Iowa Oil Train Spill Poses a Question

June 23, 2018

Silent drone footage from the Lyons County Sheriff Department:

On June 22, 2018 there was a 31-car derailment of an oil train in a flooded region of Iowa, leaking crude oil into the Rock River. The Lyon County sheriff admitted, “We don’t know how much is leaking or how bad it is.”

See also:

Two trains derail in SE New Mexico over the weekend

 ‘Chernobyl in a Can’
The previous month, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held a series of public meetings in New Mexico on a proposal moving through Congress – HR 3053 – that could result in thousands of metric tons of radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear reactors being shipped across country to that state for ‘temporary’ storage. (see previous post)

Public opinion ran consistently 5-1 in opposition.  Many speakers cited the serious transportation risks involved. Continue reading

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The California – New Mexico Nuclear Connection

Citizen Solidarity at Both Ends of a Proposed U.S. “Fukushima Freeway”

Californians learn that the two industries which most threaten human survival are facing off in New Mexico’s ‘Nuclear Alley.’

By James Heddle – EON  – June 7, 2018

[ Also posted on Counterpunch.  An earlier version of this article is posted on Reader Supported News in three parts:  here here   and  here. ]

Interstate solidarity against consolidated interim storage (CIS) – activists from New Mexico, Texas and California. (from left) Ace Hoffman(CA), Sharon Hoffman(CA), Rosemary Blanchard, Leona Morgan, Nick Maxwell, Noel Marquez, Hanh Nguyen, Sue Schuurman ( behind Hanh next to Torgen) Torgen Johnson(CA), Robin Seydel, Cal McManus, Cody Slama. Photo: Anon.

Target: ‘Nuclear Alley,’ New Mexico

Recently – un-reported in the scandal/crisis-pre-occupied American main stream media – New Mexico has become the epicenter of an on-going national controversy: how to responsibly manage the tons of radioactive waste accumulated at all the nuclear energy reactors around the country so far in the Nuclear Age.

Why, New Mexicans and others around the country are asking, has this region suddenly become the potential target destination for all of America’s radioactive waste? Continue reading

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New Mexico’s ‘Nuclear Alley’ just says “No!” to More Radioactive Waste – EON Reports

 

Nuclear Alley U.S.A.

June 4, 2018

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 2018, HR 3053, known as the Shimkus Bill, passed the House last month on its way to the Senate.

It calls for restarting the failed Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada, and establishing a system of Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) sites for radioactive waste around the country until Yucca is operational.

First on the list of possible ‘temporary’ CIS dumps is a site proposed by Holtec International and the local Eddy-Lea Alliance just outside Hobbs, New Mexico.

Its just over the border from Andrews, Co., Texas – where another high level nuke waste dump is also proposed.

Continue reading

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RADIOACTIVE WASTE-GATE – Confronting the Nuclear Constipation Conundrum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Heddle – EON – May 24, 2018

[ Also posted on Reader Supported News ]

"The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history.”  Forbes Magazine, February 11, 1985

“The Age of Nuclear Power is winding down, but the Age of Nuclear Waste is just beginning.” – Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

A Planet is a Terrible Thing to (Radioactively) Waste 

Lost in the fog of roadside distractions that assault us daily – White House chaos, a pornographic POTUS, Russia-gate, Kushner-gate, Saudi-gate, Torture-gate, Mueller-gate, School Shooting-gate(s), Tariff-gate, Stormy-gate, Facebook-gate, Cambridge Analytica-gate, Bolton-gate, Comey-gate, Syria-gate, Cohen-gate, etc. – its no surprise that the most existentially lethal, long-lived scandal to ever confront humanity is nowhere in the public consciousness.

Call it Radioactive Waste-gate.

High-Level radioactive waste (HLRW) from nuclear energy and weapons production contains uranium and plutonium and other toxic isotopes, which are well known to cause genetic damage, impaired immune systems, cancers and often, agonizing death in all living things – including humans.

Deadly Bundles

An assembly of spent nuclear fuel, (SNF) can contain 10 to over 200 fuel rods – stacks of uranium pellets about the thickness of a finger, held together by zirconium cladding, a thin metal wrapping the thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil. 

Benign sounding ’spent nuclear fuel’ (SNF) from nuclear reactors is incredibly radioactively and thermally hot.  It has to be removed because after fissioning for months in the reactor to produce heat for electricity generation, it becomes too radioactive to efficiently cause chain reactions.  So therefore, when it becomes “spent” and considered “waste” after being used, it is thousands of times more radioactive and more thermally hot than when it goes into the reactor.  

High burnup fuel (HBF) is fuel that has burned about twice as long in a nuclear reactor as lower burnup fuel.

The longer the fuel bundles have been ‘burned’ to produce electricity in the reactor, the ‘hotter’ the rods become both in temperature and in radioactivity.

This increased burnup, although profitable to the nuclear industry, causes fuel cladding to become so brittle it can shatter like glass.  It can also increase gas buildup, increasing potential for explosions at lower temperatures.  Yet the NRC doesn’t think extra precaution with this fuel is necessary to handle, transport or store it.

