Is it really necessary to have a deep geologic repository for used nuclear fuel?
Though I have often received quizzical, almost uncomprehending looks from my type ‘A’ colleagues on submarines and in my other jobs, I’ve often been guided by a simple principal of decision-making – “If it’s too hard, quit.”
Please don’t think that means I’m the type of person who can never get anything done or who gives up easily. What it normally means for me is that I rationally evaluate the chances of success and decide to take a different path if the chance of completion is low. This is sometimes a difficult choice if I have invested a lot of time and energy already, but it is often more rewarding that continuing to invest or working even harder when there is a high probability of failure anyway.
Unlike the too often repeated line from Apollo 13, sometimes failure is an option that should be taken in order to enable a different kind of success. It took some time to learn to give myself permission to quit a task that is too hard to successfully complete, but it was a worthwhile lesson to learn.
It’s time to give the United States nuclear enterprise permission to quit trying to site a deep geologic repository for used nuclear fuel. We’ve invested tens of billions of dollars, there are people who have spent most of their working lives trying to accomplish the feat, and yet we are farther from the goal today than we were when I graduated from college in 1981.
Part of the problem is that is not discussed often enough is that there is a talented and energetic group of people who have worked just as hard to tie the process up in knots as others have worked to solve the various technical and political challenges. The people who want to complete the task so that nuclear energy can prosper have been well matched in a tug of war by those who long ago seized on “the waste issue” as their tool for constipating the industry to ensure that it gradually stops functioning.
The opponents of successfully siting, licensing, building and operating a repository have well-developed plans to add reinforcements to their side at each step of the process; I believe it is time for the supporters to simply let go of the rope.
About a week ago, the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission), issued a final rule that provides the technical basis supporting a decision quit working on a geologic repository, even though it does not say that as clearly as I just did. After a great deal of analysis, public interaction, and thought, the Commission approved a rule called “Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel,” SECY-14-0072. The rule has an associated Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) that has determined that the potential environmental impact of continued surface storage of used nuclear fuel over the short-term, long-term, and indefinite future is small.
Chairman MacFarlane wrote the following perceptive statement in her comments about her vote on the rule.
In essence, the GEIS concludes that unavoidable adverse environmental impacts are “small” for the short-term, long-term, and indefinite time frames for storage of spent nuclear fuel. The proverbial “elephant in the room” is this: if the environmental impacts of storing waste indefinitely on the surface are essentially small, then is it necessary to have a deep geologic disposal option?
Almost exactly right! We should ask hard questions of those who maintain that “deep geologic disposal is necessary” because “a majority of the public industry, academia, and regulators” say it is. Here are some questions worth asking:
- Why do you think a mined deep geologic repository is required?
- What makes it so important?
- Where is the recorded vote on which you base your claim that it is the majority opinion?
- If there was a vote, when was that vote taken?
- Have there been any changes in circumstances that challenge the validity of that determination?
- Should options besides a mined deep geologic repository be reconsidered?
- How much will it cost each year to simply defer action into the indeterminate future?
- From an accounting perspective, aren’t costs that are deferred far into the future worth less, not more, if they are recalculated into today’s dollars?
Those who have read Chairman Macfarlane’s full comment should recognize that she is not only the source of the “elephant in the room” statement above, but she is also the source of the assertions that the United States must continue pursuing a mined geologic repository because we have a “long-established responsibility to site a repository for the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel,” and she wants to make sure that the NRC’s determination that continued surface storage represents a small environmental impact for the indefinite future does not enable “avoiding this necessary task.”
Dr. Macfarlane and I also agree about when we would begin to believe that the US can site, license, built and operate a mined deep geologic repository.
I will have confidence in the timing when a renewed national consensus emerges on a repository for spent nuclear fuel.
There is no reason to suspect that a sufficiently bulletproof consensus will ever exist. Recent history has proven that it takes just a handful of people elected or appointed into the right positions to derail even the best laid plans made with strong support throughout the rest of the country.
Analysis shows that we can continue to store used nuclear fuel safely, with virtually no environmental impact on the earth’s surface for as long as we need to. Though the Chairman seems concerned about the potential impact if there is a “loss of institutional control,” the controls required to ensure continued safety and environmental protection from used nuclear fuel are simple and easily implemented. As long as we do not believe that future generations will forget how to read, we can be sure enough that they will remember how to keep used nuclear fuel safely isolated.
Many people in Chairman Macfarlane’s generation — which is also my generation — may have watched too many movies depicting that there is going to be an inevitable dystopia in the future; but if that happens, used nuclear fuel will be low on the prioritized lists of risks.
The chairman expressed some concerns about the financial responsibility associated with continued storage of used nuclear fuel. A simple solution would be to have nuclear plant owners establish a used fuel fund that would be as isolated from their normal finances as their decommissioning funds. If plant owners put 1 mill per kilowatt hour of generated electricity into an escrow account — which is the same amount that they used to give to the government under the Standard Contract — they would accumulate plenty of money to endow a fuel management program. If 1 mill is not enough, 2 or 3 mills might be sufficient and still not have much of an effect on the cost of electricity from a nuclear power plant.
In the conclusion of her seven page comment, Chairman Macfarlane included the following statement.
Finally, I note that at least one commenter has suggested that development of a repository in the U. S. has developed into a Sisyphean task. I agree that much in the national management of spent fuel and development of a geologic repository over the past decades fits this analogy.
Once again, I agree with Macfarlane’s preamble. However, we are not subjects of Greek gods condemned to continue the frustratingly impossible task of pushing a rock uphill every day just to have it roll back down at the end of the day. We are free members of a society that has the ability to make choices and to change its mind to adapt to new situations when new information is revealed. The cancellation of Yucca Mountain through actions of a tiny group of people shows that successfully siting a repository in the U. S., with its multiple interest groups and arcane procedural rules is not possible.
The good news is that we don’t really need a repository in order to operate nuclear power plants safely and to store the residues created in that operation safely in a way that produces negligible environmental impacts. We do not need a government program that can be derailed. We do not need to have the federal government — which means us, as taxpayers — to pay the costs of continued storage; the costs are minimal and can be paid with a small fee on each unit of power generation. We are not cursed by an all-powerful god to spend our time and money pushing rocks up hill, either.
Making the choice to quit now and spend resources on something more useful must not be judged as unfair to future generations. Used nuclear fuel has potential value, but we can put aside resources now that can enable conversion of that material into fuel or to make a different long term storage choice in the distant future when there is more general agreement that constipating nuclear energy would be a suicidal course of action for society.
Putting SNF into a hole in the ground is silly on a number of levels, but the most obvious one is simply this: we would be digging it all up again in a century or two, as we move to IFRs and MSRs that can use existing SNF as fuel.
Good point. That would also have made it a big waste of effort and money to move it from places near our country’s industrial infrastructure to a location that is presumably as remote from humans as possible.
There’s 8 casks of SNF on a concrete pad roughly 30 miles from me; I’ve driven within a few hundred yards of it several times (the rest of the site has been demolished and removed). It is safe as houses. The site could and should be re-developed, perhaps with a reactor that can use that SNF as fuel.
The finesse for this set of problems is to use fast reactors like the Integral Fast Reactor to recycle current reactor waste as its own fuel, leaving only fission products to be sequestered for a few hundred years. No long-term storage requirements, no deep geologic repositories.
The idea that unqualifiable and untestable geological barriers with cathedral type one-off engineering are superior to qualifiable, certifiable, and testable engineered and modular barriers such as concrete and stainless steel, combined with the idea that surface storage for long terms is somehow incredibly problematic, is as tenacious as it is wrong. There is no physical or engineering basis for this contention. It continues to amaze me how even professors in nuclear engineering get this so wrong.
Once you look a this from a risk perspective (probabilities and consequences) it quickly becomes clear that the risk of nuclear is in the fresh fuel; in the reactor mostly, much less in the spent fuel pool, and none out of in (dry cask and older fuel). Basically the risks are 100% in the first 10 years of age of spent fuel assemblies. Beyond that there isn’t a chance, not even remotely, that the decay heat will overheat the fuel and container the fuel is in.
So there is no longer an internal source of risk. As for external risks. Modern dry casks are aircraft crash and train crash proof, and fire proof and earthquake proof and station blackout proof (natural circulation only). They are zero maintenance. It just becomes easier and easier to cask the fuel assemblies. Typical spent fuel cask radiation shields last 40 to 80 years, recasking beyond that is easy – the things are designed for the higher initial heat and radiation load. The actual heavily overengineered stainless steel container (the actual gas tight containment the fuel assemblies sit in) lasts about 1000 to 10000 years depending on climate. If you run some numbers, its clear that just putting some money in the bank will pay for indefinite storage of spent fuel on the surface with nil risk to the public.
In my opinion, and with great respect, the people who are working on geological storage schemes are part of the problem. Dry casks work fine and the spent fuel has inherent fuel value with most of its fuel still unburned.
As someone who actually works in the dry storage cask industry, I can tell you that they are low, but not no maintenance. And the idea that they could last over 1000 years is laughable. “Re-casking” is technically doable, but I wouldn’t call it easy.
If anything, the underground environment is more stable and secure. Repositories could be compared to an underground dry cask storage site. An above ground storage site would require at least as much monitoring and maintenance as a below ground site, over any time frame you choose to consider. Only buried waste could be walked away from, permanently. Mankind buries its wastes for a reason.
Your point in your first paragraph is specious, since repositories will employ engineered barriers (similar to storage casks) in addition to the geological barriers. As for any concerns in general, it has been shown that the risks associated with nuclear waste repositories are far lower than the long-term risks associated with other waste streams.
They are no maintenance. At some point the overpack may be replaced, by removing the cask and placing it in a new overpack. 1000 years for stainless steel in moderate climate is not laughable. You clearly have not much understanding of materials degradation to call this laughable. The stress in the stainless steel is so low, the thickness for corrosion is so high. It is just air, it is shielded even from the rain.
Re-casking is considerably simpler than the initial casking; primarily because of the lower radiation level on the re-casking, but also because the fuel assemblies themselves don’t have to be removed out of their container. Placing a stainless steel container into a slightly bigger stainless steel container and welding or bolting that shut meets my definition of easy. Perhaps you think garbage trucks are complicated.
“If anything, the underground environment is more stable and secure.”
More secure than what? Dry casks on surface are completely safe. Why go for more than completely safe? How paranoid are you?
” An above ground storage site would require at least as much monitoring and maintenance as a below ground site”
Then the ground does not add anything at all.
“Only buried waste could be walked away from, permanently. Mankind buries its wastes for a reason.”
