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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 29, 2010 8:25 PM. The previous post in this blog was Window on the tragedy. The next post in this blog is Stepmom fever goes national. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Good news for the Columbia River

The Energy Department's proposal to stop studying a nuclear power plant waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been shot down by some administrative judges at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. As some of us learned 30 years ago, if Nevada gets pushed out of consideration for that dubious honor, the dangerous old Hanford nuclear bomb factory site in Tri-Cities would no doubt be a large part of, if not all of, Plan B.

Nuclear power plant waste is going to continue to be stored above ground and in pools, at the power plants themselves, for many decades to come. What happens after that is anybody's guess -- but for the grandkids' sake, let's not have it all shipped from throughout the country to the banks of the Columbia River.

Comments (17)

One of the New England states has a plan. If you ever want to cringe, start following the endless screw-ups at Vermont Yankee:

"More than 300,000 lbs. of contaminated soil from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant is on its way to Utah.

Tritium was discovered in the groundwater at Vermont Yankee earlier this year. Now the contaminated soil from the leak will be disposed of at a radioactive waste facility in Utah."

Yeah, that's probably what they call "low-level" radioactive waste. Meaning that if you mess with it, you'll merely be "low-level" dead.

The stuff that's supposed to be going to Nevada is a lot worse in terms of radiation strength -- just being in the same room with it would kill you in about 10 minutes -- but it comes in long solid metal rods that don't spill.

And if they get too close together, the rods only go critical, heat up, melt, and catch fire and burn, baby, burn -- emitting god only knows what into the air and everything for who knows how long (longer than petroleum and methane gush uncontrolled out of a disastrous breech in an undersea oil & gas field).

Remember how Portland, Oregon, and the whole PNW got bathed in Chernobyl's fallout?

Chernobyl: Chronicle of Difficult Weeks by Vladmir Shevchenko
This documentary film covers the disaster at Chernobyl and the three months that followed. Presented in Russian with English subtitles, understand that some of the film quality is poor, due to the high levels of radiation at the film site. ~ All Movie Guide

MOSCOW, May 29— A Soviet filmmaker who worked at the Chernobyl power plant within days of the nuclear accident there last year has died of radiation sickness, the weekly Nedelya reported today. Nedelya said Vladimir Shevchenko, director of the film, ''Chernobyl: A Chronicle of Difficult Weeks,'' died two months ago from an excessive dose of radiation.
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/05/30/world/a-soviet-film-maker-at-chernobyl-in-86-is-dead-of-radiation.html

Chernobyl Legacy - Paul Fusco - Magnum in Motion
http://inmotion.magnumphotos.com/essay/chernobyl

Panoramy - Czarnobyl
http://www.360stopni.pl/text/47_pl.php?cat=13

Chernobyl photobook, "Pluto's Realm"
http://www.angelfire.com/extreme4/kiddofspeed/index.html

It's not the heat, nor the humidity, but the gamma rays and particle emitters that get ya. Not that there's anything wrong with that. (note to Westinghouse, GE, Bechtel, et al.: product disparagement disclaimer).

Oh, I'm just getting warmed up with the Vermont Yankee stories.

"When a fish taken from the Connecticut River recently tested positive for radioactive strontium-90, suspicion focused on the nearby Vermont Yankee nuclear plant as the likely source. Operators of the troubled 38-year-old nuclear plant on the banks of the river, where work is under way to clean up leaking radioactive tritium, revealed this month that it also found soil contaminated with strontium-90, an isotope linked to bone cancer and leukemia."

Strontium-90 is found around many nuke sites in the U.S. Along with many other biohazardous radioisotopes (Iodine 131, Cesium 137, Iron....aw, don't get me started).

Radiological Agent: Strontium-90
http://www.cbwinfo.com/Radiological/radmat/sr90.shtml

Great account of a Japanese doctor in Hiroshima @GroundZero who saved lives from radiation sickness using a diet of brown rice and seaweed. Recounted in Dr. Andrew Weil's book "Spontaneous Healing"

Here in Nevada, it should be pointed out that the Yucca Mountain Site is probably the most heavily surveyed and studied location in America. The major reason it was shut down is largely because of Harry Reid helping to cut funding. Hundreds of people lost their jobs because of this - in the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Thanks Harry - you worthless putz.

From Nevada's perspective, they should keep studying the site, because it will turn out to be unsuitable if a study is done fairly. Without a study, any decision will be made by politics, and there ain't enough people in Nevada to win that one.

Actually, Jack there are reams of studies done on the Yucca Mountain site. But worst of all, the US Energy Department has about 50 Billion dollars of contracts made to US nuclear plant operators to store and/or reprocess spent fuel rods. And if the place never operates, they will all be suing the Energy Department for the money paid out for storage and/or reprocessing.
So either way, the taxpayer loses.

There will never be a "perfect" place to store radioactive waste. All we can do is find the "best" site and from what I've seen of Yucca it's a pretty good site but I don't know if it is the "best". But, after pouring billions into the place we might as well use it as designed.

Lets be honest folks, until we harnes the perfect energy source something in the environment will end up suffering. Best we can do is minimize that impact with whatever technology we have. Only two sources I see on the horizon are wave energy and fusion which have their drawbacks too.

I was wondering how long it would take after the mention of anything Nuclear Power-related until someone started throwing around the Chernobyl boogeyman.

1. In order to create a criticality with spent fuel rods, they need to be reprocessed, as they contain too many transuranic elements that act as a 'neutron poison'. If it was as easy as moving X rods within Y distance to create a criticality, they'd still be in the reactor vessel, since that's exactly what they do to generate power.

