Tag Archives: nuclear waste disposal

The Cost of Decommissioning Nuclear Reactors

Reactor pressure vessel transported from site for burial. Image from wikipedia

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said late in 2014  (pdf) that almost 200 of the 434 reactors in operation around the globe would be retired by 2040, and estimated the cost of decommissioning them at more than $100 billion.  But many experts view this figure as way too low, because it does not include the cost of nuclear waste disposal and long-term storage and because decommissioning costs – often a decade or more away – vary hugely per reactor and by country…. The IEA’s head of power generation analysis, Marco Baroni, said that even excluding waste disposal costs, the $100 billion estimate was indicative, and that the final cost could be as much as twice as high. He added that decommissioning costs per reactor can vary by a factor of four.Decommissioning costs vary according to reactor type and size, location, the proximity and availability of disposal facilities, the intended future use of the site, and the condition of the reactor at the time of decommissioning.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that the cost of decommissioning in the United States – which has some 100 reactors – ranges from $300 million to $400 million per reactor, but some reactors might cost much more.  France’s top public auditor and the nuclear safety authority estimate the country’s decommissioning costs at between 28 billion and 32 billion euros ($32-37 billion).  German utilities – such as E.ON, which last month said it would split in two, spinning off power plants to focus on renewable energy and power grids – have put aside 36 billion euros. .  Britain’s bill for decommissioning and waste disposal is now estimated at 110 billion pounds ($167 billion) over the next 100 years, double the 50 billion pound estimate made 10 years ago.  Japanese government estimates put the decommissioning cost of the country’s 48 reactors at around $30 billion, but this is seen as conservative. Russia has 33 reactors and costs are seen ranging from $500 million to $1 billion per reactor.

Excerpt, Global nuclear decommissioning cost seen underestimated, may spiral, Reuters, Jan, 19, 2014

Texas Accepts Vermont Nuclear Waste

Vermont_Yankee_Nuclear_Power_Plant. Image from wikipedia

The chairman of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission says the organization is going to honor a 20-year-old agreement that guarantees space for radioactive waste from Vermont in its Texas disposal facility, a deal that Gov. Peter Shumlin said is critical now that Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is shutting down.  During a Wednesday meeting (October 3, 2012) at the Vermont Statehouse, Commission Chairman Robert Wilson said the commission recognizes Vermont is a partner in the compact.  “This compact is going to be more important than ever,” Gov. Peter Shumlin told the commission. “My concern is we remember Vermont and Texas were there first.”

In 1993 Vermont and Texas formed the compact. Under the agreement, Texas would host a low-level radioactive waste facility and Vermont would have a place to send some of the waste from its nuclear power plant. Most of the materials after the plant is decommissioned would go to the Texas facility, except for the fuel rods and higher radioactive materials, said Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia.  Vermont officials are looking for assurance there will be space in Texas for the low-level radioactive waste from the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which is due to be shut down next year.

Texas commission will honor radioactive waste deal with Vt. ahead of nuke plant shutdown, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Oct. 3, 2013

Nuclear Waste Confidence: the hurry-up environmental impact assessment

Dry cask sstorage nuclear waste. Image from wikipedia

In documents filed Wednesday (Jan. 2, 2012)  with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), a wide range of national and grassroots environmental groups said it would be impossible for the NRC to adequately conduct a court-ordered assessment of the environmental implications of long-term storage of spent nuclear reactor fuel in the two short years the federal agency envisions for the process.The groups’ comments and related declarations by experts are available online at http://www.psr.org/resources/nrc-rushing-nuclear-waste-confidence-process.html

In June 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the NRC’s 2010 Waste Confidence Decision and Temporary Storage Rule and remanded them to the agency for study of the environmental impacts of storing spent fuel indefinitely if no permanent nuclear waste repository is licensed or if licensing of a repository is substantially delayed. Spent nuclear fuel remains highly dangerous for prolonged periods. It has long-lived radioactive materials in it that can seriously contaminate the environment and harm public health if released. Additionally, spent nuclear fuel contains plutonium-239, a radiotoxic element that can be used to make nuclear weapons if separated from the other materials in the fuel. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of over 24,000 years.

In their filings, the 24 groups said a full review of the three issues outlined in June 2012 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – long-term storage risks for spent nuclear fuel, spent fuel pool fire risks, and spent fuel pool leakage risks – would take at least the seven years originally projected by the NRC staff, and likely considerably longer. Current federal law requires that the NRC conduct a comprehensive environmental impact statement (EIS) study before issuing a revised Waste Confidence Decision; the 24 groups submitted their comments about the appropriate “scoping” of the EIS.

