Tag Archives: permanent nuclear waste disposal

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

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

The Final Disposal of Nuclear Waste: Japan

Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant Japan

The Japanese government will select potential areas to host nuclear dump sites instead of waiting for communities to volunteer, according to the revised policy on permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste that was adopted by the Cabinet on May 22, 2015  The revision, the first in seven years, was prompted after towns, villages and cities throughout Japan snubbed requests to host nuclear waste dumps. The government has been soliciting offers since 2002.

The move is seen as a sign that the government wants to address the matter as it proceeds with its pursuit of reactor restarts. All commercial units have largely sat idle since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011….Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is seeking to revive atomic power, although the majority of the public remains opposed in light of the Fukushima disaster, which left tens of thousands homeless. Critics have attacked the government for promoting atomic power without resolving where all the waste will end up.

Permanent disposal of high-level nuclear waste requires that a depository be built more than 300 meters underground, where the materials must lie for up to 100,000 years until radiation levels fall to the point where there is no harm to humans or the environment.  About 17,000 tons of spent fuel is stored on the premises of nuclear plants and elsewhere in Japan, but some would run out of space in three years if all the reactors got back online.  Under the revision, the government said it will allow future generations to retrieve high-level waste from such facilities should policy changes or new technologies emerge.

Worldwide, only Finland and Sweden have been able to pick final depository sites.

Excerpts from METI changes tactics after search for nuclear waste host proves futile,  Japan Times, May 22, 2015

Management of Nuclear Waste in Germany

Nuclear Power plant Brunsbüttel.  Image from wikipedia

Inspectors in northern Germany have found that a third of barrels containing radioactive waste at a decommissioned nuclear plant are damaged, the Schleswig-Holstein Environment Ministry said on Thursday.  Vattenfall, the energy company which manages the Brunsbüttel site in Schlewswig-Holstein, reported that 102 of the 335 barrels stored in the site’s six underground chambers were corroded, leaking or had loose lids.  Some of the containers are so deformed that they can no longer be moved, as they no longer fit into the robotic gripping arms installed at the site, the inspectors reported.  “The chambers are secure and there is no danger for the personnel or the local population,” Vattenfall said in a statement released on Thursday,

The Brunsbüttel site harbours 631 barrels of nuclear waste in its six chambers, which have been used for storing waste since 1979. The nuclear power plant was decommissioned in 2011.  The barrels contain resin used for water filters, residue from contaminated water and various other types of waste.

So far, Vattenfall has only inspected four of the six chambers using remote cameras.  The chambers themselves are built from concrete and have walls over a metre thick to prevent radiation escaping into the surrounding environment.  The energy company has sent a proposal to the Schlewsig-Holstein Environment Ministry for making the storage facility more secure, including by installing dehumidifiers to slow corrosion, which has yet to be approved by government experts.  “The chambers [at Brunsbüttel] were supposed to be a temporary storage facility,” Vattenfall said in a statement on Thursday. “They weren’t designed to for long-term containment.”

It was originally planned to store the barrels at Brunsbüttel until they were moved to the ‘Konrad’ mine shaft site in Lower Saxony.This permanent storage facility was to be completed by the mid- to late 90s, but has been subject to successive delays. Completion dates in 2014 has been missed and a target of 2019 is also unlikely.  The latest estimate for completion is the start of the next decade.

One in three nuclear waste barrels damaged, The Local Germany, Oct. 10, 2014

Haunted by Sellafield, nuclear waste storage in the UK

Sellafield, image from wikipedia

The government’s long-term hopes of burying nuclear waste in the UK has suffered a major blow after Cumbria county council voted against plans for a £12bn underground site.  Three local authorities – Cumbria county council, Allerdale borough council and Copeland borough council – were set to vote on the search for a site, which would have been the first of its kind in the UK.

Copeland borough councillors voted six-to-one in favour of moving to onto the next stage of the search process. But Cumbria county council took an opposing view, rejecting the proposals by seven votes to three, and in the process ending the county council’s four-year formal involvement in the consultation process.  “As a decision to continue with the process needed the agreement of both the district and county councils, Cumbria county council’s decision has removed both districts from consideration,” councillors said in a statement. The vote triggered huge cheers from environmental campaigners outside the council chamber in Carlisle.

Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said the decision was “disappointing”….

More than 32,000 people had signed a petition against the £12bn underground storage facility.However, the issue of how to handle nuclear waste remains live in Cumbria.  Sellafield’s nuclear storage facilities remain the largest in the UK, and the ten members of the county council’s cabinet also agreed that the council will encourage the Government to invest in improvements to the existing surface storage facilities at the site while a permanent solution for the country’s higher activity radioactive waste is found.

Campaigners {West Cumbria Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace) argued the underground dump would harm the Lake District national park and its tourism industry. They also claim that studies show Cumbria’s geology is unlikely to be safe for radioactive waste.

