Security, storage concerns linger at closed nuclear sites (November 2015)

US regulators still seek safe site for waste

VERNON, Vt. — Across from an elementary school, a short road leads to a gate topped by barbed wire and a stark sign that warns in large letters: Security personnel are authorized to use deadly force.”

The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant stopped producing power last year, but rigorous security measures, including heavily armed guards in bulletproof towers, are still in place and will be for decades to protect hundreds of tons of radioactive waste that remain behind the gate.

The spent fuel will stay here along a bend of the Connecticut River, just 10 miles from the Massachusetts border, until the federal government can resolve a decades-old political battle over where to store the waste from the nation’s nuclear plants.

Across the United States, there are 22 decommissioned plants that have become heavily guarded repositories of spent fuel, their owners waiting indefinitely for a federal decision on where to permanently store the radioactive waste. About 150 miles away in Plymouth, Mass., the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station will enter the same phase after it closes sometime in the next four years and moves its waste into massive casks



By David Abel Globe Staff November 26, 2015, Boston Globe

Nuclear waste storage sites in rock salt may be more vulnerable than previously thought (November 2015)

Public Release: 26-Nov-2015 – University of Texas at Austin

Research from The University of Texas at Austin shows that rock salt, used by Germany and the United States as a subsurface container for radioactive waste, might not be as impermeable as thought or as capable of isolating nuclear waste from groundwater in the event that a capsule or storage vessel failed.

A team of researchers from the university has used field testing and 3-D micro-CT imaging of laboratory experiments to show that rock salt can become permeable. Their findings, published in the Nov. 27 issue of Science, has implications for oil and gas operations, and, most notably, nuclear waste storage. The team includes researchers from the university’s Cockrell School of Engineering and Jackson School of Geosciences.

“What this new information tells us is that the potential for permeability is there and should be a consideration when deciding where and how to store nuclear waste,” said Maša Prodanovi?, assistant professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering. “If it’s an existing nuclear waste storage site, you may want to re-evaluate it with this new information.”

Salt generally blocks fluid flow at shallow depth, a feature that allows oil reservoirs to form. But scientists have long suspected that salt becomes permeable at greater depth. Jackson School professor James E. Gardner confirmed this theory through laboratory experiments with synthetic rock salt.

Cockrell School doctoral student Soheil Ghanbarzadeh tested the idea against field data from natural rock salt. During summer internships he examined oil and brine distributions in rock salt in a set of 48 hydrocarbon wells owned and operated by Statoil. The observed fluid distributions confirm that salt indeed becomes permeable at greater depth. However, the researchers were surprised to find that fluids were sometimes able to flow through the salt at shallow depth.

In the study, they explain that deformation of rock salt may be the culprit. Deformation can stretch the tiny isolated pockets of brine that form between salt crystals and link them into a connected pore network that allows fluid to move.

Although this work was originally motivated by the desire to evaluate rock salt as a hydrocarbon reservoir seal for the oil industry, the conclusions may have important implications for nuclear waste storage. Previous work on salt permeability has focused on the cracks induced by the creation of the nuclear waste repository itself. The observations reported by the study, however, demonstrate that undisturbed rock salt can become permeable.

“The critical takeaway is that salt can develop permeability, even in absence of mining activity,” said assistant professor Marc A. Hesse of the Jackson School’s Department of Geological Sciences. “Further work is necessary to study the quantity of flow that can occur.”

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, in Carlsbad, New Mexico, stores low-level nuclear waste in salt beds beneath the ground. However, high-level waste from the nation’s nuclear energy sector is stored at the power plants in pools or dry casks, methods that are considered temporary solutions. For decades there has been a proposal to build a permanent central repository under Nevada’s Yucca Mountains, but that proposal has stalled because of political and regulatory hurdles. This has renewed interest in rock salt as an alternative permanent storage solution for high-level nuclear waste. In this context, the findings of the team from UT Austin provide a timely reminder that rock salt is a dynamic material over long timescales.

Ghanbarzadeh hopes that “our discovery encourages others to ask questions about the safety of current and future disposal sites.”


The project was sponsored by Statoil North America through the Statoil Fellowship program at UT Austin.

