Ruling on Nuclear Waste Storage Could Create a “Catastrophic Risk” (August 2014)

Strict safety controls sought by environmental groups for the storage of radioactive waste at dozens of nuclear power plants may fall to the wayside under a rule that’s expected be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next week. According to a congressional source who does not wish to be identified, the NRC is rushing to vote on the rule before the September retirement of Commissioner William Magwood, an ally of the nuclear power industry.

Strict safety controls sought by environmental groups for the storage of radioactive waste at dozens of nuclear power plants may fall to the wayside under a rule that’s expected be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next week. According to a congressional source who does not wish to be identified, the NRC is rushing to vote on the rule before the September retirement of Commissioner William Magwood, an ally of the nuclear power industry.

The rule would establish that the environmental risks of storing spent fuel in pools of water at reactor sites for extended periods are negligible and for the most part don’t need to be studied as part of the licensing requirements for nuclear power plants. But critics of the rule say that the NRC is blatantly ignoring its own research, which shows that the practice could lead to serious disasters: "You will have all the waste sitting, basically, in a giant swimming pool," the source says, "and the potential of the swimming pool draining or being breached by an accident or an attack or a power loss that causes the water to boil off­all of those things would have impacts that the NRC’s own analysis says would equal that of a meltdown of the reactor core."

Existing nuclear plants are designed to store spent fuel for no more than a few years but have accumulated large stockpiles of it due to repeated delays in plans to build a permanent repository in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. In 2010, the Obama administration canceled the $15 billion Yucca project, raising the distinct possibility that a single geologic waste storage site may never be built. In 2012, the Natural Resources Defense Council successfully sued to force the NRC to stop licensing nuclear reactors until the commission conducted an environmental impact study on the long-term risks posed by on-site waste­including the possibility that those temporary storage sites will become permanent. The completed study, along with the new rule, is expected to be approved by the NRC on Tuesday, over the strong objections of environmental groups.

The NRC rule would pave the way for nuclear waste to be stored in open cooling pools at reactor sites for up to 120 years­and up to 60 years after a reactor is decommissioned. Environmental groups say that’s way too long. "The pools are a catastrophic risk," says Kevin Kamps, the radioactive-waste watchdog for a group called Beyond Nuclear. Many pools are holding up to four times as many spent rods as intended. Packing so many rods into the pools dramatically increases the risk of a fire should a leak cause the cooling water to drain. A 2013 NRC study found that a pool fire could contaminate 9,400 square miles and displace 4 million Americans from their homes for years.
The NRC’s assumption that operators will guard and maintain their waste for decades after their plants are decommissioned is laughable to many enviros. In comments submitted to the NRC last December, the NRDC pointed to "the sad history" of managing hazardous waste in America, which often involves commercial operations going bankrupt and saddling taxpayers with the cleanup….

Even at operable nuclear plants, about a dozen waste storage pools are known to be leaking, including one at New York’s Indian Point reactor, which is discharging radioactive water into the Hudson River. To minimize the risk of disaster, environmental groups want the industry to immediately move its waste into thick concrete-and-steel dry casks at a cost of roughly $7 billion. But in a 4-1 vote earlier this year, the NRC ruled that this wouldn’t be cost-effective.

Mother Jones – August 22, 2014


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Doctors want to see a drop in radioactivity (August 2014)

Nuclear bomb tests contaminate soils, while nuclear accidents and X-rays are a direct threat to our health. At a world summit this week, doctors called for more protection and awareness.

It was a central theme at this year’s world congress of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) – the consequences of nuclear testing.

The participants gathered in Kazakhstan to see the consequences first-hand at Semipalatinsk – a Soviet-era test site which was active between 1949 and 1989.

Spanning 18,500 square meters, Semipalatinsk saw 472 test explosions during these 40 years – 129 tests were above ground.

Semipalatinsk was closed after the fall of the Soviet Union and its subterranean systems destroyed.

The IPPNW is calling for a swift nuclear disarmament and a continued nuclear phase-out.

But it also says there’s a desperate need for more information to the public.

"We have to tell people: don’t let your child have an X-ray unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t eat that jam from that contaminated region," Rosen says, "and don’t move close to a nuclear power plant."

