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Nuclear Trashmen Profit From Unprecedented US Reactor Shutdowns 74

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-about-the-radioactive-benjamins dept.
mdsolar sends this quote from Bloomberg: "More than 50 years into the age of nuclear energy, one of the biggest growth opportunities may be junking old reactors. Entergy Corp. (ETR) said Aug. 27 it will close its 41-year-old Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in 2014, making the reactor the fifth unit in the U.S. marked for decommissioning within the past 12 months, a record annual total. Companies that specialize in razing nuclear plants and hauling away radioactive waste are poised to benefit. Disposal work is 'where companies are going to make their fortune,' Margaret Harding, an independent nuclear-industry consultant based in Wilmington, North Carolina, said in an phone interview. Contractors that are usually involved in building reactors ... 'are going to be looking very hard at the decommissioning side of it.' [T]he U.S. nuclear fleet of 104 units is shrinking, even as Southern Co. and Scana Corp. build two units each. ... During a reactor decommissioning, the plant operator transfers radioactive fuel rods to cooling pools and, ultimately, to so-called dry casks for storage. Workers clean contaminated surfaces by sandblasting, chemical sprays and hydrolasing, a process that involves high-pressure water blasts, according to King. 'You do get to a point that you need someone to come in that has the equipment and the technology to actually dismantle the components,' she said. 'That typically is hired out.'"
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Nuclear Trashmen Profit From Unprecedented US Reactor Shutdowns

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  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:58PM (#44760617) Homepage

    Is another man's gold.

    • Is another man's gold.

      Yeah, but those other men are being turned back [theguardian.com] when they try to do the right thing for our society.

      It's funny, if you read that article, how Branson criticizes the 1994 cuts as mistaken while those men who did so have benefited grandly from doing so.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by nospam007 (722110) *

      "Is another man's gold."

      It's an other man's steel, since lots of radioactive steel parts end up in the scrap line for being smelted for new cars and stuff.

      They catch most of them but not all.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        I call bullshit. I work in the nuclear power industry. The amount of screening and safeguards in place to prevent a single contaminated Kleenex from getting offsite is beyond belief. And by "contaminated" I mean something that might have a millirem's worth of stuff on it, not something seriously crapped up like you're hinting at. To intimate that substantial hunks of contaminated metals might systematically get offsite and somehow get smelted into a consumer product is so ridiculous as to be easily dism

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by ShanghaiBill (739463)

          Can you cite an example of "lots of radioactive steel parts" becoming cars?

          The Goiania Incident [wikipedia.org] came close. The radioactive waste was stolen and sold to a scrapyard, and the only thing that prevented it from being recycled into new steel was that the scrapyard workers started dying.

          • by operagost (62405)
            Well, that was Brazil and the radioactive material was from an X-ray machine, not a power plant. So, not "close".
          • Your example is so ridiculous I'm tempted to ignore it, but perhaps you can benefit from a little criticism here. The incident you cite has nothing to do with recycling irradiated metals into consumer products. A derelict hospital was broken into by thieves who stole a container of radioactive material that had been *illegally* abandoned. This in no way backs up your assertion that "lots of radioactive steel parts end up in the scrap line for being smelted for new cars and stuff." It doesn't even come c

        • Can you cite an example of "lots of radioactive steel parts" becoming cars?

          Not in the US, and not cars but here are references to elevator buttons http://uk.reuters.com/article/2008/10/22/oukoe-uk-france-lifts-radioactive-idUKTRE49L69320081022 [reuters.com] And belt buckles. http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/05/29/asos_investigation_into_radioactive_belts_demonstrates_scrap_metal_problem.html [slate.com] Bonus link to the EPA http://www.epa.gov/radtown/orphan-sources.html [epa.gov]

        • Yes, in the USA there are plenty of regulations. In the USA, they usually are pretty effective. However, the energy plant industry is not the only industry working with materials that emit nuclear radiation. Most large scrap merchants actually have Geiger counters set up to pick out radio active materials coming in on their yards permanently. Scrap gets moved all over the planet and on a global scale, dozens of "misplaced" items get found yearly that have a radiation dose that is actually dangerous to peopl

          • once they shred it to little bits and "diluted" it with non-radio active materials.

            Once you "dilute" materials as you describe, they can pass the detectors with little chance of being detected. And if the radioactivity is that low after being "diluted" then by definition it's low enough to be of negligible danger to any consumer product it might make its way into.

            It's also worth noting that in the above post citing elevator buttons and belt buckles, neither item emitted enough radiation to be dangerous. In each case, the dose was so low as to be negligible. People need to keep in mind

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Is another man's gold.