As posted at 

Bathurst business group concerned about nuclear dump proposal (November 2015)

A Bathurst business group says it is unconvinced of the economic benefits being touted for a shortlisted nuclear waste site in the district.

Dozens of people packed a hall in Hill End yesterday to hear about the Federal Government’s proposal to store the material at nearby Sallys Flat.

The Bathurst Business Chamber says the $10 million sweetener on offer to the selected community would not offset the potential economic losses.

The president Stacey Whittaker said there could be ramifications for the local tourism and agriculture sectors if the proposal went ahead.

“I don’t think it’s bringing anything positive to the region,” Ms Whittaker said.

“We’ve got a lot of small businesses by way of farming out in the that area which I think are certainly more important and have put more back into the community and the area than a nuclear waste dump will ever do.”

Sallys Flat is one of six sites shortlisted for the facility, and government officials have told the forum it would not pose a safety threat.

Ms Whittaker said the stigma surrounding nuclear waste could draw unnecessary negativity to the area.

“Certainly from the local business side of things in town itself of Bathurst, people are a bit concerned.

“You know Bathurst, oldest inland city in Australia and first nuclear waste dump.

“That’s not a real good title, is it?”

By Gavin Coote – Posted Thursday, Nov 26, 2015 at 2:53pm, at

Decision On Nuclear DGR Pushed Back (November 2015)

Liberal Environment Minister says there will be no decision on DGR until March 1st 2016.
(Tiverton) – Ontario Power Generation is going to have to wait for a final decision on its Deep Geologic Repository plans in Tiverton.

Liberal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has announced there will be no decision until March 1st, 2016.

OPG has spent over 10-years studying the feasibility of a DGR at its Bruce Power site which concluded with two sets of detailed public meetings.

OPG’s proposal calls for low and intermediate level nuclear waste to be buried 680-metres under ground.

The waste is currently stored in buildings above-ground.

The plan has received support from nearby municipalities but many other groups, including government officials from Michigan, are against the project, saying the waste should not be buried so close to Lake Huron.

The government was initially supposed to decide by September whether to greenlight the proposed DGR.

However, the previous Conservative government pushed that back until December –after the election.

The one-billion-dollar underground storage has won preliminary approval from the Joint Review Panel but needs a green light from Ottawa.

Friday, November 27, 2015 6:35 AM by John Divinski, Bayshore Broadasting, as posted at

Decision delayed on nuclear waste vault beneath shores of Lake Huron (November 2015)

The federal environment minister has put off for three months the hot-button decision about whether a nuclear waste vault can be built beneath the shores of Lake Huron near Kincardine.

Activists lobbying against the site applauded the delay, to March 1, 2016.

“I’m not surprised and I think it’s a good thing to do,” said David Ullrich, executive director of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, a group of 119 mayors in Canada and the U.S. that had collectively opposed the plan.

Ontario Power Generation is asking approval to bury dry waste from its nuclear power facilities into a limestone vault 680 metres underground, 1.6 kilometres from Lake Huron near Kincardine.

After months of hearings and examining tens of thousands of pages of documents, a joint review panel recommended the federal environment minister endorse the plan.

A decision was originally to have been made before the federal election in October, then was delayed until the beginning of December.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna sent notice Friday she would take an additional three months to deliberate.

Ullrich said it’s not surprising that the new Liberal government would want to review in depth the “incredibly large and complex file.â€

Ontario Power Generation spokesperson Neal Kelly, meanwhile, said, “we respect the minister’s decision and we await a decision from her.â€

Though the delay itself may not have been surprising, its timing – late on a Friday afternoon, as many decision-makers in Ottawa were preparing for a climate-change summit in France – was unexpected.

Kelly said OPG has been working on the plan for a decade and Kincardine has offered to be a willing host to the deep geologic repository (DGR).

Meanwhile, others who have fought against the repository were pleased to hear the decision is delayed.

“We are hopeful that the minister will act to protect the Great Lakes and will ultimately say no to the OPG plan,” said Beverly Fernandez, who has mobilized opposition to the deep geologic repository.

