Nuclear waste: too hot to handle? (February 2013)

Cumbria’s decision to veto an underground repository for the UK shows how hard it is to find a long-term solution

New Scientist  – Magazine issue 2904.

18 February 2013 byWilliam M. Alleyand Rosemarie Alley

THERE are 437 nuclear power reactors in 31 countries around the world. The number of repositories for high-level radioactive waste? Zero. The typical lifespan of a nuclear power plant is 60 years. The waste from nuclear power is dangerous for up to one million years. Clearly, the waste problem is not going to go away any time soon.

In fact, it is going to get a lot worse. The World Nuclear Association says that 45 countries without nuclear power are giving it serious consideration. Several others, including China, South Korea and India, are planning to massively expand their existing programmes. Meanwhile, dealing with the waste from nuclear energy can be put off for another day, decade or century.

It’s not that we haven’t tried. By the 1970s, countries that produced nuclear power were promising that repositories would be built hundreds of metres underground to permanently isolate the waste. Small groups of technical experts and government officials laboured behind closed doors to identify potential sites. The results – produced with almost no public consultation – were disastrous.

In 1976, West German politicians unilaterally selected a site near the village of Gorleben on the East German border for a repository, fuelling a boisterous anti-nuclear movement that seems to have no end in sight.

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Sweden’s Planned Nuclear Waste Storage Faces Problems (February 2013)

Experts drive issue, general public has lost interest

By Barbro Plogander
Epoch Times Staff

February 11, 2013

Sweden’s solution for storing its nuclear waste suffered a setback recently. While experts are very active, driving the issue, they have failed to excite the interest of the general public.

In Sweden, the new plan for disposing of waste from nuclear power plants is to put it in copper canisters and store it in bedrock. Considering how dangerous the radioactive waste is, corrosion of these canisters is a major issue.

In late January, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority reported that corrosion had occurred on small copper fragments they had put in oxygen-free water to test them. The report showed that the corrosion process does not stop at a certain point, as previously believed, but continues.

This was the latest setback for the waste-storage method, which has been widely criticized by experts. The news passed without much attention in Sweden.

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Nuclear Fuel Waste in Canada (January 2013)

Jan-Feb-2013-Vol23-No1, Watershed Sentinel

by Anna Tilman

Nuclear waste, especially nuclear fuel wastes from reactors, also called high-level radioactive wastes, is the greatest danger caused by the nuclear industry.  This fuel, otherwise known as irradiated fuel or “spent” fuel, contains hundreds of radioactive elements that are the products of fission in a reactor. Many of them are not found in nature. This fuel is lethal in seconds to anyone nearby. It will leave an indelible mark on the planet for eons.

Determined to allay long-standing public concerns about this waste, the nuclear industry  and  their  supportive  governments worldwide  have  advocated Deep Geological Repositories (DGRs) as the “final  solution”  to safely contain these wastes. To date, no DGR for spent fuel has been built or is operating anywhere in the world.

There is no assurance that this waste could be safely and permanently contained in DGRs. No computer models can accurately take into account all the complexities that could be encountered from burying this deadly waste deep underground or provide assurance that, over a million or more years, radioactivity would not be released. Natural systems are far too complicated and ever-changing for a complete, accurate model to be valid, or even possible.

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Corrosion of copper in distilled water, detection of produced hydrogen (January 2013)



Corrosion of copper in distilled water without molecular oxygen and the detection of produced hydrogen

In this report, results are presented for copper which has been exposed to pure anoxic water in the temperature interval of 21° C to 55 °C up to a total of 19 000 hours. Characterisations of copper surfaces after exposure have been performed ex-situ, meaning after termination of the experiment and exposing the specimen to normal atmospheric environment.

Ideally characterisation of surfaces should have been performed with the specimens in the reaction chamber without oxygen supply but this was not possible in the experimental set-up used. Thus it cannot be excluded that formed species on surfaces could have been altered during handling of specimens between exposure and surface analysis.

