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11 Comments

  1. @Rod: Your reading of Bathke’s FOM study is exactly right; these are some of the main takeaway lessons. Namely, that while SNM like Pu and Np require safeguards, their attractiveness precipitously falls with increasing burnup – which means the best safeguard is consumption within a reactor. The fact is, Lyman was grossly distorting the findings of the paper to support his conclusion in a way that was opposite of the authors’ intent.

    1. Also, I’d love to know where he came up with the last name of “Darden” for me (which is clearly not my last name).

  2. Rod, do you still beat your wife?
    Debating devices like this are used to shift the debate. Organizations like UCS & NRDC confuse the debate by inferring this or that. There is no point in debating them.
    If the US adopts a policy of recycling spent commercial fuel (similar to MOX programs for other countries), NRC oversight will prevent diversion. It is that simple. End of debate.

    1. @KIt P – with all due respect to your overwhelmingly superior debating skills and ability to sway public opinion, I disagree.
      The UCS and the NRDC are skilled at getting their point of views into the mainstream. They get invited to testify in front of key congressional hearings and presidential commissions. That alone tells me it is worth the effort to discuss matters with them. My intention is not to change their minds, but to use their platform to share ideas that their audience does not often hear.
      It may or may not work, but so far, whatever you have done to move along the nuclear renaissance has not worked either.
      PS – there is no need to be obnoxious.

  3. The UCS & NRDC unfortunately have the misguided weight of anti-nuclear grassroots. I have an awful difficult time explaining things to local activist groups here in NYC which equate Indian Point with Chernobyl or TMI etc.

  4. Once again, Dr. Lyman demonstrates why he is a professional bullshitter and not a physicist. Of course, I realize that he will now simply dismiss my comment as an “ad hominem attack,” so that he can ignore it. Considering how intellectually lazy his arguments are — and what that implies their author — I guess I’m doing him a favor. 😉
    Let’s consult his written works and references and throw some darts, shall we?
    Point number 1: Here Dr. Lyman, as usual, focuses on only one metric, volume, which is probably one of the most useless metrics to consider. (Especially since, the volume of this material is quite small compared to the amount of energy available from it.) This is Lyman’s metric of choice because it is the one that he can most easily abuse to make his point. This type of cherry picking is common with the UCS, by the way.
    What is more absurd than his choice of metric, however, is that he then criticizes a set of AREVA slides for … gasp … having the audacity to include the volume of the packaging in the total amount of volume required for disposal. Oh, the horror!
    No, Dr. Lyman, comparing the numbers across studies (where different assumptions and definitions have been used), as you have done, is the apples-to-oranges comparison. Meanwhile, Dr. Davidson’s very next slide indicates, with pictures, that she has included the volume of the packaging in both of her estimates, whether the packaging consists of cement, glass, or “empty space.” That’s the honest thing to do.
    Besides his difficulty with understanding Powerpoint slides, Dr. Lyman has also conveniently chosen to ignore the more important metrics, which involve units like watts, sieverts, and dollars. While he glosses over the heat load (somewhat reluctantly admitting that reprocessing will lower it), he completely ignores radiotoxicity (gee … I wonder why?). Furthermore, he fails to consider that there is a substantial difference between the cost of disposing of high-level waste and the cost of disposing of all of the other non-high-level waste. Thus, even if the volume of the latter is increased, the reduction in the amount of the former will result in savings that offset the costs of the additional lower-level wastes. The exact numbers are unclear, but Dr. Lyman doesn’t even bother to discuss this.