It is cheaper to bury large volumes of low hazard industrial wastes such as ashes. There wouldn’t a point in storing it aboveground with surveillance and such; it isn’t very toxic per unit volume and it doesn’t get less toxic over time. Nuclear spent fuel is different; volumes are relatively tiny yet the toxicity is enormous in the short term. So it makes sense to wait, even if you go for burial later.
I have no doubt in my mind that geological storage is safe. Just as I have no doubt that this is completely irrelevant since cheaper, modular, future-recyclable storage on the surface is just as safe.
The subsurface is never completely known. There are surprises. There is one of a kind engineering. This is expensive in a paranoid quality control culture that is nuclear power.
“Your point in your first paragraph is specious, since repositories will employ engineered barriers (similar to storage casks) in addition to the geological barriers.”
That begs the question. What does the geological barrier add that the engineered one doesn’t? The answer is it adds cost and complexity and increased difficulty in removing the decay heat, causing increased probability of the engineered barriers failing over time. Just the concrete and stainless steel is very safe, on the surface. The geological barrier does not safe a single life. It adds tens of billions of dollars for no lives saved. Not good value. Only good press for anti nuclear types that will endlessly spread FUD about just how expensive this waste dump into your backyard is.
Not much understanding?
In addition to working in the dry cask storage industry, I’m involved in industry task forces that have been set up to evaluate the extension of dry cask storage system licenses from 20 to 60 years, and to evaluate longer (100+ year) storage periods in support of NRC’s waste confidence decision. Our company is involved in a licensing renewal effort, to extend the storage license for our cask system out to 60 years, and I am one of two key players in that effort. Materials degradation is the primary subject of evaluation, for both the license renewal efforts and the task forces.
While we believe that such long term storage can be accomplished, there are many technical challenges, and issues that need to be addressed (for ~100 years, not 1000!).
Have you heard of CISCC (i.e., chlorine-induced stress corrosion cracking of stainless steel)? It is a form of cracking that may occur in the presence of residual stresses along with (even small) levels of salts (chlorides) in the atmosphere. It is of particular concern for sites near the ocean. The concern is that the cracking will breach confinement can cause the canisters to leak.
The life of the canister is not governed by the time it would take general corrosion to make its way all the way through the stainless steel wall. There are failure modes that will occur far before that, CISCC being one example. Stresses are generally low but significant residual stresses are present in the vicinity of the welds. CISCC and/or corrosion near the welds can cause confinement failure. There are also other corrosion issues (e.g. crevice corrosion) as well as other degradation issues for the cask system overall, such as concrete degradation from cracking (e.g., from freeze/thaw) and from other degradation mechanisms such as alkali-silca reactions.
As for re-canistering, there are many factors that are far more important than the heat generation level and the radiological source term of the fuel. As someone who works in the field, I know that lower source terms will not change loading procedures, and associated requirements, much. It will always be hot enough that you have to keep it shielded, and changes in required shielding thicknesses don’t affect cost or procedures much (shielding is cheap). (Note the exponential nature of shielding attenuation – a factor of 10 reduction in source doesn’t reduce required shielding thickness much, in the case of thick shielding.)
Far more important (for example) is the presence, or absence, of a spent (er, used) fuel pool. In the case of very long term on-site dry storage, the assumption is that the plant will have been decommissioned and that the pool is gone. Fuel pools are a wonderful thing for loading and unloading operations; providing both cooling and shielding, while allowing you to have casks open (lids off) and to move the fuel assemblies through the shielding medium (water). Without a pool, loading or unloading operations become MUCH more difficult. How will we reopen and unload old canisters and place the assemblies in new ones? Bring in a portable fuel pool? Set up a hot cell? Any such thing would be a major engineering effort.
Not sure you talk to plant operators much, but they object loudly to far smaller maintenance and operations tasks. I’d also be amused to hear the take of the plant owners (including those present on the task forces that are discussing all of the inspection and maintenence activities that will be necessary to support long-term dry fuel storage) on your position that the casks are “no maintenance”.
Would some of the concerns be more easily addressed if the containers were put into a climate controlled building? I realize they are not free, but I have some idea what large warehouse type construction costs and it is not outrageous compared to the cost of establishing transportation links from existing nuclear power plants to a remote location like Yucca Mountain. You can build a lot of warehouses for the $1 billion or more that was planned to build just the last link in the rail infrastructure from a terminal outside of Las Vegas to Yucca Mountain.
I also think that most of the nuclear plant sites would be best reused to host new nuclear plants and continue maintaining fuel pools off into the distant future. Does anyone think that electricity is going to go out of fashion?
Yes, chloride (not chlorine, big difference) and residual stress corrosion cracking is a well known failure mechanism in austenitic stainless steels that are not correctly designed and/or welded. I’ve been involved in various stainless steel component arrangements in heavy marine environments. The cases where there were failures were always because of the excessive stress in the welds, by not annealing the welds. Some clients wanted to avoid sensitization of the welds by avoiding heat treatments, sort of out of the frying pan and into the fire. In stead of sensitization they got stress corrosion. Just use sensitization resistant alloys like the niobium stabilized ones and do the heat treatment.
We calculated some weld stresses to be over 400 MPa hoop stress!! That was crazy and they should never have done this. It was surprising to me that the welds held as long as they did, considering it was heavy marine (offshore platform).
Ok so I will admit that bad design choices can make even superalloys fail. My advice is don’t do stupid things like that. Stainless steels are well known and the issue of weld stress causing trouble is well known. Design for low stresses (<0.5 yield stress) and you're good to go.
"How will we reopen and unload old canisters and place the assemblies in new ones? Bring in a portable fuel pool? Set up a hot cell? Any such thing would be a major engineering effort."
Oh no, what complicated solutions do you propose. Simply use a portable (hung) shield. Lift out the cask from the overpack with the portable shield surrounding it. There is no need to open the containment itself. In some cases, like with really old canisters, you can simply weld on stainless steel plates all around the overpack, resulting in a new containment (so you have a shield before the containment rather than the other way around).
"Not sure you talk to plant operators much, but they object loudly to far smaller maintenance and operations tasks. "
Familiar story. Their jobs could be on the line. That's just the debate you get.
"I’d also be amused to hear the take of the plant owners (including those present on the task forces that are discussing all of the inspection and maintenence activities that will be necessary to support long-term dry fuel storage) on your position that the casks are “no maintenance”."
They are no maintenance, though you would do inspections on regular intervals; we'd be talking about visual inspections using optic fibers and eddy current probes or ultrasonic. This is not maintenance. It is just regular inspection. Maintenance is removing components, cleaning or replacing them, etc. None of that is necessary with dry casks since they aren't mechanical. You can't do any repairs on the cask because of the high radiation anyway. There would also be armed guards and other security costs. For those reasons, and for avoiding long term heavy marine environments, I do see the value of a centralized cask storage facility, in some dry climate. This would be the Fort Knox approach.
Yeah, it would help. As an example, in our cask license renewal application, we assume that the transfer cask (shielding bell) will be stored in a “sheltered environment”, i.e., in a building. As a result, the inspection/maintenance regimen that we’re requiring is less than that applied to the storage cask.
I can’t speak to the cost of such an approach. I will say that putting casks in buildings, or erecting (butler?) buildings around existing storage arrays is something that I’ve never heard discussed in the industry (utilities, etc..). Perhaps they have their reasons. Perhaps not.
As for avoiding transportation costs, I’m still having real trouble imagining any scenario where the fuel doesn’t get transported, at some point in the future. I take the point about how delaying that cost will effectively reduce it.
Even if it is hard to imagine a locally acceptable situation where residues are never transported, I hope you can imagine a situation where the packaging is such that there are no special vehicles or protections required.
Most of the dry casks currently being used were not designed for efficient transportation. The fuel bundle sizes lead to long containers, the shielding requirements and the desire to make it hard for anyone to “steal” the material also make it hard and expensive for the owner to move it.
It becomes far more expensive than necessary to move 70,000 tons of material if you have to surround it with shielding that weighs many times that amount, put it into packages that cannot be moved on standard, over the road trucks, and believe that each shipment needs an armed platoon of security guards.
As I say – if it’s too hard, quit. If you haven’t yet started a task that is too hard, don’t bother to try. With radioactive material shipments, procrastination will eventually make it easier and cheaper.
Bead blasting canisters (and the welds, specifically) is one idea I’ve heard at conferences, etc.., as a way to reduce residual weld stresses and thus reduce susceptability to CISCC.
And yes, putting degraded (leaking?) canisters inside another canister/overpack is an idea that we’ve considered. That would be much easier than opening a canister and unloading fuel, but I’m sure most utilities would still think of that as a major operation. Also, in the context of very long (multi-century) storage periods, one would have to consider that there would be a limit to how many times you could do that (nested like Russian dolls, or layers of an onion…..). It’s probably more likely that in a century or so, we would open them up to reprocess the fuel (which will require transport in any event).
“Inspection” vs. “maintenance” strikes me as a largely semantic distinction. The point is that there will be significant work to do and engineering issues to resolve. And, especially if the storage period is very long, there will be actual “maintenance” activities to perform (e.g., re-packaging, bead blasting, etc…). There will also be repairs/touch ups of various corrosion, any coatings, etc..
My impression was that bead blasting was used to remove surface deposits. Do you mean shot-peening?
“Bead blasting canisters (and the welds, specifically) is one idea I’ve heard at conferences, etc.., as a way to reduce residual weld stresses and thus reduce susceptability to CISCC.”
The most effective way to reduce weld residual stress is to stress relieve them – ie re-annealing of the welds to restore annealed properties of the base metal.
CISCC is most effectively solved by stress relieve of welds+ marine grade stainless. In a heavy marine environment you use heavy marine stainless such as super or even hyper duplex stainless steel (we use 2507 duplex SS, never had any cracking). I’m not sure why the industry uses standard austenitics for heavy marine environments. I’m also not sure why some welds are not stress relieved as standard practice – especially for the low carbon austentics that are not prone to sensitization, you’re better off with the weld anneal.
Rod Adams “Would some of the concerns be more easily addressed if the containers were put into a climate controlled building?”
Rod, this is really not worth it. The building and HVAC is expensive and HVAC is not passive.
There are high grade marine stainless steels on the market that are insensitive to chloride attack. The most recent developments, for the offshore oil industry, have led to UNS 33207 hyper duplex stainless steel. No ocean can destroy it. It costs 2-3x as much as austenitics but this is pretty trivial on the cask level. Added advantage is the cask becomes lighter since these alloys are much stronger than 300 series SS. It is serious overkill in my opinion but if we want a cask to survive 1000 years in heavy marine environment then that is a good way to go that doesn’t cost a fortune.
Most NPPs abut waterways. It wouldn’t be difficult to put dry casks onto barges (use ramps) and float them to other NPPs or anywhere else. You could even use a specialized crawler-transporter carried on the barge itself to do the transfer.
