Tag Archives: nuclear waste storage

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

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Rising Transformation: low to high level nuclear waste disposal facilities

U.S. District Judge Sue L. Robinson of Delaware on June 21,2017 sided with the federal government in blocking a $367 million merger between EnergySolutions and the radioactive site’s parent company. Waste Control Specialists calls the deal essential for its long-term viability.The details of Robinson’s opinion were sealed.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued in November 2017 to block the merger of rival companies, arguing it would essentially create a monopoly on radioactive waste disposal.  “Substantial evidence showed that head-to-head competition between EnergySolutions and Waste Control Specialists led to better disposal services at lower prices,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Andrew Finch of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division said in a statement. “Today’s decision protects competition in an industry that is incredibly difficult to enter.”…

Waste Control Specialists, which currently stores low-level radioactive waste in Andrews County*** has a pending application with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store tens of thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel currently filling up reactor sites across the country. The company has pitched the massive expansion as a solution to a problem that has bedeviled policymakers for decades….

“The WCS site is not a safe place to store deadly high-level radioactive waste,” Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, said in a statement. “Texans and those along transport routes shouldn’t have to suffer the health, safety, security, financial and environmental risks that transport and storage of the nation’s most dangerous radioactive waste would bring.”

Critics allege that millions in donations by Harold Simmons, owner of Waste Control Specialists, to Texas Governor Rick Perry and other politicians influenced political support for the controversial project…..Critics also cite WCS’ safety record. One 22-ton shipment of low-level radioactive material from a diffusion plant in Illinois failed to arrive at the WCS Andrews facility in late July 2001. Lost for almost a month, the material turned up dumped on a cattle ranch north of Dallas.

Excerpts from  JIM MALEWITZ ,Amid Texas nuclear waste site’s financial woes, judge blocks merger,  The Texas Tribune, June 21, 2017 + Wikipedia

***The plant is located 5 miles east of Eunice, New Mexico, and 35 miles west of Andrews. The surrounding area on both sides of the state border, “nuclear alley”, also includes:

the National Enrichment Facility (owned and operated by the Urenco Group) in Eunice
the deep geological repository Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP; managed by the United States Department of Energy), and
the proposed first commercial uranium de-conversion facility in the United States, a project of International Isotopes, Inc.

Germans to Decontaminate Ukraine, Nuclear Waste

image from http://www.dmt-group.com/en/services/engineering/nuclear-waste-disposal.html

A consortium of four German companies has been awarded a contract to improve infrastructure for managing radioactive waste, the rehabilitation of contaminated areas and the decommissioning of nuclear power plants in Ukraine.  The consortium – comprising Brenk Systemplanung, DMT, Plejades and TÜV Nord EnSys – was awarded the contract for the project, which is within the framework of the European Union-funded Instrument for Nuclear Safety Cooperation (INSC). The INSC is designed to support non-EU countries in improving nuclear safety. The contract will run for an initial two-year period and have a maximum budget of €1.5 million ($1.6 million).

According to the tender notice, the main objectives of the contract are to support the Ukrainian State Corporation ‘Radon’ in establishing an emergency response system for “radiation incidents involving unauthorized radioactive materials that are not related to nuclear power plant operation”. It also calls for the establishment of integrated, automated monitoring systems for radiation and environmental protection at Radon facilities, as well as the remediation of radioactive waste storage sites resulting from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident and situated outside the exclusion zone.

In a statement yesterday, DMT said it will jointly lead with TÜV Nord EnSys Hannover the assessment of some 50 radioactive waste storage sites.

Excerpts from German consortium awarded Ukrainian waste contract, World Nuclear News, Mar. 2, 2016

Maybe Someday: what to do with nuclear waste

Nuclear Plant Locations in the US. Image from wikipedia

The problem now, however, is civilian waste from power plants that came online in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Nuclear power generates a fifth of America’s electricity; its 99 reactors account for almost a third of all nuclear power generated worldwide. Five more are under construction—the first to be approved since the 1970s—partly thanks to federal loan guarantees intended to boost clean energy production. The waste they generate has been stored safely, but it will stay dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years. That requires a longer-term plan than leaving it outside, however well encased in concrete.
Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the federal government pledged to dispose of nuclear waste—both civilian and military—permanently. Several possible plans were drawn up, many involving burying the waste in salt deposits deep under ground. To pay for this eventual cost, a levy was added to the bills of consumers of nuclear power.