Many of the human-made poisons in these fuel rods remain deadly for longer than humans have yet existed.

Once exposed to radioactive contamination substances like wood, metal, soil and water can never really be completely ‘cleaned up.’

'Unavoidable Uncertainty'

Nobody really knows for sure the total amount of nuclear waste accumulated worldwide since the birth of the Atomic Age in the 1940s.  The agency most likely to know, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) admits its estimates “are characterized by unavoidable uncertainty.” 

After decades of producing the stuff, we still can’t accurately know how much we’ve got.  That speaks volumes about the character of the international technocratic nuclear establishment.

A sampling of just 10 nuclear energy countries in 2007 estimated over 173,100 metric tons. A metric ton is about 2,200 pounds, so, in English, that translates to thirty-eight million, eight hundred and twenty thousand pounds of radioactive materials in just those nations.

By conservative estimate, millions of metric tons of high-level radioactive waste from seventy-plus years of nuclear weapons and energy production have now accumulated around the world. 

According to World Mapper, around 8910 tonnes of heavy metal nuclear waste are generated each year. This waste mainly comes from nuclear power stations. Three territories produce over 1000 tonnes a year: the United States, Canada and France. Canada also produces the most waste per person living there, although Sweden is not far behind. 

In the U.S. alone, the Department of Energy (DOE) currently ‘manages’ more than 250 types of highly radioactive so-called ‘spent nuclear fuel (SNF)’ totaling about 2,500 metric tons, most of which is stored at four locations: the Hanford Site in Washington State, the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Fort St. Vrain Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation in Colorado.

But even the way radioactive waste is measured – ‘Metric Tons Heavy Metal’ or MTHM – is deceptive, intentionally or not.  A DOE footnote reveals that not all radioactive elements are included in the total count:

Metric ton of heavy metal [MTHM] is a commonly used measure of the mass of nuclear fuel. Heavy metal refers to elements with an atomic number greater than 89 (e.g., thorium, uranium, and plutonium) in the fuel. The masses of other constituents of the fuel, such as cladding, alloy materials, and structural materials (and fission products in spent nuclear fuel), are not included in this measure…. 

How well these materials are ‘managed’ is indicated by the fact that 3 of the locations listed above are included among the 1322 Superfund sites on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities List in the United States that are yet to be ‘cleaned up.’

Remembering that (even without the ‘other constituents’) a metric ton is about 2,200 pounds, that really means much more than a mind-numbing five million, five hundred thousand pounds of radwaste – that will remain lethal to all living things for longer that human civilization has yet existed – are scattered around the country with no known way of (maybe) isolating them from the environment for more than a few decades…at most.

And then, according to the EPA, there is also “more than a hundred million gallons of hazardous liquid waste’ from nuclear weapons production, and counting.

Tip of the Nuclear Waste ‘Iceberg’

But that’s not all. Thousands of additional metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel are currently in ‘temporary storage’ at nuclear energy reactor sites around the country in 35 states. According to the U.S. Energy Administration (EIA), “241,468 fuel assemblies, with an initial loading weight of about 70,000 metric tons of uranium (MTU), were discharged from and stored at 118 commercial nuclear reactors operating in the United States from 1968 through June 2013.”

The EIA reports, “There are 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 U.S. states…. Of these nuclear plants, 36 have two or more reactors. 

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), “A typical nuclear power plant in a year generates 20 metric tons [ or forty-four thousands pounds, minus ‘other constituents’ ] of used nuclear fuel. The nuclear industry generates a total of about 2,300 metric tons [ or four million, two hundred and ninety pounds – minus ‘other constituents’ ] of used fuel per year.”

The NEI estimates that if all U.S. used fuel assemblies were stacked end-to-end and side-by-side, they would cover a football field twenty-one feet deep.  This seems like a very ‘conservative’ assessment.  

In just the last five years, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), eighteen aging, embrittled reactors at fourteen nuclear power plants have either been shut down or scheduled for shuttering this decade.  That means that even more radioactive fuel assemblies will eventually have to be stored at each existing reactor site for an indefinite period.

That's because, in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government agreed to take possession and responsibility for all nuclear energy reactor waste by the mid-1990s.  That hasn’t happened, because no ‘permanent deep geological repository’ has been established.  So the accumulating radwaste is what the industry calls ‘stranded’ at the nation’s reactor sites, and the boiling mad electric utilities are successfully suing the federal government – i.e. us taxpayers – for failing to comply with its promises.  

That, in a nutshell, is the ‘nuclear constipation conundrum.’  Is there a radiological proctologist in the house?

Joined at the Hip From Birth – The Nuclear Weapons-Energy-Waste Nexus

“Perhaps today was the most exciting and thrilling day I have experienced. Our microchemists isolated pure element 94 (plutonium) for the first time…It is the first time that element 94 has been beheld by the eye of man.” – Glenn Seaborg

In 1939, alarmed that Hitler’s scientists were nearing success in developing an atomic bomb, a group of scientists including Albert Einstein (who, like others, later regretted it) and Edward Teller signed on to a letter to President Roosevelt advocating that the U.S. start its own nuclear bomb program.

