Waste No-Confidence Was Antinuclear Action
The Nuclear Energy Institute is celebrating its victory for consumers, having convinced the DC Circuit Court and the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit Court to set the nuclear waste fee to zero until the federal government implements a new plan for used nuclear fuel. That victory will save each of the people who obtain a portion of their electricity from nuclear power plants one tenth of one cent for each kilowatt hour they consume.
If all of the electricity at my house was produced by nuclear reactors, that hard-fought victory would save me about $1.50 each month. If the power source for my house was like the national average of 20% nuclear, my savings would be 30 cents per month.
My first reaction to the announcement was that there are more important battles that could have been fought against the antinuclear movement with the resources invested in the legal battle against the nuclear waste fee.
However, perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. Maybe the successful legal action to reset the nuclear waste fee to zero will be the spur that gets Congress and the Administration moving to develop a workable plan for reusing nuclear fuel and disposing of the residues that are unusable waste. Even though the savings to an individual like me are tiny, the federal treasury gets nicked for a $750 million per year cash flow reduction.
Dale Klein, the former Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, gave a talk at the Washington, DC local ANS section about his last speech at the annual Regulatory Information Conference (RIC). Dr. Klein gave that RIC speech four years ago on the occasion of his departure from the Commission.
His talk focused on four key concerns:
- Modernizing the NRC and providing adequate technology to enable talented people
- Increasing the NRC’s participation with the international nuclear community
- The Administration’s handling of used nuclear fuel policy and the Yucca Mountain project
- The Waste [No]-Confidence Rule
Klein’s talk should be read in its entirety. Here is an important quote:
Now we come to my third point, and the low point in US nuclear policy. I am of course speaking about spent fuel and the Yucca Mountain license application. I said then that my view of Obama Administration’s handling of this was “unfortunate”.
When you are a sitting Commissioner, the term “unfortunate” is about as strong as your legal counsel let you use. But what I also said was, “I would have preferred the White House to plainly say that it was implementing a policy change. The President has the right and the responsibility to set policy, and clearly an issue of national importance and complexity such as this needs to be periodically revisited. However, in my opinion, the Administration’s stated rationale for changing course does not seem to rest on factual findings and thus does not bolster the credibility of our government to handle this matter competently.”
Clearly, the Federal courts felt the same way. I do not know of another instance in the history of the United States that a Court has had to issue a Writ of Mandamus for an independent regulatory body to do their job. I repeat it “does not bolster the credibility of our government to handle this matter competently.”
(Italics in original.)
Dr. Klein talked about the tight relationship between having a national plan for used fuel disposal and the Waste Confidence rule that the NRC had issued. He described the importance of that rule for continuing to issue nuclear plant operating licenses and extensions. He explained how the courts had no choice but to overturn Waste Confidence when the Department of Energy and the NRC halted all progress on the only used fuel plan that the nation had.
Aside: Alluding to the parliamentary system of government, I like to label that court decision as the Waste No-Confidence decision. End Aside.
Dr. Klein described how forming a “Blue Ribbon Commission” was a poor substitute for having a plan, especially since there has been no follow-through on the well-intentioned set of recommendations that the Commission provided.
…the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future did recognize the linkage between the NWPA, Waste Confidence, and the future of nuclear power in this country. But in my view, they marginalized the consequences of failure. Rather, I believe that the BRC members actually believed that the Administration would act on their recommendations, including proposed legislative actions. That has yet to happen and I doubt it will.
(Note: Dr. Klein also pointed out that the Blue Ribbon Commission’s web site has been removed from the web and its contents consigned to the CyberCemetery at the University of North Texas. The search engine there appears to be on the fritz, so I browsed until I found the BRC site so you would not have to.)
In my opinion, Dr. Klein, though being candid, is still is too much of a gentleman and a loyal soldier. Actions indicate that there are people in the current Administration, perhaps all the way to the President, who have no intention of enabling nuclear energy to compete against natural gas, coal, oil, wind, solar, or biofuel energy sources. They are doing everything in their power, even sneaky things, to undermine its survivability and to make it look as expensive and as uncertain as possible.
Seen through distrustful lenses, there is little doubt that “they” knew exactly what they were doing when they declared that Yucca Mountain was “unworkable” and reset the clock on the used nuclear fuel plan to 1977. That is the year that Jimmy Carter declared that the previously existing plan — which was to recycle the used fuel to extract the potentially valuable materials — was unworkable, though I think he used a different word.
It’s past time to strongly resist nuclear energy opponents in order to protect our children and grandchildren.
When it comes to a plan for used nuclear fuel, we should do the nuclear energy deniers one better and rest the clock a bit earlier. I recommend shooting for 1964, fifty years ago.
