Skip to main content

Productively Discussing Used Nuclear Fuel

wippAn interesting comment by NRC Chairman-designate Allison Macfarlane at her confirmation hearing yesterday – which was very uncontentious, by the way – was the comment that only the United States has a deep geologic repository for nuclear materials – The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, N.M., which stores transuranic waste from defense sources.

WIPP figured prominently in the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission, because it was a working example of the consent-based approach for siting a used fuel repository – meaning that its community wanted it there, clearing the way for an uncontroversial opening and operation of the facility.

Consent-based siting of consolidated storage facilities is a feature of the commission’s report that has gotten attention in Congress. That’s partly why Senators wanted to talk about it with Macfarlane, who served on the Blue Ribbon Commission,  even though the NRC’s role beyond licensing interim storage facilities would  be limited. (You can watch a Senate hearing about interim storage sites here.)

Here’s a bit from an editorial in The Washington Post about the blue-ribbon commission and used nuclear fuel (and interim storage sites and Yucca Mountain):

The Yucca project, which still ought to be saved, is the object of ongoing litigation, and some in the House are trying to restore its funding. But a national blue-ribbon commission on nuclear waste recently pointed out that Congress can do a lot of good in the absence of a final decision on Yucca. Lawmakers should create a new, independent ­nuclear-waste authority with access to the billions of dollars the government collects from electricity customers to deal with spent fuel. That authority should have the power to develop interim, centralized storage sites that use dry-cask storage, which is safer than cooling pools. At the same time, it should apply a new method of siting permanent disposal projects — more than one will probably be needed — and include local officials in the process.

That’s how ideas get traction.

---

Still – WIPP the only such repository?

It is, but others are coming.

Finland has already started to build Onkalo, which is designed to take waste over a period of 100 years and then store it for at least 100,000 years, safe from population, fire, flood and other risks. France plans a similar project in Bure in the country's east.

The story has some interesting details on Onkalo:

Construction workers at Onkalo have nearly finished the 5 km tunnel that will spiral down to a depth of about 400 meters to a network of repositories that will start storing waste from 2020.

Posiva, owned by Finnish utilities Fortum and Teollisuuden Voima, is due to apply for its final stage of construction this year. Its total costs are estimated at 3.3 billion euros ($4.1 billion).

Bure is less far along, but the story points out that opposition to the French repository has dimmed over time. And there is a section on Yucca Mountain. Macfarlane herself wrote a book in 2006 making a geologist’s argument against the repository, but the NRC’s role in the repository is to license it, not set policy regarding it. So we’ll see how that goes. Interesting article – good job by Terhi Kinnunen (handling the Finnish side of things, I’d guess) and Muriel Boselli.

---

This paragraph was amusing:

Most Finns are either supportive or neutral on nuclear energy. Analysts say pragmatism, a tradition of consensus politics and the Finnish parliament's decision to outlaw the export and import of nuclear waste have kept the nuclear policy on track.

That sounds a little begrudging, doesn’t it? – “supportive or neutral” – but we’ll take it. Finland means to add three more reactors to the four it has already. It generates about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy. A Gallup poll taken in 2010 (before the accident at Fukushima Daiichi) showed 48% of Finns had a positive view of nuclear power and only 17% were negative – I guess 35% are the neutrals. See the World Nuclear Association page on Finland for more.

There’s actually a fair amount percolating on the used fuel front, which had become quiescent after Yucca Mountain shuttered. We can credit some of that to the Blue Ribbon Commission

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…