Nuclear waste

From ScienceForSustainability
Jump to: navigation, search

Managing nuclear spent fuel: Policy lessons from a 10-country study Harold FeivesonZia MianM. V. RamanaFrank von Hippel; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; 27 Jun 2011

The International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM) is in the process of finalizing an analysis of the policy and technical challenges faced internationally over the past five decades by efforts at long-term storage and disposal of spent fuel from nuclear power reactors. These challenges have so far prevented the licensing of a geological spent fuel repository anywhere in the world.
Here we summarize the findings of this report on the history and current status of radioactive waste management in ten countries. The case studies include four countries that reprocess nuclear spent fuel (France, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom), five countries that are planning on direct disposal of spent fuel (Canada, Finland, Germany, Sweden, and the United States) and one country (South Korea) whose disposal plans are a subject of discussions with the United States as part of the renewal of a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement.

Nuclear Waste: Ideas vs Reality Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 4 Nov 2017

This was one of the biggest issues about nuclear power for me personally, before I started reading up more about it. Nuclear waste was a disaster waiting to happen. How could we justify producing any amount of energy if – bear with me – that meant risking that large areas of the earth become barren wastelands, should anything go wrong?
This, in reality, is the image that most people have. I won’t scoff at it, because I once held it myself. The feeling is, that should anything go wrong with nuclear waste, the problems would be on the scale of making entire countries, perhaps even continents, uninhabitable.

From a comment by Matt Fuller on an Energy Matters post:

Radioactive waste really depends upon who you ask. “High level” radioactive waste is basically the fuel rods after they’ve burnt up enough of their fissiles to no longer be usable. When you first shut down a reactor for refueling, these spent rods are ferociously radioactive and need pumped water to keep them cool inside the reactor vessel. After several days, the short-lived isotopes have decayed away and the rods can be transferred to “spent fuel pools” where they are stored underwater. They are still fiercely radioactive (exposure to a single vertical rod at 1m distance will deliver a dangerous dose in a couple of minutes) and have to be kept immersed or their temperature will rise to the point where the zirconium cladding will start to oxidise. After 5 years, they can be transferred to “dry cask” storage – basically big concrete cylinders with the rods spaced on racks inside. A nuclear power plant can have enough dry casks to store all the fuel it uses over its entire lifetime and you can happily play poker right next to them every lunch break with no radiation risk. Dry casks have a design life of about 90 years but you can always transfer from old to new.
After 40 years, a human could handle a single fuel rod for about 20 minutes with a very small risk increment (100 mSv dose.). After 150 years, this would extend to about 2 hours. After 600 years, you could store the things under your bed pretty safely!
So why is there a huge deal about radioactive waste being dangerous for tens of thousands of years? Well, there the standard being used is for the waste to return to the same level of ORAL biotoxicity as the natural uranium it started out as, which is frankly ridiculous. But that’s why people are building deep geological disposal sites.

Nuclear Waste: Handle With Care… Or What? Geoff Russell; New Matilda; 3 Mar 2016

Looks at the risks of failures at various nuclear repositories

Geologic disposal

Deep geological repository wikipedia

A Short Statement from the GEOLOGICAL SOCIETY of LONDON on the GEOLOGICAL DISPOSAL of RADIOACTIVE WASTE

Based on the position paper Geoscience Verdict on Waste Disposal, March 29 1999.
it is a widely shared view that the requirements for characterising a suitable repository site, and the engineering techniques for the packaging, storage and containment of intermediate and high level wastes, are well known, well rehearsed, and have been for about 20 years.

How a nuclear dump could save SA's environment (Tom Kenyon; In Daily : Adelaide's Daily News; 25 Feb 2016)

State Labor whip Tom Kenyon continues to advocate for a nuclear storage facility - arguing the billions generated could safeguard the state's national parks and revive its agricultural land.

NEW OXIDATION TECHNIQUE COULD HELP RESOLVE SPENT FUEL CHALLENGES

Cracking the “Americium Problem”—Researchers Find a Way to Safely Store Nuclear Waste Sarah Marquart; Futurism; 17 Mar 2016

claims that "electron stripping" technique to separate Americium from spent fuel (along with U and Pu), scaled up, would solve problem of dangers of storing radioactive waste long-term, and will give "a viable solution to close the nuclear fuel cycle and contribute to solving the world’s energy needs"

Construction begins on nuclear waste storage site in Port Hope, Ont. Canadian Manufacturing.com Staff; 8 Jul 2016

