Archive for April, 2016
With no prospects in sight for developing a permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel, the U.S. is turning to “interim storage.” Development of a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) took a significant step forward this week with a license application submitted to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on April 28 by Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS), with support from AREVA, for a CISF in Andrews County, Texas.
The proposed facility is designed to store used nuclear fuel and other waste generated at nuclear energy facilities. “Establishing an economically viable solution for used fuel management in the United States is vital to sustaining and advancing nuclear energy,” said Greg Vesey, senior vice president of AREVA TN Americas. “The CISF is an important part of meeting this goal. Working with our partners, WCS and subcontractor NAC International, we are proud to reach this regulatory milestone in the project’s development.”
AREVA signed an agreement with WCS in early 2015 to assist with the license application and environmental report for the facility. WCS submitted its license application on time, following a year of pre-application meetings with the NRC.
In its application, the company proposed an initial 40-year license for the facility, which is designed to store 40,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. WCS expects the CISF to be operational by 2021.
New Mexico has also expressed interest in providing a site for a CISF. Earlier this month, Holtec International submitted a letter of intent to the NRC regarding its bid to open a $5 billion CISF in Lea County with a life span of 100 years. Holtec International expects to submit a license application to the NRC by the end of November.
Gail Reitenbach, PhD, editor (@GailReit, @POWERmagazine), 04/28/2016, as posted at http://www.powermag.com/nrc-license-application-submitted-for-spent-nuclear-fuel-interim-storage-facility/
Three decades after the Chernobyl disaster, Germany is preparing to go nuclear-free. Industry plans to dismantle and dispose of radioactive waste. But some green campaigners say it’s safer to leave reactor sites as-is.
Thirty years ago, the Chernobyl disaster released radioactivity that spread across much of the northern hemisphere into the atmosphere. It also spurred social movements around the world to demand an end to nuclear power.
In Germany, that end is finally in sight ,as the country prepares to go nuclear-free by 2022. But the task of safely decommissioning and dismantling nuclear power stations promises to be expensive and controversial, and will take many years.
Debate rages over how to dispose of highly radioactive spent fuel rods from commercial nuclear power stations. But there is less awareness around how the dissolving industry and its regulators must also decide what to do with disused reactor sites.
Masses of equipment and a variety of buildings at the sites were exposed to nuclear fission reaction products for years, and have become slightly or moderately radioactive as a result. Therein lies the crux of the disposal problem.
Big money, long time
The consultancy ADL has estimated it will take about two decades to fully dismantle Germany’s 17 nuclear reactor sites, and cost at least 18 billion euros – not including the cost of subsequent radioactive waste disposal.
Why will it take so long and cost so much? DW posed this question to E.ON, Germany’s largest electricity utility and owner of 11 nuclear power stations – most of them already shut down.
An E.ON spokesperson said dismantling of reactor sites must take place in stages. First, spent uranium fuel rods must be transported off-site, to interim storage elsewhere. This can’t happen until four or five years after a reactor is shut down, because the fuel rods’ radioactivity first needs to decrease sufficiently for their safe handling to become possible.
Dismantling equipment is then expected to take 10 to 15 years. Final demolition of remaining buildings and site remediation will take another two to three years after all radioactive materials have been removed from the former reactor site.
Radioactive waste materials can be treated by a variety of means – compression, desiccation, enclosure in cement, or burning to ash – to reduce total volume prior to packing, shipping, and final disposal in an approved secure long-term storage site, E.ON said.
Put it in a deep, dry hole
Schacht Konrad, a disused iron-ore mine shaft near the German town of Salzgitter, is under consideration as the national site for the final disposal of low- to medium-grade radioactive materials.
The mine was chosen because it is particularly dry inside – reducing the risk of radioactive materials dissolving and entering into the groundwater. It’s meant to take in around 90 percent (by volume) of all the radioactive rubble from decontaminated nuclear sites in Germany – but only the mildly radioactive stuff.
German law specifies a threshold of very low radioactivity below which materials are deemed safe. Materials that fall below the threshold can legally be disposed of through the regular waste disposal system. But some anti-nuclear campaigners insist there’s no safe threshold, however low.
In contrast to low-level, mildly radioactive waste from former reactor sites, highly radioactive waste – including spent fuel rods – will be left in cooling ponds on closed-down reactor sites for some decades. Ultimately, they’ll be disposed of in one or more special high-security repositories. The location of those repositories is highly contentious, and has not yet been settled.
Leave them where they’re standing?
While the government and nuclear industry are keen to get on with dismantling and removing reactors soon after they’re shut down, Jörg Schmid and Henrik Paulitz of the German division of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) think perhaps they shouldn’t be dismantled at all.
“Dismantling nuclear reactors is expensive and poses health dangers,” according to an IPPNW report in German published in January of this year.
