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22 Comments

  1. “Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.”

    Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

    Even after all of this nonsense caused by Reid the Yucca Mountain project is still more successful than mPower.

    1. @Brian Mays

      That’s a pretty bold statement, considering the fact that Yucca Mountain has cost in the neighborhood of $9 billion and has yet to receive a single fuel assembly.

      Neither project has had any real successes; neither one is “more successful” than the other.

      I suppose that one might say that Yucca is much closer to getting a license to begin construction, but that is still a very long way from being able to be used for its designed purpose.

  2. Rod, I thought that the new administration would be very hard on the national labs. It seems to be working out that way.

    But that is only one side of the equation. The other side is the possibility of neutral or pro-nuclear regulators at FERC, for example. That would be good….

  3. I believe that, at a minimum, they should finish the license application approval for Yucca. Given all the money the American people paid for all the scientific evaluations, etc.., they deserve an answer.

    Also, knowing that a viable technical solution to the waste problem exists (whether or not we choose it) will help reduce the false notion, held by much of the public, that nuclear waste is an intractable problem with no technical solution. This understandably leads to fear and lack of support for nuclear amongst the public. IMO, this in turn (indirectly) leads to excessive regulations, which in turn leads to high nuclear costs (nuclear’s main problem). Also leads to unfair policies.

    Abandoning Yucca will delay the resolution of the waste problem by decades, allowing the public’s false notion to continue unabated, and having the negative impacts on nuclear discussed above.

    Perhaps I can try pointing to the Finns as proof that this is technically solvable…. One statement Rod made (in a recent Forbes article) I completely agree with. These are indeed frustrating times to be a nuclear advocate. Repeated failures (by the industry, govt. entities, etc…) are making it harder and harder.

    1. @JamesEHopf

      One of many problems with finishing the license application for Yucca Mountain is that the complex design that is described in the voluminous application prepared by the DOE and submitted to the NRC is based on meeting fundamentally flawed standards for radioactive material “release.”

      The system would have been entirely different if the engineers and scientists had not been tasked with designing a disposal system that could prove to demanding reviewers that it would keep doses to the most exposed person at less than 15 mrem (0.15 mSv) per year for the first 10,000 years and less than 100 mrem (1 mSv) per year for the next 990,000 years.

      The EPA and the NRC staged an epic regulatory turf battle over those selected numbers; the NRC asserted that the 15 mrem/yr was far more reasonable than the EPA’s demanded 10 mrem/yr. The NRC “won” that skirmish, but lost on keeping the period of evaluation to the first 10,000 years and instead agreed to look at projections to cover a period of a total of a million years.

      It makes absolutely no sense to pursue the effort to issue a license for the facility as designed, because it would be an absolute boondoggle to attempt to actually build the damn thing.

      Here is one of several GAO reports on the cost of radiation standards http://www.gao.gov/new.items/rc00152.pdf

      What that report failed to do is to analyze the savings potential of using radiation standards that are based on evidence to be protective of human health instead of the Rockefeller Foundation-invented myth that all radiation carries a greater than zero probability of causing harm.

      1. Rod,

        I hear ya, with respect to absurd dose limits affect on the cost of actually building a repository (although it still only amounts to a fraction of a cent/kW-hr).

        The thrust of my comment was that we should still license it, even if we don’t opt to build it, the benefit being that it would show the public that the waste “problem” has a viable technical solution.

        Upon reflection, however, there may be a counter-argument (albeit an esoteric one) against my assertion that licensing Yucca would be beneficial with respect to public perceptions and support.

        I’m coming to believe more and more that the industry’s agreeing to absurd requirements (both in terms of dose standards and safety requirements in general) has actually had the opposite of the intended effect, i.e., has made the public even more fearful (such have been the wages of appeasement). For example, taking excessive precautions (huge containment domes, workers walking around in moon suits, excessive emergency planning activities), and more importantly, essentially telling the public that the industry agrees that any release of radiological pollution, ever, is absolutely unacceptable. Given all these things that the industry itself has said and agreed to do, is it any wonder that the public panics in the event of a meltdown or release?

        Could this (Yucca) be another example where the mere act of agreeing to, and cooperating with, absurd dose standards could actually lead to increased public fear?