I’d much prefer to have the old sites play host to new NPPs that consume the “spent” fuel on-site, though. Here’s hoping Transatomic or Terrestrial Energy can make this happen.
These are also very good arguments against prompt reprocessing of fuel, which is another idea that is unfortunately popular within the nuclear industry. Although in the long term reprocessing and reuse of actinides is likely to minimise the volume of waste and avoid the need for very long storage times, reprocessing any earlier than is absolutely necessary is a bad idea on every front. Using present dollars to solve an economic problem not anticipated for decades to come (expensive uranium) is madness. Repeated handling, mechanical shearing and chemical processing of spent fuel while the fission product inventory is highest increases the risk to people and the environment and increases the cost of the plant.
Separating plutonium early also greatly increases the proliferation-related safeguards, and creates a stock of material that must remain under these measures until it is used in a reactor or permanently disposed of – which under any situation is unlikely to be possible or desirable for many years to come. Worse, the ingrowth of americium makes the separated material less and less useful over time, and increases the cost of handling it; in some cases it might even need to go through another round of chemical processing before being reused.
Prompt reprocessing also generally means the use of PUREX with the products being clean uranium, clean plutonium and waste containing both fission products and minor actinides. This makes sense if reprocessing absolutely has to be done today, since it’s the technology that exists, it works well with relatively fresh fuel and the plutonium can be used to produce MOX for LWRs, but who’s to say this will be appropriate for future reactors if/when economics actually favour reprocessing? It might well be that future reactors do not require such clean fuel, in which case the use of a process designed to produce ultra-pure weapons material or fuel that can be handled without shielding is a waste of time and money. Maybe pyroprocessing and metallic fuel will be better, maybe molten salt reactors, maybe ‘hot’ MOX with minor actinides will be fine.
Far better for recently irradiated fuel to be kept as it is, with the focus being on safe cooling and containment, with the intense radiation field a much more effective proliferation safeguard than any number of expensive administrative and engineered controls. Reprocessing may make economic sense on a 50 year timescale and it may make environmental sense on a 500 year timescale, but it doesn’t make any sense at all right now. Dry storage isn’t as exciting for academics and it won’t provide much revenue to the enormous industry left over from weapons production (eg. the groups formally known as Cogema and BNFL), but it is easily the best option now and for future generations.
Using present dollars to solve an economic problem not anticipated for decades to come (expensive uranium) is madness.
Exactly right. I hope EL reads this and revises his economic argument, but I suspect he will fail to understand the time value of money as it is explained in every decent economics text I’ve ever read.
The longer you let SNF sit, the less Pu-238 you need to deal with. After about 300 years, SNF is effectively a high-concentration reactor-grade plutonium ore with slightly enriched uranium as most of the balance.
Pyroprocessing can be done promptly—the process requires elevated temperatures to keep the salt bath molten, and fission products are just the thing. It does not yield pure materials. Pu comes out as a cadmium amalgam, U as electroplated metal. IIUC, both have considerable minor actinide content.
If SNF is a bad thing, converting the inventory into new fuel and a disposal-ready FP stream should be one of our priorities, no?
In fact, now that we’ve all agreed to store SNF at reactor sites, the existing nuclear waste fund (now up to $25 billion) could be put to better use by funding R&D into waste-eating IFRs and MSRs. The intent of the fund would be fulfilled, and we would be doing something very useful yet too expensive for industry to take on.
That’s true. People just want to see long term commitment on spent fuel. They don’t want to see the can being kicked down the road; completely understandable. That commitment can be in the form of money spread over bank accounts and the interest paying for indefininite dry cask storage.
This scheme is much cheaper and much more future proof and much more flexible (dry casks can be moved to another location if necessary, Yucca Mountains can’t).
I do however see the value of a single dry cask site where eventually all old spent fuel gets transported to. Much lower security costs.
The waste packages in Yucca Mtn. are fully retrievable, and can be moved somewhere else if necessary (or open up for reprocessing). Retrievability is a design requirement.
Repositories retain full flexibility while also being a permanent solution (i.e., we can just leave it there, forever, if we want, with no monitoring). We can walk away…. Retrievability may be an issue for salt repositories, however.
As for the “wasted” cost of a repository, if we decide to pull it all out later? A “waste” of ~0.1 cents/kW-hr? Seriously? The (correct) public perception that the waste problem is “solved” is worth far more than that to the industry. And the 0.1 cent cost doesn’t even consider (subtract off) the costs associated with very-long term storage.
Retrievablity is not just a design requirement; it’s a regulatory requirement! It’s mandated by law.
(Not that what the law says matters to Harry Reid and the Obama administration. November cannot come soon enough.)
Your argument would make sense if 0.1 cent/kWh *actually* got the US a Yucca Mountain repository. They waste packages in Yucca Mountain are not retrievable, because Yucca Mountain isn’t finished. They pulled the plug.
Its not politically feasible to build a repository in the US. The sooner you learn this the lower the damage and the easier the path forward.
Using a closed fuel cycle would also reduce the need for a deep geologic repository, but this would also mean reprocessing, which is heavily resisted by the “non-proliferationista’s” in the United States. Speaking in terms of geology: U.S. nuclear energy policy seems to be between a rock and a hard place.
Non-proliferation is not an issue in the US. We already have nuclear weapons. That ship has sailed.
In fact, non-proliferation is a red-herring non-issue anywhere. Of the nine existing nuclear weapons states, eight built their first bomb before having a working nuclear power plant. It’s no more necessary to have an NPP to build a nuclear weapon than it is necessary to have an automobile to build a napalm bomb. (Because hey, they both use gasoline, right?) And the relative levels of technological sophistication between them (NPP is much more complex than a nuclear weapon, just as automobile is much more complex than a napalm bomb) are comparable.
Non-proliferation is just another “be very afraid” shibboleth used by the anti-nuke folks to scare their children. It has a very tenuous grip on reality.
great paragraph ! perfect analogy
That’s a proliferation rate of some 11% for countries who develop the bomb (and also had a nuclear power reactor). I presume you’re referring to India, who detonated a device in 1974 from plutonium separated at its “civil” reprocessing facility at Trombey (here). Israel had a swimming pool sized research reactor as part of the Atoms for Peace initiative (you’re not counting this?). It gets fuzzy for countries who developed nuclear weapons and also attempted to develop nuclear power reactor programs (N. Korea).
History is looking a little unclear on the topic. If you’re trying to develop a napalm bomb in a country that has no availability of automobiles (and fuel infrastructure to support them), and nobody sells the stuff without formal international agreements and very high degrees of regulation and oversight, you’re efforts are just a little bit more difficult (are they not)?
All countries can develop napalm bombs. Technology improves all the time, things are much better today than 50 years ago. This trend will improve. All countries can be expected to have the technological capability to build nuclear weapons in the future. You don’t stop this by banning nuclear power plants.
EL would probably argue that we should stop making steel since it can and is in fact used to make assault rifles that have killed millions and continue to kill every week. We should therefore also ban shovels since they can be re-melted to make assault rifles.
It is not clear how EL would produce his cute solar panels without advanced manufacturing. If you can’t make napalm bombs, you cannot make solar panels either.
If the only option was a flood of assault rifles or the banning steel, I might argue for the banning of steel. Thankfully, this isn’t the only option and we can adequately regulate firearms production and sales and effectively reduce the prevalence of senseless gun violence (as is done in many countries). Similarly, you can regulate solar manufacturing for material and environmental safety, and adequately regulate nuclear industry on global basis and provide oversight to enrichment activities and fuel development in countries that have signed on to non-proliferation agreements.
I really don’t follow your straw man (either/or dogmatic logic). Nobody is suggesting we ban nuclear power as a way to ban nuclear weapons (I am not). This doesn’t mean we want to turn a blind eye to increasing the prevalence of weapons of mass destruction in the world, or fail to adequately deal with proliferation risks in countries with their own enrichment or nuclear power programs. If the only solution you can figure out to assault rifle violence is to ban the production of steel (or give everyone else a gun), I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. One of us is highlighting practical solutions to real world concerns, and the other is coming up with slogans (and imaginary straw man arguments).
My favoured analogy is very close to that: it is no more necessary to have an NPP to build a nuclear weapon than it is necessary to have an automobile to build a gun.
Was the need and requirement for the underground repository created to make nuclear power more costly? Then, once it was completed, the same groups/people that demanded the spent fuel be stored underground forever then fought against it’s final approval again to increase the cost of NP?
By what, ~0.1 cents/kW-hr?! Also note that all other approaches to the waste “problem”, such as advanced reactors and/or recycling involve costs that are *higher* than direct disposal in a geologic repository. (It’s cheaper to mine new uranium than extract it from used fuel, and it essentially always will be.)
If you want to talk about excessive nuclear plant safety and fabrication QA requirements, emergency planning requirements, and the overall instilling of fear of small amounts of radiation, then yes, you have a point.
0.1 cents/kWh is quite expensive for not actually getting a repository. The cost per repository is infinite.
We don’t have a repository (yet), but we also have spent a tiny fraction of that 0.1 cents/kW-hr cost. Most of the cost is in repository fabrication and operations, which only occur if you (indeed) have a repository.
As for what was “wasted” on site selection, analysis and licensing, those costs have been more than offset by the additional interest that has accrued (in the “trust fund”) due to the huge delays in the program. After all, a cost deferred is a cost reduced. (And yes, that would be a cogent argument for storing it and greatly delaying the final disposition, if only the political cost to nuclear power weren’t unacceptably high.)
I agree that the the mill per kw-hr is a minor cost that has added up to a substantial asset. Wouldn’t we be better off if that asset had been maintained in the hands of the utilities than to put it into the large and difficult to count pool of the Federal Treasury?
It may be difficult for people to accept, but the money does not actually exist except as a figure in a cell on a spreadsheet. The government spent it while trying to make the debt and annual deficits look slightly smaller.
I worked at Hanford some time ago. One of the things I was working on was the SNF-CSB. (Spent Nuclear Fuel Canister Storage Building). It was supposed to provide “interim” storage until the final repository could be built. I think they knew it wouldn’t be because they were planning on a minimum of 50 years for the stuff.
This link indicates they are pretty happy with things.
I guess casks are good enough for government work.
That’s not the way I read your link. INL’s SNF has got to be outta there by 2035. Where does it go? In absence of YMP, Hanford is plan B. Its small potatoes compared to what’s already there, but how does Washington feel about it? What kind of shell game is this? Cyril got it right:
Well… at least he got the first part right. But “that commitment can be in the form of money spread over bank accounts and the interest paying for indefinite dry cask storage” remains to be seen. I’m personally highly skeptical John Q. will buy off on that, and John’s support is necessary. We do need a long term commitment, a long term plan that is both safe and can be seen to be safe.
