Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Mobile repositories

The Department of Energy (DOE) announced two weeks ago it's getting ready to ship out 2000 trucks of spent-fuel reprocessing waste from its West Valley, New York facility. The only problem is no-one will accept it.
The federal law defining nuclear waste says all of West Valley's wastes are high-level and must be buried in mountains, not just under 40 feet of dirt as happens at low-level disposal sites. West Valley says it has separated the most lethal substances from the waste and will send them to Yucca Mountain, but the law doesn't allow separations. Besides, according to whose standards were the wastes separated? West Valley's? And how do we know the materials in the drums being shipped out don't contain some of those lethal substances? The mere affixing of a label on the side of a drum doesn't mysteriously transform the contents. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 specifically states that all reprocessing waste must be buried in repositories. When faced with trusting West Valley or trusting the law, states are going to go with the law. The only way anybody's going to accept West Valley's waste is if Congress changes the law. I discussed this problem in my March 9 post, "Law-exempt DOE."
It's ironic that this problem surfaces at the same time Americans are calling for reprocessing as a way to reduce America's nuclear waste. In only six years of operation (1966-72), West Valley, the site of the nation's only commercial spent-fuel rod reprocessing facility, generated nearly a million gallons of uranium-tainted acids. Doesn't sound like a reduction to me!
Meanwhile, while West Valley's trucks are roaming about the country looking for a home, it might be wise for us to invest in Geiger counters so we can check for radioactivity from abandonned trailers on the sides of roads.

[Source: http://www.theithacajournal.com/news/stories/20050617/localnews/2163378.html]

Ron Bourgoin
June 28, 2005

Monday, June 20, 2005

'Safe' Scandanavian repositories

To get the American people to believe that burial of highly radioactive wastes in rock is a good idea, politicians every now and then will talk about the wonderful geologic repositories that are in operation in other parts of the world.
First of all, there are no rock repositories open anywhere.
Secondly, the first country to open a geologic repository more than likely will be Finland, due to open its granite site in 2020. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was supposed to be the world's first spent-fuel rod burial facility, but that is not on the horizon at this time.
I don't know why Scandanavians insist on building high-level nuclear waste sites on the sea, but Finland's is on the Gulf of Bothnia, in the town of Eurajoki, on the country's west coast. The nearest large city is Rauma.
The Finnish parliament voted in 2001 to develop the granite site, awarding the contract to the Posiva Company. Work is in progress now to study how well the rock can contain the wastes. If all looks good to parliament in 2010, thumbs-up will be given to proceed to dynamite and drill tunnels, which, of course, will change the ability of the site to safely store wastes.
As I reported not long ago, the Swedes are building their repository near the Baltic Sea, in the town of Oskarsham, on Sweden's southeast coast. That site is being dynamited and drilled also, creating what could be a nasty situation. The waste from Sweden could leak and migrate south to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, and Germany, whereas Finland's could make its way to Sweden. Not good!

Ron Bourgoin
June 20, 2005

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Eternity metal

Thanksgiving would be an appropriate time to open a repository: while Americans are stuffing turkeys, the DOE can be stuffing a mountain.
The DOE says the cans it'll stuff in mountains will hold waste for at least 10,000 years. The newest forever metal from which cans will be made was developed at Lehigh University. [http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-04/lu-nav040405.php]
I don't have a problem with claims made about the lifetime of can metal. What I have a problem with is man working inside the mountain repository. Cans will be smashed into cans, and cans will be smashed against mountain walls. Cans will be put on top of cans, and the ones on the bottom will spill their contents. Before the final sealant's applied to close the mountain off for eternity, lethal uranium and plutonium will already be migrating outward to soil and ground water. Politicians can talk all they want to about how cans will simply be retrieved in case high levels of radiation are measured coming from the mountain, but the fact is no-one's going to do that. If it takes 30 years to fill a mountain, it'll certainly take no less to empty it, and by that time it'll be too late to save the area.
We have to remember that Yucca Mountain, for instance, is slated to be stuffed with 20,000 cans. That job's got to get very boring after a while, which is when problems will begin. We can all expect the first 100 cans will be entered in the mountain according to specs, especially with the public and smiling DOE, NRC, and EPA officials watching. But what worries me is what bored mountain stuffers will do with can numbers 101 to 20,000.
Whether Yucca opens or not doesn't erase the fact that this will happen in any repository.