        In one sense, those absurd requirements have not been a problem, at the licensing phase, as NRC has basically concluded that Yucca would meet even those technical requirements. Would they make licensing significantly more expensive, from this point onward? Not clear. Perhaps addressing some of Nevada’s (silly) objections could be made somewhat easier by sane dose standards, but the degree of cost savings is unclear.

        But would it be a problem that the license application itself would give credence to the notion that such low-levels of exposure are a problem, given that the license lists them as requirements? It’s not clear. At the moment my thoughts are that the public would never delve into details like that. They will not be reading the application, and it’s doubtful that any news stories would talk about dose limits. The news also would not talk about Yucca having trouble meeting the limits, because Yucca does meet the (absurd) limits, as currently designed.

        Yes, it would be needlessly expensive to actually build the repository as currently designed, but that’s another issue. I’m talking about whether licensing Yucca (under the current dose standards) would hurt or help nuclear. I still believe that, on balance, it would.

  4. RE: “classify used nuclear fuel as a future resource that should be stockpiled, not buried.”
    Advanced nuclear reactors that can burn used nuclear fuel can just as well burn the DU tails from enrichment plants — which are far more plentiful, and don’t require any special handling (DU is used as radiation shielding in hospitals), nor does it require large-scale homogenization like used nuclear fuel (uneven U235 depletion, especially in the axial direction of reactors & fuel assemblies).

    As such, nobody is going to touch used LWR fuel for a very long time, regardless of where it’s stored.
    Much longer term planning seems in order.
    TerraPower for one, already said they’re going for DU fuel in their TWRs, rather than SNF.
    It’s all about costs and regulatory hurdles.
    SNF isn’t attractive in either category.

    1. Jaro, U-238 is perfectly safe as is. With a 4.5 billion year half life, it is barely radioactive at all, and even less so than the ore it came from. The primary concern is toxicity, as with lead or other heavy metals, and it is easily managed.

      Generally speaking, “nuclear waste” is synonymous with “spent fuel” in the public’s mind. The quickest way to eliminate it is by setting aside the bulk of harmless U-238, and burning the remaining actinides for energy. This article describes how LFTR is an ideal means for consuming these actinides, rapidly eliminating the waste problem.

      This fissile is a precious resource for starting new reactors, and if it doesn’t come from spent fuel, it will inevitably be produced by growth of uranium mining and enrichment. Fast reactors need a lot more fissile for startup, and their ability to burn abundant U-238 distracts from this fact. Using this fissile to kick-start highly efficient thermal spectrum breeders is a much more attractive prospect, and demonstrates to the public a willingness to take responsibility and solve the waste problem once and for all.

      There is no economic motivation for recycling spent fuel today, and none in the foreseeable future. Uranium is simply too cheap, and an insignificant part of the final energy cost. However, it is still unquestionably better to choose thorium, which is a free byproduct of existing rare earth mining, and wouldn’t need any uranium enrichment or fuel fabrication infrastructure. Thorium breeders can close the fuel cycle, and represent the most sustainable option, with minimal resource input and waste generation, in addition to the simplest chemical reprocessing.

      The world energy market is enormous, and I’m not suggesting that we wait if Thorcon or Terrestrial Energy can build uranium burners today, but there is one constant: liquid fuel salts represent a superior form for nuclear fuel, and offer the most attractive medium for fission and processing. The tremendous safety and efficiency benefits are easily recognized, and policy should encourage processing of spent fuel into this form, and reactors that can consume it.

      1. Fascinating link you got there GreenEntropy; I hope Engineer-Poet drops by to read it. Electro-winning Uranium while leaving (Plutonium + Minor Actinides) behind in molten Li-F salt solution was demonstrated as part of Argonne/INL’s EBR-II project.

        But let me get this straight: Thorium-cycle MSRs can indeed Save the World — but we’ll have to run our current LWRs at least through their natural lifetimes in order to breed enough seed U-233 to do it?

        1. I’m digging through that page a bit at a time, and so far as I’ve gone it’s about using a LFTR as a thermal actinide burner with a separate thorium breeding blanket to make seed U-233; basically, getting rid of the long-lived LWR waste problem and simultaneously starting LFTRs.

          Nothing under said program would prevent the use of high-enrichment uranium to start other LFTRs much more directly.  The only issue seems to be keeping the U-238 fraction down enough that you don’t run into problems of insufficient neutron economy.  Maybe Bob Hargraves can tell us what the limit is on that.