2. A Chernobyl-scope event cannot happen at any NRC-licensed nuclear facility in the United States. The physics just don't allow it. Here's why:

• The RMBK reactor design employed at Chernobyl uses what's called a 'positive void coefficient' to maintain criticality via graphite moderation, meaning that with a loss of coolant, the graphite cladding on the fuel assembly will still slow the neutrons to maintain a self-sufficient chain reaction.

Every reactor in the US uses a 'negative void coefficient' meaning that coolant has to be present as a moderator to slow down the neutrons, for U238 atoms to capture them, become unstable, and split. A loss of coolant in any US reactor causes the fuel assembly to become sub-critical, and it shuts down automatically.

• The RMBK reactor design required electrical power to insert the control rods to shut it down. All US facilities require electrical power to keep the control rods OUT of the reactor vessel. If there is a loss of electrical power, the rods fall in, and shut down the reaction right now.

• The RMBK reactor at Chernobyl had no containment dome. When the first two design flaws were combined with a lack of this safety feature, the runaway reactor's steam explosion and graphite burn allowed the resulting materials to escape directly to the environment.

• The brain-dead operators of Chernobyl had specifically disabled other safety systems on the reactor in order to run a test. This procedure, combined with the previous massive design flaws, led to the disaster.

This isn't to say that bad things can't happen with nuclear physics - there's been too many screwups to ever claim that. However, with people being so down on oil and coal, nuclear seems to be an option worth revisiting, if it's done right. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveling_wave_reactor - A reactor design that runs on what is essentially nuclear waste (depleted uranium-238) breeding it into Plutonium and burning it up just as fast as it does. Proliferation-proof. Low waste. Runs for years without fuel reloading. Uses up some of the 700,000 metric tons of depleted uranium that we already have out of the ground, sitting around as "waste" from fuel enrichment.

However, it requires people to get over their hang-up on a terrible screw-up, resulting from procedures that should have never been done on a reactor design that should have never been built, from the darkest days of Soviet Communism.

Three words: TMI.

American Experience . Meltdown at Three Mile Island | PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/three/

Video of Sleeping Guards Shakes Nuclear Industry
Sight of Guards Asleep Shakes Industry
By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 4, 2008

Kerry Beal was taken aback when he discovered last March that many of his fellow security guards at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania were taking regular naps in what they called "the ready room."

When he spoke to supervisors at his company, Wackenhut Corp., they told Beal to be a team player. When he alerted the regional office of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, regulators let the matter drop after the plant's owner, Exelon, said it found no evidence of guards asleep on the job.

So Beal videotaped the sleeping guards. The tape, eventually given to WCBS, a CBS television affiliate in New York City, showed the armed workers snoozing against walls, slumped on tabletops or with eyes closed and heads bobbing.

Full article at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/03/AR2008010304442.html

Administration Cannot Drop Bid for Nuclear Waste Dump in Nevada, Panel Finds
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: June 29, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/30/science/earth/30nuke.html

Notable excerpt:

In a setback for the Obama administration, a panel of judges at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled on Tuesday that the Energy Department could not withdraw its application to open a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

Making good on a campaign pledge by President Obama, the Energy Department had formally sought to drop its plan for Yucca Mountain, a volcanic structure about 100 miles from Las Vegas. But states with major accumulations of waste from nuclear weapons production had petitioned to prevent the department from doing so.

In a 47-page decision, the three-member panel of administrative judges said the Energy Department lacked the authority to drop the petition because it would flout a law passed by Congress.

In the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Congress directed the Energy Department to file the application and the commission to consider it and “issue a final, merits-based decision approving or disapproving the construction,” the judges said. “Unless Congress directs otherwise, D.O.E. may not single-handedly derail the legislated decision-making process.”

Comment: Still doesn't make Yucca Mtn. site a good idea.

Forget cell phones - Here's the radiation to worry about if you're a flyer:

http://jonathanturley.org/2010/06/30/report-body-scanner-radiation-is-20-times-greater-than-previously-believed/

As for "no perfect place to store nuclear waste," the also-ran to Yucca was eliminated in a political power play. On a technical basis, the salt domes in Deaf Smith TX are probably as close to ideal as any site in N. America.

It's odd to see people calling again for a nuclear renaissance while the hue and cry is against "socialism." Absent socialism for the rich, utilities will not and can not build and nukes, period. There are problems with all energy technologies but there are only two (coal and nuclear) that have the peculiar combination of low efficiency with fantastically high costs and burdens shifted onto the future.

Three Mile Island shows the value of a containment done. When a partial meltdown occurred, the vast majority of the danger was contained on-site. The TMI-1 unit is still operating today.

Since we like linking things, here's a story from the Washington Post about an epidemiologist at Columbia University saying "A major independent review of disease rates around the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant has found no evidence that radioactivity released during the 1979 accident caused any increase in cancer incidence during the six-year period immediately afterward."

As I said before, if we're going to do it, we need to do it right. I'm not saying that anyone currently in the industry is doing it right today, or that we even have the right technology to do it today. Look at the article about the travelling wave reactor I posted earlier.

Even if we continue using the same pressurized water reactors that we have today, and that the US Navy has been using for 50+ years with zero incidents, we at least know where the nuclear waste is. With coal, you get 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy. In the air.

Would you rather have the waste in one place, contained in secure casks; or in your lungs?

With coal, you get 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy. In the air.

Until there's an accident. And not counting the radiation that comes with mining and processing uranium.

The main reason that nuclear power gets nowhere in this country is that its proponents can't stop lying and making highly misleading statements about its safety and benefits.

One last item - since we live in Nevada and have traveled through the more remote parts of our state. Yucca mountain is about as far from anything that matters as you are likely to find. It's simply desert and sagebrush out there and not much else.

I read the official report of TMI while in the navy, confidential material. Lets just say it read like a tragic comedy of errors. The operators did not believe their instruments, if they had the whole incident could of been avoided.


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