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US Freezes Nuclear Power Plant Permits Because of Waste Issues 347

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-nukes dept.
KindMind writes "The U.S. Government said it will stop issuing all permits for new plants and license extensions for existing plants are being frozen due to concerns over waste storage. From the article: 'The government's main watchdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, believes that current storage plans are safe and achievable. But a federal court said that the NRC didn't detail what the environmental consequences would be if the agency is wrong. The NRC says that "We are now considering all available options for resolving the waste issue, But, in recognition of our duties under the law, we will not issue [reactor] licenses until the court's remand is appropriately addressed." Affected are 14 reactors awaiting license renewals, and an additional 16 reactors awaiting permits for new construction.'"
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US Freezes Nuclear Power Plant Permits Because of Waste Issues

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  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:28PM (#40939507)

    Uranium sealed in massive lead cans, encased in concrete, and stored deep underground in an area free of earthquakes.

    Of course they should have also built other sites too. It makes no sense to dump all your waste in the same spot. Spread it out.

    • by icebike (68054) *

      Waste Storage is not limited to spent fuel.
      Spent fuel is not the largest source of waste by volume.

      • by gagol (583737)
        im intrigued, what other types exist?
        • by jhoegl (638955)
          Humans
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:41PM (#40939691)

          Lots. The physical plant itself, at least the components that become "waste" after being in contact with radioactive primary coolant. Tools. Protective gear worn by employees. Also, in the case of naval reactors - the entire reactor section of the sub or carrier. An so on.

          • That is low level or intermediate level radioactive waste. The storage requirements are not the same as for spent fuel rods.
        • by Kenja (541830)
          Anything in or around the reactor.
          • by icebike (68054) * on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:58PM (#40939867)

            Even barrels and barrels of dirt.

            What's to be done with 52,000 tons (47,174 metric tons) of dangerously radioactive spent fuel from commercial and defense nuclear reactors? With 91 million gallons (344.5 million liters) of high-level waste left over from plutonium processing, scores of tons of plutonium, more than half a million tons (453,592 metric tons) of depleted uranium, millions of cubic feet of contaminated tools, metal scraps, clothing, oils, solvents, and other waste? And with some 265 million tons (240 million metric tons) of tailings from milling uranium ore—less than half stabilized—littering landscapes?

            Its a long article, but worth the read: Half Life—The Lethal Legacy of America's Nuclear Waste [nationalgeographic.com].

            • And if we built a few modern reactors (i.e. something less than 20years old) a lot of that waste would become a source of fuel. But we sure as hell can't build a new reactor. We have wind power!
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by dasunt (249686)

                And if we built a few modern reactors (i.e. something less than 20years old) a lot of that waste would become a source of fuel. But we sure as hell can't build a new reactor. We have wind power!

                I really do like the potential wind, geothermal and solar power has. They aren't bad things to develop.

                But it seems that the purpose of a wind turbine is to make us feel green, while we generate most of our electricity from coal.

                There's also the issue that monocultures are bad. We should have a diversity of en

            • by Immerman (2627577) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:51PM (#40941053)

              Actually spent fuel is more a regulatory problem than anything else - it's typically almost entirely perfectly good fuel contaminated with just enough fission-damping byproducts to make it unsuitable for the reactor it was in. the problem is just that nobody particularly wants to reprocess it when the incremental cost of mining fresh stuff is so much cheaper than the capital costs of building fuel reprocessing plants.

              The other alternative is of course to move to more efficient reactors in the first place - even just doubling or tripling the efficiency (typically in the low single digit %s now) would dramatically reduce the waste flow, and most thorium-based reactors are typically projected to operate up in the 80% or higher range, leaving only short-lived "ash" that would decay to background levels within only a few hundred years, and many designs would incidentally be able to consume existing "spent" fuel as a percentage of its load. Not to mention the benefits of a fuel that needs minimal processing and is currently a waste product of many rare-earth mining operations.

              Its worth nothing as well that the reason current reactors produce so much plutonium waste is that they were designed to do so - they're almost all based on the fuel cycles researched early on when the driving force in the field was nuclear weapons research and plutonium was in high demand.

              • by AmiMoJo (196126)

                most thorium-based reactors are typically projected to operate up in the 80% or higher range, leaving only short-lived "ash" that would decay to background levels within only a few hundred years

                Stop and think about that for a moment. You have a thorium reactor which produces much harder to handle ash as waste, and which itself becomes highly radioactive and difficult to decommission. From a commercial point of a view waste that decays in a few hundred years is no different from waste that decays in a few million; it still has to be dealt with now which eats into shareholder profits.