In the report, Schmid and Paulitz say that serious consideration should be given to the option of securely fencing off old nuclear reactor sites and allowing low-level radioactivity from contaminated buildings and equipment to recede over decades.
The IPPNW’s preferred solution would see heavily contaminated elements such as spent fuel rods be removed immediately, while the less-contaminated buildings and equipment would be left in situ indefinitely.
Reactor room in Gundremmingen nuclear plant
Decommissioning nuclear plants is an industry unto itself
This would avoid dispersing the radioactive material more widely, and minimize risk to human populations, the study’s authors argue.
E.ON told DW that fencing off sites was neither more nor less safe than dismantling them – but argued that dismantling is a better solution in terms of the labor market consequences.
“IPPNW’s option would mean that 300 to 400 people who work at a nuclear site would abruptly lose their jobs,” the spokesperson said.
But Paulitz countered: “The nuclear industry must answer the question: is the proposed dismantling of the reactor sites a necessary measure, or is it just a new multi-billion-euro industry?”
Radioactive steel in children’s bedrooms?
About 99 percent of the total mass of material at a former nuclear site is radioactive at such a low level that it is deemed safe – so the material is no longer covered by nuclear safety regulations and can be released into the environment, according to IPPNW’s Schmid, who is a medical doctor.
But Schmid said that what matters is total radiation exposure over time. If very large amounts of very weakly radioactive material are dispersed through the environment, for example by being reintroduced into material supply chains, that represents a significant amount of broadcast radiation exposure over time.
Dismantling nuclear power plants, Paulitz said, leads to a problem: “The great majority of the site’s materials won’t be classified as nuclear waste, and will instead be disposed of in ordinary household waste streams, or even recycled into normal supply chains.”
“From a health and safety perspective, we see this as irresponsible.” Paulitz said, as weakly radioactive steel taken from a dismantled nuclear site could end up built into a radiator in a child’s bedroom, for example.
April 26, 2016 – DW – as posted at http://www.dw.com/en/nuclear-reactor-sites-dismantle-or-fence-off/a-19111969
“Houston, we have a problem.” Although engineers and workers at the Idaho National Laboratory in Southeast Idaho have always tried to handle nuclear material safely, it doesn’t always work. Since 2005, accidents and inadvertent releases have happened with alarming regularity. In 2012, Department of Energy investigators told the Snake River Alliance that they had significant concerns and that INL was not handling plutonium safely.
Although the DOE has failed to meet countless deadlines to clean up what is already here, new proposals to import spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants have swept safety concerns under the rug. DOE’s reputation for missed deadlines once led former Gov. Cecil Andrus to compare the agency to the Boise used car dealership “Fairly Reliable Bob’s.”
The most current missed deadline is that the DOE has failed to treat 900,000 gallons of intensely radioactive liquid waste stored at INL. Recent failures at the plant have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in cost overruns and the system may never work.
In the meantime, this extremely dangerous waste is stored in buried tanks decades old. INL’s tanks have never leaked, as far as we know, but the pipes and valves connecting them have. The waste from those leaks may never be cleaned up and may always be in our soil and groundwater.
The McClatchy News Agency, parent company of the Idaho Statesman, recently reported that there have been nearly 400 nuclear-related deaths associated with the INL. Far more people have been sickened by their work there.
Twenty-five years ago, a Magic Valley fish farmer raised the alarm about plutonium shipments from Colorado to be buried on top of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The public was outraged. Former Gov. Andrus stepped up and Gov. Phil Batt forged a nuclear waste agreement with the DOE banning future imports of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants until specific timetables for clean up were met.
Today, the Byron nuclear waste proposed to come to INL falls under this ban. It is being stored safely in Indiana and it is unfathomable why Idaho would sign a “waiver” to allow the feds to bring it here and put Idahoans at risk.
Our land and water will continue to be contaminated until our political leaders put the health and safety of Idahoans ahead of DOE’s broken promises. There is still plutonium buried above the Snake River Aquifer, perhaps till the end of time. Let’s not forget.
Idahoans shouldn’t become lab animals for nuclear malfunction. Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is doing the right thing forcing the DOE to follow its own deadlines. Without a permanent national repository for nuclear waste, what comes to Idaho will stay here for decades, if not forever. Idahoans should stand together and tell the federal government to focus on INL’s existing nuclear experiment — cleaning up what is already here.
April 26, 2016 10:20 PM, By Wendy Wilson. Wendy Wilson is interim executive director of the Snake River Alliance, Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and advocate for clean energy, found at www.snakeriveralliance.org. Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article74125087.html#storylink=cpy
(Chalk River, 2015 April 27) The following information bulletin is in accordance with Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) ongoing commitment to voluntary public disclosure of events related to the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL).
During the evening shift of April 19, CNL’s Rod Crew was loading a fuel basket containing spent NRX fuel bundles into a CRL-site transportation cask. The basket, weighing approximately 1,300 pounds is manipulated remotely with a crane; all basket handing operations are conducted within the rod bay and shielded beneath the surface of the rod bay water.