Read the whole story at

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Nuclear Regulatory Commission announces final rule on spent nuclear fuel storage

By Aaron Martin | August 28, 2014

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced on Tuesday that it approved a final rule related to the environmental effects of the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel.

In July, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called for NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane to act quickly on a rule related to the environmental impact of nuclear fuel.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, applauded the NRCs announcement on Tuesday.

This action is a welcome step in getting our nuclear future back on track, the legislators said. The NRC can resume fulfilling its core function of issuing licenses, and the commissions first priority should be completing all pending licenses safely and as soon as possible.

The NRC also announced on Tuesday that it would lift its suspension of final licensing actions on nuclear power plant licenses and renewals once the rule goes into effect.

The commission said approval of the final rule followed a Generic Environmental Impact Statement that analyzed the impact of nuclear waste storage on land use, air and water quality, and historic and culture resources over different periods of time.

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NRC Finds Spent Fuel Safe To Store ‘Indefinitely’ On-site


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has ruled that spent nuclear fuel can be safely stored indefinitely at decommissioned nuclear power plants.

The rule stems from a 2012 appeals court ruling ordering the NRC to consider the chance that a long-promised, permanent nuclear waste repository might never be built. The court also ordered the agency to do further analysis of the risks of spent fuel pool leaks and fires.

The NRC rule, adopted Tuesday, is based on a two-year study ordered by the court. The study considered environmental and safety impacts of fuel stored for 60 years after a plant stops operating. It also looked at a time period of 160 years, and at indefinite lengths of time.

Neil Sheehan is an NRC spokesman.

"The conclusion after the NRC staff looked at all these various areas," Sheehan says, "is that the fuel can be safely stored, but there are certain steps that would have to be taken to insure that thats the case."

"The conclusion … is that the fuel can be safely stored, but there are certain steps that would have to be taken to insure that." – Neil Sheehan, NRC

Sheehan says the rule applies both to fuel stored in spent-fuel pools and in dry casks made of metal and concrete, which are used at Entergy Vermont Yankee.

Sheehan says the ruling calls for fuel stored in dry casks to be repackaged every 100 years. He says nuclear facilities have their own protocols for monitoring and inspecting the dry casks, in some cases every 24 hours.

"The spent fuel pools have alarms in the control rooms that would notify them if theres a problem," Sheehan says.

Entergy Vermont Yankee, which is closing at the end of this year, says it plans to transfer its spent fuel into dry casks as quickly as possible, probably by 2020. Entergy already has one dry cask storage site and has applied has applied to the Vermont Public Service Board for permission to build another. Preliminary proceedings on that request are expected to start in October.

Sheehan says that even after a plant closes it will have security personnel, reactor operators and fuel handlers onsite to monitor and manage the spent nuclear fuel. He says federal regulations require such staffing for as long as the fuel remains on site.

Ray Shadis, of the anti-nuclear New England Coalition, is dubious about that claim.

"Does that mean that Entergy is going to be onsite for that 100 years?" Shadis asks. "If the fuel is stored 200 years, will Entergy be there to handle the fuel?"

"If the fuel is stored 200 years, will Entergy be there to handle the fuel?" – Ray Shadis, New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution

Shadis also questions whether the NRCs impact study adequately considered such risks as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

He says the New England Coalition is working with other groups across the country to challenge the NRC on the safety of onsite fuel storage. The rule is expected to go into effect after a 30-day comment period.

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WIPP employee sues over respiratory issues (August 2014)

By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer – Las Cruces Bureau, Thursday, August 14, 2014

In the first personal injury lawsuit to come to light since a fire and radiation leak hit a southeast New Mexico nuclear waste repository, a worker is suing the contractor in charge for alleged negligence and injuries resulting from smoke inhalation.

William Utter, a waste handler for contractor Nuclear Waste Partnership, filed the lawsuit in Santa Fe in May seeking unspecified compensation and punitive damages for a litany of injuries, including smoke and toxin inhalation, and mental and emotional distress.

His wife, Amada, and 10-year-old son are also party to the case.

Utter evacuated the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant salt mine along with 85 other workers on Feb. 5 after a salt haul truck caught fire some 2,150 feet below the surface. He was among the 13 workers treated for smoke inhalation and among the six sent to the hospital that day for further treatment.