In the absence of an adequate EIS review, the NRC has “no choice but to continue to suspend all licensing and re-licensing actions” for U.S. nuclear reactors, according to the 24 organizations. All licensing and re-licensing actions were previously suspended by the NRC until an EIS and revised Waste Confidence Decision have been issued.  The 24 groups jointly filing the comments today with the NRC are the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Beyond Nuclear, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Center for a Sustainable Coast, Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Citizens Environmental Alliance, Don’t Waste Michigan, Ecology Party of Florida, Friends of the Earth, Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, New England Coalition, Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, NC WARN, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Nuclear Watch South, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Riverkeeper, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, SEED Coalition, Sierra Club Nuclear Free Campaign, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The expert declarations were made by: Dr. Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research; Dr. Gordon Thompson, executive director for the Institute for Resource and Security Studies; and Phillip Musegaas, Esq., Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper, Inc.

Highlights of the 24-group filings include the following:

•The “hurry-up” two-year timeframe for environmental review falls far short of the 2019 estimate of NRC’s own technical staff for data collecting and analysis on the impacts of long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel. The NRC currently lacks sufficient information to reach scientifically, well-founded conclusions about the impacts of such storage. The agency also lacks information regarding the impacts associated with the eventual disposal of spent nuclear fuel. According to Dr. Makhijani, the NRC will not be able to gather this information within its truncated, self-imposed two-year timeframe.

•The short timeframe provided for environmental review will also not permit post-Fukushima information about U.S. reactors to be fully collected and evaluated. Under the schedule established by the NRC staff in March 2012, reactor licensees are not due to supply post-Fukushima seismic information until September 2013 for reactor sites in the eastern and central U.S. and March 2015 for western reactor sites. According to the groups’ filing with the NRC today: “Given the significant role played by seismic events in accidents ranging from spent fuel pool leaks to pool fires and their potential effects on long-term storage sites, this information is crucial to the NRC’s ability to take a ‘hard look’ at all three topics remanded by the Court.”

•Despite the Court’s order to consider impacts associated with the failure to ever establish a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel, the NRC proposed only to consider the impacts associated with failing to secure a repository by the end of this century. Dr. Makhijani and Dr. Thompson argue that the NRC should consider the environmental impacts of failing to establish a repository until 2250, requiring approximately 300 years of onsite storage.

•The NRC should consider alternatives to minimize the risks of storage of spent nuclear fuel and high level waste, including placement below ground level, elimination of the current practice of high-density storage of spent fuel in pools, and more robust designs for storage casks.

•The environmental impact statement should assess the radiological risk arising from a range of conventional accidents or attacks, including those conducted by terrorists.

24 Groups: NRC Rushing Nuclear “Waste Confidence” Process, Not Satisfying Court-Ordered Requirements, PRNewswire, Jan. 3, 2013

Nuclear Waste Disposal in the United States, who will run with the ball?

Two years after President Obama pulled the plug on plans for the nation’s only high-level nuclear-waste dump, it’s still not clear if the decision is final.  On Friday, a federal-appeals court ruled 2-1 that the court may order the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to restart efforts to license Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a nuclear-waste repository.  The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, responding to filings by the state of Washington and others, said federal law makes clear that the NRC is obligated to continue trying to license the dump site — regardless of what the Obama administration has said.  Unless Congress decides otherwise by mid-December, two of the judges indicated they would likely be willing at that time to order the NRC to restart the process.

Washington and South Carolina, as well as others representing the nuclear industry, have long counted on Yucca Mountain as the final resting place for spent nuclear fuel and millions of gallons of radioactive waste left over from Cold War bomb production.  That’s where the 153 million gallons of nuclear slop in leaky underground tanks at Eastern Washington’s Hanford reservation were slated to go once a treatment plant turned the waste into stable glass rods.  But the White House in 2010, during Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hard-fought election in Nevada, announced it would withdraw the license application for the unpopular project 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The NRC chairman unilaterally stopped the licensing process in its tracks. That led to lawsuits from the states, an internal investigation and ultimately the chairman’s resignation.  But now the NRC maintains that it has too little money appropriated to reconsider Yucca Mountain — an argument the states found lacking.  “The NRC didn’t provide any legal argument other than saying, at this point, ‘We’ve spent a bunch of money and we’re down to about $10 million,’ ” said Andy Fitz, an assistant attorney general for the state of Washington. “Our position was that they had put themselves in that situation. They had decided to put money to other uses. That’s not a legally valid excuse.”  Two of the three judges agreed, but said they would wait until Congress finishes its appropriations process later this year.

But even if Congress doesn’t clarify its position on whether it wants the NRC to move forward, the judges made clear they probably would.  “It is possible that Congress will … add no clarity to the current dispute,” one judge wrote, later adding, “If Congress provides no additional clarity on the matter, however, we will be compelled to act.”

By Craig Welch, Court re-energizes fight for nuclear-waste repository, Seattle Times, Aug. 3, 2012

See also Nuclear Waste in the United States: the risk of leaks

Who Wants to Open the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository Site?

