Monday, September 22, 2008

Yucca is no "Dump"

Yucca Mountain
For years, we have heard opponents of nuclear energy call the Yucca Mountain repository called a “dump”. The tactic of using inaccurate and misleading terms to help or injure a cause is nothing new, but even news outlets that profess to be objective use the term. Certainly they must know, by doing so, they leave readers with a false impression of how this facility will function and what it will look like.

When it comes to materials storage, what is proposed for Yucca Mountain is as far away from a dump as you can get. Anyone who calls Yucca Mountain a “dump” is exposing their bias and/or willingness to sensationalize an issue that deserves a serious discussion.

The repository will cost tens-of-billions of dollars to build and operate. Nuclear material will be carefully stored and monitored, and it will be retrievable for relocation and/or reprocessing. It is not a hole in the ground that waste is literally dumped into. Heck, even landfills aren’t called dumps anymore.

The image below should help prove the point. Click here to see the expanded image.

Yucca Mountain

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

You make an outstanding point about the routine use of the term "dump" to refer to the Yucca Mountain repository. The photos say it all. We need to point it out more often too, and criticize journalists who use this sloppy and pejorative terminology.

Rod Adams said...

Agreed that Yucca Mountain is no dump. It is instead a monument that answers the wrong question.

As the description in the blown up drawing states, if you put all of the used nuclear fuel that we have produced in the past 50 years on a single football field "end to end" it would only produce a pile about 10 yards deep.

For me, that begs the question - why don't we just build a nice fence around an old football stadium and put all of our used fuel in approved containers inside the fence?

Why spend tens of billions digging 75 miles of underground tunnels when putting the material underground simply adds to the burden of ensuring heat removal? On the surface, air circulation takes care of that problem.

We need to quit telling people that this is such a big problem and we need to tell those NEI members that salivate at the idea of capturing some of the projected "tens of billions" in Yucca construction costs that they need to find a different business model.

Perhaps building new nuclear power plants would provide a more useful source of income.

Ray Lightning said...

Yes, Yucca is a "dump". It is a pretty stupid idea of dumping valuable nuclear fuel, just because we are too lazy to build a new generation of reactors.

Here is a smart way of using nuclear waste.

GE already has a design (S-PRISM) to commercialize this mode of reactors.

Every other country on this planet is looking to closing the loop in nuclear power production, by going the breeder reactor way. Only the USA seems to have stuck its head in the Yucca sand.

d. kosloff said...

Other countries are planning on using deep geological storage and some are farthur along than the US in that endeavor.

Wayner said...

Reprocessing certainly will lessen the "waste" but it doesn't eliminate it. It will still need to be isolated from the environment. The NAS has repeatedly stated that deep geologic disposal is the safest way to go. Above ground storage is only a temporary fix to this problem.

As others stated, other countries (even those that reprocess) are looking at deep geologic disposal.

gunter said...

No surprise that industry would like to clean up the image of how it proposes to "manage" high level nuclear waste over the long term.

Let me reiterate why Yucca Mt. is called a dump and as you point out a very expensive dump (now $96+ billion).

First of all, Yucca Mt. can not be credited as a barrier technology as proposed.

If loaded with n-waste, it will eventually leak its radioactive contents. All of the credit for a "barrier" management is in the storage casks themselves. And the casks are being provided a drip shield from the water that is migrating through the repository zone.

Secondly, the selection and charaterizatin process itself is set up to forceable dump nuclear waste.

If this was truly a scientific process Congress and DOE would be characterizing more than one site.
At minimum.

But as they found out... if you want to see people get biased in a hurry, just announce that the government is going to swallow up 20,000 surface acres in your neighborhood by emminent domain for a "national sacrifice area"---like the seven towns in New Hampshire when DOE starting holding hearings in Hillsboro in "the Granite State".

You probably don't remember when DOE was poking around New Hampshire, Maine and other "crystalline rock" sites east of the Mississippi.

In the "Granite State" however, 100of 135 towns voted in their local town meetings that March 1986 "to oppose the burial, storage, transportation and generation of high level nuclear waste in the State of New Hampshire." 34 towns more simply opposed "burial" and one town, Seabrook, voted down the warrant article.

That's one of the reasons why industry, DOE and Congress abandoned the idea and passed NWPA Amendments Act of 1987 (aka "The Screw Nevada Bill").

Ray Lightning said...

Clarification on Terminology :

As explained in the SciAm article, there are different types of reprocessing. Let's use our words carefully.

Reprocessing : A 1970s technology which produces a tiny sliver of fuel from the waste and dumps the rest. The waste continues to be radioactive for several thousand years.

Breeder Reactors : Reduce the quantity of the waste to 1/30th the size. These reactors use nuclear fuel 100 times more efficiently than LWRs. The produced waste will get down to natural levels of radioactivity within 300 years.