  5. I have zero confidence that this administration is serious about solving anything at this point, considering we can’t even agree on a universal healthcare standard, let alone nuclear policy. I’m with Hopf; take the license application through the full process. Americans have paid for it and deserve to hear the arguments fully laid out before them. I personally believe there’s plenty of bunk baked into the contentions, and I’d prefer closing the fuel cycle, but you can’t get there without laying this thing to rest, one way or the other. If SNF can sit in an engineered canister above ground forever, it can probably sit below ground in an engineered canister forever, until we get our act together and reuse it.

  6. The Trump nuclear budget seems to be an unmitigated disaster.

    It funds the past, “nuclear weapons management complex and the clean-up programs seem to fare well” and Yucca Mountain.

    It short changes the future “no follow-on for the expired SMR program, ARPA-E is eliminated instead of expanded to cover nuclear, the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program is eliminated, and there are reductions in basic nuclear research conducted under the auspices of the Office of Science.” One bright spot is “initiate a robust interim storage program”.

    The most important budget item is Low Dose Radiation Research (LDRR), a small budget item of $10-$20 million that was canceled by the Obama admin. After LDRR demolishes Linear No Threashold (LNT) theory of radiation damage, radiation safety standards can be relaxed by a factor of 1000.

    “Walk away” safe reactors, Sodium Fast Reactors (SFR) and liquid fuel reactors, are 1000 times safer than LWRs.

    Given that:
    – LWRs are the safest source of energy (versus hydro, coal, oil, natural gas, wind mills, and solar) by a huge margin
    – “walk away safe“ reactors are 1,000 times safer than LWRs, and
    – radiation safety standards can be relaxed by a factor of 1000
    the NRC can be reformed to look more like the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).

    Under the “new NRC” approach to regulation, innovators can build a test reactor at INL with little or no licensing requirements, turn it over to the “new NRC” for 6 months, and if the “new NRC” cant break the reactor then it is approved for sale. The “new NRC” can inspect the factories at which the reactors are manufactured for following the usual quality control standards for manufacturing. The “new NRC” can inspect reactor sites for complying with maintenance requirements established by the manufacturer. The utility would have to get the usual local permits for a construction project.

    The NRC is not the “gold standard” for nuclear regulation, the NRC is the “No Nuclear” standard. Another Atomic Insights article describes the ridiculous process that NuScale has been subjected to.
    – Design Concept in 2000
    – Initial NuScale design reviews with NRC in 2008
    – DOE awarded NuScale $217 million to help pay for government mandated costs in 2013
    – NuScale delivered 12,000 page Design Certification Application to NRC in Jan 2017
    – NuScale has paid the NRC $11 million for 43,000 hours of NRC time
    – NuScale has paid at least $400 million for 2 million hours of 800 employees
    – 50 vendors designed and tested components, conducted full system tests and developed licensing documentation
    – NRC expected to issue design certification in mid 2021
    – NuScale will pay NRC $40-$100 million for Design Certification
    – NRC still has to issue a Combined Operating License before construction can begin
    – NuScale expects commercial operation of first plant in 2026

    This is for a LWR, a technology that the NRC has 35 years experience regulating. This is for a technology, LWR, that is the safest form of energy generation that exists today.

    No industry can survive with this kind of regulation.

    The Electricity Industry can certainly afford $10-$20 million for Low Dose Radiation Research. Why are they sitting on their hands?

    1. @Stephen Duval says April 2, 2017 at 12:28 PM
      You said:
      “Given that:
      – LWRs are ….
      – walk away safe’ reactors ….
      – radiation safety standards ….
      the NRC can be reformed to look more like the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).”

      When you say ‘reformed to look more like…’ do you actually mean restructured? Because ‘look’ implies an org chart. Restructuring is something done on a piece of paper. And it has been tried, and failed, hundreds of times in dysfunctional organizations where the root cause of dysfunctionality is embedded in the ‘corporate culture’ attitude driven from the top down through the ranks.

      You are right, NRC needs to be ‘reformed’; but changes to the structured look of an org chart aren’t going to do that. Take a lesson from troubled organizations that have been successful at wholesale reformation, by replacing the NAMES on that org chart with fresh attitudes from elsewhere… probably at most positions above the competent worker bees.

      What new advanced safer design has come on line as a replacement for the current aging operating fleet, since the TMI2 Industrial Event Accident several decades ago? The current NRC has had their collision at sea….

