Tuesday, May 27, 2008

McCain Proposes Alternative to Yucca Mountain

John McCainSen. John McCain (R-AZ) has just completed delivering a major foreign policy speech on Nuclear Security at the University of Denver. (The full transcript is available here.) I found this quote especially interesting,

I would seek to establish an international repository for spent nuclear fuel that could collect and safely store materials overseas that might otherwise be reprocessed to acquire bomb-grade materials. It is even possible that such an international center could make it unnecessary to open the proposed spent nuclear fuel storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
McCain's senior foreign policy advisers will be discussing the candidate's address in a conference call scheduled for later today. Over at Time's Swampland, Ana Marie Cox asks readers what they would ask if they were on the call. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all, "What would you ask?"

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

First question I'd ask is where exactly on the globe would this international repository be?

Anonymous said...

Russia - the same place that supplies natural gas. So Russia gets to control all the world's spent fuel and much of its natural gas. Can you spell hegemony?

Luke said...

The notion of any sort of repository for used nuclear fuel, international or not, is absurdly wasteful.

Wasting all that used fuel, as opposed to any sort of recycling or reprocessing being implemented at all, is ridiculous.

Sovietologist said...

Besides, the Russians aren't really thrilled with the idea of hosting a geological repository for other countries' spent fuel. They'd probably be happy to reprocess it, but the idea of being a "dump" for others' nuclear waste is not acceptable to the Russian public. As Pavel Podvig put it in his recent BAS column: "The Russian public may be sympathetic to using the spent fuel to recover plutonium and produce electricity--a grand vision promoted by the Russian nuclear industry--but it's not ready to accept the idea of permanently burying nuclear waste somewhere in Siberia."

Anonymous said...

"The notion of any sort of repository for used nuclear fuel, international or not, is absurdly wasteful."

So where do you plan to place all the vitrified HLW left over after reprocessing? Or the post-irradiation MOX fuel, which contains Pu that cannot continue to be recycled? After only one or two irradiations, Pu is not further usable in LWR MOX for isotopic reasons.

Oh that's right -- a vast fleet of accelerators and fast reactors will transmute every last gram of actinides. I forgot.

Just to refresh my memory, where have those technologies been demonstrated, and who's planning to pay for and build them commercially?

Anonymous said...

anonymous> Practically of the fission fragments isotopes can be used one way or another in industry and medicine. What is left is next to nothing, once the closed fuel cycle takes off.

FBRs were demonstrated, use Google. Who will build them is a silly question, in hundred years or so we have to switch to FBRs anyways. Storing spent fuel for that time in dry storage is trivial, well tested and demonstrated to be extremely safe.

These silly remarks make me furious, as compared to waste issues of any other power producing technology, including wind and solar, these are rather trivial issues in terms of volume and safety.

cheers,
T7

Kirk Sorensen said...

Who will build them is a silly question, in hundred years or so we have to switch to FBRs anyways.

No, thorium and the liquid-fluoride thorium reactor is a viable alternative to fast breeders that does not require a fast spectrum and does not require plutonium.

The absorption cross-sections of actinides are SO much greater in the thermal spectrum than in the fast spectrum that only a thermal-spectrum reactor can attain its most reactive configuration -- which is a very important safety consideration.

Rick Detjen said...

...and BTW, how does he propose shipping it safely over to "them", not "us"...by air, sea...truck?? Thought our typical casks weigh 100 tons plus.

Anonymous said...

"Practically [all] of the fission fragments isotopes can be used one way or another in industry and medicine. What is left is next to nothing, once the closed fuel cycle takes off."

We've been waiting 60 years for the closed fuel cycle to "take off." And where's all this industrial demand for every isotope produced in HLW? Just not true.

"FBRs were demonstrated, use Google."

I'm aware they've been demonstrated. Every FBR ever built has experienced serious technical problems. None has ever been commercialized. None has ever been built as a private commercial enterprise, rather than as a heavily subsidized government research program.

FBRs get built, they break and leak sodium, they get shut down. Use Google yourself.

And read more carefully -- I was saying that partitioning and transmutation has not been demonstrated on anything approaching a commercial scale.

"Who will build them is a silly question, in hundred years or so we have to switch to FBRs anyways."

"Have to"? Says who?

Also, the need for something isn't proof that it will happen. the nuclear industry's been saying we need new plants in the US for decades, and it's only now getting underway.

Sarcasm and dismissive overgeneralizations do not constitute dialogue.

Kirk Sorensen said...

FBRs get built, they break and leak sodium, they get shut down.

LMFBRs get built, they break and leak sodium.

FBRs are a far more general category.

Important distinction.

I grant that most FBRs up to this point have been LMFBRs, but I don't think that's the right direction to go in future FBRs.

Anonymous said...

"FBRs are a far more general category."

That's a fair point.

So please list all non-liquid metal FBRs that are 1) operating, 2) under construction, or 3) have been demonstrated on a commercial scale.

Kirk Sorensen said...

Doesn't matter if they've been built or operated. You made the point yourself, which I agree with, that liquid-metal cooled FBRs are troublesome beasts that have a poor record.

We need to go a totally different direction in future FBRs, towards safety, simplicity, and versatility.

Anonymous said...

"Doesn't matter if they've been built or operated."

Does if you're touting them as a viable medium-term solution to a whole host of problems, as some are here.

It also speaks volumes that most of these non-liquid-metal FBR designs have been around since the 1950s, yet most have never even been built on an experimental scale. Solving equations for a system flowsheet on a computer is not the same as a technically viable design, but the labs being paid to come up with these visions would sure have us think so.

Kirk Sorensen said...

No, the labs just want to build LMFBRs.