On August 19, 2010, the Transportation and Storage Subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future met at the Washington Marriott Hotel near the George Washington University campus. Approximately 50-60 people attended the meeting, including the following members of the BRC: Richard Meserve – Co-Chairman, Phil Sharp – Co-Chairman, Mark Ayers, Vicky Bailey, Ernie Moniz, John Rowe.
The meeting agenda included the following topics and speakers:
- Industry projections of commercial used fuel inventories – Dr. John Kessler, EPRI
- The evolution of the role of storage – a historical perspective – Dr. John Ahearne, Sigma Xi
Aside: After Dr. Ahearne gave his prepared remarks, Phil Sharp asked him why the government had decided to take over the responsibility for the disposal of the used fuel. Dr. Ahearne told Mr. Sharp that governments do things for a variety of technical and political reasons. He said that one of his assignments during his service as U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Energy was to announce President Carter’s decision that the government would take charge of the permanent disposal. He drew a chuckle when he said that he was very thankful that no one at the press conference asked the “why” question. End Aside.
- Overview of current handling and storage practices – Dr. Everett Redmond, NEI
- Overview of existing commitments and obligations governing used fuel storage – Mike McBride, Van Ness Feldman
Aside: John Rowe asked Mr. McBride if the government thought that it had made the situation any better by aggressively litigating to defend itself against compensating utilities for its failure to deliver the contracted services. With a smile, Mr. McBride said that, as a lawyer, he understands why some people in the Department of Justice recommended litigation.
He also stated that though he has had no professional involvement in the case either representing utilities or consulting for the government lawyers, he is pleased that the DOJ has recently recognized that the settlements are becoming rather formulaic and predictable. That recognition can lead to a much lower cost process of arbitration rather than litigation. Contentious litigation costs both the utility and the government money without actually changing the situation; the only real beneficiaries are the lawyers who collect the fees. End Aside.
- Panel discussion – the role of storage in an integrated US waste management system and strategy:
(Note: the panel discussions were organized to allow each member 10 minutes to provide a summary answering the following question: “What role(s) should storage play in an integrated US waste management system and strategy in the future?”)
- Dr. John Ahearne
(Note: Dr. Ahearne told the commission that he had already delivered his prepared remarks, and unless anyone had a very short memory, he would pass until the question and answer portion of the session. That comment drew a chuckle from the audience.)
- John Parkyn, Private Fuel Storage, LLC
Summary of Presentation
Private Fuel Storage (PFS) Update
- Steve Kraft, Senior Director, Used Fuel Management, NEI
Statement of Steven P. Kraft
- David Wright, Chairman Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition
Testimony of South Carolina Public Service Commissioner David Wright
Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition Flyer
- Dr. Cliff Singer, University of Illinois / Plan D for Spent Nuclear Fuel study co-lead
Summary – Getting the Institutional Framework Right and Using it Well
Presentation – Getting the Institutional Framework Right and Using it Well
Institutional Framework and its Use for Spent Nuclear Fuel
Aside: I was impressed by some of the ideas that Dr. Singer shared, especially the notion that there is a way to turn the process into a viable market with at least two or three alternative suppliers of the necessary storage or repository services. His thoughts were a refreshing contrast to idea that the lowest cost way to proceed would be to develop a single national solution. He recognized that one size does not fit all, and that establishing a monopoly – either government or commercial – has already been proven to impose many cost and schedule risks. End Aside.
- Dr. John Ahearne
- Panel discussion – technical and regulatory uncertainties
(The question posed for this panel was “Are there technical or regulatory uncertainties related to the ability to store existing and future spent fuel and high-level waste safely and securely for an extended period of time (100 years or more) and then transport it without difficulty to another location?”)
- Dr. John Kessler, EPRI
EPRI Discussion of Extended Storage
Extended Storage: Research Perspective
Dr.David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists
- Note: A reader who has worked with Mr. Lochbaum wrote to tell me that David Lochbaum does not have a PhD, though he is listed on the meeting agenda with the honorific of “Dr.” A document filed with California as part of his participation in a 2007 energy workshop indicates that he has a BSNE (Nuclear Engineering) from the University of Tennessee. Neither his presentation to the BRC nor his information page at the Union of Concerned Scientists indicate any additional degrees. (Posted on August 22, 2010 at 0234.)
- Aside: Mr. Lochbaum stated a strong preference from the UCS for dry storage and a program to remove fuel from used fuel pools into dry storage containers protected by earth berms as quickly as possible after a five year cooling period. He stated that the current pol
icy of only moving fuel to dry storage when it is necessary because of limitations on pool space adds too much risk because a full pool increases the potential consequences of pool damage. End Aside.
Update: (Posted August 22, 2010) A proposal to remove fuel as soon as possible after 5 years and to the re-rack the fuel pools in a more dispersed configuration has already been made and evaluated by the NRC. In April of 2003, Science and Global Security published a paper by Robert Alvarez titled Reducing the Hazards from Stored Spent Power-Reactor Fuel in the United States that made identical suggestions based on his assessment of the risk. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission evaluated the paper and issued a fact sheet with its conclusions. Here is a quote from that NRC released fact sheet:
The paper suffers from excessive conservatisms throughout its cost benefit evaluation. Therefore, the recommendation for an accelerated program of complex and costly measures does not have a sound technical basis. In the United States, spent fuel, in both wet and dry configurations, is safe and measures are in place to adequately protect the public. End Update.