On December 14, 1940, Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg and three colleagues created plutonium for the first time by means of deuteron bombardment of uranium in a 60-inch cyclotron at the University of California in Berkeley.  Soon after, it was discovered that an isotope of the new element, plutonium-239, could undergo fission and be used as fuel for an atomic bomb.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Plutonium Project was started at the University of Chicago.  Its goal was to learn how to create a chain reaction using plutonium-239 and make a bomb.  Taken over by the Army the next year, it became the Manhattan Project and the rest is history.

It took just six kilograms of fissionable plutonium to fuel the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki less than five years later.

Nobel Laureate physicist Niels Bohr was asked if sufficient uranium-235 and -238 could be separated to produce nuclear bombs. “It can never be done,” he replied, “unless you turn the United States into one huge factory.”  Years later he would say to Edward Teller, “You have done just that.”

In his article, “The Plutonium Problem” in Helen Caldicott’s recent anthology Sleepwalking to Armageddon, Bob Alverez points out that,

Nuclear power involves dual-use technologies that can be used to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, the first major U.S. generator of nuclear-power electricity in the 1960s was a dual-purpose reactor operating at the Hanford site producing plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

One out of five power reactors in operation throughout the world currently is based on original designs to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. In  2015 the International Atomic Energy Agency estimated that nuclear power plants generated 380,500 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, which contain roughly 3,800 tons of plutonium.  (pp 42-43)

The “Atoms for Peace” Propaganda Ploy

As Arjun Makhijani and Scott Saleska show in their 1999 book, Nuclear Power Deception, “Cold War propaganda rather than economic reasoning was a driving force behind the rush to build a commercial nuclear power plant in the United States.”

Having come out of World War II as global Top Dog, U.S. military planners wanted to keep it that way. They saw nuclear weapons superiority as their path to what they have now come to call global ‘full spectrum dominance’ of land, sea, air and space.   But, what if the Soviets got their first?  Not wanting to be seen as the nukemongers they were, they came up with a cover story: ‘Atoms for Peace.’

The ‘Nuclear Power Deception‘ authors note that Atomic Energy Commissioner Thomas Murray stated in 1953 that peaceful applications of the power to the atom ‘increases the propaganda capital of the U.S. relative to the Soviet Union. [NPD p3 ]

But, corporations and utilities were at first reluctant to undertake the technical and financial risks of building a privately owned nuclear power industry.  Their reticence was overcome by huge government (i.e. tax payer) subsidies and indemnification.  It came in the form of tax-breaks and the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, which limited the industry’s financial liability. Any overages were to be covered by the public purse. But even that was limited to far below what is now known to be the likely financial cost of a major disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima.

Parenthetically, it is telling that, even today, more than half a century later, the nuclear power industry is still dependent on government subsidies for its continued existence.  Utilities like those in New York and Illinois are currently seeking – and receiving – ‘bailouts’ from state governments and ratepayers to keep their ageing, embrittled, dangerous, obsolete, uneconomical power reactors running.  This, in a capitalist, so-called ‘free market economy’ supposedly based on survival-of-the-fittest ‘competition.’ 

One of the conclusions of the Makhijani and Saleska study is that

Nuclear power became established in the market place at a low price in the 1960s as a result of government subsidies, lack of adequate attention to safety systems, and an early decision by manufacturers to take heavy losses on initial orders. Costs increased when these advantages were reduced. 

Even then, the leading competitors G.E. and Westinghouse decided to enter the market at a loss, fearing other developing generation approaches – including solar – would make nuclear power obsolete.  A General Electric vice-president of the time explained,

If we couldn’t get orders out of the utility industry, with every tick of the clock it became progressively more likely that some competing technology would be developed that would supersede the economic viability of our own. Our people understood this was a game of massive stakes and that if we didn’t force the utility industry to put those stations on line, we’d end up with nothing.

So, from the very beginning – even for many insiders in what was to become known as ‘the Nuclear Priesthood’ and ‘the Cult of the Atom’ – the push to deploy a national fleet of large energy reactors seemed like a cockamamie idea.

Makhijani and Saleska cite a 1948 Atomic Energy Commission Report authored by leading nuclear scientists of the time, including Enrico Fermi, Glenn Seaborg, and J.R. Oppenheimer that warned against ‘unwarranted optimism,’ pointing out the ‘many technical difficulties’ that would have to be overcome.  

Chief among those, they knew, was the unsolved and perhaps insolvable problem of what to do with the radioactive waste.

Early ‘Loud Guffaws’ and Skepticism Were Ignored, but Warranted

“It is safe to say,” then GE Vice President, C.G. Suits opined in 1950, “…that atomic power is not the means by which man will for the first time emancipate himself economically.  Loud guffaws could be heard from some of the laboratories working on this problem if anyone should, in an unfortunate moment, refer to the atom as the means for throwing off man’s mantle of toil.  It is certainly not that! …This is expensive power, not cheap power as the public has been led to believe.” [NPD p3]

By 1985, Suits prediction had proven correct.  Forbes Magazine (no radical rag) would conclude on the basis of copious evidence, "The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history.”  Forbes Magazine, February 11, 1985.  That observation is born out in spades today by subsequent developments.