That was a time when “everyone” knew that used nuclear fuel was too valuable to be only slightly consumed and then permanently buried deep underground. It was also a time when there was little or no resistance to using nuclear energy and when GE started a bandwagon market for new nuclear power plants by announcing an extraordinarily good price for Oyster Creek as a “turn-key” power station.
It was a time when the primary forces resisting nuclear energy development were lobbyists from the National Coal Association and the National Coal Policy Conference. (Balogh, Brian, Chain Reaction, Cambridge University Press, 1991. p. 207-208)
We need to vigorously pursue advanced nuclear energy systems, including already licensed or soon-to-be-licensed evolutionarily safe large reactors and innovative smaller reactors.
We should aim for an overall nuclear energy system that enables us to reduce material and labor inputs, reuse valuable materials and knowledge, and recycle those materials whose use has changed their capabilities enough so that they need more substantial treatment.
Compared to 1964, we have an important advantage. Unlike then, we have proven through full scale tests that we know how to protect the public in the case of accidents in both large and small power plants.
Fifty years ago, most nuclear plant designers were pretty sure about their ability to safely build and operate moderately-sized light water reactors. However, there was enough uncertainty about the untested nature of substantially larger plants that nuclear energy insiders like George Weil and Alvin Weinberg, with their admirable questioning attitudes, asked some reasonable questions that could not be confidently answered. The uncertain nature of the responses gave the opposition an opening large enough to enter with an anti-Corvair activist as a wedge.
Hindsight should be 20-20, but the clarity works best if you look hard at history, accurately evaluate the available lessons and apply them to current and future decision making.
I think we in the industry should do a better job of communicating to the general public how much it, too, is paying for “the waste issue” ridiculousness.
As tax payers we are paying to dispose of defense waste. As tax payers we are also paying for the damages awarded to US utilities over the government’s failure to take title to the used fuel.
As consumers some of us are also paying for the cost of onsite storage of used fuel, pending DOE getting its act together, in addition to the now suspended nuclear waste fund fee.
Some of us are, literally, paying 4 times–and will likely pay several more times in the future. The politics of “the waste issue” are extraordinarily expensive.
We need to communicate what the real cost is of delay is–and point fingers at the opponent groups and pols who are responsible.
While all of those waste-related costs are true, I think the most devastating real cost of delaying solutions to “the waste issue” is the opportunities that continue to be lost by discouraging us from building new nuclear plants with all due haste. We need to reduce our abject dependence on fossil fuels for so many good reasons.
“We need to reduce our abject dependence on fossil fuels for so many good reasons.”
Not least of which is that we now have a resurgent Russia, who’s fearless leader laments the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and is will recklessly improvise to rebuild what he can.
A reduction in the world price of natural gas and Oil, would go in forcing the Russian Government to court the better aspects of their people. As it is, we’ll get Russian Nationalism, and further adventures, beginning in the Eastern Ukraine, and further nationalistic rallying behind their fearless leader.
Nuclear Energy development would go a long way toward a more peaceful Russia, but we can expect a Schizophrenic west to both try to keep fossil fuel revenues high in the west while trying to reduce Russia’s revenues, in the same set of products.
Its going to be painful to watch.
Notwithstanding the fact that many good people have minor holdings in oil and gas companies through their pension plans, I think the world would be a far better place if multinational oil and gas companies and their financial/government/media partners had a smaller portion of the world’s capital resources under their control.
Lower energy prices would also slow the development of what I call “extreme extraction” – tar sands, oil sands, fracking, shale oil, deep water, Arctic, methane hydrates and oil shale.
Good terminology, Rod. I say you should work to get that to catch on.
Solution: Let it sit where it is, in pools and dry casks, at nuclear plant sites.
That’s where it needs to be when the TransAtomic reactors are installed as expansion units. The fuel comes out of the storage and goes into the TransAtomic reactors. Each 1 GW LWR produces enough SNF to start another 520 GW of TransAtomic units every 3.5 years or so. You set aside enough SNF to provide makeup fuel for the expected life of the TransAtomic units; at half a ton per unit per year over perhaps 60 years, that’s 30 tons per unit in addition to the 65 tons required for starting. You can take your time about that part.
The existing plant sites are the best places because all the power transmission corridors etc. are already in place.
Pretty sure some serious work would be required to convert the fuel form from LWR SNF to feedstock for an MSR. It would likely be best to have only one or two centralized facilities for such a task.
And where the heck did that 1 GW LWR being able to provide 520 GW of Transatomic fuel value come from? That is way way off, is it not?