  5. Point number 2: Dr. Lyman seems to complain that burning transuranic elements in a fast reactor is “slow.” All I can say to this is: so what? The amount of transuranics concerned is small any way you look at it. It’s small compared to the total amount of high-level “waste” from LWR’s, compared to the amount of waste from a coal plant, compared to the amount of toxic waste produced by the manufacture of solar panels, etc., etc. — the list goes on.
    Besides, the most troublesome transuranic is plutonium, which can be reduced without resorting to fast reactors. It can be burned as MOX fuel in today’s LWR’s.
    What’s troubling to me, however, is that Dr. Lyman appears to be surprised (or at least concerned — he is a “concerned scientist” after all) that the inventory of transuranics would increase and ultimately approach equilibrium in a scenario involving recycling of this material. I’m baffled beyond belief as to why this even deserves mention.
    Gee … you’d think that a guy with a PhD in physics would have heard of the Bateman equations, or at least would be familiar with the underlying mathematical concepts. I guess differential equations wasn’t Lyman’s strong point when he was in school. He apparently doesn’t understand the concept of asymptotic solutions.
    Anyhow, I guess he didn’t spend much time thinking about it, because he quickly moves on to a frivolous complaint about the need for “indefinite reprocessing and recycling.” What nonsense! By his logic, we should abandon the use of aluminum cans, because the best way to use them is to continuously recycle them, which requires maintaining recycling facilities indefinitely. Oh, the humanity! What he fails to understand is that indefinite recycling means indefinitely extracting more useful energy from the same material rather than just throwing it away. Personally, I consider this to be a gift for future generations, not a liability. Dr. Lyman, on the other hand, has different, strange priorities.
    Point number 3: Here, Dr. Lyman shows us that he is still stuck in the Ford/Carter era. Perhaps he still wears polyester leisure suits and owns a pet rock too. 😉 Apparently, he has learned nothing from the last three decades of nuclear geopolitics. Specifically, he hasn’t noticed that banning reprocessing in the US has done nothing to prevent other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons.
    Once again, Dr. Lyman sticks to his cherry-picked points, avoiding such inconvenient details as the isotopic composition of reactor-grade plutonium and (more importantly) the number of nuclear weapons that have resulted from the commercial-fuel reprocessing programs in places like France and Japan. (By the way, that last number would be zero.)
    Summary: All three of Dr. Lyman’s points are carefully constructed to confuse the ignorant. They are smoke and mirrors that play well to the peanut gallery, but anyone with any common sense and knowledge of the subject can see through the nonsense.

    1. Lyman’s point about the remaining transuranics hinges upon a point over “intergenerational equity,” which he uses in a particularly obnoxious form. That is, we take zero credit for the savings in uranium mining achieved by actinide recycle, or by the ready availability of a fuel resource for said generation. Instead, the very presence of this resource is a “burden” by virtue of requiring a “stable society” to either utilize it or dispose of it. Compared, of course, to the societal burden imposed of maintaining a permanent exclusion zone at a geologic repository, along with the additional environmental costs imposed through using a replacement energy source.
      Of course, the nonsense doesn’t even stop here, of course, because Dr. Lyman doesn’t even acknowledge that, were the UCS’ most fevered dreams to come true tomorrow and every reactor to shut down forever, we still need to dispose of spent fuel. By not reducing heat and radiotoxicity through recycle, how does Dr. Lyman truly believe we’ll solve this problem? News flash: on-stie dry storage doesn’t meet the (frankly nonsensical) “intergenerational equity” standard either – while most reasonable estimates put the lifetime of dry storage at 50-100 years, there’s no way it provides the natural and engineered barriers for storage over millenia required without further recycle. In other words, it still requires future intervention.
      Were Dr. Lyman and the UCS even remotely serious about solving the issues of spent nuclear fuel while being steadfastly opposed to reprocessing (oxymoronic as that may be), they would be at the forefront of campaigning to get permanent geologic repositories online. Instead, silence – or worse, campaigning on why this issue makes nuclear a non-starter. It goes to show just how “seriously” they take their own arguments on this subject. (About as seriously as they do other research, apparently, including getting the names of their critics correctly…)

      1. Lyman wants to have his cake and eat it too. None of the other considerations matter, because the UCS’s opposition to recycling is all part of a larger plan to demonize nuclear power because of the supposed “scarcity” of the fuel. This plays well to the peak-oil crackpots, don’t you know.
        For example, the UCS lectures us that
        “Uranium is one of the least plentiful of minerals, making up only two parts per million in the earth’s crust.”
        This is nonsense, of course. Uranium doesn’t even come close to being one of the “least plentiful” substances in the earth’s crust. This is just more corrupt science from the UCS.

    2. Brian writes: “Summary: All three of Dr. Lyman’s points are carefully constructed to confuse the ignorant. They are smoke and mirrors that play well to the peanut gallery, but anyone with any common sense and knowledge of the subject can see through the nonsense.”
      Ah, but therein lies the rub, Brian. Most of the members of the BRC have little knowledge of the subject, and I leave it to you to guage their individual level of common sense. We can only hope that at least one of the few members of the panel with knowledge of the subject will explain the vapidity of Lyman’s arguments and the deception that he is hoping to get away with.

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