The count varies depending on the criteria used, but, combining ‘broken arrow’ weapons accidents and nuclear reactor accidents there have for sure been over 100 serious nuclear accidents since the 1950’s.

The Guardian, working from various sources, has identified 33 serious events at power reactors around the world since 1952.

Nuclear 'events' worldwide.

According to the 2013 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, the 2011 triple-meltdown at Fukushima takes the cake for the worst nuclear power disaster in history.  Its total atmospheric releases so far are estimated to be between 5.6 and 8.1 times that of Chernobyl, which formerly held the record.  And it continues to pour nuclear pollution into the Pacific Ocean with no end in sight.  Despite government and industry assurances, the Fukushima disaster is still out of control, eight years on and counting.

The cumulative effect of all these radioactive releases over the last eight decades is that the biosphere and the gene pool will never be the same.

Fukushima Fallout Continues

By official tally, the US carried out 1054 nuclear tests, and two nuclear attacks between 16 July 1945 and 23 September 1992.  There were probably more.  According to the Arms Control Association

Since the first nuclear test explosion on July 16, 1945, at least eight nations have detonated 2,056 nuclear test explosions at dozens of test sites from Lop Nor in China, to the atolls of the Pacific, to Nevada, to Algeria where France conducted its first nuclear device, to western Australia where the U.K. exploded nuclear weapons, the South Atlantic, to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, across Russia, and elsewhere.

Most of the test sites are in the lands of indigenous peoples and far from the capitals of the testing governments. A large number of the early tests—528—were detonated in the atmosphere, which spread radioactive materials through the atmosphere. Many underground nuclear blasts have also vented radioactive material into the atmosphere and left radioactive contamination in the soil.

The Pacific was the epicenter of many of the atmospheric bomb tests by France and the US.  Between 1946 and 1958, the US tested 67 nuclear weapons on the Marshall Islands.  The Marshallese are still suffering devastating health and genetic consequences for which Washington could never adequately compensate them, even if it wanted to.  Which it doesn’t.

The traces of those tests still remain in the form of Cesium-137 as well as other heavy fission products. A half-life of 30 years means that C-137 remains dangerous to all living things and to humans for a generation or more.  Because it is chemically reactive and highly soluble, it can contaminate large volumes of water, like, say, the Pacific Ocean.

Since Fukushima in 2011, the Pacific has once again become the epicenter of radioactive pollution, with gallons of radioactive water now seeping daily into the ocean eight years after the still-on-going disaster began, and with thousands of tons of tritium-contaminated water accumulating in tanks on-site.

Since the level of C-137 from the atmospheric testing era is known, any rise detected by current measurements is certain to be coming from Fukushima, and measurements are going up.

For several year now, citizens’ groups like Fukushima Response and Mothers for Peace up and down the west coast have been working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to measure C-137 contamination levels in seawater samples.  In a crowd-funded project founded by Woods Hole scientist Dr. Ken Busseler, citizen scientists periodically gather 5-gallon samples and ship them to him for analysis. The results are posted on the project’s website, OurRadioactiveOcean.org.

According to the Project’s March report, “It is important to note that, prior to these events in 2011, there was already measurable amounts of radioactive fallout in the ocean left over from the testing of nuclear weapons that peaked in the 1960’s. For cesium-137, levels in Pacific Ocean surface waters were generally below 2.0 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3). We now see cesium-137 levels above this level at locations along coastlines in California, Oregon, Washington, British Colombia ,and Hawaii, as well as higher levels offshore…. This increase, as well as our finding of cesium-134 in these elevated samples, provides clear evidence that Fukushima contamination has reached our shores.”

Confronting the Nuclear Constipation Conundrum – The Planetarian Perspective

Its a global societal problem, and the definition of insanity is to keep doing what doesn’t work.  So, for starters, let’s just stop making more.

As we have seen, the international nuclear establishment has a very big constipation problem, as the current phrase has it, ‘going forward.’  But it has already left a huge collective deposit of radwaste in the planetary biosphere. 

Nuclear weapons testing, uranium mine tailings, ‘routine’ reactor emissions and leaking, irremediably polluting radioactive waste sites have already permanently contaminated the planet with plutonium – a literally ‘manmade’ toxin – not to mention all its many naturally-occurring isotopic relations.

There is no known way to reverse or remediate this.  But there are known ways of not making it worse.

Hardened On-Site Storage – A Least-Worse Choice for the Time Being

Back in 2002, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), coined the phrase "Hardened On-Site Storage, or HOSS.” the basic concept of which he unveiled at an east coast conference on radioactive waste convened by the prominent advocacy group Citizens Awareness Network (CAN). 

CAN commissioned Dr. Gorden Thompson to develop the concept and in 2003, his Institute for Resource and Security Studies published a report entitled “Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Neglected Issue of Homeland Security.”

Thompson’s report noted that, unlike a SNF storage pool which require constant cooling water, electrical power and operator attention, a dry cask ISFSI is passively safer because the modules are convection cooled by air circulation.