So I haven’t thrown in the towel on Yucca Mountain. That thing should be completed. Mothballed afterward, perhaps, but completed. Because the anti-nukes / pro-fossil contingent is not going to rest on this. Some or most of them will never be convinced, but John Q. might be. But he’s no dummy, and probably wants to see a Plan. I doubt a perpetual shell game for a few tens or hundreds of thousands of years will qualify.
Okay. So we can burn the stuff in FNR’s. What FNR’s? Whose going to build them? Starting when? How long will it take them to annihilate the used LWR fuel we’ve got? The additional used LWR fuel we’ll accumulate if we’re to avoid the near-term heat-death of our local universe? What do we with their wastes? “What, yet another 500 years surface storage with its security problems? Pffft. Why can’t you guys get serious about truly renewable energy sources like sun and wind?”
To the last, at least, we can have an answer: “Yes. Another 500 years surface storage of the daughter products. They’ll amount to maybe a few dozen casks worth after the FNR’s are done. Seriously. And if our great-grandkids don’t like it, they can deep-six them under Yucca Mountain or in WIPP or wherever their little hearts desire, because that will be their choice to make and the ungrateful little brats should be grateful we left them such choice, and an environment in which to make them. Meantime stop trying to play omniscient god with their destiny.”
Or something. We do need a Plan. I would like to leave them a choice.
I think you misread John Q public’s interest in the matter.
Rhetoric has worked to spread the fear and uncertainty; it can work to spread truth and confidence. If the current owners of the used nuclear fuel would simply tell the public that they are willing to “handle it,” and care for their used nuclear fuel without depending on the government — under government oversight, of course — the issue would fade away.
The primary amplifying voice for the opposition has been the actions of companies like Exelon as they continue to seek financial gain by suing the government for not taking title to the used material.
Yesterday, I thought of another reason why “the industry” is loath to tell people that they are sitting on a future fuel resource instead of “nuclear waste.” They might be worried that their state and local governments will start charging them property or inventory taxes on the valuable material. That is most likely a justifiable concern in many places.
I remain convinced that there is a strong business case for going into the used fuel enterprise, but first we have to break the federal government monopoly that was established by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982.
Ed, there is no such thing as nuclear waste. There is spent LWR and CANDU fuel, which can be recycled in LMFBRs, and a small amount of fission products,most of which can be recovered in the fuel recycling process used by fast reactors.
Most of the used fuel will be U-238 with other actinides and fission products constituting the rest.
Actinides can simply be recycled in breeder reactor cores, until they are burned
Most of the spent fission products will not be radioactive after 300 years, and some of the rest can be used in nuclear medicine, for food processing and for industrial purposes. After 300 years, fission products become safe.
Thus the solution to the so called problem of nuclear waste is to find uses for the fission products, and use the actinides as nuclear fuel.
After our recent ISFSI campaign, we now have 36 beautiful casks sitting on our pad at Columbia. Maximum contact dose rates on the casks…….2 mRem/hr. General area dose rates on entire pad….<1 mRem/hr. Dose rates at RCA/Security boundary……15-200 microRem/hr. Self cooled, welded shut and harmless.
Recycling is already the official policy in many states including Russia, China and India and the US can keep its used fuel in casks till feels the urge to do the same. It is actually quite a useful stuff if you decide to reprocess it. Once you start on a closed cycle, even the storage space problem will be reduced.
This has seemed obvious for a long time. Casks don’t take up much space, they don’t cost that much, maintenance is virtually zero, and we are almost certain to burn the fuel in fast reactors at some point in the future (it really doesn’t seem that far off, if you look at the Russian BN800, which started up last month), or maybe in David LeBlanc’s molten-salt ‘burner’. It may take a long time to get the fissionable material to get these reactors started … but who cares?
There’s a passage in a movie that speaks for most movies with nuclear reactors in them, namely Ice Station Zebra (which ought strike a chord with this blog’s host. ) 🙂 The scene, inside a nuclear submarine, Captain Rock Hudson is showing Ernest Brognine the glowing cap of a reactor:
Ernest: (in awe) It — almost looks — malevolent
Husdon: In that state, highly monitored and highly controlled yes, but like a dragon it doesn’t like to be confined and leashed.
This is the view most the public have of reactors; barely under-controlled ever budging balloons that just can’t wait to blow. And of nuclear waste, just turn to Homer Simpson, who has converted legions of the public that nuclear waste is a glowing green goo fighting to break out of steel drums to seep into your bedroom. Yea, sounds nuts — except it works. And why the public and pols demand deep holes to sink it in — if we can’t stop making nukes at all.
With my mistrust of multi-national corporate entities, that are only beholden to profits, I fail to see how trusting them with the responsible treatment of ANY waste issue, nuclear or otherwise. Removing the federal government from the process of storage is an invitation for corporate abuse, which is the inevitable result when profit drives policy, sans regulation.
Yes, I understand that regulation is often driven by politics, special interests, and false narrative. But it is the corrupt process of regulation that needs to be mended, NOT the role of government in regulating industrial treatment of waste storage.
I’m not suggesting removal of government from regulating. I’m suggesting that the government is the wrong organization to be “responsible” for planning, building, and operating the facilities. There are many examples of government enterprises that do just as bad a job of self regulating as large corporations do. Government run enterprises are just as likely to cut corners under budgetary pressure as private enterprises are, especially if they have any say over the inspectors.
Though not perfect, the model of private enterprise functioning under government oversight seems to work reasonably well.
That’s pretty much what happened in Finland. After it became apparent that breeders won’t be here to eat the waste away, the government told the companies to figure out a solution and a place for it by a deadline and to get on with the work by the second deadline.
And it’s been mostly on track. http://www.posiva.fi/en/final_disposal/general_time_schedule_for_final_disposal
Regulatory oversight and some kicking at times was required.
As everyone here should understand, the risks and costs associated with (the tiny volume of) nuclear waste are both negligible, in the grand scheme of things, no matter what we decide to do with it. On the order of a fraction of a cent/kW-hr, whether we go once-through or choose any closed cycle/advanced reactor option. The main issue is politics and public acceptance, for new reactors, keeping existing ones open, and nuclear in general. The fact is that the perception that we have no *permanent/disposal* solution for nuclear waste is one of the largest, if not the largest source of public opposition to nuclear power.
Often, when the issue comes up with people outside the industry, and I tell them about how we’re storing the stuff long term (or indefinitely) because the repository continues to be stymied, the chuckle and/or roll their eyes and say something like: “so you (still) don’t know how to dispose of it so you’re just storing it indefinitely.” I try to say something about how the issue has been technically solved, and it’s all political, but I can tell that the argument doesn’t get much traction.
The (false) perception is that nuclear waste is unique in terms of longevity, and unique in that there is no acceptable technical disposal solution. So, we’re just letting it pile up, in the hopes that an “acceptable” solution will be found someday. This strikes many/most people as incredibly stupid. Many would sign on to the idea that “we should stop generating the stuff” until the solution is found. People like us can tell them that we do have technical solutions, but many if not most will not find that sufficiently reassuring. Nothing short of an approved repository will do that.
And no, the public will not acccept long-term stewardship (or a long term “commitment” that some commenters here have mentioned). This sounds an awful lot like the “nuclear priesthood” term that nuclear opponents continually throw around, i.e., the notion of an institution having to carefully monitor this (one, unique) waste stream for centuries or millenia. Why do they keep talking about it? Because it is an incredibly potent anti-nuclear talking point. The idea that humanity would lock itself into a commitment to babysit something indefinitely (and probably fail to do so) just to generate some electricity for a few decades? Sounds incredibly irresponsible and short-sighted.
The public impression, true or not, is that nuclear waste is unique in this regard. Why? Because final burial sites exist for all other waste streams (as far as I know). That is, all other wastes have a “final, permanent solution” (the inherent assumption being that they are acceptable solutions). We all know that many such waste streams, along with their permanent disposal methods/sites, actually pose a far larger public health risk, over the long as well as short term, than nuclear waste ever will, whichever fuel cycle and disposal option we choose, but the public won’t take our word for it. Only an approved, operating *permanent* disposal solution (site) will do that. That is, a final solution that requires no more monitoring or obligations of any kind by humanity. A permanent, final, disposal solution (like all other waste streams have).
Having the NRC issue the final Safety Evaluation Report for Yucca Mountain, which essentially says that the NRC’s technical staff concurs that the repository meets all of the (impeccible) technical requirements will help, but it probably won’t be enough. Myself, and others, will try to argue that (as shown by the Yucca SER) we have a proven, adequate technical solution to the nuclear waste “problem”, and that it is a purely political problem. We will also try to argue that the nuclear waste stream has never harmed anyone and poses far smaller risks (short and long term) than most other waste streams. But we are unlikely to be successful.
“Giving up” on a permanent repository will essentially allow nuclear opponents to use what has been one of their most effective argument for several more decades. This may have a significant effect on the level of nuclear deployment (and the corresponding replacement of fossil fuels)’ something which truly is important with respect to public health risk and environmental impact.
We need to press for the release of the NRC’s Yucca SER. Then we need to spare no effort working with the good people of SE New Mexico and West Texas, who are eager to host a repository. Get DOE (and the govt.) to offer them whatever incentives are necessary (i.e., far more than was offered to Nevada). Centralized storage? A waste of money and political capital. What does it solve? Just store it on site until a repository is ready. Reprocessing and closed fuel cycle? Won’t help with the “waste problem” much at all; it being just one more attempt at a technical solution to a political and public perception problem.
““Giving up” on a permanent repository will essentially allow nuclear opponents to use what has been one of their most effective argument for several more decades. ”
You are approaching a political/educational problem with a technical solution. You’re playing along in a game that will cause you to lose. The more you fight like this, the more people will think spent fuel is dangerous, after all it needs a 100 billion dollar repository with so many scientists working to make it safe, it must be dangerous…
If we spend 0.1 cent/kWh in public education then we would not need any repository.
While you agree with MacFarlane on environmental risks and short and long-term finding for the GEIS on “continued storage of spent nuclear fuel” and resuming licensing activities on this basis. You have left out some of the details of her no vote on an indefinite time frame, and her specified basis for this. You come to the conclusion that over an indefinite time frame (with or without institutional controls), risk and costs decrease over time, rules are simple and easy to implement, and amount to nothing more than reading and remembering “how to keep used nuclear fuel safely isolated” (in a plus 100 year time frame).
