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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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  • pump it into the air (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:27PM (#40939497)

    can't we just pump it into the air. its probably not half as bad as the stuff that a coal plant releases.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Re:New plants (Score:5, Informative)

    by blind monkey 3 (773904) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @07:52PM (#40939805)
    There are two new plants, the other 14 are existing plants that applied to put in additional reactors (25 reactors in total).
  • Re:too late (Score:3, Informative)

    by grumling (94709) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:03PM (#40939925) Homepage

    Actually, until the Ford administration there was a highly effective recycling program in place. But the end of building weapons and the collapse of the price of newly mined uranium make it cheaper to just buy new and let it sit... with 95% of the available energy still in place.

    BTW That's one reason why Yucca mountain was chosen over the salt domes in New Mexico: You can easily retrieve the waste for reprocessing at Yucca, but if you bury it in the salt it will be much more difficult down the road.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2012 @08:31PM (#40940259)

    Some numbers: Fukushima 900 PBq & Chernobyl 5200 PBq.

    Total radioactive releases from coal power plants from 1937 to 2040 [ornl.gov]: 100 PBq (2,721,736,430 millicuries).

    So, just Fukushima and Chernobyl have released 61 times the radioactivity released by burning coal for electricity for a century (predicted).

    Let's compare this to all of the proven coal reserves in the world being burned: 860 billion tonnes (950 billion tons) at 0.00427 millicuries/ton and 3.7e10 Bq/curie equals 150 PBq.

    Obviously, these values are codependent, but we can probably safely assume that at least 200 PBq would be released (meaning that we have burned all of the known coal in the world). Fukashima alone still beats that value by almost 5 times and Chernobyl by 26.

    Ouch!

  • by epyT-R (613989) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:37PM (#40940935)

    no it doesn't disappear at the end of its halflife.. it's 1/2 as potent as it was.. still potent enough to cause serious problems. take caesium 137.. I believe the halflife for that is 30 years.. short, yes, but even at 90 years, it's still causing harm to the environment/food supply. the body treats it like calcium, so it'll end up in the bones and muscles of your grandkids. While I think nuclear power is a necessary reality, people really need to understand what all these related terms, numbers, and their scales imply.

  • 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 Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @09:53PM (#40941065)

    The meltdowns at TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukashima have made nuclear power release more radioactive material than coal over this period.

    Oh, horse shit.

    TMI released essentially no radioactive material at all. No deaths have been attributed to it.

    Chernobyl was possibly the worst stereotypical example of batshit-crazy Soviet-era negligence I've ever heard of. Someone who attempts to hold the modern nuclear power industry to the standards of Chernobyl is not doing so in an effort to enlighten, educate, or warn, but rather, to deceive. Lay off the vodka, and you won't have a Chernobyl. It's as simple as that.

    The Fukushima disaster resulted from similar incompetence [carnegieendowment.org]. A 40-year-old nuclear plant was allowed to operate long past its scheduled 25-year design life, in a seismically active zone that was known to be prone to tsunamis, under the control of a corrupt power company with demonstrably inadequate oversight. Despite all that, it almost managed to survive an 8.9 earthquake. No one could possibly have been surprised when it didn't. The lesson of Fukushima is that events like Fukushima are 100% avoidable if existing laws and practices are followed.

    Meanwhile, people are dying right now from coal-fired plant emissions, all over the industrialized world. It just doesn't look scary enough on CNN for people like you to notice.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2012 @10:59PM (#40941497)

    I'm not sure that this is the right comparison. A Becquerel is one decay per second. But the output from an exploding nuclear plant is mostly comprised of freshly-created short-half-life isotopes that decay within days or weeks. The radioactive isotopes in the ash from a coal plant are super-stable ones that have lasted since the formation of the Earth, and will keep putting out radiation for billions more years. So if you take the integrated radiation produced from the waste over the decade or so after it's released (measured in Bequerel-years or equivalent), then the coal plants should come out on top.

    But even that isn't the right comparison, because the waste/ash doesn't stay in the environment, in an easy-to-expose-yourself-to form, for decades. And then we have to start considering the particulate size and inhalibility of the fallout from a nuclear accident versus the ash from a coal plant, the specific isotopes involved and how well they bioaccumulate, etc.

  • by Immerman (2627577) on Thursday August 09, 2012 @11:39PM (#40941731)

    But all of those isotopes remain locked into the fuel pellets rather than being pumped into the environment, an important distinction. As for being easy to handle - easy is a relative term, I think you'll agree it's a lot easier to manage the contamination problem of a bunch of spent fuel pellets than a mountain of smoke and ash distributed across the countryside. The problem is that coal plants have been grandfathered in and we don't actually make them deal with their contamination in any meaningful way. If we did then the business picture for nuclear plants (and every other energy source) would look a whole lot rosier.