“Nevertheless,” the Report continued, “these modules are not designed to resist a determined attack.  Moreover, ISFSI modules are comparatively easy to attack, because they are stored in the open air in a closely-spaced array. Thus, nuclear power plants and their spent fuel can be regarded as pre-deployed radiological weapons that await activation by an enemy. The US government acts as if it were unaware of this threat.”

Possible modes of attack listed by the 2003 Report included: commando-style raids; land-vehicle bombs; anti-tank missiles; commercial aircraft; explosive-laden smaller aircraft; and a low-kilotonne nuclear weapon.  Since the Report’s publication additional possible modes have emerged including cyber attack, directed energy weapons, and remote-controlled drones, but appropriate security measures at reactor sites still remain woefully inadequate to defend against them.

Basic Hardended On-Site Storage (HOSS) design.

HOSS Concept Refined

BeyondNuclear.org’s Kevin Kamps reports that, in the years since Makhijani’s and Thompson’s early work, the HOSS concept has been collaboratively developed by over 300 nuclear safety advocacy groups from all 50 states into a unanimously approved statement of guiding principals.

Pool Design – Require a low-density, open-frame layout for fuel pools, to provide air-current cooling. 

Protect the pools – The pools must be protected to withstand an attack by air, land, or water from a force at least equal in size and coordination to the 9/11 attacks.  The security improvements must be approved by a panel of experts independent of the nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  [ Because they depend on outside power for their operation, and so are vulnerable to grid blackouts, as Fukushima showed, pools must have reliable back-up power sources on-site. ]

 Harden the ISFSI – Waste moved from fuel pools must be safeguarded in hardened, on-site storage (HOSS) facilities as close as safely as possible to the point of generation.

Above Ground and Bermed, Not Buried – HOSS facilities must not be regarded as a permanent waste solution, and thus should not be constructed underground

Minimize Transport – Moving waste to interim, away-from-reactor storage should not be done unless the reactor site is unsuitable for a HOSS facility and the move increases the safety and security of the waste.

Monitored & Retrievable – Fuel must be able to be retrieved, as well as constantly monitored in real-time for radiation, temperature and pressure, with records easily accessible by the public.

Design criteria: (1) Resistance to severe attacks, such as a direct hit by high-explosive or deeply penetrating weapons and munitions or a direct hit by a large aircraft loaded with fuel or a small aircraft loaded with fuel and/or explosives, without major releases. (2) Placement of individual canisters that will make detection difficult from outside the site boundary.

Require periodic review of HOSS facilities and fuel pools – An annual report consisting of the review of each HOSS facility and fuel pool should be prepared with meaningful participation from public stakeholders, regulators, and utility managers at each site.

Dedicate Funding to local and state governments to independently monitor the sites: Funding for monitoring the HOSS facilities at each site must be provided to affected local and state governments. The affected public must have the right to fully participate.

Prohibit Reprocessing – The reprocessing of irradiated fuel has not solved the nuclear waste problem in any country, and actually exacerbates it by creating numerous additional waste streams that must be managed. In addition to being expensive and polluting, reprocessing also increases nuclear weapons proliferation threats.

The U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board 

In 1987, the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board was established to ”…evaluate the technical and scientific validity of activities [related to managing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste] undertaken by the Secretary [of Energy], including

  1. site characterization activities; and
  2. activities relating to the packaging or transportation of high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel."

Made up of 11 Presidential appointees with distinguished records in their fields and no employment ties to the DOE, the Board has robust investigatory powers, and, while it has no decision-making authority, is able to comment on DOE proposed decisions before, not after, they are made.

These are brilliant, presumably well-intentioned people, at the top of their professional games, with a clear mandate to address in a clear-minded, objective, science-based fashion the radwaste challenges that will be facing humankind into the deep future.

In a December, 2017 report, the Board made a series of recommendations based on its recent investigations.  Among them was that all storage containers should be moniterable for hydrogen gas pressure build-up, and be able to have such pressure released if found.  None of the thousands of existing canisters currently stored at US reactor sites have that capacity. 

At a recent day-long meeting, the Board heard power point presentations from an international panel of experts on the problems involved in long-term storage.  It was not a pretty picture.  In the subsequent Q&A period Board Member Dr. Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, a Hydrology and Earth Surface Processes specialist and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, posed a pivotal question to the assembled panel. Pointing out that the many remaining technical uncertainties about geological sequestering of radwaste are creating political and institutional delays in moving forward, she asked, “Are the ecological challenges smaller, equal to or bigger than the institutional, social challenges?”

The experts on the panel essentially responded, “‘Hey, you know, the technology is evolving. We can’t stop doing what we’re doing, just because, after more than seventy years, we still don’t really know what we’re doing.  We’re all very smart people.  If something goes wrong, we’ll study it and come up with something….’  One might say, that’s the story of the Atomic Age.

Ironically, by law the Board will cease to exist the same year the DOE begins loading HLW or SNF into a central repository – just when you’d think their continued oversight would be most needed!

Into the Deep Future – Abandonment vs. Rolling Stewardship

Fortunately, the officially approved ‘experts’ are not the only ones working on these challenges.  As they have throughout the Atomic Age, grassroots citizen organizations and their independent scientific advisors are thinking hard about them, too.