                Oh, and then there is the small matter of actually developing a commercial thorium reactor and getting it certified.

                • by dbIII (701233) on Friday August 10, 2012 @04:15AM (#40943169)
                  There's no point applying reason. All of these people seem to be thinking of these reactors as running on magic instead of radioactive decay. You can never eliminate the waste, neutrons flying about ensure that anything close enough becomes radioactive enough that it has to be treated with some care. Of course different reactors produce different waste and some can be dealt with far more easily than others.
                  The answer is to actually deal with the waste instead of the childish "pretend it can all be magiked away" attitude that comes out in places like this. Today we do have ways to deal with nuclear waste effictively which were not available in the 1970s, but are not often applied because it's cheaper to pretend there is no problem and just store the hot stuff in pools of water onsite indefinitely.
                  Anyway, Yucca is apparently too wet but a plan like that in a different place using something like synrock instead of glassy stuff - or maybe just use synrock at Yucca since it doesn't have the leaching problem of glass phase encapsulation.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:46PM (#40939751)

      Whats worse is the government ALREADY collected billions (32 billion) from nuclear power customers to store the spent fuel and has so far refused to provide the facility or transportation to such facility despite them already collecting the funds. The funds were probably put into the general fund and spent already meaning the choices are:
      1. Take from the general fund to actually open a site.
      2. Refund the customers the billions already paid.
      3. Screw the middle class again, don't refund, and don't open the site and call the fees a tax instead.

      Guess which one will win? When you give the federal government money or authority you lose every time. No matter who you vote for the government wins.

      http://www.powermag.com/nuclear/The-U-S-Spent-Nuclear-Fuel-Policy-Road-to-Nowhere_2651.html

    • by grumling (94709) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:51PM (#40939797) Homepage

      Actually, they should be recycling it to get at the 95% or so of the unused refined fuel. Then take the waste products and bury them somewhere that already has a nuclear industry. Nevada's only claim to the nuclear age is that it was a test site for bombs.

      Nuclear waste: An engineering problem looking for a political solution.

      • by camperslo (704715) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:23PM (#40940791)

        Actually, they should be recycling it to get at the 95% or so of the unused refined fuel.

        Unfortunately while recycling works to extract useful fuel, since that is a small percentage of the total it does nearly nothing to reduce the amount of high-level waste posing a storage problem. It's also a very complex and hazardous process, far more so than refining raw ore was originally. An additional problem is that some of what is recovered poses even greater weapons-related concerns than the original fuel. France, which processes more spent fuel than anyone else, still does so with only a small percentage of what they produce.

        Beyond coping with products of normal fuel production, operation and dismantling, Japan has vast amounts of contaminated material to put somewhere. Someone was joking that they should make another island out of it, and have some government, power industry, and banking officials live there.

        So other countries are off-shoring fuel processing, and requiring that the waste not be shipped back. If that's not obscene exploitation of a poor country, I don't know what is.

  • Store it in Washington, D.C. with the rest of the waste.
  • Nonstory (Score:4, Informative)

    by tomhath (637240) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:33PM (#40939581)
    FTFA:

    Analysts feel the agency can conduct its research relatively quickly without having a major impact on nuclear plants currently seeking license extensions or utilities seeking permission to build new reactors.

    A technicality, no significant impact to anything.

    • Analysts feel the agency can conduct its research relatively quickly without having a major impact on nuclear plants currently seeking license extensions or utilities seeking permission to build new reactors.

      A technicality, no significant impact to anything.

      Alas, it'll take as long as the Administration wants it to take. The NRC's plans mean nothing at all, if Yucca Mountain is any guideline...

  • by Rix (54095) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:36PM (#40939627)

    The world would be in a lot better place if you couldn't burn it until you'd removed an equal or greater quantity of CO2 from the atmosphere.

  • This is stupid (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:37PM (#40939633) Journal
    The fact is, that if we would add a couple of GE PRISM at all of the nuke sites, either running, shutting down, or shut down, we could burn up the vast majority of the 'waste'. From there, what would remain in 100 years, would fit easily in a corner of WIPPS and last only 200 years. Oddly, this would make loads of money for the plants while pretty much using up all of the 'waste'.

    In addition, all of the new sites should be switched to a thorium cycle. Very safe to run and at a fraction of the price.
    • You're using logic. Nuke-haters don't use logic, let alone understand it.