For 300 years, this waste can be easily contained on site. There will be no hassles of transportation and radiation exposure. The risk of on-site radiation can be reduced even further by these new filter screens.

Moreover, within the next couple of decades we will surely discover economically efficient ways of transmuting the radioactive waste.

Only archaic technology needs geological disposal. How about building a couple of ENIACs, NEI ?

And, pay no attention to NIMBYs like Gunter.. :) It is not them that is the problem with Yucca, but the fundamental stupidity of the idea.

Jeff Skov said...

There are 147.3 million ounces of gold in Ft. Knox (see http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/fun_facts/index.cfm?flash=yes&action=fun_facts13). At $901.60 per ounce (today's price), that gold is an asset worth $132.8 billion.

The nation's spent nuclear fuel has the energy equivalent of 6 billion barrels of oil (see http://energy.senate.gov/hearings/testimony.cfm?id=1253&wit_id=2534) (search for "6 billion"). At $108.90 per barrel (today's price), that SNF is an asset worth $653.4 billion.

Yucca Mountain will thus house a national asset worth almost five times more than the value of all the gold in Fort Knox. It seems nonsensical to call it a "dump."

Jeff Skov
9/23/2008

Matthew66 said...

Total US Government (Mint and Treasury) holdings of gold are 261,498,900 fine troy ounces, as at September 30, 2007. At today's market bid rate of $890.60, that's worth $232,890,920,340 (i.e. $233 billion). However, if the government started selling any more than an insignificant proportion of this, the price of gold would drop rapidly. The US is probably the world's largest owner of gold. This is probably why the Congress requires the Mint to buy newly mined US gold to produce American Eagle coins, they don't want the reserve assets depleted and they don't want to drop the price of gold.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm.....the guy who wrote the GE S-PRISM Rx paper is the current Configuration Management Manager for ESBWR in Wilmington, NC. My oh my, what a small world!

Anonymous said...

"The Screw Nevada Bill"

I like that. It has a nice ring to it. I will have to use that some time.

How about the following.

"Whatever Gets Dumped in Vegas, Stays in Vegas"

That meshes quite nicely with their current immoral tag line.

Rod Adams said...

Matthew66 - Excellent point about the market reaction to a sudden introduction of a new supply of gold. Supply increases, demand does not, price drops.

Now use the same logic with regard to all of the energy stored in used nuclear fuel. If the market thought it could be readily consumed, the overall perceived supply of usable energy would increase. Without a corresponding demand increase, the price would drop.

So would the profits for some very powerful organizations.

Hmm - wonder why some people insist on continuing to treat that resource as a waste that must be stored away out of market reach as long as possible.

Anonymous said...

Once again we have some reprocessing advocates claiming that the technology can eliminate the need for geologic repositories.

Absolutely, completely wrong.

Cladding hulls retain enough transuranics to require geologic disposal, and will never qualify for shallow disposal as low-level radioactive waste. There are multiple TRU waste streams from maintaining and decommissioning reprocessing facilities that require geologic disposal. Defense high-level wastes will never qualify.

No matter how hard one tries, it seems impossible to stamp out these constant claims by Rod Adams and others that reprocessing can eliminate the need for a U.S. geologic repository for civil wastes. It just isn't true.

Ray Lightning said...

All reprocessing technologies are not equal :

1) PUREX : 1960s technology which uses just a sliver of the nuclear fuel, produces a lot of bomb-ready plutonium and doesn't reduce the quantity of the radio-active waste by much

2) Pyroprocessing : As developed for the IFR project, burns up all the U-238, produces only fission products (and no transuranics) as waste, and which decay to natural levels within 300 years. This technology produces 100 times more energy from the same quantity of Uranium pellets as LWRs

3) Molten Salt Breeder Reactors : The reprocessing is similar to pyroprocessing, it is inbuilt within the reactor design over a chemical flouride salt. The advantages are similar to pyroprocessing, and if the nuclear fuel is Thorium, no Plutonium is produced to even scare the anti-nukes.

Clearly the technologies (2) and (3) are the way to go. They should be used by the term "breeder reactors" to be distiinguished from the usual "reprocessing" of (1).

Anonymous,

Which technology are you referring to ? Let's be clear on the choice of terminology.

Ray Lightning said...

@ Rod Adams

The funny thing about energy is that it is not a consumer good. It does not satisfy the principle of diminishing returns. Irrespective of how much energy you put down in the market, there will always be demand for it.

This is because human wants, in essence, are unlimited. And the more energy you have, the more comfortable your lifestyle will be. You can get all the water you want, all the food you want, and all the entertainment you want.

In our industrial age, energy is exactly equal to money. The more energy you have at your disposal, the richer you are. We should be counting in terms of KWH instead of dollars.

When the power companies digest this simple fact, they will never shy away from producing enormous amounts of energy. There will never be an over-supply. Instead, we are stuck with an artificial energy starvation in the world.. All because some idiot thinks that it makes good policy.