At a recent national Radioactive Waste Strategic Planning Conference hosted in Chicago by Illinois-based power industry watchdog group the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS.org), and attended by activists from around North America,  Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility ( http://ccnr.org/ ) argued passionately that the radioactive waste conundrum is a trans-generational challenge to the entire global society, which can only be met by clearly established international norms.

Consistent with the HOSS principles, Dr. Edwards has developed the concept of ‘Rolling Stewardship.’ He contrasts it with current approaches, which he characterizes as mere ‘abandonment.’ 

He lays out his argument like this:

  • ·      Abandonment is based on the concept of amnesia: let’ s forget it!
  • ·      Rolling Stewardship is based on the persistence of memory: look after it!
  • ·      Rolling Stewardship allows timely corrective action to be taken when needed.
  • ·      Rolling Stewardship imparts all relevant information to the next generation.
  • ·      A 20-year “changing of the guard” transfers responsibility and resources.
  • ·      Rolling Stewardship ensures monitoring, robust packaging, and retrievability.
  • ·      It implies re-characterization of the wastes and repackaging when necessary
  • ·      This is not a solution – it is a responsible waste management scheme.
  • ·      Rolling Stewardship is required until a genuine solution can be found.
  • ·      A permanent solution might involve destruction or neutralization of the wastes.
  • ·      We know how to look after this waste and we must be prepared to do it.

 Dr. Edwards explains how to tell them apart:

The Concept of Abandonment

1.     Humans have never permanently disposed of anything.

2.     Assumes a permanent solution to waste problem exists.

3.     Monitoring the waste ceases after abandonment.

4.     Retrieval is difficult or impossible.

5.     Containers will inevitably disintegrate.

6.     If leakage occurs timely corrective action is not likely.

7.     Abondonment will eventually result in amnesia.

8.     Difficulty in communicating to unknown future societies.

9.     No intention to truly solve the problem of nuclear waste.

The Concept of Rolling Stewardship

1.     Human can contain waste securely for decades at a time.

2.     Recognizes a solution to the problem does not yet exist.

3.     Continual monitoring of waste is essential.

4.     Retrieval is anticipated and actively planned for.

5.     Periodic repackaging is an integral part of the process.

6.     If leakage occurs timely corrective action will be taken.

7.     Rolling Stewardship is based on persistence of memory.

8.     Information is readily transmitted to the next generation.

9.     Ongoing reminder that the problem remains to be solved

Quoth the Radioactive Raven, ‘Forevermore.’

One can always hope, of course, stocasticity happens.  It’s conceivable that some future transmutational technology will emerge to morph plutonium and all its deadly relatives into gold, or an elixir of immortality. (The quest for this elixir well be the topic of another article.) But, from what we’ve just reviewed – except in the minds of perpetual nuclear True Believers – there seems little basis for optimism. 

What does seem clear, though, is that there will never be a truly ‘post-nuclear future’ or a really ‘nuclear free world.’ 

Maybe we can get to a nuclear energy and weapons free world, – and we must work for that no matter what the odds – but at this point it looks like there will never again be a radioactive waste free planet.  This is heavy karma.  No other civilization has both disrupted the global climate and poisoned the planetary gene pool.   

The great American philosopher W.C. Fields advised, “There comes a time in human affairs when we must seize the bull by the tail and stare the situation squarely in the face.”

After over seven decades of nuclear denialism, denial is no longer an option.

Its time we took Fields’ advice and seize the radwaste bull by the tail.

It’s our legacy to all future generations and it’s our responsibility to agree on the least-worse, least environmentally and racially un-just way of managing radwaste…forevermore.

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James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan.  Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection is now in post-production.  He can be reached at jamesmheddle@gmail.com

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Yucca Redux and the Nuclear Shell Game

 

If passed by the Senate, the 'Shimkus Bill' would repoot Yucca Mt. and launch a "Fukushima Freeway' on rickety roads and rails across the country. Source: The Waste Control Specialists

 

A New ‘Screw Nevada’ Bill Passes the House

James Heddle – EON

On Thursday, May 10, the  U.S. House of Representatives approved the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 2018 – HR 3053 – by a vote of 206 to 179, with 94 Democrats and 85 Republicans voting ‘Nay.’

Now, what some Nevadans have dubbed, ‘The Screw Nevada Bill 2.0,’ will go to the Senate, perhaps in this Session.

According to the Las Vegas Sun, just as with the first attempt to push it as the national high-level radioactive waste repository, opposition in Nevada continues to be strong.  

In a letter to House leaders, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce made the quite logical point that,

Nevada is ranked by the U.S. Geological Survey as the fourth most active seismic area in the United States. The potential for seismic activity in the region raises serious questions about the logic and prudence of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Seismic activity in the region is another reason why Yucca Mountain is not a feasible or practical site for the storage of nuclear waste.

And in their own letter to the House, Las Vegas business owners made it clear that,

We stand with the many concerned citizens, small-business operators and bipartisan members of the Nevada delegation in staunch opposition to any attempt to restart the repository licensing process and will work tirelessly to ensure that radioactive waste is never stored anywhere near the world’s entertainment capital in Las Vegas.