      Nukes = minimal CO2 (potentially 0 emissions if we move to hydrogen from oil)

      "Green" energy sources != green because they're not enough (not yet at least)

      No nukes => alternative sources of electricity

      Alternative sources = "Green" energy + coal + natural gas = no CO2 + lots of CO2 and all kinds of nasty stuff + more CO2 = Lots of CO2.

      No nukes => Lots of CO2
      Nukes => spent fuel, which can be processed and reused or used in a diff

      • And while we're making uninformed blanket statements, I'll say that "nuke lovers" have never witnessed what happens when sodium mixes with water and have no idea how corrosive steam can be. Add a bunch of plutonium into the mix (radioactivity causes metals to become brittle over time) and you've got a disaster waiting to happen. You don't want to be anywhere near one of these if the sodium/water heat exchanger in a PRISM type reactor develops a leak. And since you've probably never worked as an engineer

    • All the Old reactors need to go away but we also need to use safe nuclear power. We have to stop using old fuels like coal and petroleum. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorium-based_nuclear_power [wikipedia.org]
      • by MtViewGuy (197597)

        Actually, molten salt reactors such as the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR) could be the solution the our nuclear waste problem.

        Here's the issue: besides the spent uranium fuel rods, we also have a large amount of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons that need to disposed of. With an LFTR, the spent uranium fuel rods and plutonium can be reprocessed into a form that can be dissolved with molten sodium fluoride salts and used as LFTR reactor fuel. We get a large source of nuclear fuel, and best of

    • by dbIII (701233)
      You've been fooled by a silly and pointless myth for a PR soundbite when the reality isn't bad enough to have to hide behind a myth. Reprocessing actually produces a much larger volume of radioactive waste than comes in, but that doesn't matter because the stuff is nowhere near as active, is easier to store and since reprocessing is all about getting fuel you get that too.
      Another plus for the thorium idea, which you may already be aware of, is the Indian reactor under construction (which is pretty well a v
    • While that would indeed be better than the current fleet of water-cooled reactors, I'm skeptical of sodium-cooled IFRs, given their less-than-stellar track record over the years. IMHO, molten salt is the best way forward. LFTRs [wikipedia.org] have gotten some attention lately, and I'm all in favor. But there's another MSR variant being developed now that is specifically designed to use our existing waste stockpile as its fuel, called WAMSR [businessinsider.com] (waste annihilating molten-salt reactor).

  • by Lando (9348) <lando2+slash AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:38PM (#40939643) Homepage Journal

    I wasn't aware that they were planning on building several new nuclear plants. I had heard of one or two, but sixteen is quite a few more than I expected. What caused this shift in new building versus how new plants were basically put on hiatus after three mile?

  • The question ought to have been asked 60 years ago; not today.

    The half life of some of the waste is hundreds of thousands or millions of years. We're stuck with it for that long -- complete with storage facilities and, if necessary, security.

    The real question is who pays. The nuclear plant operator (talk about a liability...) or the public (that's quite a liability too, and not one you can readily default on)?

    • That's the half-assed way of dealing with it. Reprocessing and advanced reactor designs can massively cut the lifetime of the waste while allowing for more energy to be extracted without the need for more raw materials.

    • by sjames (1099)

      If we remove the actinides (also known as fuel), the remainder will decay to safe levels within 500 years. By safe levels, I mean no more radioactive than the naturally occurring ore the fuel came from in the first place.

  • by swb (14022) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:03PM (#40939927)

    But the deal is, whoever owns my house gets free electricity, in any amount they want to use (as a Minnesotan, I can see the value of a heated driveway & sidewalks).

    I always thought they should have done something like that when building a new nuke plant. To make nice with the neighbors, all residents within an X mile radius get electricity at a sharp discount (aka wholesale prices).

    • Nothing like a bribe to counter NIMBY sentiments.

      Sounds like a good idea - almost as good as a small-scale reactor for a neighborhood that provides essentially unlimited power and hot water. If it's good enough for a sub, it's good enough for me.

  • by poly_pusher (1004145) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:25PM (#40940171)
    Has their been any significant progress toward Breeder reactors? Reactors that use existing spent fuel and can tap energy from our rotting nuclear arsenal always sounded lucrative to me but progress towards reactors of this sort has been slow. What are the challenges of producing reactors like this?
    • The Integral Fast Reactor (and various other Generation IV designs) have solved this problem. We even built (most of) a prototype. Let's just build some already.

