Friday, July 29, 2011

The Blue Ribbon Commission

brc The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future was charged by President Barack Obama with recommending ways to move forward with used nuclear fuel in light of the closing of the Yucca Mountain used fuel repository project. Let’s leave aside the wisdom of closing Yucca Mountain – considering alternatives was what the commission was asked to do.

The Commission is being co-chaired by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. They are both now elderly gentlemen – performing further public service – because they were asked to chair this committee. Would that we, at whatever age, were so devoted to the public good.

Note that the commission was not asked to find a site nor was it given guidance as to a preferred approach to processing used nuclear fuel – a permanent or interim repository, recycling, burying in salt – everything was one the table – except Yucca Mountain (which, after all, is a site. But the commission was rather pointedly directed – no Yucca Mountain.) 

The report is 192 pages. If you want to start reading, go over to the BRC site and you can download the pdf or read it online.

The language in it can be blunt:

Put simply, this nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly and it will be more damaging and more costly the longer it continues: damaging to prospects for maintaining a potentially important energy supply option for the future, damaging to state–federal relations and public confidence in the federal government’s competence, and damaging to America’s standing in the world—not only as a source of nuclear technology and policy expertise but as a leader on global issues of
nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security.

That strikes me as exceptionally broad, but it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. The Wall Street Journal offers a reasonable summary of the report’s contents:

The centerpiece: an independent federal entity, funded by existing fees on utility customers rather than the year-to-year congressional budgeting process, that would work to find a long-term dump. The panel also said that in the interim, nuclear waste should be moved to consolidated storage sites, a move that could save money and develop expertise in storing the waste. Any final disposal site, the panel said, should be chosen by developing standards and then finding a community that wants to accept it.

NEI offered more detail:

The industry is particularly gratified to see the recommendations calling for the establishment of one or more consolidated interim storage facilities for used nuclear fuel; development of a permanent underground repository for commercial used fuel and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs; creation of a new management organization that will assume the U.S. Department of Energy’s role in managing this material; and legislation providing full access to nuclear waste fee revenues and the federal Nuclear Waste Fund. These should be among the nation’s top energy policy priorities.

I was especially interested in the “new management organization.” Here’s why the BRC considers it necessary:

Clearly, multiple factors have worked against the timely implementation of the NWPA [Nuclear Waste Policy Act] and responsibility for the difficulties of the past does not belong to DOE alone. Nevertheless, the record of the last several decades indicates that the current approach is not well suited to conducting a steady and focused long term effort, and to building and sustaining the degree of trust and stability necessary to establish one or more permanent disposal facilities and implement other essential elements of an integrated waste management strategy. These considerations lead the Commission to agree with a conclusion that has also been reached by many stakeholders and long-time participants in the nation’s nuclear waste management program: that moving responsibility to a single purpose organization—outside DOE—at this point offers the best chance for future success.

This seems more an issue of process than a systemic problem, but the BRC takes an exceptionally delicate tack here, so there it is. And it’s not a bad idea to create an NRC-type organization (in form if not in mission) to assume control of the used fuel issue. There are certainly enough tasks to keep it busy.

The Department of Energy tries a gracious welcome on its blog:

Today, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future issued a draft of its recommendations.

The Obama Administration continues to believe that nuclear energy has an important role to play as America moves to a clean energy future.  As part of our commitment to restarting the American nuclear industry and creating thousands of new jobs and export opportunities in the process, we are committed to finding a sustainable approach to assuring safe, secure long-term disposal of used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. 

Secretary Chu appreciates the hard work done by the members of the Blue Ribbon Commission, and thanks them for a very thoughtful report.  The interim report issued today is a strong step toward finding a workable solution to the challenges of the back end of the fuel cycle.

In other words, non-committal. To be honest, most of the major recommendations build on ideas that have been percolating throughout the industry and government for awhile, so the content of the report aggregates these ideas and argues hard for the aggregation.

I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about the report after a more thorough reading, but I wanted to be sure you knew it was out.

The Blue Ribbon Commission. Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft are second and third from left ((click for larger).