During loading operations, the crane grapple released the load before the basket was fully inserted into the cask, whereupon the basket descended to the pool floor. The cause of the unexpected grapple release is currently under investigation.
At the time of the event, all work in the rod bays was stopped and equipment was placed into a safe state. CNL management was made aware of the event immediately and CNL proactively reported the event to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on the morning of April 20.
CNL confirms that there is no threat to workers, the public, the environment or nuclear safety related to this event.
As posted by CNL at http://www.cnl.ca/en/home/news-and-publications/bulletins/2016/160427.aspx
In October, Germany set up a high-level commission to decide how to finance the country’s nuclear phase-out. It has now recommended that power companies pay into a multi-billion euro fund managed by the government.
In October, Germany set up a high-level eleven-member commission, KFK, to review the financing of the nuclear phase-out. The government’s goal was to ensure comprehensive safety, decommissioning and waste disposal processes, and see to it that their costs would be borne by nuclear power companies, not by taxpayers.
“The tasks of interim storage of radioactive waste, manufacturing of waste containers, and construction and operation of final repositories, and transfer of waste from interim storage to final repositories should be transferred to the state,” the KFK said in a statement released Wednesday in Berlin.
The estimated costs are to be covered by power companies paying a total of 23.3 billion euro ($26.4 billion) into a state-owned fund, with partial payments to be made in tranches over the next few years. In exchange, the state will take on all the residual financial risks associated with radioactive waste management – so if disposing of radioactive waste ends up costing more than 23.3 billion euro, the government, not the companies, will be on the hook for those cost overruns.
The 23.3 billion euro is composed of the current all-in 4.7 billion euro cost estimate of processing, enclosing and transferring high-level waste to final repositories, plus a 12.4 billion euro estimate for the costs of selecting, building and operating final repositories, plus a 35 percent “risk premium” – which is less than the risk premium of at least 50 percent that environmental groups had proposed, but more than the companies want to pay.
The deal was characterized by the KFK’s three co-chairs as a compromise aimed at ensuring decommissioning costs wouldn’t lead to the insolvency of the four power companies that own nuclear reactors in Germany. Their balance sheets have been under heavy pressure in recent years due to price competition from solar and wind power suppliers in wholesale electricity markets.
The four large power-generation companies that own Germany’s 17 commercial nuclear reactors are E.ON, RWE, EnBW, and Vattenfall, a company owned by the Swedish state. Eight of the 17 reactors are still in operation, but the last of them is due to be shut down by the end of 2022. Nuclear power accounted for 14 percent of Germany’s total electricity production in 2015.
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Statement by Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General, on the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster (26 April 1986):
“Last week world leaders met in New York to sign the Paris climate agreement, which includes the aim to try to keep global warming below 1.5 Degrees C. It is disappointing and deeply worrying that many countries still believe that nuclear power needs to play a significant role in the switch to a low carbon economy other than in the short term.
Thirty years after the Chernobyl disaster, major questions remain about the safety of nuclear power. Problems related to waste disposal remain unresolved. Indeed, a recent study by the European Commission revealed that Europe is facing a €253bn bill for nuclear waste management and plant decommissioning, with only €120bn having been set aside. Further, the safety upgrades needed following the the Fukushima disaster are making many ageing European reactors unprofitable and building new reactors is clearly uneconomical. Reactors also risk being targets for terrorist attacks as shown by the recent developments in Belgium.
Energy efficiency and sustainable renewable energy are the only options for the future that make sense in terms of tackling climate change, being cost efficient, ensuring energy security and keeping the public safe.”
Brussels, 25 April 2016, European Environmental Bureau, as posted at http://www.eeb.org/index.cfm/news-events/news/eeb-statement-on-30th-anniversary-of-chernobyl/
Hundreds take part in protest event expressing opposition to plans for nuclear waste repository (April 2016)
Prague, April 23 (CTK) – Hundreds of people protested in seven places in the Czech Republic Saturday against the possible construction of a permanent radioactive waste storage facility, in which the Czech Radioactive Waste Repository Authority (SURAO) wants to do geological exploration survey.
The protest had the form of marches, running and cycling relays, exhibitions as well as film screeenings.
Localities in north Bohemia and in south Bohemia and Moravia have been considered as possible sites of the future repository.
The repository is to be established by 2065. Thousands of tonnes of spent fuel from nuclear power plants are to be permanently deposited in it.
The Czech Republic has a nuclear power plant in Temelin, south Bohemia, and Dukovany, south Moravia.
Day Against the Repository was held simultaneously in all localities considered as its future site for a second time this year.
As posted April 25th, 2016 on the Prague Daily Monitor at http://www.praguemonitor.com/2016/04/25/hundreds-take-part-protest-event-expressing-opposition-plans-nuclear-waste-repository