  • It is not responsible to operate a reactor if you don't have a solid plan for dealing with the waste.
  • by blindseer (891256) <blindseer AT earthlink DOT net> on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:55PM (#40940527)

    The federal government is shutting down coal mines, holding up nuclear power plants, and denying permits for oil drills and pipelines. It seems like every week we hear about another solar power company going out of business because of mismanagement, fraud, and/or because they can't make a panel that works. We've dammed up every river worth a dam. Where are we supposed to get our electricity?

    Wind power might actually pan out as cheap and viable if only the federal government would let someone run the wires from where the wind blows to where the people need the electricity. Since the wind blows when it wants we'll still need some sort of storage or backup. Natural gas seems to be booming despite the best efforts of the federal government to stop that too. If we add pumping stations to the hydro dams we got we could store the electricity when the wind blows. Wind, pumped hydro, and natural gas might make for a nice mix for our electricity, each complementing the others. Problem is that at some point we're going to run out of natural gas. Can we build enough dams and windmills to power our world? Can we do it cheap enough to maintain our standard of living?

    The problem of nuclear waste is a creation of the federal government. They decided that we cannot recycle the "spent" fuel from current reactors. The so called "spent" fuel still contains large amounts of usable fuel, it's just tainted with the fission products of the fuel that was used up. The fuel waste problem would actually be solved with new, more efficient, nuclear reactors designed to use the "spent" fuel from the old reactors.

    We supposedly have a Department of Energy to solve these problems. What are they doing for us?

    It's just so frustrating seeing the government foul things up for us. The energy problems we have now are all political. The government is causing more problems than it's solving. Don't get me wrong, we need government. I think the government has just gotten too big. To get a power plant built or a pipeline run a person would have to satisfy dozens of different agencies that often have conflicting goals. We need to trim down the size of government, getting rid of the Department of Energy is as good of a place to start as any.

    Rant over.

    • Wind power might actually pan out as cheap and viable if only the federal government would let someone run the wires from where the wind blows to where the people need the electricity.

      Wind power isn't expensive because of the government banning transmission line installation. Take Texas, for example. It probably has the largest "bottleneck" of wind supply due to lack of transmission lines. But they've received permission to install plenty new capacity. The main problem is lack of regional demand for renewables, which are still more expensive.

      Natural gas seems to be booming despite the best efforts of the federal government to stop that too.

      What are you talking about? The federal government hasn't tried to ban natural gas or tracking. They've very recently (April) started putting

    • by thrich81 (1357561)

      It's not the Feds who don't want to open Yucca mountain to store the nuclear waste, its the annoying citizens around there who don't want it all sent to their backyard. In this case the Feds are just not telling the local residents, "screw you, you are getting it anyway". Would you prefer they handled that way?
      And here in Texas, it isn't the Feds which are preventing the building of transmission lines, its all those private landowners who are resisting the 'eminent domain' taking of their land so that peo

  • by tlambert (566799) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:02PM (#40940603)

    The licensing was shut down because the NRC issued a report indicating that existing solutions are safe and effective, and didn't report what would happen if they were wrong.

    This is sort of like the stupidity around "the LHC dragons":

    Dr. Arkani-Hamed said concerning worries about the death of the Earth or universe, “Neither has any merit.” He pointed out that because of the dice-throwing nature of quantum physics, there was some probability of almost anything happening. There is some minuscule probability, he said, “the Large Hadron Collider might make dragons that might eat us up.”

    Here, let me help them out: "If we're wrong about being able to store nuclear waste, we could all be turned into Super Mario characters. If that doesn't work out, we'll have to reprocess the spent fuel, with the down side that energy becomes cheap and abundant and we have power forever.".

  • by BenBoy (615230) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:38PM (#40940945)
    You know what sort of waste is really tricky to store? CO2. That, currently, is the viable alternative.

    Sorry, can't treat your Ebola ... the drug sometimes causes stomach aches ...

  • by asm2750 (1124425) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @11:00PM (#40941503)
    Here is an idea, start building reactors that have a closed fuel cycle (thorium) or use reactors that can burn transuranic waste into waste that is less long lived (i.e. breeders, and CANDU). I think the biggest mistake that was ever made was the curtailing of nuclear reactor research. We have technology that can do this, but the morons in charge keep kicking the can down the road so it doesn't have to be their problem in the future.

Numeric stability is probably not all that important when you're guessing.

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