Storage of Nuclear Waste in the United States II: New Mexico

The (Savannah River SiteSRS Citizens Advisory Board will discuss a recommendation to send some or all of the site’s 3,100 “ready for shipment” canisters of stabilized waste to the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, N.M., where lower-level “transuranic” nuclear waste is buried in 250 million-year-old salt deposits a half-mile beneath the Chihuahuan Desert.  The most dangerous waste at SRS is being vitrified – placed into glass poured into steel canisters that, until the Obama administration canceled the Yucca Mountain project in 2010, were to be removed from South Carolina for burial in Nevada.

“SRS is now storing these canisters with no known final disposition path,” the board wrote in a draft recommendation to be discussed at its May 21-22 meeting in Savannah, Ga. Ultimately, the number of canisters will swell to 7,500, equiring – in addition to two existing storage buildings – the construction of a third storage site.  The indefinite storage of high-level waste that DOE pledged to remove from South Carolina “has not been accepted well by the surrounding communities” and undermines DOE’s credibility, the draft said.

The WIPP site was designed for the disposition of the same type of canisters stored at SRS but is licensed only for less-concentrated radioactive wastes, such as lightly contaminated clothing, tools and other materials. Because of that difference, revising the facility’s acceptance criteria would likely require approval from Congress.  “From our limited understanding the WIPP site would be technically feasible and it seems to have an astounding amount of capacity to accept radioactive waste,” the draft said. “Further, any attempt to have canisters removed from SRS would have an immediate positive impact on the surrounding communities.”

The board is a stakeholder group that provides the assistant secretary for environmental management and designees with advice, information and recommendations on issues affecting the environmental and cleanup programs.

By Rob Pavey,SRS nuclear waste could go to New Mexico facility, The Augusta Chronicle, May 10, 2012

Cross-Border Pollution: implications of nuclear waste disposal, Russia, Finland

Russian officials are going to use the planned nuclear waste repository on the site of the Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plant near the metropolis of St. Petersburg for storing miscellaneous radioactive waste.  “There is hospital equipment there, such as X-ray machines, work clothes, and cobalt cannons used in cancer treatments”, says director Oleg Bodrov of the environmental organisation Zelyonyi Mir (Green World).  Russia plans to use the cave that is to be excavated to a depth of 70 metres near the Baltic Sea shoreline for permanent storing of low- and intermediate-activity nuclear waste.  In Finland there are similar underground facilities in Loviisa and Olkiluoto, at the nuclear plants located there.  In the first instance, the Sosnovy Bor cavern will be used to store the waste that has already accumulated in the area and that has thus far been stored in temporary, somewhat dilapidated storage sheds.  In the past 50 years, around 65,000 square metres of waste has piled up on the site.  Enormous amounts of waste will come from the old Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plants once their shutdown is commenced in a couple of years’ time….

The Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom, under whose jurisdiction the country’s nuclear power matters fall, refused to issue a comment to Helsingin Sanomat regarding the matter.  STUK, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, does not as yet have precise knowledge of the stored waste.  “Russia is in the process of sending out additional information regarding the project.

Excerpt, Russia to store miscellaneous waste in nuclear waste repository at Sosnovy Bor plant near St. Petersburg, http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi, Feb. 16, 2012

Protests against Nuclear Waste Shipment from France to Germany

The police will deploy 19,000 officers to secure a shipment of German atomic waste from France to Lower Saxony next week amid expectations of huge anti-nuclear protests.  Kerstin Rudek, the chairwoman of a citizens’ initiative in the surrounding Lüchow-Dannenberg district has said the protests would be peaceful.  Nevertheless, police are expecting a hard core of 300 protesters to attempt to disrupt the rail transport, in what has become a regular game of cat and mouse between authorities and anti-nuclear activists who try to block the waste shipments.  The protests revolve largely around the future of the Gorleben depot, which is supposed to be a temporary repository for nuclear waste while German officials decide whether it’s fit to become a permanent storage site. Activists contend that the location is unsafe.

This year’s protests are expected to be particularly intense in light of the German government’s recent decision to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and revelations that the nuclear industry attempted to influence public opinion before the 2009 elections through extensive lobbying activities.  Rudek said there would be “broad resistance from all age groups and social classes” including pensioners, farmers and children in a large demonstration of more than 10,000 people. Police spokesman Friedrich Niehörster said Rudek’s organisation had “not really distanced itself from violence.”  He said police would take swift action in the event of violence or attempts to disrupt the transport by, for instance, blocking rail tracks or attempted sabotage.  In previous years police have complained of staffing problems caused by the numbers needed to accompany the transports.  Last year massive protests temporarily delayed the arrival of nuclear waste in Gorleben, with some activists even attempting to remove railway tracks.

Police brace for huge nuclear waste protests, thelocalde.com, Nov. 17, 2011