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Regarding Yucca Mountain, here are a couple of important quotes from the report:

"We have not...[r]endered an opinion on the suitability of the Yucca Mountain site or on the request to withdraw the license application for Yucca Mountain. Instead, we focused on developing a sound strategy for future interim storage and permanent disposal facilities and operations that we believe can and should be implemented regardless of what happens with Yucca Mountain."

and

"We take no position on the Administration’s request to withdraw the license application. We simply note that regardless what happens with Yucca Mountain, the U.S. inventory of spent nuclear fuel will soon exceed the amount that can be legally emplaced at this site until a second repository is in operation. So under current law, the United States will need to find a new disposal site even if Yucca Mountain goes forward. We believe the approach set forth here provides the best strategy for assuring continued progress, regardless of the fate of Yucca Mountain."

This seems to be a pretty clear statement that the Commissions believes its recommendations should be acted on, independent of whether Congress decides to continue or to shelve the Yucca Mountain project.

Martin Burkle said...

Interim Storage Doomed

"Authorizing consolidated interim storage facilities – The NWPA allows for the construction of one consolidated interim storage facility with limited capacity, but only after a nuclear waste repository is licensed." - from Blue Ribbon Commission report

We currently have about 70 interim storage sites at power plants has dry cask storage. Since we already have many dry cask interim storage sites, getting one or two more should be politically and socially possible. However, getting another disposal site will probably be as hard as getting Yucca Mountain approved. So why would any smart person hold interim storage sites hostage to a licensed waste repository?

The government has paid out about a billion in legal judgements and legal fees because the government has not taken possession of the once-thru fuel. Damages could amount to more than 10 billion if there is no interim or repository licensed in a few years. Basically the government is paying for interim storage thru legal judgements. I bet that the judgments will only stop when a repository or an interim storage site is licensed.

Doesn't it seem kinda dumb to convene a committee because a repository can not be licensed and then have the committee require that interim storage can only happen if a repository is licensed. This committee has been accused of kicking the can down the road. This requirement fills the can with cement!

This one requirement has doomed us to 15 more years of dithering.

Anonymous said...

The latest BRC report is at: www.brc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/brc_draft_report_29jul2011_0.pdf The comments are at: www.brc.gov/index.php?q=comments

The report says:

"The elements of this strategy will not be new to those who have followed the U.S. nuclear waste program over the years." And that pretty much sums it up. No new thinking. Same old 'improve the tin-can telephone' approach. The first 100 billion dollar hole in the ground (Yucca Mountain) did not work out, so they are going to change the way sites are chosen, but STILL dig more holes in the ground. The report reads like it was written by the nuclear power industry.

Here are two things to keep in mind:

1.) Simple and inexpensive processes for destroying the radioactivity in nuclear waste have been known for decades:

"Radioactive isotope decay rate or half-life can be increased or decreased as needed to deactivate radioactivity or to increase shelf life of radioactive isotopes. Currently many investigators/experimenters have reported half-life anomalies and have demonstrated repeatability of the various processes. The deactivation/neutralization of radioactivity in isotopes by the several demonstrated processes clearly suggest the possibility of full scale processing of radioactive nuclear materials to deactivate radioactive nuclear materials. "

"In 1964 we thought and believed that radioactivity in nuclear waste would soon be history on planet earth. As history has proven us wrong, we now know and understand that there is a fortune, billions yearly, to be made by saving every scrap of radioactive nuclear waste and trying to bury it in Yucca Mountain and in cleaning up spills, leaks, and escaping radioactive particles from decaying containment schemes. We were just looking at the wrong goal post. No one receiving the funds has any interest in eliminating radioactivity in nuclear waste. Nuclear Half-Life Modification Technology could reduce the cost to a fraction of the cost that is experienced today." ( "Radioactivity Deactivation at High Temperature in an Applied DC Voltage Field Demonstrated in 1964". Larry Geer & Cecil Baumgartner, www.gdr.org/nuclear_half.htm )

Destroying radioactive waste on site obviates concerns about reprocessing, packaging, transportation, storage, and worries about terrorism and off-site accidents.

There are more details, and other processes, described in my article "Adventures in Energy Destruction" at scripturalphysics.org/qm/adven.html

2.) The nuclear power industry is headed for the junk yard. It will be going the way of the Linotype machine, the mechanical typewriter, the landline telephone, and the incandescent light bulb. Already consumers are becoming able to sell power back to the utility companies from their homes. Eventually, even the Grid will disappear. There are political developments too: Germany is trying to shut down its nuclear power industry. And Japan is probably having second thoughts.