      You're spot on with that, I used to work for a company that sold hydraulic and metal band saws to the US military for the decommissioning of ICBM's, and cutting the components into scrap. Each saw sold for $8k-148k, and were only used at one site before they were coffined as hazardous waste.

    • Actually, the thought that came to my mind was, "Where there's muck, there's brass."

  • by X0563511 (793323) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:00PM (#44760631) Homepage Journal

    Can you repeat that? I was busy marveling at how excellent a name "Nuclear Trashmen" would be for a punk band.

  • ... Sanford and Son.

  • by Kaenneth (82978) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:05PM (#44760665) Homepage Journal

    ... to the lowest bidder.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That stuff needs to be stored for a couple of thousand years. Long term it's actually much safer to rework it into fuel, use it, rework it some more, use it as fuel, and so on, until there's nothing left. Consequence of having started this party. But long term vision isn't something the USA brand Democratic Republic can be trusted with. And so they're buggering off early and stick future generations with an unpayable bill.

    • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:12PM (#44760735)
      If only there was a central geologically stable and dry place where we could store the waste while we work things out.
      • France doesn't have a Yucca mountain (yet [wikipedia.org]) but they manage to do fuel reprocessing.
        • by nojayuk (567177)

          They don't have enough waste for it to be worth constructing a deep geological repository as yet. It's one of the benefits of reprocessing spent fuel, reducing the volume and mass of actual waste needing to be stored which helps offset the cost of doing it.

          Finland of all places is building one of the first deep repositories [wikipedia.org] for unreprocessed spent fuel from power stations. Total cost for constructing and operating a facility expected to store about 100 years of spent fuel from several reactors is about $1 b

      • by Tailhook (98486) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:27PM (#44760877)

        If only we had planned ahead and fully funded [wikipedia.org] waste disposal we might be able to do something about all of this.

        • by acidradio (659704)

          Can't we just store it in somewhere like Detroit? I mean they have the space, it's cheap, nobody seems to go there and they sure could use the jobs!

      • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:36PM (#44760971) Homepage Journal

        If only there was a central geologically stable and dry place where we could store the waste while we work things out.

        I say the moon, but... well, you know.

        Space Nazis.

        • by Gilmoure (18428)

          Whew! Thought for a moment you were going to bring up quasi-futuristic asymmetrical clothing design.

        • Is the proper long term solution.

          It will get there anyway in a few billion years, as the Earth is enveloped in the outer layers of the expanding Red Giant our sun is to become. :)

          The only issue with that plan is the eventual "Launch Failure", probably over an unfriendly country. :o

          Shit goes downhill fast from there, regardless of intent. :(

          The Nevada site is the best available site in the country; everything south of the Mason Dixon line will be abandoned in the next century due to Global Warming anyway. :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        We don't *need* to "work things out." We already *have* them worked out. You burn your actinides in a breeder reactor until all that's left is negligibly dangerous. You get more power out of a given unit of fuel and you end up with far less waste. What's not to like? Oh, I forgot...the Carter Era put an end to that due to "proliferation concerns." Yeah, we can't have nasty dictators in places like Iran, North Korea, or Pakistan getting nuclear weapons... ...oh, wait...

        • That has nothing to do with Carter. Breeder reactors are notoriously difficult to operate. I know only one commercial breeding reactor that is still operational and it was built in the USSR.

          • That has nothing to do with Carter. Breeder reactors are notoriously difficult to operate. I know only one commercial breeding reactor that is still operational and it was built in the USSR.

            Perhaps you're unaware of the concepts of cause and effect. Had breeder reactor technology been pursued vigorously *then* it would be much less difficult to operate *now*. Besides, dealing with the waste products from light water reactors is also "notoriously difficult" in case you hadn't noticed. I'd rather deal with the "difficult" option that produces power rather than instead of the one that produces a hundred thousand years worth of dangerous radioactivity.

    • by cnaumann (466328) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:40PM (#44760995)

      There will always be something left. There are a few isotopes of caesium, iodine and a few other elements that have a medium half life (10-100 years), that are biologically active, and have a TINY neutron cross section. The medium half life means they will be around a long time (thousands of years) and will be quite dangerous for that time. Biologically active means that your body will absorb them and concentrate them. The small neutron cross section means that you CANNOT burn them up in a reactor. Long term storage is the only (safe) option for getting rid of materials. Every nuclear fuel cycle produces these, even the much-hyped liquid salt reactors.

      Safe long-term storage of waste is not technically difficult. It is politically difficult and distracts from the real danger of nuclear power. The real danger of nuclear power is the almost unfathomable cost of a reactor accident. Not in terms of lives lost, but in terms of property damage. Imagine for a minute the implications of a Fukishima type accident at a US site on a major river. Every city downstream of the accident would have to be evacuated.