She said she is pleased that the government is postponing a decision that will have an impact on the Great Lakes for the 100,000 years.

Fernandez said 40 million people rely on Great Lakes water and any leak would be catastrophic.

Almost 200 communities have signed resolutions in opposition to the plan.

Ullrich said the only thing that would make the plan somewhat more acceptable to Great Lakes communities would be cancelling or moving it.

“I think that the farther it gets away from the shores of the Great Lakes, the likelier it would be to get support,†as long as a new location were on a stable foundation, he said.


Deep Geologic Repository:

  • Would take in waste from Ontario’s three nuclear power plants.
  • Would be located at the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant, near Kincardine.
  • Would store 200,000 cubic metres (about the volume of a big-box store) of low- and intermediate-level waste from nuclear power plants.
  • Low-level waste includes incinerated ash of work gloves and other material that may have come into contact with nuclear facilities; intermediate-level waste includes resins that were in contact with the reactor or its parts.
  • Would be buried 680 metres below ground, as deep as the CN Tower is tall, in virtually impermeable limestone that hasn’t moved in more than 45 million years.

What next:

  • On March 1, 2016, the federal environment minister will say whether she will recommend to federal cabinet whether or not construction of the repository will go ahead.
  • Cabinet must then decide if it supports her recommendation.
  • The Saugeen Ojibway Nation has the potential to veto the repository, even if the federal government agrees to the plan.

By Debora Van Brenk, The London Free Press, Friday, November 27, 2015 6:44:50 EST PM, as posted at

Underground safe havens to be installed at WIPP (November 2015)

CARLSBAD — As a part of improving safety at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, underground safe havens will be installed at the facility, a news release said.

“Each unit is equipped to house 20 people for at least 36 hours in the event of an emergency where workers may not be able to safely evacuate the mine,” the news release said.

According to the news release, eight of the underground safe havens or chambers were delivered and will be taken down into the underground to be installed before WIPP resumes waste disposal operations.

Each chamber is about 28 feet long and 8 feet wide and weighs about 19,000 pounds.

Each one contains a heating, ventilation and cooling system, as well as an oxygen delivery system, food, water, a chemical toilet, gas monitoring, lighting and seating.

“These units are being installed at WIPP as part of the overarching safety and emergency program enhancements associated with WIPP recovery efforts,” the news release said.

The safe havens at WIPP will provide life-saving shelter for underground workers in the event of an emergency. (Photo: Photo Courtesy of the Department of Energy)

Current-Argus Staff 11:47 a.m. MST November 25, 2015, As posted at

Groups Petition New Minister To Halt Lake Huron DGR Proposal (November 2015) file photo

Canada’s new environment and climate change minister, Catherine McKenna, is being petitioned by groups to halt OPG’s proposed DGR near Lake Huron north of Kincardine.

The federal minister’s approval is another thing needed before the project can move ahead. She has until December 2 to make a decision.

Today, a letter was sent to the minister, signed by 65 public interest groups asking her to halt the process. A copy of the letter can be seen by clicking here.

According to the group Nuclear Waste Watch, 179 municipalities in Canada and the U.S. are urging government officials to halt the project.

Eugene Bourgois is a sheep farmer whose property is in Inverhuron near the Bruce Power site. He’s lived there since 1974 and has been one of the many people challenging OPG’s planning process to put low and intermediate nuclear waste near Lake Huron.

He says water, along with air, are necessities of life.

“Without either we can’t live. We need those, future peoples will need those. We have an obligation; a moral obligation, a physical obligation, and a legal obligation to protect those future generations,” says Bourgois. “If we pass up this opportunity to think and just dump the stuff there, as has been done in countless other jurisdictions, in every case it’s leaked.”

In late October, Beverly Fernandez of the group “Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Dump” petitioned the newly elected federal government to halt the process.

Back in May, the Joint Review Panel released its 426 page report stating the project was unlikely to cause any significant adverse health effects. That report can be found here.

If the DGR is approved, OPG plans to store 200,000 cubic metres of dry, low-and-intermediate level nuclear waste nearly 700 m below the Bruce nuclear site.

By Steve Sabourin on November 19, 2015 3:30pm, as posted by Blackburn News at