Attorney Justin Rodriguez said Utter has been making regular trips to Albuquerque and Denver to see respiratory specialists recommended to him by NWPs insurance carrier due to the injury; the lawsuit does not specify the diagnosis. Utter has been receiving workers compensation disability payments since the summer, Rodriguez said.

The business registrations of NWP along with parent URS Energy and Construction Inc., also named in the lawsuit, are in Santa Fe.

NWP spokesman Donavan Mager said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Citing employee privacy issues, Mager also declined to say how many workers, if any, were receiving disability payments in connection with either the fire or radiation leak.

In a court document, NWP attorneys refuted Utters claims, saying the defendants do not believe that the complaint states a legally sufficient cause of action.

The Department of Energy and NWP have maintained since the beginning that no workers were seriously injured in either of the February incidents. On a WIPP website, the DOE says one employee continues to be treated for smoke inhalation as a result of the fire.

In addition to the workers treated for smoke inhalation following the fire, 22 workers tested positive for radiation contamination after the Feb. 14 radiation leak at levels deemed unharmful to health.

The lawsuit draws heavily on a March accident investigation report on the fire that outlines in detail dozens of problems in safety and maintenance at the repository deficiencies that included an ineffective fire suppression system on the truck, inoperable mine phones and ineffective emergency response training.

The report concluded the accident could have been prevented.

WIPP employs more than 1,000 workers, including both contractor and DOE employees. NWP employees are not permitted to speak to the news media.

Utter has worked for NWP for eight years and is a member of the Carlsbad chapter of the United Steelworkers union.

He declined to be interviewed by the Journal but shared through his attorney a recorded interview with a doctor in which he details the health issues he has faced since escaping the mine fire. Rodriguez said the video was prepared in conjunction with the lawsuit.

Choking back a constant, persistent cough, Utters voice is hoarse as he answers questions asked by a person off-camera.

I get tired, he said. I start coughing real hard. I start vomiting. Its just like this all the time.

Hearings have not yet been scheduled in the case.

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Let’s not be nuclear waste guinea pigs ( August 2014)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Is burying nuclear waste safe?
The real question is, do we want to gamble with the lives of our future generations?
The fact is straightforward, irrefutable: currently there is no high level repository for nuclear waste anywhere in the world. But not for want of trying.
The Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) proposes that the first could be in the Schreiber area. They say the technology is safe. But theyve never tested it in an actual facility. Do we want to be the guinea pigs?
Heres a brief history of the muddled attempts to build an underground facility to store nuclear waste:
The U.S.A. spent $10 billion in the Yucca Mountains attempting to put one in. They were defeated by water safety issues.
The Germans, known worldwide for their engineering prowess, tried storing it in a salt mine. It leaked.
The Russians tried storing military waste in the Ural Mountains. In 1957, it blew up. The contamination affected as many people and as large an area as the Chernobyl meltdown. What this shows is that repository accidents can be the equal of reactor accidents.
In Hanford, Wash., the large tanks in use for decades are leaking. Officials are not sure what step to try next. In addition, they are worried about a possible explosion.
In February a low-level repository in New Mexico emitted deadly radionuclides, better known as plutonium. This leaked above ground causing enough concern that the repository has been closed indefinitely.
Currently, Sweden and Finland are constructing deep geologic repositories. Again, engineers are stymied by water problems, just as the Americans were in the Yucca Mountains.
Our Canadian model, the one proposed for the Schreiber area if it was accepted, is based on the Swedish model. A peer review has stated that the original plan was over-simplified and faulty. Too many factors werent taken into consideration.
For our sake, and for those who come after us, the plans must be flawless.
These repositories must safely and securely hold nuclear waste for a very long time. Such a plan has yet to be conceived, designed, engineered and constructed. The best engineers in the world have tried and failed.
Remember, uncharted waters are always dangerous! Do we want to be the first? I dont think so.
The brief of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is to protect the health, safety and security of Canadian citizens. People in the Schreiber area are Canadian citizens.
Working with the NWMO, the CNSC is downplaying the very real problems experienced by engineers around the globe and the potential problems of a repository here.
If indeed it is safe, why do we feel the need to use cash incentives to bribe communities to accept the building of a repository in their area?
How do they argue with the fact that even insurance companies wont cover the damage or loss due to nuclear accidents in and around a repository if one is built? Clearly, the insurers know something that our regulatory agencies arent telling us.
We face deadly consequences if a repository is constructed in the Schreiber area. Sticking our head in the sand like an ostrich wont make this problem go away.
This is one of the most critical issues this area will ever face. The risks are proven, they are serious and they will affect our home for generations to come.
Yes, I want new business in the area. That keeps us prosperous and vital.
But the trade-off is simply too high. This repository threatens our environment, our health and our very existence.
Just remember each of the attempts that have been made. The most skilled and experienced experts in the world, spending billions of dollars, using an array of designs and technology, havent been able to make this happen safely.
And were going to be the first?
If history has taught us one thing, and one thing only, it is that the dangers are real. We must take action against this!
Clay Gordon
Terrace Bay