But the thing that will destroy the nuclear power industry is economics and lack of investors. Rapid advances in other energy fields will make nuclear power obsolete. For example,
RSi's ChemArc Process has greatly reduced the cost of photovoltaic silicon.
www.engineeringtv.com/video/The-Chemistry-of-RSis-ChemArc-P

The nuclear power industry has only a short, limited future. This is NOT a good time to build new nuclear plants. But it is a good time to DESTROY radioactive waste (or "spent fuel") permanently by simple, safe, inexpensive processes that have been known for decades. Some additional research will be needed to convert this knowhow into an industrial process, but that will still be MUCH cheaper than digging more 100 billion dollar holes in the ground. The nuclear power industry would have quickly solved these problems if it had been required to dispose of its own nuclear waste on-site at the power plant WITHOUT help (subsidies) from the federal government!

Brian Fraser

Anonymous said...

I went & looked at the GDR website noted in the previous comment. One of the most interesting things I saw was this: "It is also known by top space scientist by the year 2012 that the milky way galaxy, our galaxy will be in a peak celestial shift and will cause extreme weather and earth quakes within the years before and years after."

JOE said...

LET DOE TAKE CARE OF WASTE FROM NUCLEAR BOMB TESTING.......

LET NRC TAKE CARE OF SPENT FUEL...

SPENT FUEL SHOULD NOT LEAVE THE PLANT SITE........

Anonymous said...

"It became clear that radioactive decay rates could be affected by ordinary electrolysis. This led some scientists to propose that a process be developed for disposal of radioactive waste. Dr. G.H. Miley, for example, wrote U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy Research Initiative (1999), Proposal No. 99-0222, "Scientific Feasibility Study of Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENRS) for Nuclear Waste Amelioration".( http://papers.sae.org/1999-01-2725/ ) The proposal was actually accepted, but some of those "institutionalized, atherosclerotic precision mound builders" that I talk about, later killed the project." ("Adventures in Energy Destruction", http://scripturalphysics.org/qm/adven.html )

"In Issue No. 26 of Infinite Energy, we reported that Prof. George Miley's Low- Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) Group at the University of Illinois had been awarded a peer-reviewed U.S. Department of Energy contract— for an experimental study to verify previously tested electrolytic techniques to remediate radioactive nuclides. In Issue No. 27, we reported that Miley's grant was in danger of being eliminated by a chorus of cold fusion critics who protested to DOE officials about the award. The critics have now succeeded in getting the Miley grant killed.

Miley's funding of approximately $100,000 has been eliminated by DOE before one penny of it was transferred to the University of Illinois. A secret "review" of the science behind the award by an unnamed panel of six individuals (increased for some unknown reason from the original three panelists) did the killing. Other universities winning these NERI— Nuclear Energy Research Initiative— awards have received their funding already." http://www.infinite-energy.com/iemagazine/issue28/criticskill.html ,http://web.pdx.edu/~pdx00210/News/CFRLEngNews/CFRLEN05.htm

Brian Fraser

Anonymous said...

"Previously, it has been reported that nuclear transmutation reactions are accelerated when radioactive elements are subjected to low-level electric fields during electrolysis of aqueous electrolytes. . . . Our research investigated the codeposition of U3O8 and H on Ni cathodes, using an acidic electrolyte and a Pt anode. Then, the radiation emitted by the electroplated U3O8 was compared with radiation emitted by unelectrolyzed U3O8 from the same batch. . . . The electroplated U3O8 initially produced ~2900 counts in 3 min (April 17, 2000). This rose sporadically in steps to 3700 counts in 3 min on May 11, 2000, and it remained relatively constant at this level until the . . . measurements ended on June 8, 2000. The unelectrolyzed U3O8 from the same batch emitted radiation at a much lower rate, ~1250 counts in 3 min, and this remained almost constant over the entire period of measurement."  (G. Goddard, J. Dash and S. Frantz, "Characterization of Uranium Codeposited with Hydrogen on Nickel Cathodes", Transactions of the American Nuclear Society, 83, 376-378 (2000)  ).

Brian Fraser