energy program. The program will see a Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO)-led consortium build four reactors for the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC), with the reactors based on the Shin-Kori APR1400 plants, which will serve as the ‘reference plants’ for the UAE’s new build plans.  Under the contract EnergySolutions will supply liquid waste processing equipment, including ion exchange and reverse osmosis systems, which will serve to significantly reduce levels of contamination and waste.

“This contract award follows EnergySolutions’ capture of two similar deals in China and sees the Middle East join the USA and Canada, Europe, and Asia as markets for the company’s sector-leading technologies and expertise in nuclear waste processing solutions”, said Mark Morant, President, Global Commercial Group, EnergySolutions. “We are leading the way in both the clean-up of old reactors and the design of innovative waste systems for new units and we look forward to working with KEPCO & ENEC to make a success of the UAE’s exciting new build program.”

EnergySolutions has over 15 years’ experience designing and delivering liquid waste management systems to Korean customers and other Korean reactor sites where our equipment is operating include Shin-Wolsong 1-2, Shin-Kori 1-2, 3-4, Kori 1-2, 3-4, Youngwang 1-2, 3-4, and Ulchin 1-2, 3-4. The Chinese wins were at the Yangjiang and Haiyang reactor sites.

EnergySolutions Wins Major New Build Contract in the United Arab Emirates, Press Release of Energy Solutions, Feb. 23, 2012

See also Nuclear Race in the Middle East

State of the World: Nuclear Waste

With more than 400 nuclear power plants in 32 countries, nuclear waste disposal is no longer an afterthought…  No nation yet has opened a permanent geological repository. But plans are well advanced in some countries, notably Finland and Sweden.  Canada plans to open a deep repository for high-level waste around 2035, though much work lies ahead, including finding a suitable site. Transferring the estimated four million spent fuel bundles into the vault will take an additional 30 years…

In the United States, the Obama administration’s recent decision to cancel the 2015 opening of a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada’s remote desert country has left jittery and angry American nuclear power producers sitting on enormous amounts of spent fuel crammed into interim storage for an indefinite additional period. The country’s 104 commercial power reactors churn out more every day. Cancellation of the project, which cost an estimated $9 billion and involved more than 20 years of research, is widely considered to have been based on political, not technical, concerns.But so was the original siting process. Washington in 1987 unilaterally deemed the waste was going to Yucca without seriously considering other potential sites. Not surprisingly, Nevada citizens have railed against the top-down plan ever since.

If the government doesn’t bow to pressure and reverse its decision, U.S. nuclear waste planners will be going back to the drawing board for what promises to be another very prolonged and expensive exercise.

The World Nuclear Association says deep geological disposal is the preferred option for several other countries, too, including Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Japan, Netherlands, Republic of Korea and Spain.

FINLAND: Olkiluoto, on the shore of the Gulf of Bothnia in western Finland, was chosen and excavation and construction was started in 2004 by Posiva Oy, a nuclear waste management company. The repository is named Onkalo. Scheduled to open in 2020, spent nuclear fuel packed in copper canisters will be embedded in bedrock at a depth of around 400 metres. Onkalo will be the world’s first permanent nuclear waste crypt.

FRANCE:  Almost 80 per cent of France’s energy comes from 59 nuclear power reactors…The French radioactive waste disposal agency, Andra, is designing a deep geological repository in clays at Bure in eastern France for its disposal, as well as long-lived intermediate level waste. Andra expects to apply for a construction and operating licence in 2014.

GERMANY:  In May, as the enormity of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex disaster became clearer, German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to phase-out nuclear power from the country’s 17 reactors by 2020.  Like France, Germany reprocesses its waste — but at reprocessing facilities in France, Russian and Britain. The reprocessed waste is then shipped back to Germany and stored in a former salt mine in the northern town of Gorleben.  In 1979, Gorleben was selected as a temporary nuclear waste site, but the government recently resumed research to make it into a permanent storage site. In November, thousands of protesters clashed with police in an unsuccessful bid to halt a Gorleben-bound train of reprocessing waste from France.

RUSSIA: Used fuel from 27 reactors is reprocessed for plutonium. Four geological disposal facilities are planned to begin operation in 2025-2030.

INDIA: Spent fuel from 14 reactors is stored in pools, then reprocessed. A geological repository is planned but not sited.

SWEDEN: Forsmark, on the east coast of Uppland and site of a nuclear power plant, has been chosen, When open in 2023, it is to safely hold spent fuel 500 metres underground for 100,000 years.

SWITZERLAND: The country had been reprocessing its high-level waste abroad in France and Britain, but enacted a 10-year reprocessing moratorium in 2006. Spent fuel is now kept at the country’s five reactor sites.  Two sites are under investigation as possible locations for two national waste repositories, one for low- and medium-level waste and one for spent fuel.  In June, meanwhile, the country resolved not to replace any reactors and phase-out nuclear power by 2034.

BRITAIN: Used fuel from its 31 reactors is reprocessed and the vitrified waste is stored above ground for 50 years.  In 2003, the government established the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management to investigate options for a long-term management approach. In 2008, the committee recommended deep geological disposal, which the government endorsed.

Excerpts, By Ian MacLeod, The global nuclear waste race,The Ottawa Citizen December 20, 2011