      • Yep, there is no insurance company in the world that will cover anyone for a nuclear accident. Reactors are normally underwritten by the state who in the case of an accident might give you a caravan to live in (if you're lucky). Same thing with riots and "civil disorder", if a bunch of arsehole protesters smash up your shop because they are pissed at someone else then your insurance company isn't going to pay for it. The reason that insurance companies routinely refuse to cover those things is because they
        • by nojayuk (567177)

          "Yep, there is no insurance company in the world that will cover anyone for a nuclear accident."

          Wrong. The US reactor operators carry commercial insurance up to about $10 billion per reactor site (most sites run two or more reactors). It's a sinecure for the insurers, lots of money in premiums and a very low risk they'll ever have to pay out anything. The government carries the load after $10 billion in the same way they're paying $50 billion after Superstorm Sandy trashed the New England coast and overwhel

      • by khallow (566160)

        The real danger of nuclear power is the almost unfathomable cost of a reactor accident

        Well, the Fukushima accident was quite fathomable. About $10 billion though it might go up a little with the new leak problem.

        Imagine for a minute the implications of a Fukishima type accident at a US site on a major river.

        Well, that probably would be less just due to the much cheaper value of US land.

        Every city downstream of the accident would have to be evacuated.

        Or they could just tell people not to swim in the river or drink the water for a few weeks. Maybe not eat the fish for a while.

        The small neutron cross section means that you CANNOT burn them up in a reactor.

        But it also means these particular isotopes aren't poisoning your fission reaction in the first place. So no reason to take them out of the fuel rod unless you have a better use f

      • by blindseer (891256)

        If it's radioactive then it is fuel. It may not be high quality fuel but the decay of those radioactive elements will add to the heat output of the reactor. I recall that it's somewhere between 5% and 20% of the heat output of a contemporary nuclear reactor comes from the short and medium half life fission products. Given that nuclear reactors are already designed to contain radioactive materials for something on the order of decades it seems to make sense to put these radioactive materials into reactors

        • Not to detract from anything else in your post, but my understanding of the Fukushima nuclear incident is that the problem wasn't so much that the reactors didn't shut down or that there were runaway nuclear reactions, but rather that there wasn't enough cooling. As I remember it, the reactors shut down just fine as soon as the earthquake hit, but the aftermath of that earthquake caused such a great disaster that it was difficult to get power to the cooling systems and emergency cooling equipment to the sit

          • by blindseer (891256)

            You recall correctly. I should add a disclaimer here as I do not wish to misrepresent my knowledge of the situation. I am not a nuclear engineer, I am an electrical engineer. I have some knowledge of physics, chemistry, and thermodynamic that applies to power plant operation but no intimate knowledge of Fukushima or any specific nuclear reactor, just general knowledge of how they work. With that out of the way...

            Fukushima is (or perhaps more accurately, was) like most every nuclear power plant operating

  • 1. build reactor 2. decommision reactor 3. profit
    • 1. build reactor 2. decommision reactor 3. profit

      One and two look good. But isn't it supposed to be:

      3. ???

      4. Profit.

      You can't go messing with the natural order of things.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'm given to understand that the plants are never cleaned up. They're left to contaminate everything forever for profits. So there can't be anyone employed to do this work.

  • by Medievalist (16032) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:11PM (#44760727)

    Nuclear plants have to be decommissioned? Just like the builders and designers said, and just like (supposedly) was budgeted for in advance? That's horrible!

    It's the damn Greens, I tell you. Dirty hippies making corporations keep their promises are ruining America!

    • by WarJolt (990309)

      Dirty hippies making corporations keep their promises are ruining America!

      The government licenses every nuclear power plant. If the power company doesn't have a decommissioning fund then blame the government for not effectively regulating them.

      • Re:How shocking! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @08:24PM (#44762135) Journal
        The companies who built the reactors payed into a government fund upfront, according to a WP link someone posted above there is currently $25 billion in the fund. I don't think $25 billion is going to clean up the mess but it's a start and also a strong sign that those companies were willing to put their money where their mouth was.

        The US had a very advantageous head start on the nuclear industry but lost it in the 70's/80's when a couple of European countries started doing it properly by establishing a regulatory "life cycle" for reactors, their foresight turned nuclear power into a clean and stable industry in their own nations. America's lack of foresight, enthusiasm for instant profit, and general disregard for the environment, turned a new industry into a massively expensive white elephant. I was a teenager in the 70's, IIRC even way back then plenty of people were warning the US that it would end like this.