This is exactly the opposite conclusion that MacFarlane reaches. Costs continue to accumulate after 100 years in the absence of geological isolation (and require on-going active human oversight). “As spent fuel ages,” she writes, “its radioactivity decreases, and hence it loses its self-protecting qualities that increase vulnerability to theft. As a result, security requirements for storage facilities will increase over time [not decrease]. It is only logical that the federal government would have to step in at some point to directly finance indefinite storage; or licensees would have to rely upon favorable judgments from the courts to reimburse them indefinitely for continued storage costs.” Hotel costs for dry SNF storage are currently estimated at $3 million to $7 million per year per facility (GAO, p. 38). Costs “could reach hundreds of millions to billions of (2014) dollars for each site during a hundred-year lifetime” (MacFarlane summarizes from a NRC staff estimate).
Only one of her reasons for voting no on the unspecified impacts of indefinite storage has to do with environmental and safety risks (which are minimal). The remaining, she describes, have to do with “intergenerational equity … the high costs of indefinite storage, and the potential security and proliferation risks posed by lower activity spent fuel.” Given the unsolvable nature of siting geological repositories (and the ease at which they can be derailed, as you describe), you seem to agree with her that these costs need to be better detailed in the GEIS. One way to address these indefinite future impacts are to address the issue sooner rather than later (via geological isolation) … the approach preferred by MacFarlane. Another, as you suggest, is a fee that adequately protects future taxpayers and licensees from uncertain future costs, which rise over an indefinite timeframe (1 mill/kWh is likely too small given your assumptions). A third is to look at closing the fuel cycle, which requires new investments and public costs (R&D funds), and doesn’t solve the geologic repository challenge (waste slated for geological isolation has reduced volume and radiotoxicity). And a fourth is to continue to do nothing.
It seems three Commissioners decided to ignore the issue, and just continue with business as usual (and let other people figure it out). And a fourth decided to ask for some further details on longer term impacts, and possibly exert a bit of pressure on these questions (and bring them into clearer focus and a quicker resolution). If it’s a large new nuclear build we are hoping to see, I don’t see where unspecified future impacts on “continued storage of spent nuclear fuel” gets us there. At best, it will result in a trickle, and leave for another time more difficult challenges and decisions about a nuclear future.
Proliferation “issues” are a joke. The continued discussion of it (in the context of nuclear power) is becoming increasingly tiresome.
Now and hundreds of years down the road the stuff is and will be completely unattractive as a target; the single most difficult way of getting weapons material. Just mining and enriching uranium is and will remain far easier. Reprocessing is harder, and I haven’t even mentioned the unsuitable plutonium isotope distribution. Want to make a dirty bomb? Knock over a hospital (a vastly more attractive target, with vastly better bomb material, none of it secured).
0.1 cents/kW-hr not enough?! Ever heard of compounding long term interest? As time goes on, the trust fund will continue to exponentiate, and the waste will get less and less hazardous. Long-term storage costs are minimal as are *appropriate* security costs.
This is the world’s most responsibly managed waste stream. Managed, stored, and desposed of (if and when the repository happens) to the most impeccible requirements imposed on any waste stream, with all costs fully paid by the generator. Impacts on future generations? Only positive ones, in the form of (a small number of) jobs, fully pre-paid for by our generation.
Meanwhile, toxins from other, far more carelessly buried waste streams will be filling their lungs, and lacing their soil and water. Those toxins will be spread throughout the biosphere with none of those cost or impacts paid for by the associated industries or included in the cost of their products. On top of all that, there is an altered climate (global warming) and the depletion of most of the earth’s precious hydrocarbons, just to be burned as energy over a couple centuries (~1900-2100). In terms of inflicting costs on future generations, nuclear is near the bottom of the list.
Seriously, people who consider themselves “environmentalists” really need to focus all of their attention on fossil fuels, especially coal and oil.
I made a bumper sticker that is currently displayed on the rear window of my work car (which I drive to a Nuke Plant) that says “REAL Environmentalists ARE Pro-Nuclear Power” with an accompanying trefoil. Doesn’t really turn too many heads in Eastern Washington, but once I go over the mountains, ohhh boy!! Seattle sure has a lot of people who seem to only have one finger on their hand…….
That’s what happens when back-to-the-landers get careless trying to split wood with an ax.
Well said, Jim. I too am tired of all the attempted and actual negative barriers and objections to nuclear energy based on fear, misinformation, or a far flung cobbled together fantasies of doomsday. Where is the hand-wringing over much easier to develop (and in my opinion far more diabolical) chemical and biological warfare agents?
Rather than looking at what nuclear energy has to offer and coming to what should be a -hey-this-is-better-than-we-thought realization, every detail is looked up as another yeah-but objection.
Yet, this same attitude isn’t transferred to renewables that have the innate difficulty of concentrating fickle and diffuse sources of energy. No, those technologies “hold promise”. Even the bird killing problem of wind generators is waved off with statements like “cats kill millions of birds too”. The hypocrisy is astounding.
Your assumption is incorrect, refurbishment and security costs increase on an indefinite basis. If these costs are small, as you suggest, I presume you would agree with MacFarlane (and would recommend including them as an impact to an indefinite storage scenario). Is there any real reason why you would legitimately exclude them from a GEIS having to do with short, long, and “indefinite” SNF storage options?
Without institutional controls … a trust fund established to provide refurbishment and security costs for a large number of facilities on an indefinite basis means nothing. With institutional controls, there are many factors and uncertainties that could play a role, and nobody has done a fee estimate of whether 1/10th of a cent per kWh is sufficient to address design basis risks and uncertainties (over different social, institutional, financial, geopolitical, and environmental assumptions). 100 years (or even double that) is a very long time. And it’s taken us 30 years to reach the conclusion that geological storage is either very difficult or unachievable (to take Rod’s observation as a serious one). We have many lurking risks in our financial and environmental system (we should be working to minimize them not multiply them). We either take this challenge seriously and document it (via reasonable and appropriate assessment), or we don’t (and just add another uncertainty to the long list of others and tell developers to take their risks and hope for the best). That’s a bad business strategy to my mind … and most likely an implausible or irresponsible one from a regulatory perspective.
I believe Rod has taken the wrong lesson from the Myth of Sisyphus. The answer is not abdication (or “suicide” as Camus would have it). But celebration of the task, and enjoyment of it (and the fundamental and irreconcilable contradictions that are involved). “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” In otherwords, the search for perfection is a futile task and unsuitable to human desire. No such thing exists in the real world (not for nuclear energy, or anything else). All that exists is the striving for a better and larger life, and in the striving we find our purpose (freedom and liberty).
You’re just making up fuzzy arguments that aren’t debateable in any productive manner.
The fund that gets 0.1 cent/kWh is currently accumulating USD 1 billion/year in interest rate alone. This is much more than enough to pay for institutional controls, surveillance, and once a 50 year re-packing of the stainless steel canisters.
Eventually it could make sense to store the oldest dry casks at a central surface facility, to reduce instititutional costs and such. It isn’t necessary though, if you want to stay below 1 billion/year operational/institutional costs.
These ARE the issues that concern a product that mandates active human oversight for as long as that product exists (or otherwise a “very very long” or “indefinite” time). If they aren’t debatable in a productive manner, perhaps you have come to the same conclusion as Rod (there is no productive way to securely minimize or actively solve them). It’s worth considering we are interested in addressing global energy issues (not just energy issues in very stable countries that are likely to have very secure and stable institutional controls over the next 100 to 300 years, and much longer). Rod cites the pyramids as an example of a physical structure with a 5,000 year history. How often have those structures been plundered over the years, or rehabilitated with extensive re-enforcement, repairs, and close surveillance to minimize future impacts (here).
EL “These ARE the issues that concern a product that mandates active human oversight for as long as that product exists (or otherwise a “very very long” or “indefinite” time). ”
You are dodging the main points again EL. They are:
1. The long term environmental and public risk of spent fuel is tiny even if badly managed. Badly managed old spent fuel would be thousands of times safer than, say, stairs, or bicycles, or cars, or any other everyday risk we do accept.
2. The cost of properly storing the stuff in dry casks is tiny, even if it is deferred to future generations (ie we screw up). Compared to say the cost of all the energy storage needed to make wind and solar energy work without significant carbon emissions (or, compared to the cost of all the natural gas to be burned if we fail to build the energy storage).
You are suggesting “false equivalence” is a better standard for evaluating these issues in a more productive manner?
These costs are not tiny … particularly in instances where there is a loss of institutional control, or normative baseline evaluation of risks and impacts from relatively average social, financial, geopolitics. and environmental assumptions over a 300 year time frame (or perhaps longer on an “indefinite” basis given the newly claimed impossible task of pushing the geological repository rock up the hill every day). Again, we’re not talking about the scope of the challenge merely for the US (where there have been relatively stable institutional controls over the last 50 years or so), but for an industry on a global basis (in countries that don’t show as high a level of geopolitical and institutional stability as we have in US).
If local efforts to site and build geological repositories are deemed impossible within a national framework, what are the prospects for broader international cooperation and sufficient global oversight of fuel security risks from a greater number of sites (“indefinite” SNF storage sites, all of which still hold very significant long term costs, geopolitical risks, national sovereignty concerns, and haven’t been sufficiently hardened against global terrorism threats) any better. If we decide to do nothing, who is going to pick up the cost for failed States (from a minimal and insufficient tax on private companies in one country), or the high cost of artificially defending and propping up States that are too big to fail (as a consequence of SNF inadequately secured inside their borders). If you’re going to externalize these costs onto others (future ratepayers, national governments, international security and monitoring and relief agencies), no wonder why nobody wants to account for these costs. Keep them tiny, and better to let other people pay them.
Last time I checked, the risks associated with getting on a bicycle, walking up stairs, etc., were short in duration and my own to take. Those of storing spent nuclear fuels are long in duration, and have direct impact on others (future generations charged with the “indefinite” task of rigorous, costly, and careful oversight). I don’t see where the two are comparable, or where such arguments aren’t a “dodge” of the main points you so eagerly wish to address and discuss.
If we decide to do nothing, who is going to pick up the cost for failed States (from a minimal and insufficient tax on private companies in one country), or the high cost of artificially defending and propping up States that are too big to fail (as a consequence of SNF inadequately secured inside their borders).
If we decide to take reasonable actions that lower the overall cost and the perceived risk of building new nuclear power plants, I predict that we will avoid the problems of failed states. Prosperity, access to individually useful power, and education are pretty good preventive actions against the kinds of factors that end up causing anarchy to reign.
“You are suggesting “false equivalence” is a better standard for evaluating these issues in a more productive manner?’
I’m sorry EL, debating with you is non productive. You keep missing the main points, in stead focus on destractions, sideshows and strawmen.
You’re funny though. In a nerdy and childish kind of way.
You mean like equating the risks, long term costs, and institutional controls around stairs and bicycle riding with those of SNF storage requirements (with unspecified costs, indefinite time frames, intergenerational impacts, and evidence for known terrorism and global security risks)?