The results from the surface analysis of exposed copper specimens indicate that the reaction products are predominately comprised of oxide and hydroxide. Furthermore, based on the visual appearance, the reaction products formed are solid and of a three dimensional character. Moreover, depth analysis by ion sputtering shows that hydrogen is present at greater depth from the surface and inwards compared to oxygen. This indicates that corrosion of copper in anoxic water involves a mechanism in which hydrogen atoms present in water molecules form hydrogen gas which partly dissociate and diffuse into the copper metal as hydrogen atoms

Author: G. Hultquist, M.J. Graham, O. Kodra, S. Moisa, R. Liu, U. Bexell and J.L. Smialek
Publisher: SSM
Language: English
Publication date: 13-01-18
No of pages: 28
Possible to order: Yes
Price per publication: 100 SEK (incl. VAT)
Download: 2013:07 Corrosion of copper in distilled water without molecular oxygen and the detection of produced hydrogen [2836 kb]

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Public safety or cost savings? DGR Design Questions (January 2013)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 11:12:55 EST AM


I feel that the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has been reluctant in exposing some of the dangers associated with their design for their proposed deep geological repository. After reading many articles from the NWMO website, in an effort to learn more and become informed, some alarming facts have come to light that I will briefly describe.

Since 2008 the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) has commissioned an  Independent Technical Review Group (ITRG)  consisting of nuclear experts from Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Canada. The role of the ITRG is to respond to the NWMO’s technical program and make recommendations for improvement and change.

Unfortunately, since 2008, the ITRG reports have been buried deep in the NWMO’s website along with documents about risks and dangers involving a DGR.

The current NWMO DGR design includes an underground cavern with an area of 930 acres at a depth of 500 metres below the surface.  The NWMO plan has always been to create a major shaft using a hoist system to bring people, tonnes of explosives, massive mining machinery and the  hundreds of thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive waste to cavern depth as well as to bring  excavated rock from the cavern to the surface.  And up to one hundred years after burial of radioactive used fuel containers, NWMO would rely on the hoist system to raise the dangerous used fuel for possible repackaging or reprocessing.

In its 2011 report, the Independent Technical Review Group stated that “a payload of 75 metric tons would be required to be lowered down the shaft.  There is no precedent for handling a payload of this magnitude in a vertical shaft.”

They go on to say that radiological safety could be compromised in the event of a dropped container for which “the programme risk is considerable given the likely requirements for clean-up of dispersed materials and retrieval of a damaged container and its contents. Therefore very high reliability of handling at least 10,000 heavy payloads in a vertical shaft would have to be ensured, which may be beyond conventional mining practice.”

Given the concerns of these highly recognized experts, NWMO should not be exposing citizens of our town to decades of known health and safety risks.

“The ITRG further recommends that NWMO should give careful consideration to the option of using an inclined ramp to transfer used fuel to the repository horizon…” in order to avoid a dropped load accident.

While these recommendations are in line with the standard ramp design planned for the Sweden and Finland DGR’s, it would substantially increase the area  of land required to carry out the project and greatly increase the construction and operational cost of a DGR.

Because of the above information,  I believe that the NWMO and possibly our town council have some questions to answer before further agreements can be made between the town and NWMO.

Would an inclined ramp design through several layers of sedimentary rock be sufficiently stable or would it risk a collapse during and post construction?

Would an inclined ramp system increase the surface water flow into the DGR jeopardizing the presumably dry limestone at the repository level during and post-construction?

Will NWMO follow the ITRG recommendation and change its design before asking municipalities to continue with there siting process? As of yet, they have not done so.

Should smaller communities such as Saugeen Shores be eliminated from the siting process based on the additional land requirements for an inclined ramp system?

Will the Mayor and town council members hold NWMO accountable for yet another failure to be open and honest with the citizens of this town?

When will NWMO be honest, transparent and clear when communicating with all communities about the risks and costs involved with their proposed DGR project?