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Lake Huron nuclear dump scheme in trouble: Walkom (August 2014)

Aboriginal communities arent happy with Ontarios plans to store nuclear waste underground. And they say they have a veto.

The Saugeen Ojibway First Nation has reminded Ontario Power Generation that no new nuclear waste dump will be built near it without aboriginal consent.

By: Thomas Walkom National Affairs, Published on Wed Aug 06 2014

Ontarios plan to bury nuclear waste beside Lake Huron is running into heavy weather.

Ontario Power Generation, the Crown corporation behind the proposed dump site for low and intermediate level radioactive waste has publicly acknowledged that its long-term safety plans are based, in part, on new technologies that have not yet been invented.

As the Stars John Spears reported this week, that explanation hasnt endeared itself to the small but politically important aboriginal communities near the proposed Kincardine dump site.

In a brief to the federal review panel that will eventually rule on the plan, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation reminds OPG of its assurance that no nuclear waste dump will be built without aboriginal consent.

Will that consent be given? The First Nation doesnt say. But in its brief, it does express profound unease with what it calls OPGs vague and open-ended scheme.

Plans for this so-called deep geological repository at Kincardine have been in the works since 2005.

Initially, the proposed dump was supposed to house waste such as the rubber gloves used by nuclear workers items with relatively low levels of radioactivity.

Right now, nuclear waste from Ontario atomic power generating plants is stored on the surface.

But once federal hearings started last fall, OPG changed tack. It announced it wanted to double the size of the underground dump to roughly 400,000 cubic metres in order to accommodate waste that will be produced when the provinces existing nuclear plants are taken apart.

This so-called decommissioning waste, which includes components such as pressure tubes (but not nuclear fuel), will remain highly radioactive for thousands of years.

Critics cried foul. The three-member federal panel hearing the proposal ordered OPG to better explain how it would handle this more difficult waste.

It also told the Crown utility to look into why a similar U .S. nuclear waste facility near Carlsbad, N.M., cited by dump proponents as a model suffered two accidents in February.

In one, a truck caught fire underground. In another, small amounts of plutonium were inadvertently released into the atmosphere possibly because waste had been mixed with the wrong kind of kitty litter.

The response from OPG, also filed with the review panel, is charmingly optimistic. It agrees that decommissioning waste could present problems for the proposed Kincardine dump. But, noting that such waste wont be a problem for at least 20 years, it states blithely that someone will have figured out something by then.

Or, as the Crown corporation puts it: Since an OPG decision to emplace decommissioning waste into the DGR would not be made until 20-40 years from now, it is reasonable to assume that advancement in technology will contribute to a meaningful reduction in the volume of (radioactive) metals.

Asked to respond to the accidents in New Mexico, OPG said in effect that it wouldnt be as sloppy as its American counterpart.

The U.S. problems, it said, were related to a degraded safety culture there. Ontario, it went on, is sure to do better a hopeful, if not necessarily convincing, conclusion.

None of this means the dump project is doomed. It has powerful supporters.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which regulates the atomic industry and which, along with the federal environment minister, appointed the review panel, is on side.

In its brief to the panel, the commission says it fully buys OPGs latest arguments.

The nuclear industry is also on side, as are unionized power workers. So is the town of Kincardine, which is already home to the Bruce Power nuclear plant.

Still, the prospect of an aboriginal veto adds a new dimension to the debate. Eventually, all those rubber gloves and used nuclear parts will be put somewhere. But they may not end up in underground caverns beside the Great Lakes.