Good luck with that … I am pretty certain “dodging the main issues” (as you have characterized it) is not likely to be your friend.
You’re getting tiresomely repetitive. Just because the future cannot be specified with precision does not mean that we have no idea what will happen.
We have a good understanding of the material requirements and behavior of the containers that can safely isolate used nuclear fuel from the environment. Though many people — including you — glibly talk about “known terrorism and global security risks,” there is no objective evidence anywhere in the world of a situation in which used nuclear fuel caused a negative human health impact.
There has never been an attack on used nuclear fuel storage areas.
As Murphy says, “if something bad can happen, it will.” A corollary to that rule is that if nothing bad has happened over a 60 year period in 30 different countries with many different physical and political situations, then perhaps it is time to recognize that nothing bad CAN happen.
Fanciful scenarios should never trump actual world experience.
We actually don’t in this instance (which is why this issue is relevant and available documentation is important to include here). Uncertainties don’t typically lead to a rush of confidence from utilities and investors putting up large sums, and taking on equally large liabilities. Sandia Labs study is preliminary, and has not resulted in a document that is publicly reviewable. Impact of jet fuel was not considered in their model. NAS review concluded with the following: “Based on the analyses it did receive [including Sandia Labs study], the committee judges that no cask provides complete protection against all types of terrorist attacks. The committee judges that releases of radioactive material from dry casks are low for the scenarios it examined with one possible exception as discussed in the classified report” (here). They recommend the following low cost and simple steps to harden such interim storage sites: additional surveillance, partial earthen berms, visual barriers (that don’t trap jet fuel), spacing alternatives, use of spacer shims, and changes to cask design. The NRC says casks are safe, but no analysis has been done on the adequacy, risks, and costs of indefinite storage (and they have been specifically excluded from public findings on the topic).
I believe Rod has taken the wrong lesson from the Myth of Sisyphus. The answer is not abdication (or “suicide” as Camus would have it).
What makes you think I have advocated “abdication” or suicide? Sisyphus was condemned to his labor by a powerful god. I don’t believe in the god. My prescription is to simply ignore the curse and walk away from task, daring the “god” to try to stop that action. In other words, declare freedom from the bondage and enjoy other, more valuable pursuits.
I was, of course, referring to the Greek mythology, not Camus’s nihilist interpretation of the Greek myth. I’m a rational being who believes that our life is not absurd and that a quest for knowledge can improve our lives because many parts of our world are eminently knowable.
I did a rough calculation of how much space the 2000 tons of spent fuel rods take up when placed in dry cask storage. It takes about 100 dry cask containers, of which about 90% of that mass is the weight of the containers themselves. Perhaps around 95% or more of the volume is also the containers and a little more if the airspace around them is included. This would take up about 1.4 acres of space – about the size of a parking lot for 100 cars. This footprint can be reduced if casks are laid horizontally and stacked as well.
The scale of mining, railroads, and waste disposal of coal dwarfs this by a factor of 10’s (perhaps 100’s) of millions.
Of course, dry cask storage is later in the process of the fuel cycle, but I think that’s helpful to visualize what a easily manageable volume of material this is even if it were multiplied by a factor of 4 fold. Dry casks can easily be inspected and replaced if needed.
There is something beautiful about a power plant that can contain its used fuel in onsite in nice neat packaging for the lifetime of the plant. We could be an 80% nuclear powered USA and even for the next 100 years, the dry cask storage containers would still be manageable and relatively small.
I have to admit that high-level nuclear waste, in the form of spent fuel rods, is a subject where I feel my knowledge is limited.
I believe I’m correct in saying that the rods usually consist of uranium oxide pellets sealed in a zirconium alloy cladding, with a small fraction of fission products and irradiation/transmutation products incorporated. I also believe I’m correct in saying that the decay heat load in the rods requires pumped water cooling for days or weeks after a reactor shutdown, and then water immersion cooling for around five years before transfer to dry cask storage becomes possible. Loss of cooling can result in oxidation/rupture of the cladding and release of volatile radioactive materials including caesium. Corrections, clarifications and quantifications welcome.
I presume the alloy cladding stops all alphas and betas from leaving the rods, and neutron is negligible, but my understanding is that the gamma emissions from a single rod would be dangerous at close range for well over a century. I am curious to know after what time it would be safe to e.g. unload a truck full of spent rods by hand. How long is it before standing next to a single spent PWR rod at a range of 1m for 8 hours gives you a no greater dose than a CAT scan? 100 years? 200? Is it safe to hold your daily poker game next to a full dry cask every day?
Most material I’ve read on the long-term safety of spent fuel considers the fuel “safe” when the “radiotoxicity” (oral?) has decayed away to the same level of natural uranium, which takes of the order of 100,000 years. I’m fairly sure that’s an extreme requirement, but HOW extreme? The strontium and caesium isotopes are radiotoxic, water soluble/mobile and bio-available but they are mostly gone after 300 years, definitely gone after 600. You still have plutonium and other actinides, and they may be more radiotoxic by ingestion than natural uranium, but does that really matter? My understanding is that they are in the form of non-soluble oxides, of low mobility and low bioavailability, and I recall Bernard Cohen’s offer to eat or inhale plutonium (oxide?) in public to demonstrate it’s low toxicity (http://www.fortfreedom.org/p22.htm). How does spent fuel compare with lead or mercury or cadmium or arsenic after 300 years, or 600? How does it compare with fly ash, or used cadmium-telluride PV cells? Again, corrections, clarifications and quantifications welcome!
Mostly correct. Oxidation is only a risk in high temperature steam. It does not occur in high temperature air (almost negligible rates). Once the spent fuel is more than 1-2 years old in the storage pool, it is no longer in risk of overheating upon loss of cooling. The heat loss to the air in the building is high enough to prevent rupture. You could say they become walk away safe after 1-2 years or so (exact time depends on the type of fuel, BWR or PWR, and the spent fuel density and arrangement). This is true even if an earthquake punctures a giant hole in the spent fuel pool bottom and drains it completely.
As you correctly guessed the radiation hazard is to do with the gamma rate. Long term its only alpha and beta. Alpha and beta don’t even make it out of the spent fuel cladding, and certainly not through the spent fuel canister even if cladding has leaked. The radiotoxicity estimates usually use ingestive toxicity, which assumes people are going to eat spent fuel. This is quite extreme. If we judge gasoline safety by its ingestive toxicity we must conclude that petrol stations are mass murderers, but that’s silly. With gasoline you could assume ingestion since it is a consumer product and is a liquid. Whereas spent fuel is not a consumer product and looks like metal and rocks, not the kind of thing anyone would try to eat. This ingestive toxicity note is quite important because the spent fuel ingestive toxicity is all in the alpha emitters in the long term. Ingestive toxicity gives an unfair picture, only useful for anti-nuclear activists. If you look at the actual risk, gamma radiation, you can handle the material with gloves after 300-400 years or so depending on burnup and type of fuel, based on a maximum safe level of 1 mSv/h gamma dose to workers. CANDU fuel can be handled sooner with just gloves.
“Is it safe to hold your daily poker game next to a full dry cask every day?”
Absolutely. I will use the dry casks at my plant as an example.
Lets say you set up your table right next to our hottest cask (0.5 mrem/hr general area)
Lets say you play poker for 6 hours
Your daily poker dose would be 3 mrem or 21 mrem a week. This leaves your annual exposure at 1092 mrem……..3908 mrem under the Federal Limit for Nuke workers (5000 mrem)
Again…..very low number when considering actual risks to one’s health. You know what is really unhealthy? Playing poker for 6 hours 365 days a year.
why would anyone want to play poker in an ugly concrete environment? No beers, no bar, no women… bah.
Your wives wouldn’t come looking for you there.
Not to mention all the annual unescorted access training, having to wear dosimetry, no chewing, eating or drinking allowed and having to get security to let you in and out every time you need to use the bathroom. But hey, it would be kind of nice to play at night under the calm ambient blue lighting of the Cherenkov. Just pop one of the tops of a cask, fill it with water and bingo.
“I believe Rod has taken the wrong lesson from the Myth of Sisyphus. The answer is not abdication (or “suicide” as Camus would have it). But celebration of the task, and enjoyment of it (and the fundamental and irreconcilable contradictions that are involved). “The struggle itself … is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” In otherwords, the search for perfection is a futile task and unsuitable to human desire. No such thing exists in the real world (not for nuclear energy, or anything else). All that exists is the striving for a better and larger life, and in the striving we find our purpose (freedom and liberty).”
I don’t know about happy, but maybe you are right about having a new perspective on this. There are a lot of smart people out there with a lot of different ideas and perspectives on this problem (opportunity?). Maybe, the US should go out for bid. This bid would be for the best alternative to handle the waste. It may turn out that what is being done right now is the best alternative. (The near do nothing alternative.) It may turn out that there is some genius out there that has a fresh alternative that may be a win win situation for everyone. (except maybe Greenpeace) Government bidding has spurred innovation in other areas, why not here? It would serve a secondary purpose of spurring interest and making people more aware of the problem. As the public became more aware of the issue by following this bidding process (the contest), some enlightenment may occur.
Even if you put it into a ifr or msr , you will still need a deep geological repository, maybe the design restrictions are lower from the spent ifr fuel, but nevertheless a repository is still required
Why? Please justify your assertion that a repository is needed and don’t simply state it as a fact. Will it improve safety? Will it reduce cost? Will it make it easier to handle the used material?
Please remember that “a repository” or even numerous repositories necessitate the transportation of used nuclear materials. That is not physically difficult, but transportation offers numerous intervention pathways and the the opportunity to legally tie the process up in knots.
With central geological storage, you can more carefully isolate waste from water (via site selection), monitor for water infiltration, lower contamination and waste leaching risks from poorly maintained facilities and accidents. Can you provide the latest on dry cask storage and terrorism risks?
Are you telling me that it is easier to control the environment in a mine than it is in a building? Perhaps that is where we should put all of those valuable art collections currently stored in engineered buildings?
The answer to your worries about “poorly maintained facilities” is to keep the facilities up on the surface where they are easier and cheaper to maintain and where government inspectors have an easier time watching over them.
I would think that one of the lessons learned from the recent issues at WIPP is that “out of sight, out of mind” is not a terribly sustainable way to run a facility. After all, that place had age and budget constraint-related maintenance challenges after just 15 years of operation.
“With central geological storage, you can more carefully isolate waste from water (via site selection), ”
This is just not true. You can not guarantee no water ingress in a deep geological repository to the same degree you can with dry casks. Compare this to a dry cask facility on a tall piece of bedrock high above any conceivable water table. Compare to easily moved dry casks. Compare to easily cooled dry casks (repositories result in higher fuel temperatures because rock is an insulator).