Patrick Gibbons
Saugeen Shores  

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Canadian Standards Association review of dry storage of nuclear fuel waste (December 2012)

According to a December notice distributed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Canadian Standards Association – the folks that set standards to  make sure your toasters don’t catch fire and the threads on the bolt will match the threads on the nut – are  now the lead agency for developing a standard for dry storage for the highly radioactive nuclear fuel waste generated by nuclear power reactors.

The notice from the CNSC states:

The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) is a membership association serving industry, government, consumers and other interested parties in Canada and the global marketplace. Many CSA energy standards are national standards of Canada and are cited in both federal and provincial regulations. In addition to providing energy standards, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) also helps to promote a safe and reliable nuclear power industry in Canada through the creation of specific nuclear industry standards.

The CSA is currently seeking your input on a new draft standard relating to the nuclear industry on interim dry storage systems for irradiated fuel.

If you would like to consult and provide comments on this proposed standard, please go to:


According to the current draft, the standard will  specify “requirements for the site selection, design, construction, commissioning, operation, and planning for decommissioning of dry storage systems.  Dry storage systems include facilities, structures, support services, and equipment required for 

(a)    transferring irradiated fuel

(i)     from wet storage to dry storage containers; and
(ii)    to a dry storage facility;
(b)   processing;
(c)    storage of irradiated fuel;
(d)   monitoring;
(e)    retrieval of irradiated fuel from dry storage; and
(f)    decommissioning planning.

If you are interested in working with other public interest groups participating in this review, please contact

Nuclear fuel rod fragmentation under accidental conditions (December 2012)

December 3

This paper deals with fuel rod fragmentation during a core meltdown accident in a Nuclear Power Plant. If water is injected on the degraded core to stop the degradation, embrittled fuel rods may crumble to form a reactor debris bed. The size and the morphology of the debris are two key parameters which determine in particular heat transfer and flow friction in the debris bed and as a consequence its coolability. To address this question, a bibliographic survey is performed with the aim of evaluating the size and the surface area of the fragments resulting from fuel rod fragmentation. On this basis, a model to estimate the mean particle diameter obtained in a reflooded degraded core is proposed. Modelling results show that the particle size distribution is very narrow if we only take into account fuel cracking resulting from normal operating conditions. It leads to minimum mean diameters of 2.5 mm (for fuel particles), 1.35 mm (for cladding particles) and 2 mm (for the mixing of cladding and fuel fragments). These results are obtained with fuel rods of 9.5 mm outer diameter and cladding thickness of 570 μm. The particle size distribution is larger if fine fragmentation of the highly irradiated fuel rods during temperature rise is accounted for. This is illustrated with the computation by the severe accident code ASTEC, codeveloped by IRSN abd GRS, of the size of the debris expected to form in case of reflooding of a French 900 MW reactor core during a core meltdown accident.

Nuclear Engineering and Design,  Volume 255, February 2013, Pages 68–76

  • Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, IRSN/PSN-RES/SAG/LESAM, Cadarache Nuclear Center, BP 3, 13 115 St Paul Lez Durance cedex, France

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Even Low-Level Radioactivity Is Damaging, Scientists Conclude (November 2012)

ScienceDaily (Nov. 13, 2012) – Even the very lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life, scientists have concluded in the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s journal Biological Reviews.

Reporting the results of a wide-ranging analysis of 46 peer-reviewed studies published over the past 40 years, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Paris-Sud found that variation in low-level, natural background radiation was found to have small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA as well as several measures of health.

The review is a meta-analysis of studies of locations around the globe that have very high natural background radiation as a result of the minerals in the ground there, including Ramsar, Iran, Mombasa, Kenya, Lodeve, France, and Yangjiang, China. These, and a few other geographic locations with natural background radiation that greatly exceeds normal amounts, have long drawn scientists intent on understanding the effects of radiation on life. Individual studies by themselves, however, have often only shown small effects on small populations from which conclusive statistical conclusions were difficult to draw.

