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8 Comments

  1. Glad you’ll be present, Rod.
    I think the points to stress are the value of the material to energy security and sustainability and our responsibility to leave our world better than we found it. Whether we judge it worthwhile to use this material in the near term or not, the long-lived actinides are not going anywhere, and I think it’s inevitable that we will eventually, whether motivated by sustainable energy or waste management goals. This is why it is essential that we have policies in place to secure this material and prepare for that future through appropriate research.
    I would also judge that an important element of this policy would be a campaign to educate the public about the plan to manage used fuel. One of the most significant near-term consequences of the derailment of Yucca Mountain is a loss of public confidence in our ability to manage used nuclear fuel.

  2. The last sentence in Adam’s post (above) is well stated, and it sums up my concerns with respect to the Yucca situation.
    My belief has always been that no matter what we eventually do with used fuel, the cost will be nominal (on a per kW-hr basis) and the environmental risks (both short and long term) will be minimal. The real important issue with respect our waste management programs and decisions is to remove (or at least reduce) the false notion in the public mind that “we have no idea of what to do with the waste”. Getting Yucca licensed would have gone a long way towards that goal, even if we didn’t elect to use it (for once-through fuel anyway).
    I’ve heard that NRC staff had actually completed their review of Yucca’s long-term performance, and has concluded that it can meet even the million-year standard by a wide margin, even with extremely conservative analyses. They were about to publish that section of the SER (Safety Evaluation Report). We should do everything we can to make sure this is released and highly publicized. Even if we were to decide not to use Yucca (for political reasons or whatever), this NRC finding basically puts to rest the idea that we can’t come up with an acceptable solution to the nuclear waste “problem”. It may not even be the best solution, but we have proven that we have an acceptable solution.
    This could possibly be the basis of a political compromise. We could tell the public that analyses clearly prove that we have an acceptable option for permanently dealing with the waste (as affirmed by NRC). For now, we’re not electing to use that option, because we think we have better options (e.g., reprocessing), but that option is always there if nothing else pans out. Thus, the question of “what to we do with the waste” is offically answered. This may appease Reid/Nevada, in that it delays (perhaps indefinitely) the construction of Yucca Mtn. But it will also accomplish the very important task of greatly reducing the public’s anxiety over the waste issue, which has been the source of much of nuclear’s lack of support.
    There is a chance that NRC staff’s findings (and/or the actual SER) will not be released, for the same political reasons that are driving DOE to pull the license application. We need to do whatever it takes, including a FOIA request if necessary, to make sure that those findings are released and highly publicized.

    1. Jim – I am not sure that the public had any confidence in our ability to manage used fuel BEFORE the Yucca Mountain decision. I maintain that part of the problem has been the hard sell for the project by the industry – they should have clearly made the case that their current methods are working well and that fuel is safely managed today. The real, underlying reason that they favored a federal solution was that they believed that would reduce their long term costs.
      Instead, they ended up encouraging safety related arguments and questions that confused the whole issue. I suspect that some people who were making the decisions like the idea of “forcing functions” that encourage rapid actions. Companies are generally led by Type A people who get very frustrated with taking things slowly and who do not like procrastination as a form of decision making.
      With this particular topic, the physics of the situation are such that it gets easier to solve as time goes on since the fuel gets less radioactive and produces less decay heat with every passing year.

  3. If I were present I would ask whether any consideration had been given to storing used fuel at or next to the WIPP site. Rip Anderson, who led the team that got the EPA certification for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, tells me that in the near term, HLW stored in bedded salt could be retrieved and recycled. (It takes quite a while for the walls, ceiling, and floor of a big storage chamber to grow enough to completely envelope canisters or whatever.) There has been talk of locating a fuel recycling plant near WIPP–the Carlsbad city fathers have been pushing that. Since nuclear waste has been successfully and safely transported to WIPP from around the US for 11+ years, the same kind of trucks and casks presently used to transport, say, used submarine fuel to INL, could be adapted to the shipping of commercial used fuel.

    1. Good suggestion. It would make sense to have somewhere to store the fission products extracted during recycling, as well as a temporary fuel storage area for fuel awaiting recycling.

    2. NM State Rep John Heaton (D, 55th District) gave a very strong presentation at the Re-energize America Conference promoting the conversion of WIPP to HLW storage, and also promoting nuclear power in NM. He basically envisions turning Southeat NM into a full-service nuclear area, with the enrichment facility that is being built.
      The conference was held on June 3-4 at the NM farm & Ranch Museum here in Las Cruces, and I attended both days. I asked him after his presentation about the possiblility of changing the NM renewable portfolio standard law to include nuclear (it currently explicitly excludes nuclear), and he said that he has tried, but cannot get enough support.
      There was also a three person panel on nuclear power, but I thought the panelist’s presentations were poor. Their words could be generally summarized as “we’re engineers/scientists, so trust us”, which was a poor argument with the BP oil spill occuring in the background. One of the panelists, Sara Scott of LANL whose conference bio described her as having substantial experience in nonproliferation, did not address the hazards, technical difficulty or Pu-240 percentage in spent fuel at all. The conference presentations are supposed to be archived at http://energize.nmsu.edu/ , but they are still not posted yet.

  4. Rod,
    If you do attend, could you possibly go further than just addressing the value for future generations? We collected .1 cent for each kilowatt hour generated; if that money isn’t going to be used for a permanent repository we have rights as taxpayers to have that money be used to develop technologies that would ultimately burn that nuclear waste (ie: IFR and LFTR).
    Also, I think it would be the perfect time to bring up the U-233 cause, and the suggestions that a) the destruction of this material be stopped by comission fiat. and b) that the half billion there be repurposed to burn this waste inside of LFTRs. And that there are serious national security benefits to the completion of such a plan (energy independence, not falling behind foreign powers in energy technologies, cheap electricity and process heat, and so forth).
    Anyways, these are quite obvious topics, so apologies in advance if you had already thought of them, but I’d really like to see them addressed in detail. If there is a ‘public comments box’ for the committee I’d be happy to make the suggestions there.
    Ed

    1. Ed – the BRC is accepting public input. I suggest that you compose an email with your suggestions and concerns and send it to BRC@nuclear.energy.gov. You can find records of all of the other comments that the BRC has received so far by going to http://brc.gov/comments.html.
      Your comment arrived after I had already made my statement and was on my way back home because the meeting ran a few minutes ahead of schedule during the afternoon session.
      I did not think of mentioning U233, because that would have introduced an entirely new and complex topic after a full day of focus on commercial nuclear fuel. LFTRs are also still dreams and concepts based on prototypes that were shut down several decades ago. They have a long way to go before they can been seen as a competitive solution to our current energy and used fuel challenges.

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