The Shimkus Bill

Named for its author, Illinois Rep. Congressman John Shimkus, the legislation seeks to renew the licensing and funding process to re-open Yucca Mt., and authorize a so-called Centralized Interim Storage (CIS) program that would trigger massive, on-going shipments of high-level radioactive wastes on the country’s poorly-maintained network of highways, bridges and rail lines, through major population centers, for many years to come.

Grassroots nuclear safety advocacy groups have variously dubbed the plan ‘Mobil Chernobyl’ and ‘the Fukushima Freeway.’  Each of the 10,000 plus shipments would contain roughly the same amount of radioactive Cesium as was released by Chernobyl, and as much plutonium as was in the Hiroshima bomb.

To some, it may seem ironic that, as China moves ahead on its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, known as the ‘New Silk Road’ – a trade and transport network across Eurasia, Africa and beyond – forces in the U.S. are hard at work to establish a network of ’new nuke roads’ all across America.

Revisiting the Sad, Silly Saga of Yucca Mountain 

In Nevada, just across the California border, sits a volcanic formation called Yucca Mountain.  It’s in a region of ongoing volcanic and earthquake activity, on land long held sacred – and still claimed as tribal land according to the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley – the Western Shoshone and the Southern Paiute.  Largely composed of a porous material called volcanic tuff, the mountain is permeable to water penetration and sits in close proximity to an aquifer extensively used by regional inhabitants – both native American and white – for their drinking and agricultural water supplies.

Yucca is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in what’s called the Great Basin, south of the Nevada Test and Training Range in the Nevada National Security Site, where over a hundred atmospheric and underground nuclear bomb tests were carried out for decades.  It is, in large part, already a national nuclear ‘sacrifice area.’

In the government’s search for permanent deep geological repositories in which to bury the country’s energy and weapons waste that it pledged to take possession of and responsibility for, the government’s original goal was to identify and ‘scientifically characterize’ at least two sites, one east, one west of the Great Divide.

As the process played out over the years, however, it came to be more one of politics than of science.  Of the nation’s 99 licensed, operating reactors, less than a dozen are West of the Mississippi.  The so-called ‘NIMBY’ or ‘Not In My Backyard’ syndrome kicked in big time.  Eventually just three potential sites were identified, all in the west: in Texas, Washington and Nevada – with the latter being at the time the state with the least political clout. 

Thus, in 1987, came to be passed the first, now infamous “Screw Nevada” bill.

Though Nevada has no nuclear power plants of its own, its Yucca Mountain site became the sole target for waste from all the nation’s nuclear energy and weapons-producing states.  Millions of dollars were spent in an attempt to justify ‘scientifically’ a site that had actually been chosen politically.

But then, for a while at least, the political balance of power changed.  Enter Nevada Senator Harry Reid. 

As an erstwhile Democratic power broker, Reid secured a pre-election promise from then-candidate Obama to shutter the Yucca project in return for electoral support.  Once in the White House, President Obama actually kept his promise.  In 2009, the project was effectively terminated: its staff scattered to other employment, its equipment sold off, its infrastructure allowed to sink into desuetude, the site effectively abandoned.  Just a big, expensive hole in the volcanic tuff, a monument to the nation’s on-going nuclear follies.

Then the political balance of power picture changed again with Senator Reid’s retirement and the GOP/Trump ascendancy. 

Back in 2014 the unashamedly ‘captive regulatory agency,’ the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), had set the stage for a potential Yucca revival by releasing a long-delayed report concluding that the Department of Energy had “demonstrated compliance with NRC regulatory requirements” that would limit leakage from the repository for the long-term.

A New York Times headline of the day trumpeted, “Calls to use Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste site, now deemed safe.”  Rep. Congressman John Shimkus – from the nation’s most densely nuclearized state, Illinois – exulted, “Today’s report confirms what we’ve expected all along: Nuclear waste stored under that mountain, in that desert, surrounded by federal land, will be safe and secure for at least a million years.”

The Distinguished Gentleman from Illinois then introduced H.R 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018, which passed the House today.

Close analysis of the Shimkus Bill reveals that, if passed in its present form, it will:

  – Preempt or jeopardize existing federal, state and local water and air rights, and rights to oversight, input, transparency, and other rights, including congressional oversight. 

  – Remove storage and transport safety requirements needed to prevent radioactive leaks. 

  – Provide inadequate funding to transport and store nuclear fuel waste. 

  – Make federal reimbursement for nuclear waste storage discretionary instead of mandatory. 

  – Allow ownership of nuclear fuel waste to be transferred to the Department of Energy (DOE) at existing nuclear utility sites, making them vulnerable to insufficient funding for nuclear waste storage. Current DOE nuclear waste sites have repeatedly leaked radiation into groundwater and air partly because of this.  https://sanonofresafety.org/

Once upon some indefinite future date, when Yucca is deemed ready to take all that waste from ‘interim’ sites, it is slated to be moved again, for ‘permanent isolation’ in the site’s volcanic tuff.