Repositories are just dry casks facilities with the added cost, complexity, and delays of underground work. Any engineer knows, you do not go underground unless you have no other option (eg a gold mine). Stay on the surface. Don’t go underground, don’t go out to sea, unless you have to.
“Can you provide the latest on dry cask storage and terrorism risks?”
“Numerous analyses, including terrorist scenarios, have been conducted on the ruggedness of the various dry storage containers used in the United States. One such study, conducted by Sandia National Laboratory, subjected a steel and concrete cask similar in design to the Holtec Hi-Storm, to a device 30 times more powerful than a typical anti-tank weapon. Another study illustrated the effects of a large commercial aircraft traveling low to the ground at 350mph, precisely hitting nuclear plant containment structures, used fuel storage pools and dry cask storage containers of the type chosen for IPEC. In other analyses, hypothetical F-16 strikes were launched on the Holtec casks.
In all of these analyses, it has been concluded that the robust system of concentric steel and concrete cylindrical containers will prevent radioactive material from being released to the environment. In fact, for the first two scenarios, there was no release. The NRC staff filed 9 reports on the F-16 scenario, concluding that an accidental aircraft or ordnance impact on similar casks at a proposed facility in Utah (NRC Docket 72-22-ISFSI) does not pose a credible hazard to public health and safety. Holtec’s simulated F-16 strikes showed that MPC confinement will be maintained intact.”
The things are mini bunkers. Even if they would be breached the spent fuel itself is ceramic and contained in robust cladding with large surface area for passive heat loss. It just isn’t possible to get a large release.
The security around plants and their storage bunkers, and the implied risks of radioactive materials within, says more than words and studies.
Your comment illustrates a nuclear conundrum. If we are casual about security, we get beat up. If we add security we get beat up.
The same issues affect safety considerations. If we give a plant tour that shows all of the many layers of safety devices and thick layers of defense in depth, most people are impressed and reassured. Others say “if you think you need all those barriers, you must be really afraid.”
“Those who think a thing is impossible haven’t yet met those who can do the thing. ”
That’s a stupid argument. You can say anything is possible. Its possible to walk to the moon without a spaceship, we just haven’t met the person yet. Right! Stay within the physical envelope please!
“The security around plants and their storage bunkers, and the implied risks of radioactive materials within, says more than words and studies. ”
That’s almost as stupid as your previous argument. I just got back from a transatlantic flight. In Washington the airport security made me remove my coat, shoes, and they searched my body for weapons. I’m harmless, but judging by the security, I must be Osama Bin Laden’s son. Yeah, lets judge the danger of things by the amount of security. The USA is paranoid about safety and crowd control. Paranoia is not safety.
‘Never forget 911, or 419.”
The dry casks are aircraft crash proof, unlike the World Trade Center. Many lives would have been saved if the aircraft crashed on dry casks rather than a vulnerable building full of people.
“Deep ocean disposal has a certain appeal.”
It has certain technical appeal; it completely lacks political appeal.
This is the difficulty with siting permanent burials. Just about all of them work technically and are low risk, but none of them are likely to succeed politically.
Are you referring to the following Sandia Labs report:
In it’s unclassified version, it seems to be conflicted about it’s own conclusions:
Two independent studies reviewed by GAO are summarized as follows:
In addition, as self protecting features of SNF in dry casks becomes reduced over time, GAO identifies “maintaining security over the long term” as an “additional challenge”:
My assumption is based on my understanding that there will be fission products even from IFR. These fission products cannot be used again. So the only choice eventually after a period of cooling and dry storage is to dispose them off in a repository. I cannot see any other way to manage the fission products unless some new method is discovered to utilise the fission products
What is wrong with the French method of vitrifying fission and then stacking the resulting glass cylinders in a surface storage building? Fission products are generally fairly short lived, with half lives of less than 30 years. There are plenty of buildings with good weather integrity that are more than 300 years old on the surface of the earth.
The great Pyramids are about 5,000 years old; nothing stored in them would have escaped to the environment.
Besides, there are many fission products that have commercial uses. Cs-137 can replace Co-60 in irradiators and Sr-90 is a pretty decent heat source for radioisotope thermal generators. NNadir who used to blog at Daily Kos produced several lengthy posts about various ways to reuse fission products; some of them have concentrated value.
If they were seriously looking for options, that is one that could be offered as a proposal. Bechtel is building a vitrification plant right now for DOE. If the bugs are worked out of it, a firm price may be available.
The French are pursuing geological disposal at Bure.
Do gamma rays make glass glow as prettily as they do water? (I can find physics homework on it, but no pictures.) If so, my suggestion is to vitrify the stuff in clear glass and literally make a pyramid out of it. Let it glow away on a piece of desert somewhere. Let it be a tourist attraction.
If there are so many terrific and tourist attracting solutions, why are we incapable of doing any of them (on a very long term basis), and some are now advocating walking away from the job. Nobody ever plundered the pyramids (I have absolutely no doubt).
We are perfectly capable of doing the job; what we are not capable of doing is achieving unanimity. Reid and Jaczko shenanigans should have showed us that our current system allows a tiny minority to say “no,” even if there was a previous yes. What controls could possibly imposed on the process to ensure that a community that gives its consent at the beginning of a repository process does not later change its mind on a whim or on the election of someone with a different opinion?
Why does it matter that YOU have absolutely no doubt that someone must have plundered the pyramids? Did the valuable artifacts disappear?
Re: The great Pyramids are about 5,000 years old; nothing stored in them would have escaped to the environment.
It’s notable that when the first British explorers raided the Pyramids and Spinx and other Egyptian tombs, they were soberly reminded to also watch out for robber-repelling poisons such as “simple” arsenic compounds which lose little of their potency even after thousands of years. Such perils flavored exciting literature in England.
No doubt a few brave explorers were killed by the hollywood style traps in pyramids.
That doesn’t make pyramids dangerous though. Compared to say traffic accidents (2 million/year) or air pollution (7 million/year). EL would probably chime in to state we all decide of our own free will to drive and smoke ourselves to death, making the pyramid mysteriously dangerous and unique.
I think he was talking about that radioactive things aren’t the only things that stay toxic a long long time but so are some poisons too,
Even if they do, spent nuclear fuel does not produce enough of them.
If the Romans had had pressurized water reactors, we might still be managing the spent fuel rods from those reactors.
It is commonly, but falsely, asserted that we would have to do so. “Dose Rate Estimates from Irradiated Light-Water-Reactor Fuel Assemblies in Air” reveals that a big square PWR fuel rod, 50 years after retirement, can still kill people if they stand five metres from it for five hours, if nothing is between it and them.
But — based on the reduction in gamma ray output between those two times given by Kirk Sorensen’s “Spent Fuel Explorer” Java program — if it had been cooling since Roman times, it would take 9000 hours to dose them with the same radiation at the same distance. But the same dose, received over that much time, would be ineffective, just as winter sunlight, indoors, through curtains, is ineffective in causing sunburn.
That is why we might still be managing that rod, the legacy of 100 Romans’ lifetime of direct and indirect electricity use, if they had been using as much electricity as we do: it would be in a museum.
It would be unshielded, a not-very-interesting exhibit that no-one would stand next to for even five minutes, let alone standing there like a statue for more than a year.
Why would the museum not be hypersensitive to possible public concerns? Well, the public hasn’t really had much of a voice in its supposed radiation phobia, and that phobia has been uncannily selective for radiation sources — however small — that are connected with loss by government of fossil fuel revenue.
The revenue the rod had denied to Roman authorities, assuming they had had that same dependency as our civil servants do today, might still be causing their shades to natter about isotopes and no-safe-dose, but the living would have long since moved on.
2000 year old spent fuel doesn’t emit meaningful gamma rays.
In fact, at 500 years, the dose rate at 1 meter of a PWR fuel assembly is below the long term chronic health damage threshold (2 mSv/day), even if you would stand next to it at 1 meter for 24 hours a day.
This is why we do not need more than 500 years of storage. Recycling becomes so attractive, the dose rate becomes so small and the recycling technology can only improve in the future.
Or sell the part-used fuel to countries that do build power stations that can use it. It could be a major export earner for the US.
I suggested to Steve Aplin that the US just build a DUPIC plant and simply give the stuff to Ontario; the higher burnup would even produce less spent fuel. He was friendly to the idea.
@Keith, Rod, and J
IFR technology & recycling is not centuries away … we could build it in less than 10-20 years if someone funded it.
The French are actually vitrifying fission products along with their actinide/transuranic friends. The French are only recycling plutonium … the byproducts are only reduced to ~10,000-year radiotoxicity. IFR recycling only produces Fission Products by design … which has only 300-year radiotoxicity. The French warehouse may stand 300 years … but not 1,000.
Who says the French plan is to stop with one recycle or that they plan to be building only LWRs forever?
@Rod Adams, Brian
Because this isn’t the French plan (as determined by independent waste management agency and national policy). The French plan is to immobilize HLW and ILW-LL (most of it from power reactors and reprocessing facilities), pour it into stainless steel casks and barrels, and send it down boreholes drilled 130 feet into 150 million year old rock (1/3 mile underground) near the town of Bure in one of the least populated regions of France (here). They are doing so because there is “no guarantee” to warehousing of such hazardous materials for a time frame of 100,000 years, and to “avoid saddling future generations with the radioactive waste we produce on a daily basis.” They describe their approach as responsible and proactive. If there are other approaches available (related to indefinite surface warehousing), the French aren’t pursuing them.
There are no guarantees in life, other than death.
There is no guarantee that, if we power the world with solar, there wouldn’t be a supervolcano eruption that decimates solar output and puts the whole world in a global station blackout, killing billions of people by the anarchy that follows.
There is no guarantee that we can safely store or dispose the hazardous substances produced as byproducts of solar panels. And we would have to store them for billions of years because, unlike spent fuel gamma rays which are gone in 500 years, cadmium and other wastes stay toxic forever.
Who is going to look after the cadmium in First Solar’s solar panels? When the company is long gone, and everyone realizes that solar panels are a marginally useful technology of which we should never have produced so much, millions of years from now, the cadmium will have no steward.
There is no comparable lifecycle plan for cadmium.
There are no guarantees. There are only better and worse choices, and bigger and smaller threats.
That would be First Solar. They have a global and unconditional pre-funded recycling program. Nobody has to look after it … it gets reused (here and here).
In a world of no-guarantees, that sounds pretty good. If solar industry can do it … why can’t nuclear (as the French are attempting to do)? You don’t think the French have a handle on what is required for a responsible, workable, and proactive nuclear investment in the future?