- Mike Waters, NRC
Summary of NRC Presentation
Aside: Mr. Waters provided a clear statement about the NRC’s evaluation of the current risk as acceptably low. He effectively provided a contrasting opinion to the one that Mr. Lochbaum expressed as a representative of the UCS. End Aside.
- Ken Sorenson, Sandia National Lab / DOE Used Fuel Disposition Campaign
Overview of Presentation by Ken B. Sorenson, Sandia National Laboratories
Used Fuel Long Term Storage and Transportation R&D Activities Presentation
- Dr. John Kessler, EPRI
- Panel discussion – relationship between storage and progress on disposal and fuel cycle facilities
(Note: The question posed for this panel was “What should be the relationship between storage and progress on development of disposal capability and possible advanced fuel cycles?”)
- David Blee, US Nuclear Infrastructure Council
Statement by the United States Nuclear Infrastructure Council
- Dr. Charles Forsberg, MIT
Summary – Integrating Fuel Cycles, Spent Fuel Storage, and Repositories
Presentation – Integrating Fuel Cycles, Spent Fuel Storage, and Repositories
- Jim Williams, Western Interstate Energy Board (representing Western Governor’s Association)
Summary – Panel on the Relationship Between Storage and Fuel Cycle Facilities
Presentation – Panel on the Relationship Between Storage and Fuel Cycle Facilities
- David Wright, South Carolina Public Service Commission
- President Victoria Winfrey, Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council
Summary of Testimony of the Honorable Victoria Winfrey
Testimony of the Honorable Victoria Winfrey
Prairie Island Indian Community Comments and Recommendations
- David Blee, US Nuclear Infrastructure Council
- Public Comments (three speakers, one from Nye County, NV, one from Esmeralda County, NV, and Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights)
One important topic that came up several times during the meeting was the issue of taking action to address the concerns of the sites where the operating reactor(s) have been shut down and decommissioned. These sites are referred to as orphan sites; they maintain a security force and an NRC license only because there is no other place that is currently authorized to take their used fuel.
The communities near these sites have several concerns. The sites are often places that could be put to a much higher use than as a waste storage area. They usually have direct water access and could be redeveloped as commercial property or as public parks and recreation areas. Instead, they are surrounded by an imposing fence, a significant open buffer area and patrolled by guards armed with some rather intimidating automatic weapons.
The issue of clearing those sites once a permanent or interim storage location is identified and licensed is complicated by a DOE policy for prioritizing used fuel shipments in the order of oldest fuel first. No matter when the site is found and operation starts, there will be a rather tight limit on the rate at which it can accept fuel shipments. The decommissioned sites have a spectrum of fuel ages corresponding to their operating history, so it could take a number of years of shipments rotating around between all existing sites before the orphan sites would be cleared off.
I got the sense that the nuclear utilities believe there is a commercially viable way to solve this prioritization issue once shipments start and the DOE provides a reasonably reliable schedule based on their existing prioritization policy. At least some of the utilities that are still operating their reactors, and thus have a lower marginal cost for maintaining the used fuel storage, would probably be willing to sell (or trade for other considerations) their scheduled transportation slots to the utilities that want to clear the orphan sites as quickly as possible. They are not interested in allowing the DOE to change the policy on which their current used fuel shipment contracts are based because it would take something that they believe has some commercial value.
Here is what I told the commission during the five minutes allotted for an individual public comment. I prepared this comment while listening to the other presentations, so it makes more sense in the context of responding to a selection of the above linked presentations:
My name is Rod Adams. I produce a publication called Atomic Insights. I have been writing about used fuel storage issues for the past 15 years. I served as a nuclear submarine engineer officer. I would like to offer the commission the following thoughts:
Not all questions about used fuel storage come from high minded reasons. Fear is often used to limit competitive energy supplies.
Most of the county’s oil, coal and gas production is from states west of the Mississippi.
A democracy does not require unanimous consent in order to make a decision.
All taxpayers are also ratepayers while all ratepayers are also taxpayers.
A burnup of 45 GWdays per tonne, which is high using today’s technology, is still only 4.5% of the theoretical energy content. The technology will get better in the future.
The higher the burnup the lower the attractiveness for diversion into weapons program. We should be seeking ever higher burnups.
Generational equity must recognize the continuing need for energy fuels. Using energy is not a fad. Humans will always want to have access to fuels that allow them to use machines instead of their own muscles to accomplish needed or desired tasks.
Recycling might add 20-30% to fuel cycle costs if back end is assumed to cost .1 cent per kw-hr. The current cost amounts to $1 per month for a household using 1000 kw-hrs per month, so a 20-30% increase would increase that to $1.30. Average wholesale price for electricity in US is approximately 8 cents per kilowatt hour.
I visited La Hague this summer. I also used to be a competitive swimmer. The “very large” used fuel pool complex at La Hague is about the same size as the pool at the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
When thinking about issues like used fuel storage, remember that coal fired power plants leave behind far higher quantities of waste materials in less secure forms, with no containers and with an unknown quantity of toxic materials.
“Dump” is an inaccurate, pejorative and slanted term for the facilities under discussion.
One more thought for your consideration – 46 people have died in the eastern United States this year in “clean natural gas” explosions.