There are many problems with this rosy scenario, of which more below.  But chief among them, according to many critics – including former NRC Commissioner Victor Gilinsky – is that “The NRC staff did not explain, and no one in the media seems to have caught on, that its favorable conclusion reflected the Energy Department’s pie-in-the-sky design for Yucca Mountain—not the repository as it is likely to be configured.

In his 2014 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, ‘Yucca Mountain redux,’ Gilinsky explains, 

The [actual] likely repository configuration doesn’t come close to meeting NRC requirements.  The key design element in question is something the Energy Department calls a “drip shield.” This is a kind of massive, corrosion-resistant titanium alloy mailbox that is supposed to sit over each of the thousands of waste canisters in Yucca Mountain’s underground tunnels. In NRC’s definition, it is designed “to prevent seepage water from directly dripping onto the waste package outer surface.” 

The name drip shield itself is a giveaway that there is a water problem at Yucca Mountain. There is indeed a lot more water, and it is flowing faster, than the Energy Department imagined when it picked the site, which is why it added the drip shield to the original design. Without the titanium shields, dripping water would corrode the waste canisters placed in the repository and release radioactive waste, and the moving underground water would carry it to the nearby environment.

Using the corrosion data in the Energy Department’s license application, one can calculate that this corrosion would take not the “million years” cited by Mr. Shimkus, but about 1,000 years.

Nonetheless, the NRC-approved DOE plan – in an apparent attempt to make up-front costs more palatable to Congress – does not call for the installation of the ‘drip shields’ until a hundred years have passed.

Gilinsky concludes, “If you look more closely into the situation, you can’t escape the conclusion that it is highly implausible that the drip shields will ever be installed. In fact, as a practical matter, it may not even be physically possible to install them.” 

Pie-in-the-Underground

Will the DOE, or the US government even exist in a hundred years?  Will the know-how, institutional memory, technology, manufacturing base and funding still be available at that distant date to build the necessary infrastructure to allow robots to enter the highly radioactive, probably geologically degraded and possibly collapsed repository tunnels to perform the intricate operations required to install hypothetical ‘drip shields’ that have not as yet even been designed or fabricated?

And what deadly, irremediable leakage into the environment will by then have occurred?

Ian Zabarte, spokesperson for the Western Shoshone, calls this environmental racism.

Meanwhile, the bureaucratic, technological, budgetary and political impediments to actually restarting the project are legion, and sure to delay any real progress for years, if not decades.

Based on its record, there’s no use expecting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to act in the interest of public safety.  Gilinsky points out that,

A truly independent regulatory agency—one truly representing the public interest—would not have been silent on the low likelihood that drip shields will ever be installed and would have insisted on getting the Energy Department’s calculations on what happens if the drip shields don’t get installed. What it comes down to is this: The NRC is going along with a shell game to advance the political fortunes of the Yucca Mountain project.

CIS – A Nuclear Shell Game – Fighting ‘Fukushima Freeway’ 

So just imagine, if you dare, the following proposed harebrained scenario known as ‘Consolidated Interim Storage’ or CIS:

For decades to come, ultra-heavy shipments of thousands of metric tons of high-level radioactive waste will become a common daily occurrence on America’s already rickety roads, railways and collapsing bridges, headed for the Southwest.

They will pass un-announced – but probably easily identified by those who know what to look for – through our nation’s towns and densely populated urban areas, vulnerable to human error, accidents and terrorist attacks. 

Their deadly radiation fields – extending for a yard in every direction – will shower train passengers and motorists, unlucky enough to share those routes and be close enough, with DNA and immune system damage. 

The shipment carriers will pull into gas stations, truck stops and roadside rest areas, exposing the luckless families, children and pregnant women nearby using those same facilities. 

Then, if they do manage to reach their temporary, ‘interim’ waste consolidation sites without catastrophe, they will eventually hit the road again, on their way to the mythical Yucca repository. 

Local Opposition

Eighty percent of Nevada residents and elected officials strongly oppose this Yucca reboot plan.  As before, their legal and technical opposition will prevent the plan from going forward for many years.  Additionally, a new railroad line would need to be built through several mountain ranges at great expense.  Will Congress provide the funding?

But, what might be more immediately enabled, are two proposed ‘interim storage facilities’ currently seeking NRC license approval on either side of the New Mexico-Texas border.  A few politicians are promoting these sites as ‘good for the local economy,’ but public opposition is strong among those who know about the plan – including the region’s growers, dairy ranchers and especially oil men for whom the region is a fracking and drilling cash cow.

Both proposed sites are in what locals call ‘Nuclear Alley,’ just down the road from the Urenco uranium enrichment plant and the infamous Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIIP), site of the recent nuclear ‘cat litter’ explosion. 

If approved as part of the Shimkus Bill’s Consolidated Interim Storage provision, these ‘parking lot’ dumps could well become the nation’s de facto permanent radioactive waste depository, in the very likely event that Yucca never gets built.

More on that in future articles, except to note that the dire implications of CIS and its ‘Fukuishima Freeway’ failed to be acknowledged in the House’s approval of HR 3053.

For more, check out the Nuclear Information and Resource Service’s Don’t Waste America page

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James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan.  Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection is now in post-production.  He can be reached at jamesmheddle@gmail.com

 

 

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