But politics got in the way. In 1987 Congress determined that only one place, Yucca Mountain in Nevada, would be considered. This, says Richard Stewart of New York University Law School, was the result of a stich-up between two congressmen who did not want their states to host waste dumps. Tom Foley, the then House majority leader, and Jim Wright, the Speaker, blocked proposals for sites in their home states of Washington and Texas.

Nevadans nickname the 1987 amendment the “screw Nevada” bill, and they have fiercely resisted implementation. Some $15 billion has been spent on building the repository at Yucca Mountain, but no waste has been moved there. Nevadans are quick to point to the damage done to their state by nuclear-weapons tests. Since 2010, the Department of Energy has formally ruled the facility out. In a lawsuit in 2013, the government was forced to stop collecting the levy on nuclear power until a plan exists for a permanent site. It has also been forced to pay utility companies for the costs of storing waste temporarily, since it did not start collecting waste fuel in 1998, as the original law dictated.

Some hope Yucca Mountain might be reopened by a new president. “The only aspect of used fuel in this country that has been problematic is the politics”, says John Keeley of the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobby group. In January the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the regulator, concluded that the site is safe for the disposal of waste. But the worries of Nevadans—that moving spent fuel on railways might lead to spills, or that radioactivity could leak into the environment—remain.

Recent experience doesn’t help. America already operates one of the world’s few deep storage sites for radioactive waste—near Carlsbad, in New Mexico. It stores waste mostly from nuclear-weapons production. In February 2014 the facility suffered two crippling accidents. One was apparently caused by workers packaging waste with the wrong sort of cat litter. The plant-based “Swheat Scoop” brand they used, unlike the mineral-based kind they were meant to, did not absorb radioactivity very well. The facility has not accepted any new waste since.

Excerpts from Nuclear Waste: Faff and fallout, Economist, August 29, 2015, at 23

Nuclear Plants, Nuclear Waste and the War in Ukraine

Zaporizhia, Ukraine  with nuclear plant in background. Image from wikipedia.

UKRAINE, More than 3,000 spent nuclear fuel rods are kept inside metal casks within towering concrete containers in an open-air yard close to a perimeter fence at Zaporizhia, the Guardian discovered on a recent visit to the plant, which is 124 miles (200km) from the current front line.“

With a war around the corner, it is shocking that the spent fuel rod containers are standing under the open sky, with just a metal gate and some security guards waltzing up and down for protection,” said Patricia Lorenz, a Friends of the Earth nuclear spokeswoman who visited the plant on a fact-finding mission.“I have never seen anything like it,” she added. “It is unheard of when, in Germany, interim storage operators have been ordered by the court to terror-proof their casks with roofs and reinforced walls.”  

Industry experts said that ideally the waste store would have a secondary containment system such as a roof.  Ukraine’s conflict in Donbass is 124 miles away from the plant, but Gustav Gressel, a fellow at the European Council of Foreign Relations thinks the front line is too far away – for now – to be at risk from fighting.

However, locals still fear for the potential consequences if the conflict was to spread in the plant’s direction. Just three decades ago, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kiev released a radioactive cloud that poisoned vast tracts of land…

Plant security at Zaporizhia is now at a ‘high readiness’ level, while air force protection and training exercises have been stepped up. Officials say that if fighting reaches the plant, there are plans for the closure of access roads and deployment of soldiers.  But they say that no containment design could take the stresses of military conflict into account. “Given the current state of warfare, I cannot say what could be done to completely protect installations from attack, except to build them on Mars,” Sergiy Bozhko , the chairman of the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine (SNRIU) told the Guardian…..

However, a dry storage container with a resilient roof and in-house ventilation would offer greater protection….

“Nuclear energy is the only possible option for us to replace the generated electricity that we lost [from coal and gas],” a government source told the Guardian. “After the start of open war with Russia, it was understood that all our other strategies in the energy sphere would become impossible.” Some 60% of Ukraine’s electricity is now produced by 15 ageing reactors – concentrated in four giant plants. Nine of these will reach the end of their design lifetimes in the next five years, and three have already.  Most of Ukraine’s nuclear fleet depends on Russia’s Rosatom to supply its enriched uranium fuel – and to whisk away the resulting radioactive waste for storage…

But as fear and loathing in the war-torn region grow, government sources say that in the long term, Ukraine aims to forge a three-way split in nuclear fuel supply contracts between US-company Westinghouse, European companies, such as Areva, and Rosatom. This creates its own safety issues….

