Thursday, August 17, 2006

Washington Post Endorses New Nuclear Build and "Foolproof Plan" for Used Fuel

From today's Washington Post:

Nuclear power can produce electricity without generating the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Industry spokesmen claim nuclear power plants can do so cheaply and efficiently, even taking subsidies into account, and, if properly monitored, safely; Chernobyl-style accidents can be avoided. Given the environmental and geopolitical disadvantages of dependence on oil, gas and coal, these arguments are persuasive.

But the Energy Department must prove early on that it has a politically and technically viable plan for storing the deadly radioactive waste that nuclear power plants produce. That has been a smoldering problem for the agency, which for years has tried to build a permanent waste storage site inside Nevada's Yucca Mountain. All the while, nuclear waste continues to pile up on sites next to reactors, in many cases close to population centers.


The federal government needs a foolproof plan to dispose properly of the waste. Otherwise, Americans won't have confidence in nuclear power.
Thanks to our friend Norris McDonald for the pointer.

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Randal Leavitt said...

First things first. People have to understand that slightly used fission fuel is not waste. It is not dangerous, it is easily managed, and there is not much of it. Knowing the truth goes a long way toward making the correct decisions about what to do with this stuff. It should be stuffed back into a fast reactor and burned for another hundred years before being transmutated and spread around the community to raise the background radiation level enough to significantly improve our health.

Kirk Sorensen said...

It is important to understand that spent fuel from conventional nuclear power plants consists of three broad classes of material: unburned uranium, fission products, and transuranic actinides.

Due to their short half-lives, the fission products produce the overwhelming amount of the radioactivity in the fuel for the first 300 years or so. After that, they have decayed away significantly and the transuranics -- the products of "imcomplete combustion", so to speak, are the dominant radioactive term.

They are also the substances that dictate the lifetime of the repository, since the unburned uranium has an enormous half-life and very low radioactivity.

It is worth considering the value of a fuel cycle that does not produce transuranics, and a waste stream that keeps all unburned fuel and actinides out of the waste altogether.

mr. X said...

there can be no "fool proof plan" for used fuel. the reality is Nuclear power is to dangerous to be next "super fuel" after oil.

Anonymous said...

I just can't allow such an overly simplistic, second-grade comment to go unanswered.

mr. x, nothing is foolproof. Not solar, not wind, not horse and buggy, certainly not coal-- how many miners do we bury every year? How much sulfur, mercury, and CO do we breathe every year?

Any examination of the big picture includes a realistic look at cost/benefit, and a rational look at risks and precautions.

In the equation of energy security, providing power for exploding populations and development in the third world, and reducing greenhouse emissions, nuclear MUST play a role. And yes, so must clean coal, solar, and wind.

mr. x, a comment like that is the equivalent of scrawling a message on a bathroom stall.

Stewart Peterson said...


>>It is worth considering the value of a fuel cycle that does not produce transuranics, and a waste stream that keeps all unburned fuel and actinides out of the waste altogether.

Like the IFR?

Kirk Sorensen said...

That is one example, but I think thorium cycles offer better safety and performance, primarily because they can operate in a thermal-spectrum, allowing them to operate in their most reactive configuration. This reduces the fissile inventory in the core and reprocessing holdup by a factor of 5-10 over a fast-spectrum reactor, improving the economic competitiveness of the reactor.

Anonymous said...

It is wholly inaccurate and misleading to refer to spent nuclear fuel as "radioactive sludge." The editor correctly pointed out that the progress of Yucca Mountain has hit roadblocks--but could it be that the number one roadblock is misplaced public fear due to misunderstanding of the nature (and physical state) of nuclear fuel? This confusion is widespread and is continually fueled by editorials such as this.