Ron Bourgoin
June 14, 2005

Monday, June 06, 2005

Second to none

Congressman David Hobson (R-Ohio) has begun referring to the second-named national geologic repository as "Yucca Mountain Two." [see http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/text/2005/may/13/518752628.html ]
Because Yucca Mountain One is down on the canvas nearing the end of the ten count, it could very well be that the second-named nuclear repository will be the first to open.
By law, the second geologic burial facility can be named by Congress the year after next. In view of the fact that nearly 25 years are required from naming to opening, it'll be 2030 before a repository opens.
When it was decided to develop only Yucca Mountain in 1987, several people felt that one of the other two sites on the list of first repositories (Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State, and a site in Deaf Smith County, Texas) should be developed as a backup in case Yucca Mountain didn't meet muster. Had an alternate site been built, we'd be opening a repository in 2010. It's doubtful Congress will make that mistake again.
In 2007, look for Congress to name not only a second site but also a backup site. On the list for the second repository and alternate site are the states of Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Ron Bourgoin
June 6, 2005

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Who ordered all this?"

When Vice President Dick Cheney was shown America's nuclear capability, he said "Who ordered all this?" ["Dropping the Bomb," Newsweek, June 25, 2001]
That's a good question.
According to physics doctoral student Bob Johnston at the University of Texas at Dallas, the U.S. has made between 66,000 and 70,000 nuclear warheads. [http://pages.prodigy.net/wrjohnston/nuclear/wrjp205.html]
Sitting in 228 behemoth tanks at two defense facilities are 87 million gallons of plutonium-laced chemical wastes from the production of all those nuclear weapons. If we were to load the waste on tractor-trailer trucks, the trucks would form a line 50 miles long. The next time you drive that distance, imagine a stagnant line of trucks all along that length waiting to be unloaded.
The anonymous purchasing agents who ordered the bombs also ordered the chemicals that we now have to bury in mountains. Two mountains are needed for these wastes alone, and another mountain is needed for spent-fuel rods.
The amount of fuel we'll deplete to transport all these nuclear wastes has to be considered these days. Transportation to just one facility will require depletion of at least one million gallons of petroleum-derived fuel, so we're looking at a minimum of 3 million gallons to carry the wastes to the three sites.
Can we afford to do that?

Ron Bourgoin
May 31, 2005

Monday, May 23, 2005

Hanford hands holler Help!

And their cry for help has been heard.
The workers are complaining of shortness of breath, dizziness, and nosebleeds, even though they are wearing proper protective equipment when working near Hanford's 177 liquid nuclear-waste tanks.
A recent study revealed over 1400 different chemicals in the vapors from the tanks. Because many of the chemicals have been sitting in those tanks for over 50 years, completely new, exotic chemical compounds have formed, the occupational hazards of which have yet to be determined.
Beginning Thursday, May 26, a program begun by Dr. Tim Takaro will offer Hanford's tank-farm workers free physical exams, chest x-rays, respiratory analysis, and blood tests. He has spent the past few months setting up screening clinics in proximity of the Richland, Washington site.
Dr. Takaro is with the University of Washington's program in Occupational and Environmental Medicine in Seattle. Hanford worker screenings will be paid through November by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), although he's confident the funding will continue beyond that. We hope so, considering 1370 people work right at the tanks (Onsite-1) and another 3900 work in the vicinity (Onsite-2).
It behooves tank-farm employees at the Energy Department's Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina to press for the same screenings since they are exposed to the same sort of vapors.
[Reference: "DOE offers tank farm workers options," Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald, Mar. 4, 2005]

Ron Bourgoin
May 23, 2005

Monday, May 16, 2005

Mountain subs

The Department of Energy (DOE) on May 11 announced it wants to bury hull sections of nuclear submarines inside mountains. These hull sections contain submarines' spent nuclear reactors.
Refueling a nuclear submarine is quite a bit different than refueling a commercial reactor. In a commercial reactor, spent-fuel rods are removed and replaced by fresh uranium fuel. In a sub, the entire hull section containing the nuclear reactor is cut out and a new reactor section is welded back in.
The U.S. has 92 of these hull sections awaiting deep burial. There will be at least that many again as most subs are approaching decommissioning.
These cut-out hull sections are quite impressive: they are four to five times taller and wider than the heavyhaul trucks that transport them.
The DOE says it's considering other disposal options, such as shallow burial at federal or private facilities, but that's exactly how the sections are buried now. The hull sections are sitting under 40 feet of dirt at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Richland, Washington, but expect these to move to geologic repositories as soon as possible.
(I've always wondered why the size of the entrance tunnel in repositories is so large, and now I know.)
I suppose the DOE was emptying its Bad News file because it announced at the same time that portions of commercial-reactor cores are going to mountains too. That answers the question of where Three Mile Island's molten reactor core's going.
[Source: Federal Register, May 11, 2005, Volume 70, Number 90, Page 24775-24778]

Ron Bourgoin
May 16, 2005