Last December (2014), the US firm signed a memo with Ukraine to “significantly increase fuel deliveries” to Ukrainian plants, though the details are sketchy. A similar deal was signed with the French nuclear company Areva on 24 April.  But fears of Russian retaliation have dogged past plans to shift supply or disposal contracts to the West, and market diversification will be a slow process….

The US has provided technology, training and hundreds of millions of dollars to help Ukraine’s push for fuel diversification, according to a US diplomatic cable from 2009, published by Wikileaks.  Westinghouse has also lobbied the Ukrainian government at ministerial level to commit to buying their fuel for at least five reactors. Plant managers say that it will be used in Zaporizhia by 2017.

Excerpts from Nuclear waste stored in ‘shocking’ way 120 miles from Ukrainian front line, Guardian, May 6, 2015

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

Some Breakthrough in Nuclear Waste Management in Russia

Checkpoint in closed city Zheleznogorsk, 2011. Image from wikipedia

Russia could be moving closer to shutting down its infamous and highly contaminated Mayak Chemical Combine – Russia’s only spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility – as the government builds a new pilot spent fuel storage and reprocessing facility in the closed city of Zheleznogorsk, near Krasnoyarsk, called RT-2. The Zheleznogorsk facility was once home to one of Russia’s 13 weapons grade plutonium production reactors…The pilot facilities at Zheleznogorsk – known as Krasnoyarsk-26 during the Soviet era – fall under the purview of an industry division called the National Operator, as established by Russia’s 2011 law “On handling spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste.  The law further stipulates that all spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste produced prior to 2011 is the government’s financial responsibility, where beyond 2011, the bills go to individual nuclear power plants.

Alexander Nikitin, Chairman of the Environmental Right’s Center (ERC) Bellona in St. Petersburg, who has visited the Zheleznogorsk site twice this year, said after the AtomEco conference held late last month in Moscow that the facility is designed to hold and reprocess two of Russia’s thorniest types of spent nuclear fuel: that produced by VVER-1000 reactors and the spent fuel that comes from RBMKs [Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalniy, “High Power Channel-type Reactor” is a class of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactor designed and built by the Soviet Union.]  Russia has neither been able to store or reprocess fuel from the Chernobyl-type RBMK – one of the oldest, and most fatally flawed reactor lines in Russia’s civilian line up.

The Zheleznogorsk facility will also be capable of storing spent fuel from VVER-1000 reactors in wet storage. The spent RMBK fuel will be held at RT-2 in dry storage.  Spent VVER-1000 fuel is already arriving at Zheleznogorsk from reactors at the Balakovo, Kalinin, Novovoronezh and Rostov nuclear power plants. RBMK fuel will come from the Leningrad, Kursk, and Smolensk plants.

In all, RT-2 is designed to hold some 50,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel. Russia currently hosts some 23,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel, the majority of it stored on site at the reactors that produced it.

The reclamation of fuel from Soviet built reactors in former Soviet satellite states, which Russia is obligated to take back and either reprocess or store, is also slowing down… In the case of Hungary, for example, the local government has found it more economical to store the fuel itself than to repatriate it to Russia, easing up somewhat the amount of foreign spent fuel flowing to the country.

But Russia’ state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, has finally – and publically – reached the conclusion that Mayak and its legacy of overwhelming radiological pollution is no longer viable…

Nikitin, was told during his visits to RT-2 that the pilot facilities are slated to push through their first batches of reprocessed VVER 1000 and RBMK fuel – while producing no residual radioactive waste – by 2018.  If the test runs prove successful, RT-2 could move on to industrial scale storage and reprocessing   But Nikitin and Rosatom have their doubts about the rosy predictions of the National Operator. For one, Nikitin is skeptical of the value of reprocessing RMBK fuel..

Charles Digges,New spent nuclear fuel storage and reprocessing site in Siberia could end contamination from Mayak,  Bellona,  Nov. 14, 2013