Excerpts, Cumbria rejects radioactive waste disposal programme, http://www.channel4.com/news/, Jan. 30, 2012

See also Nuclear Waste in the  UK

Japan and its Nuclear Waste

The Science Council of Japan has expressed concerns about the country’s nuclear waste disposal policies.  The Science Council advocates keeping radioactive debris from the country’s nuclear reactors in “temporary safe storage” sites. The problem within Japan is to find a geologically safe storage area, given the country’s history of seismic activity.  “Based on current scientific knowledge, we cannot determine a geological formation that would be stable for hundreds of thousands of years,” Science Council of Japan member Harutoshi Funabashi, a professor at Hosei University, told The Japan Times.  “And thus the best possible option is temporary storage. This does not mean postponing the problem irresponsibly to the future. It is to secure time to find ways to more appropriately handle the matter.”  Safe disposal of nuclear waste is a growing problem worldwide among the countries operating nuclear power plants.

Concerns about nuclear power and waste disposal are highest in Japan, where on March 11, 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi NPP was rattled by an offshore magnitude-9.0 earthquake. The tremor generated a tsunami that effectively destroyed the complex.Dry casks containing nuclear waste at the Fukushima Daiichi were knocked over but no radiation leaked from them. There was, however, release of radiation from spent fuel pools.  Japanese government officials estimate that the radiation spewed from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex affected anywhere from 386 to more than 1,500 square miles…Tokyo’s proposed current solution to its mounting nuclear waste problem is to reprocess spent nuclear fuel into vitrified high-level radioactive waste, which is to be placed in a final disposal site more than 1,000 feet underground after being stored for about three-to-five decades for cooling.

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Japan’s Environment Ministry said on Sept 27, 2012-

Canada and its Nuclear Waste

Since the 1960s,  Canada’s nuclear power plants have generated more than two million bundles of highly radioactive used fuel. And they’re all still stored on the sites of the plants that produced them.But the pace of finding a site to store Canada’s most potent radioactive waste permanently is about to pick up.  Twenty Canadian communities have said they’ll consider volunteering to host the storage site.  That list is about to close. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, whose job it is to find and build the site, will stop taking new names on Sept. 30, 2012.  The impending cut-off is ratcheting up the pressure on the technocrats charged with selecting a site; on the boosters who want to snare the multi-billion-dollar repository for their community; on the activists who harbour deep suspicions about safety; and on the aboriginal leaders who say they’ve been cut out of the process….

A fuel bundle for a Candu nuclear power reactor is about the size of a fireplace log. As of June 30, 2011, Canada had 2,273,873 used fuel bundles stored at its nuclear plants in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.  Another 85,000 or so have been added since then.  In total, they’d fill about six NHL hockey rinks, stacked up as high as the boards.

The Nuclear Waste Management Organization, formed by the three electric utilities that run nuclear reactors, wants to bury the waste deep underground in caverns excavated from stable rock, where it can lie undisturbed forever.  The depth will probably depend on the site’s geology. A facility proposed to hold less-potent radioactive waste at the Bruce nuclear site near Kincardine will be 680 metres deep. By comparison, the CN Tower is 553 metres tall.  The NWMO is looking for a “willing” community to agree to take the $16-to-$24-billion project. The host community itself will decide how to define “willing.” Candidate communities will have multiple opportunities to withdraw if they get cold feet, the NWMO says.  As it moves through a nine-stage selection process, the NWMO hopes to have narrowed the field to one or two communities by 2015, then spend until about 2020 deciding on a specific site within the chosen community.  After that, it will take three to five years to do an extensive environmental assessment of the site. The proponents will also have to satisfy the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission that their plan makes sense, and obtain a license to construct and operate the facility.  Then, it will take six to 10 years to build. The NWMO doesn’t expect the first bundles to be stored until 2035.  The plan is to seal the waste in sturdy, radiation-proof containers and store it deep in a stable rock formation where — even if the containers were to crack and leak — there’s be no danger of contaminating groundwater used by humans. (Although that’s the current strategy, the NWMO says it would consider a different plan if compelling evidence emerged that another technique is superior.)

Current designs call for surface buildings and facilities to cover about 100 hectares (250 acres), says the NWMO’s Michael Krizanc.  “As well, there may be a need to limit activities in the immediate area surrounding the surface facilities in order to meet regulatory or other requirements.”  Underground, the excavated caverns will cover an area of about 2.5 kilometres by 1.5 kilometres. That’s 375 hectares, or 930 acres.  “The NWMO would need to have rights to the land above the repository,” says Krizanc, but “alternative uses could be considered, with the community, for portions of the land.”….

Meanwhile in Saugeen Shores, a lively battle is under way as members of a citizens group dubbed save Save Our Saugeen Shores, or SOS, fights what they see as an attempt to impose the waste site on their community on the shore of the Great Lakes….SOS also worries that U.S. power plants might be able to force Canada to take U.S. nuclear waste in a Canadian waste site, through terms of the free trade agreement between the countries…..Up in Elliot Lake, contractors Stephen Martin and Marc Brunet can’t wait for the project to start….Elliot Lake has been identified with uranium since its founding, he shrugs: “We’re the uranium capital of the world…. This thing will be a tourist attraction. I think it’s the best thing that could happen.”

John Spears, Nuclear waste seeks a home, Toronto Star, Sept. 1, 2012