“When you’re looking at such small effect sizes, the size of the population you need to study is huge,” said co-author Timothy Mousseau, a biologist in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina. “Pooling across multiple studies, in multiple areas, and in a rigorous statistical manner provides a tool to really get at these questions about low-level radiation.”

Mousseau and co-author Anders Moller of the University of Paris-Sud combed the scientific literature, examining more than 5,000 papers involving natural background radiation that were narrowed to 46 for quantitative comparison. The selected studies all examined both a control group and a more highly irradiated population and quantified the size of the radiation levels for each. Each paper also reported test statistics that allowed direct comparison between the studies.

The organisms studied included plants and animals, but had a large preponderance of human subjects. Each study examined one or more possible effects of radiation, such as DNA damage measured in the lab, prevalence of a disease such as Down’s Syndrome, or the sex ratio produced in offspring. For each effect, a statistical algorithm was used to generate a single value, the effect size, which could be compared across all the studies.

The scientists reported significant negative effects in a range of categories, including immunology, physiology, mutation and disease occurrence. The frequency of negative effects was beyond that of random chance.

“There’s been a sentiment in the community that because we don’t see obvious effects in some of these places, or that what we see tends to be small and localized, that maybe there aren’t any negative effects from low levels of radiation,” said Mousseau. “But when you do the meta-analysis, you do see significant negative effects.”

“It also provides evidence that there is no threshold below which there are no effects of radiation,” he added. “A theory that has been batted around a lot over the last couple of decades is the idea that is there a threshold of exposure below which there are no negative consequences. These data provide fairly strong evidence that there is no threshold — radiation effects are measurable as far down as you can go, given the statistical power you have at hand.”

Mousseau hopes their results, which are consistent with the “linear-no-threshold” model for radiation effects, will better inform the debate about exposure risks. “With the levels of contamination that we have seen as a result of nuclear power plants, especially in the past, and even as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima and related accidents, there’s an attempt in the industry to downplay the doses that the populations are getting, because maybe it’s only one or two times beyond what is thought to be the natural background level,” he said. “But they’re assuming the natural background levels are fine.”

“And the truth is, if we see effects at these low levels, then we have to be thinking differently about how we develop regulations for exposures, and especially intentional exposures to populations, like the emissions from nuclear power plants, medical procedures, and even some x-ray machines at airports.”

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Why is nuke industry blowing off low-level radiation health findings?

Day-to-day releases of small amounts of radioactivity from reactors are a serious threat to public health.

By Cathy Vakil and Eric Notebaert.
NOW Magazine, November 22 2012

The health risks of nuclear are very much under the radar as hearings begin December 3 on whether Ontario will spend billions to resuscitate the aging Darlington station.

As physicians, it is our duty to advocate for illness prevention, and we believe nuclear power is a serious threat to public health, from uranium mining to refining to the day-to-day release of small amounts of radioactivity from reactors.

The industry claims that these releases are too small to worry about; research indicates otherwise.

Since the early 1980s, numerous studies in North America and Europe have shown an elevated risk of a number of illnesses in nearby populations, particularly childhood leukemia. In 2008, a well-designed study by the German government showed that children under five years old living within a 5-kilometre radius of all 16 of the country’s nuclear plants had an elevated risk of developing leukemia, as did a similar French study of children under 15.

What does this mean for Canada? It seems government authorities don’t want to know. There is not a single large-scale case-control study of low-level emissions from reactors here. Without the appropriate studies, it’s reasonable to assume that health is being compromised.

Unlike other countries, which build reactors in rural areas, Ontario locates them in the most populous region of the country – near Toronto. Over 450,000 people live within 20 kilometres of the Darlington station, and over 1 million around Pickering.

And while Canadian reactor operators assure us the risk of an accident is insignificant, there is a major nuclear event about once a decade somewhere in the world, Fukushima merely being the most recent.

Since Fukushima, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan have all decided to phase out nuclear power and invest massively in green energy. These countries are protecting human health and building a modern energy system. Why aren’t we?