    1. @Brian Mays

      There is little information there about the cost of completing the activities required to implement the facility design that the NRC has almost finished evaluating. You should know at least as well as anyone that a safety evaluation is based on whole reams of design specifics that are still only projections, not reality. None of the promised equipment has been manufactured.

      A true “small government” advocate would be concerned about the cost/benefit and about how to make the best use of the available funds. They would not assume that the collected funds must all be spent if there is a way to do the required job with money left over at the end. If that pleasant situation arises, the funds should be refunded to their rightful owners.

      Here are the questions I ask about Yucca Mountain. How long will it take and how much will it cost? What is the benefit that would be gained compared to other ways of addressing the same issue of safely handling the used nuclear fuel?

      1. So long as Yucca is captive of flawed regulatory premises there is no point to the thing; it’s just a boondoggle, as Rod amusingly observes, set in just about the most geographically distant location from present UNF stockpiles in the lower 48. The existing LWR fleet is set to generate ~120kt of UNF and raise nearly $50 billion for its “disposal”.

        That $50 billion would be much better spent recycling and partitioning the ~95% that is SEU (~1% u235); about 1/3 of the ~300kt of worldwide UNF has already been recycled by French, UK, and Japanese national programs. All this SEU is near-ideal fuel for CANDUs or other HWRs.

        The other ~1% of world UNF that is TRU is adequate to fuel ~1000GW(e) of 1st generation IFR/S-PRISM type units.

        The ~3% of UNF that is fission product would then be ultimately separated, with perhaps additional partition of Cs137 & Sr90. That fission product would decay, in 265 years, to the forensically useful talking point of being less radioactive than the natural uranium in the ore out of which it was originally mined. Peter Ottensmeyer, emeritus prof at U. Toronto observes the 70% of stable isotopes that are rare earths and platinum group metals would be worth $2.5M/ton in today’s market. Assuming all 120kt of US LWR UNF ultimately ends up at Yucca mtn as fission product it could be set aside as a mine worth ~$300 billion.

  7. One out of the box solution:

    Ship it to some country which has allreadz built its storage.
    For exmaple Finland.

    1. @Panika

      That might work, assuming that Finland has room for expansion. However, I still believe that surface storage at licensed locations in engineered, approved and routinely inspected containers is adequate and cost effective. If the plants are still in operation, the lowest cost solution would seem to be on-site retention; consolidated storage might also be a low cost option for sites with limited available space or a particularly reluctant community host.

  8. Looking for feedback from Engineer Poet, Mr. Adams & Dr. Hargraves … Why not use the over $100M for an interim storage facility in Texas or someplace else? Then, you can process the spent nuclear fuel via a reactor like a molten chloride salt reactor (e.g., breeder), Non- scaling, fixed-field, alternating-gradient (NS-FFAG) accelerator Sub-critical reactor and/or a approach like End-to-End Integrated Liquid-Salt Reactor System for Nuclear Waste Transmutation without Reprocessing and Long-term Storage proposal … I have read the document “the nuclear waste problem from the ThorCon website. http://thorconpower.com/docs/ct_yankee.pdf … I also reviewed http://www.energyfromthorium.com/pdf/ARPAE-25A4106.pdf … We would be able to power all of these Thorium reactors with uranium 233 …

    1. @Shawn Noyes

      I’m no fan of Yucca Mt. and would be happy to see future fuel stockpiled in accessible surface storage areas. I cannot endorse the rest of your rather intricate solution proposal without further study or economic competition.

  9. Hello Rod, Thank you for your response. I totally understand … I have been doing some research since the Yucca Mountain issue started up again and was just curious … I have always enjoyed reviewing commentary on the different forums from you, Engineer Poet as well as Dr. Hargraves … It just seems taking the dollars spent on projects like Yucca Mountain ($9B-$15B), ITER (Eventually over $15B), et al., can provide a solution on a 10-15 year time frame (incl. interim storage). Also, I have always liked the bore hole approach that is below the water table as well as any gas/oil deposits (i.e., > 3 to 5 miles). Lastly, I do not agree with putting SNF > 500 years toxicity in caverns, bore holes and/or ocean floor. Why would we not do pyro-processing and remove energy and then transmute the rest is beyond me … I realize that I am preaching to the choir. It just drives me crazy when I hear there are no solutions to SNF. We can always give away to the Canadians or South Koreans via DUPIC 😉

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