        Same thing is happening now with America's attitude to AGW. As a species we are burning over 5 billion tons of coal a year, that's right 5 BILLION tons There still exists a huge opportunity to replace coal with a power source that doesn't fuck up the planet for everyone, from where I sit on the other side of the Pacific the US senate in particular seems determined to kill those opportunities and ensure that the "green energy" industry is stillborn.
        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Seriously? US coal burning scares you that much? Do you have a heart attack when you bother to look at the nasty ass cloud from CHINA that is hundreds of times worse or does that magically get ignored?

        • The companies who built the reactors payed into a government fund upfront, according to a WP link someone posted above there is currently $25 billion in the fund. I don't think $25 billion is going to clean up the mess but it's a start and also a strong sign that those companies were willing to put their money where their mouth was.

          Bush/Cheney gave the 18 companies who failed to pay a complete pass on prosecution. So I don't expect any more payments into the decommissioning fund.

  • by RandomUsername99 (574692) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:14PM (#44760759)

    “Hey Folks, we’re the Nuclear Trashmen, we’re here on tour from Brooklyn, promoting our album release. This is our thirteenth show, first with this lineup. This is a song called half life.”

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ah... Electrical power too cheap to meter, offices on the Moon, colonies on Mars... How's the dream working out for ya?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fnj (64210)

      Ah... Electrical power too cheap to meter, offices on the Moon, colonies on Mars... How's the dream working out for ya?

      Not too well, since it was abandoned due to dipshit obstructionists obsessed with pushing agendas like mathematically PERFECT safety EVERYWHERE at ANY expense, nothing but pretty flowers and butterflies anywhere near MY backyard, out of control religious environmentalism, demonizing the population at large as potential terrorists, and so on and so on, ad nauseum. Oh, and continuous warfare

  • Well, good! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Antipater (2053064) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @05:33PM (#44760927)

    One of the biggest problems with nuclear power, agreed on by proponents and critics alike, is that the currently-operating plants are older-generation designs, repaired and refurbished to run long past their expected lifetime.

    The natural gas boom is putting these older-gen reactors out of business. When the cost goes back up and nuclear becomes profitable again, we'll get the chance to actually implement the newer designs.

    • Re:Well, good! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by olau (314197) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @06:44PM (#44761499) Homepage

      The natural gas boom is putting these older-gen reactors out of business. When the cost goes back up and nuclear becomes profitable again, we'll get the chance to actually implement the newer designs.

      That's true, but it will probably only happen if the capital costs of new reactors falls - a lot. Meanwhile, various renewables are falling in price. And while those generally have high capital expenditures too, the marginal costs are usually really low. So it's going to be a tough market for new reactors.

    • So, there is no point in building a new reactor until the gas gets scarce and not much point in running the old reactors either. Sounds like Navy retirees can handle all the future regular work. So, going to school for nuclear power would be to study to be a nuclear sanitation engineer. How, exactly, do you get a lot of interest in designing better buggy whips in this situation? Bill Gates is enthusiastic, yes, but since when did Bill and "better" ever fit well together in a sentence?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So which bogeyman is it that is shutting these down? Radiation scare, capitalism and greed, 'green marketing', or Cold War fallout?

    Simple fact is, the US requires energy. A LOT OF ENERGY! And it can only come from a few sources at the moment. YES, there is a balance between build cost, operating cost, and possible harm to environment and people, but we should be looking at LONG TERM sustainable investments here. And we're not doing that! That requires a political and social will, that is presently absent in

    • So which bogeyman is it that is shutting these down? Radiation scare, capitalism and greed, 'green marketing', or Cold War fallout?

      Well for one it's become a 159,200 year commitment. No place to dispose of nuclear waste; the spent fuel has to be kept on location.

      A developing story for the Fukushima nuclear plants are the weakening supports for the storage basins which holds their spent fuel.

  • In this area they are known as radiation whores.

    To be "crapped up" is to have radiation of some sort on you (which you just wash off in a special area).
    I'm sure it came from having $hit on you and it stuck.

    Different areas, different terms.

    • by khallow (566160)

      In this area they are known as radiation whores.

      Now, that might even be true. But I do find it interesting that Google and Bing searches for "radiation whores" [google.com] has only your post above as the sole on topic link.

  • by anarkhos (209172) on Thursday September 05, 2013 @04:04AM (#44763821)

    Since nobody else seemed to ask

  • is that the transmission lines, cooling, etc. are taken out first. Instead, they would be better to focus ONLY on the reactor, while moving the 'spent fuel' aside. Then by leaving the rest in place, it can be used for natural gas boiler, energy storage, perhaps geo-thermal, or even better would be small nuclear reactors that are designed to burn up the waste. Basically, better to keep the site going and making money, then it is to shut it down and turn it into a pure cost center.

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