Typo. I meant 520 MW. We have enough SNF in inventory to start around 500 GW of TransAtomic reactors.
Since people are sensitive about the issue of shipping SNF around, processing it on-site would help mollify the opposition. The cladding would have to be stripped off the pellets, and the pellets dissolved in HF. Once converted to fluoride salts, the reactor’s own fuel reprocessing system (or an expanded version thereof) could handle the rest.
Honestly, nothing will mollify the opposition.
I agree. Instead of mollifying the opposition, we need to marginalize them. People need to be told — repeatedly — about all of the good things they are being forced to give up due to irrational radiation fear. That includes being told how much they are spending and who is benefitting by stoking the fear.
In my experience, people are pretty smart and they get pretty active when they realize they’ve been lied to by people they thought they could trust.
For example – how many of the students that listen to Lovins know he is paid three times as much as a Navy Admiral ($725K plus expenses and speaking fees in 2012) to run a $14 million dollar per year operation?
There are several tiers of opposition. The most dedicated is fanatic and quasi-religious, and cannot be mollified. But the fanatics are a fringe; there’s a much larger “mushy middle” which responds to questions like “what do you do with the waste?”
If your answer is “turn 96% of it into energy and materials which become essentially stable in 300 years”, the mushy middle is likely to be favorable. This is even more likely if you (a) don’t have to move the existing spent fuel anywhere, and (b) can turn the spent fuel coming out of existing reactors into fuel for the new ones in a relatively brief time. Emptying the spent fuel pools would eliminate one of the fringe’s biggest issues. They can’t claim that zirconium fires will make California uninhabitable if there’s nothing there, can they? They’d have to come up with a whole new set of claims, and establishing credibility would be a lot harder now that the Internet is available to counter their FUD.
Mr Kein errs when he states that the Waste Confidence issue creates hurdles for new licences or extensions.
This constraints has been unamimously self imposed by all NRC commissionners. Shame on them. All of them.
Have you noticed that every Time Dr J shows up in the média Mr Klein follows suit rapidly to contradict him ?
I think it is his way to enforce his no bozos allowed rule. The Bozo here is Dr J of course.
Commissioner William C. Ostendorff stated a while ago that he was confident procedures fir licensing would resume in the summer of 2014.
That is very soon indeed.
US NRC commissioner Magwood is leaving for an influential post in Europe …
I do not know if this is good news for the nuclear cause. Rod ?
@Daniel – That depends on who is nominated to serve the remainder of his term, which expires in June 2015.
Is it good News for nuclear in Europe ?
Having read most of the BRC report, Senate Bill S-1240 — the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 — does (in daft form) a concise job of summarizing the BRC’s intent. Those keen on taking names might note the bill’s sponsor, Ron Wyden (D-OR), and co-sponsors Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), and (ahem) Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Those keen on cynicism might note S-1240 was referred to Senate Energy and Natural Resources whose chair — Mary Landrieu [D-LA] — will determine whether it ever again sees the light of day. (But Lisa Murkowski is ranking member, so there may be some hope.)
Despite my repetitive efforts to point out that there are interests in the coal, oil and gas industry that work against nuclear energy, that statement is not universally true. There are also many people associated with fossil fuels who clearly recognize the value of low cost, clean energy and work to support all of the fuels that can do that job.
Senators from Louisiana have a good record of supporting nuclear energy. I have personally met with members of Senator Landrieu’s staff — several years ago now — about supporting some work we were doing with AAE.
She is one of the people who cares deeply about using energy sources to enable human’s to prosper. She is also supportive of using the cleanest possible energy, but realizes that coal is okay if the choice is no energy at all.
Thanks. My apologies if I am seen to mistakenly miscast aspersions upon Sen. Landrieu. In principle the NWAA should be a no-brainer for all concerned. It sets up a clearly defined waste disposal and used fuel interment policy, recognizing the reality that much military waste will never be candidate for eventual recycling, while most of the civilian stuff will. The bill also seeks to site repositories where they are actually wanted. Such is highly desirable and if the bill becomes law it will be interesting to see how that part plays out. Statistically of course, the odds are heavily against any particular bill being signed into law.
Comments are closed.
Recent Comments from our Readers
@Cyril R What was Tesla’s learning rate starting at the first Roadster? How much do you think that first unit…
A new engine or turbine product line doesn’t just cost triple a unit. That’d make it pointless. Yet this is…
Cyril First of a Kind (FOAK) applies to products whose parts and method of assembly are new, not just products…
The problem with the FOAK argument is that FOAK LWRs were built half a century ago for under $300/kWe. And…
I kind of wonder if there aren’t some smart Canadians looking across the border and rubbing their hands with glee.…