    As for fuel reprocessing - we'll get that as soon as there's either a business model or government push for it. It's dangerous, expensive work, especially when you have the cost of building prototype reprocessing plants between now and then - as long as there's plenty of readily accessible uranium ore it's a lot cheaper and easier to simply rely on the existing infrastructure and cross our fingers about the pools. Which brings up another issue - even with reprocessing you'll probably have cooling pools - it takes a few year/decades for the mostly useless short-halflife stuff to burn out (at least down to the radiation levels of the long-lived stuff). So basically you can work with the spent fuel today and deal with extreme radiation, or wait for a while and deal with much lower radiation levels but the same basic concentration of valuable fuel. As for storing it at the nuclear plant-yeah, grade A stupid, but you can thank poorly considered regulations for that - nobody else has the proper clearance to handle the stuff in it's short-lived "hot" state, and no politician is going to risk a NIMBY outbreak by opening a hot-waste "internment camp" somewhere. Sort of like the situation we were in (has it improved?) where nuclear plants were reaching their limit on stored waste quantities, but there were nowhere to sequester it so instead they shipped it from one side of the country to the other, and back, and forth, and... basically storing our spent nuclear fuel in semis rolling down the highway - the worst possible solution because nobody was willing to suck it up and do what had to be done (either build a storage facility, build a waste reprocessing plant, or shut down the power plants)

  • by JakartaDean (834076) on Friday August 10, 2012 @01:59AM (#40942431) Journal

    The contaminated material at the Gore site is 20 million metric tons of source materials in the form of uranium, uranium oxides, uranium fluorides, thorium, radium, and decay-chain products in process equipment and buildings, soil, sludge, and groundwater.

    Citation needed. Here's the description of the site: http://www.wise-uranium.org/edusa.html#GORE [wise-uranium.org] (11-14 acres) and here's what I could find on the reclamation: http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/facility/gore.htm [globalsecurity.org]. In fact that link uses the exact words you used, which leads me to believe you have read it. It also says, in the same fucking article, that "The total radiological and hazardous waste volume is estimated to be 141,600-311,520 m3 (5-11 million ft3)." I leave it as an exercise to get the density of your material using these numbers and find something on earth that dense. The latter site does mention that they have a licence to "possess" up to 20 million tons of stuff including groundwater.

    In fact, do you have the foggiest notion of what 20 million tons is? Assuming a density of 5 tons per cubic meter (rough approximation, within one order of magnitude) that's 4 million cubic meters. Since I bothered to google, I know that the area where the waste will be stored is 11 to 14 acres, or around 4.5 hectares. 4 million cubic meters over 45,000 square meters is about 900 meters tall. So tell me, is your claim bullshit or are they building a mountain of contaminated material?

  • 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 d3ac0n (715594) on Friday August 10, 2012 @09:13AM (#40944801)

    They also know nothing about Coal power as well. Or really much of anything other than hysteria borne of bad science. I have yet to meet an "Environmentalist" that wasn't, at heart, either a raving lunatic or a dyed-in-the-wool hard core Communist. Most of them run on nothing more than Utopian fantasies of a primordial "perfect state of man" that never existed and never could.

    That said, Coal fired power plants are actually quite clean as power plants go. For some reason people hear "Coal Fired" and think of an old steam locomotive gobbling up tons of coal while producing a comparatively small amount of steam power and spewing tons of smoke and ash and unburnt coal into the air.

    The reality is FAR from that. Here in Buffalo we have a coal fired power plant that produces large amount of power for the area. (No, we don't get most of our power from Hydro, most of that is sent all the way across the state to New York City.)

    I have been into this plant and seen how it works. Much like Nuclear, the coal is used to generate Steam which is used to turn turbines. However, the efficiency is MUCH higher because of how they burn the coal. Essentially, the coal is pulverized into a powder somewhat finer than talcum powder. it is dried with hot air (about 650 F) and then blown with even hotter air out of a compression nozzle into the firing area of the boiler. The pressure from the nozzle heats the powered coal and air to the ignition point and you get a blowtorch of incinerating coal dust and air blasting out of the end.

    Not only does this create tremendous amounts of heat (which is used to generate steam, like a Nuclear power plant) but it much more thoroughly burns the coal, (something like 70-80% burned) leaving just a tiny fraction of ash left, which is removed from the exhaust air by scrubbers. Modern coal fired plants produce ALMOST NO airborne waste, and contribute far less to air pollution than diesel plants of similar generation capacity. They also produce no radioactive waste, so the lasting environmental effects are minimal.

    That said, Nuclear is STILL the preferred solution, but Big Government Eco-Commie-Utopianists are once again getting in the way with their fantasy desire to have 0% impact ever on anything, but still somehow have a modern society.

    We NEED to get these morons out of office and out of government. They will be the death of our society.

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