If First Solar’s recycling program is acceptable to you and you are willing to apply exactly the same acceptance criteria to nuclear energy programs, we can devise a system that would satisfy you. That effort would not result in universal acceptance; there are people who will never let go of “the waste issue” as a tool to constipate the development of nuclear energy.
I’m sure that you noticed that the page to which you linked does not describe a “global and unconditional pre-funded recycling program” for most customers. It describes an optional recycling program that customers can choose to use if they are willing to pay the additional costs. It is not included in the base price of First Solar’s systems. There are several payment options, including a pay-as-you-go option.
The last line on the page indicates that the current program has been recently revised from what used to be closer to to a “global and unconditional pre-funded recycling program.” Some existing customers are grandfathered into that program and one jurisdiction still requires the recycling costs to be included in the base price.
“For EU and pre-2013 sales customers, First Solar continues to operate an unconditional, prefunded Collection and Recycling Program for damaged and end-of-life modules.”
Even then, it does not appear that the program applied to all systems, only those that were damaged or had reached end-of-life. It would not have applied to systems where the customer simply wanted to get rid of the panels because she decided they were more trouble than they were worth.
There is also a footnote that indicates that First Solar’s recycling program does not address the specific element that Cyril R. mentioned as an integral part of the process.
*Cadmium and tellurium separation and refining are conducted by a third-party.
“There are no guarantees in life, other than death.”
I like the optimism – no taxes.
If the French bury the stuff they’ll be digging it up in a few generations as technology improves as it inevitably will. Some brie factory will need the energy.
@ EL. Once again you’ve completely missed the point.
This is not about a single recycle of solar panel cadmium. Cadmium’s risk is toxicity and it will last forever. Practically that’s a couple billion years of recycling you’d have to do. A once in a 50 year recycle over say 2 billion years means that this company, First Solar, must be committed to 40 MILLION times recycling. Now there are lot of problems here. Can we expect this company, First Solar, to exist for billions of years? They did not exist 30 years ago. Lets imagine they or some other form of cadium solar panel manufacturer does exist forever. Even then there’s a problem because recycling is not a perfect thing. Not all panels get recycled. Even if its only 0.1% of the panels that don’t get recycled (because of fire or failure to turn in the panels), all of the cadmium will eventually find its way into the environment over millions of recycles. Clearly this does not work as a containment scheme.
Even worse, and much more likely, is that we discontinue the use of cadmium telluride as a semiconductor; cadmium is toxic, tellurium is rare, and CdTe is not that brilliant a semiconductor. There will likely be a better alternative in the future. Then all that cadmium waste won’t be recycled into new solar panels; EL is now in serious trouble with his or her reasoning.
Clearly recycling doesn’t actually work with a toxin that stays toxic forever. The toxin will eventually win and make it to the environment. Companies are not forever. Cadmium is. Unless you eventually destroy it in a nuclear reactor as say control rod elements.
Clearly it is easy to shoot giant holes in any argument EL can come up with.
This absurdity does not mean I consider cadmium from solar panels a risk to future generations, an unfair and unique risk that somehow requires extreme demands of solar panel manufacturers. It is a much bigger risk than spent nuclear fuel, which does not stay dangerous for billions of years, but it is acceptable. This is what EL does not understand. The risks from managing toxins and radionuclides are not great hazard to humankind. Managing chemical and industrial wastes that stay toxic forever, over hundreds of geological cycles, is much more challenging than managing radionuclides that only have to be managed for a tiny fraction of a geological cycle.
News flash … nothing has universal acceptance. If this is what you are after, you indeed are Sisyphus, and will be forever attached to your futile task. We engineer passive safety into power plants, and I don’t see why we can’t do the same with SNF (and fuel cycles including recycling that are cost effective and competitive and include disposal of long lived waste). The French have the right approach: “The safety of Cigeo after its closure must not depend on surveillance, for surveillance cannot be maintained with certainty beyond a period of a few hundred years. The long-term safety of Cigeo must therefore be ensured passively, i.e. without requiring any human intervention.”
It doesn’t have to be acceptable to me (although it would be an extra bonus if it were), it has to be acceptable to those putting up funds to invest in fuel cycle and power plants, and who are taking on the long term (now “indefinite”) liability of producing such waste. Rather than address uncertainties directly and make tough choices to minimize them (some of which involve additional costs and difficult politics), your approach is always the same, you attempt to double down on uncertainty and say “get used to it” (nobody did anything good in the world without taking a few risks). In all honesty, I think this is shortsighted and impractical, and dodges fundamental structural impediments to advancing nuclear on a long term and more widespread basis. By always recommending weaker environmental, radiation, waste management, emergency planning, licensing, O&M, remediation, and other standards (even sometimes claiming the mantle of “environmental” by doing so) … you’re risking not being taken seriously, and worse, adding to basic uncertainty (for an industry already saddled with very high long term costs). I’m not sure why you don’t see this. You can recommend cutting ties to waste confidence (and claiming liability and public acceptance don’t matter) … I don’t see what is gained by any of this (for someone who has nuclear’s best interests in mind)?
“First Solar provides module collection and recycling at no additional cost to anyone in possession of a First Solar module.”
“Our Program is designed to be:
– Free of cost (e.g., at no additional cost – part of our product offering).
– Protected from the insolvency of First Solar.
– Minimize the environmental impacts of module disposal by encouraging a high collection and recycling rate.”
Do you have any evidence that this is a problem? I haven’t seen any. I would imagine “re-sale” would be a far better option for consumers with working panels (rather than junking them for a loss through end-of-life recycling).
Amusing. I went to the link you provided, read the material there, and described that it did not agree with what you implied that it said. Your reaction – find an undated sales pitch presentation that no longer matches the program described on the company’s own web site.
Quoting from First Solar’s current web site describing its recycling program:
One piece of “evidence” that some panel owners might want to get rid of them is the famous experience of the White House when the new resident determined that the panels installed by the previous resident were more trouble than they were worth. http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/thepresidentandcabinet/tp/History-of-White-House-Solar-Panels.htm
I can testify to having watched a similar activity on the natatorium at the US Naval Academy and from the roofs of at least three neighbors that junked panels.
Here is a link to an insurance company that has devised a product based on the understanding that the liability of guaranteeing recycling might be more than promising companies expected.
PS – I am well aware of the fact that universal acceptance is impossible. You apparently did not notice my ironic intent. Here is a more plain language version – I couldn’t care less about your approval or even attempting to obtain the approval of your associates. I believe my proposal is cost-effective and safe. It answers the often posed question of “what do you do with the waste” as long as that question is asked by someone who is actually interested in finding an acceptable (not perfect) solution. If it is asked as a rhetorical question designed to be a trump card, no answer is going to satisfy the asker. So what? They are simply a very loud minority.
One more thing – please do not attempt to imply that YOU engineer anything, which is what you seemed to be doing when you said “We engineer passive safety into power plants…”
Your comment makes no sense. The first recycle takes it out of the solar module and puts it back into useable form as an industrial product (to be returned to battery, electroplating, nuclear fission, solar semiconductor) or disposal (via certified in-plant, environmental, and public health safety standard). First Solar is responsible for the cadmium in it’s own panels (and nothing more). It has a program to recover this cadmium (and otherwise keep it out of landfills and the environment). What other people do with cadmium should similarly address any risks associated with manufacture, use, and decommissioning (First Solar is not responsible for the use and recovery of cadmium in general … in all applications and products in which it is used).
Did you really think First Solar is the only company making use of the element?
Though it is only a small correction, First Solar does not recycle cadmium directly. They offer a service to customers that uses a third party provider. From the site that describes their recycling offering:
Not really … the French don’t meet your criteria of someone “looking for and finding an acceptable (not perfect) solution” for “what do you do with the waste”?
The French appear to have a pretty good handle on what is required for a responsible, workable, and proactive (not perfect) nuclear investment in the future. They have made it further than “we” have in the US (especially if the last 35 years is any indication). If you think they are taking the wrong approach, and that more inaction on waste storage will benefit them (e.g., perhaps that don’t have a high enough number of indefinite SNF interim storage facilities as we have in the US), what exactly do you think they are doing wrong and how will being MORE like the US benefit them in this instance.
It’s clear to me you’re trying to make a virtue of deficit (a lack of action on long standing waste management plans and alternatives in the US). You’re doubling down on uncertainty, and saying it’s going to be just fine, people will continue to invest (take on indefinite risks and liabilities), the public will continue come around (despite evidence to the contrary), and the US industry will be just fine with more of the status quo (more of the same for the last 35 years). I don’t see it Rod. If you can’t move the rock up the hill, you’ve decided to try and move the mountain. You haven’t changed the dynamic: instead of trying to move one small object over an immovable object, you’ve decided to try and move the immovable object. In contrast to the arrogant and philosophical French, you’re sounding rather frantic and panicked (unable to decide on any way forward except bargaining and retreat).
First Solar still has a prepaid option for many of its clients (all in the EU), and for utility-scale PV developers it has a pay as you go option (which it says it can provide on a competitive basis to what is available elsewhere in the industry). For contracted sales in 2013, power plants outside of the EU have an obligation for power plant decommissioning and recycling. If companies think they can get more cost effective recycling elsewhere, you don’t think they should be allowed to do so?
For some reason, you think solar panel recycling programs are a justification for SNF waste management practices in the US? I find the linkage unproductive and has little to do with the central issues.
I’m not trying to move any mountains. I’m pointing out that the mountain doesn’t exist. It was created out of thin air and creative propaganda.
I’m not advocating that the industry should keep doing what it has been doing, which is to carefully store the waste while waiting for Godot to come and get it. Whatever PR and lobbying money the industry is spending is aimed at crying for Godot to come and to convince all observers that it is terribly unfair that Godot has not come as promised.
My plan is to stop waiting. Godot’s not coming. We need to take responsibility and actively create an acceptable (or several acceptable) solution(s). We need to market our solutions like First Solar and other skilled marketers do.
There’s nothing wrong with the French solution — for France. It won’t work for the US because we have a more diverse country with a different political and educational system. We also have a much stronger and well-resourced, competitive energy industry with strong motives for antinuclear opposition.
Why is what France doing suddenly *just great* for you ?
Don’t you usually harshly criticize it’s energy policy, claiming that others have understood much better ?
Comments are closed.
Recent Comments from our Readers
The Clinton Nuclear Plant also in Illinois was shutdown essentially for almost 2 years before it was taken over by…
Good Podcast – Very informative One thing that was not discussed is how to deal with a particular fear that…
Renewables people are masters in marketing. Unreliable intermittent generators whose output is all over the place, and usually badly correlated…
Looking at their lineup, Westinghouse seems bound and determined to keep Gen IV in its “place” which is apparently the…
So they are developing a scaled down version of the AP1000, which is a scaled up version of the AP600,…