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Cathy Vakil is a family doctor and professor in the department of family medicine at Queens University. Eric Notebaert is adjunct professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Montreal. Both are board members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.
NOW | November 22-29, 2012 | VOL 32 NO 12 

‘Hardened on-site storage’ sought for nuclear waste (October 2012)

Published: Monday, October 15, 2012

By Jim Bloch, Voice Reporter

Anti-nuclear activists like Brennain Lloyd of Northwatch and John Jackson of Great Lakes United, who spoke at St. Clair County Community College earlier this fall, oppose storing nuclear waste in deep geologic repositories like the one proposed by Ontario Power Generation a half-mile inland from Lake Huron near the Bruce Peninsula, 120 miles north-northeast of Port Huron.

They oppose reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods. They are critical of current methods of storing high level nuclear waste in cooling pools and dry casks.

What do they propose to do with the more than 68,000 tons of spent fuel in the U.S. as of 2009, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is growing by 2,000-2,400 tons per year?

The short answer is hardened on-site storage of used fuel rods.

Eternal danger

The problem with high level nuclear waste is that it remains dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of years.

“Spent nuclear fuel is about 95 percent uranium,” said a 2011 AP report. “About 1 percent are other heavy elements such as curium, americium and plutonium-239, best known as fuel for nuclear weapons. Each has an extremely long half-life” – the time it takes to lose half its radioactivity – “(and) some take hundreds of thousands of years to lose all of their radioactive potency. The rest, about 4 percent, is a cocktail of byproducts of fission that break down over much shorter time periods, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90, which break down completely in about 300 years.”

Cesium-137 and strontium-90 are two of the isotopes that blanketed the countryside around the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine, which melted down in 1986, creating a zone of exclusion the size of New Jersey for the next three centuries.

Over such a long period of time, even in deep geologic repositories like the one proposed for the Bruce peninsula, any number of occurrences could cause leakage into the environment and Great Lakes, critics say, from container failures to terrorism to earthquakes. Once the repositories are filled to capacity and sealed, monitoring and intervention to fix problems becomes nearly impossible. The Bruce site would accept low and medium level wastes from all over Ontario and critics don’t like the idea of a centralized waste storage site, which involves transportation of the dangerous waste by truck, rail and boat – all notoriously subject to accidents. Centralized sites offer potentially more lethal terrorist targets than decentralized sites.

Critics like Lloyd and Jackson oppose reprocessing used nuclear fuel due to the huge expense involved, the transportation dangers and the new streams of nuclear waste that are generated. Because reprocessing involves extracting plutonium, the key ingredient in nuclear bombs, they fear the proliferation of weapons.

Cooling pools and dry casks

Critics also oppose the current practices involved with storing used nuclear fuel bundles, which are highly radioactive, in deep cooling pools near the reactors. About 75 percent of high level nuclear fuel waste in the U.S. is stored in pools.

“The highly radioactive fuel bundles are taken out of the reactors by robots and placed into swimming pools for six to eight years,” said Jackson.

Because no permanent solution to nuclear waste has been developed, the pools are packed with more fuel rods than they were designed to store, making them especially dangerous in the event that the water system fails, as happened in Fukushima in the wake of the 2011 earthquake. According to a 2011 Time magazine story, in-ground pools are located in buildings next to operating reactors at 73 U.S. sites; attic pools, like the ones at Fukushima, are used at 31 plants. Each pool is a bomb waiting to happen. A 1997 Brookhaven National Laboratory study said a disaster at one spent fuel pool could result in 138,000 deaths and contaminate 2,000 square miles.

When the fuel rods are cool enough, at least five years later, some nuclear power stations are moving the used fuel into giant dry casks for temporary storage. The casks are dry in the sense that the spent fuel is surrounded by gas, often helium, instead of water.

Pools and casks, critics say, are susceptible to natural disaster, failures of the power grid and terrorism. The casks, while inherently stronger than the pools, most often sit on concrete pads in warehouses no stronger than a big box store, said Lloyd. They’re in a very vulnerable state.

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