Designed to house low-level radioactive material from the dawn of the nuclear age, site will encase waste in engineered above ground mound
Construction crews have broken ground on a new storage site for low-level radioactive waste in Port Hope, Ont. Part of the 10-year, $1.28 billion Port Hope Area Initiative, the storage facility will house as much as two million cubic metres of historic waste currently held at various sites in the Lake Ontario city east of Toronto. The construction project includes the building of an aboveground mound where Canadian Nuclear Laboratories—the company leading the project—says the waste will be safely contained and monitored over the long term. The engineered mound is designed to isolate the radioactive material by encasing it entirely in multiple layers of natural and specially-manufactured materials, including geosynthetic clay, sand and ordinary soil. Along with a sister site to be built in Port Granby, Ont., the nuclear waste in Port Hope originates from the dawn of the nuclear age. Now-defunct Eldorado Nuclear Ltd., a mining company turned crown corporation, produced the contaminants while refining radium and uranium during the 1940s and ’50s. The project is scheduled to be completed by 2022.

USA

Finally! We Can Move On The Disposal Of Our Nuclear Waste James Conca; Forbes; 30 Mar 2015

Last week, President Obama authorized the Energy Department to move forward with a plan for a separate repository for high-level radioactive waste that was created from making atomic and nuclear weapons. Immediately, Energy Secretary Ernie Moniz announced what we’ve been wanting for decades – a separate deep geologic nuclear waste repository for our defense-generated high-level nuclear waste (HLW), separate from one for our spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from commercial power reactors

Moving Forward to Address Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal John Kotek; Energy.gov; March 24, 2015

Today, President Obama authorized the Energy Department to move forward with planning for a separate repository for high-level radioactive waste resulting from atomic energy defense activities.

WIPP

WIPP Is Still The Best and Only Choice For Nuclear Waste James Conca; Forbes; 5 May 2014

The only operating underground deep geologic nuclear waste repository had its first minor accident on Valentine’s Day. It was a small release of radiation that will not harm anyone or have any environmental consequence. Maybe it was the Earth’s way of saying, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you, but take me for granted and I’ll slap you upside the head.”

Finland

What the U.S. can learn from Finland on how to bury nuclear waste Henry Fountain, New York Times News Service; Las Vegas Sun; 15 Jun 2017

Beneath a forested patch of land on the Gulf of Bothnia, at the bottom of a steep tunnel that winds for 3 miles through granite bedrock, Finland is getting ready to entomb its nuclear waste.
If all goes well, sometime early in the next decade the first of what will be nearly 3,000 sealed copper canisters, each up to 17 feet long and containing about 2 tons of spent reactor fuel from Finland’s nuclear power industry, will be lowered into a vertical borehole in a side tunnel about 1,400 feet underground. As more canisters are buried, the holes and tunnels — up to 20 miles of them — will be packed with clay and eventually abandoned.
The fuel, which contains plutonium and other products of nuclear fission, will remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years — time enough for a new ice age and other epochal events. But between the 2-inch-thick copper, the clay and the surrounding ancient granite, officials say, there should be no risk of contamination to future generations.
“We are pretty confident we have done our business right,” said Timo Aikas, a former executive with Posiva, the company that runs the project. “It seems the Olkiluoto bedrock is good for safe disposal.”
The repository, called Onkalo and estimated to cost about 3.5 billion euros (currently about $3.9 billion) over the century or so that it will take to fill it, will be the world’s first permanent disposal site for commercial reactor fuel. With the support of the local municipality and the national government, the project has progressed relatively smoothly for years.

How to dispose of nuclear waste The Economist; 12 Apr 2017

The disposal of nuclear fuel is among the most intractable of infrastructure projects. And there are already 266,000 tonnes of it in storage around the world, about 70,000 tonnes more than there were a decade ago. As Markku Lehtonen, a Finnish academic at the University of Sussex, puts it, the costs are high; the benefits are about avoiding harm rather than adding value; and evaluation is not about assessing risk, but about dealing with “uncertainty, ambiguity and ignorance” over a protracted timescale. Not everyone is convinced that permanent disposal is urgent, either. Some argue that semi-cooled fuel could be kept in cement dry-storage casks, as much is in America, for generations until technologies are developed to handle it. A blue-ribbon commission in America in 2012 mentioned the benefits of keeping spent fuel in storage for a longer time in order to keep the options open. But it also said that final storage was essential.
For all the countries committed to burial, Finland represents an overdue step in the right direction. It offers two lessons. The first is to find a relatively stable geological area, and reliable storage technology. The second is to build a broad consensus that the waste can be handled and disposed of responsibly. Like other Nordic success stories, it will be hard to replicate. “Finland has a kind of unique institutional context: a high trust in experts and representative democracy,” says Matti Kojo, of Finland’s Tampere University. “You cannot just copy a model from Finland.”

Nuclear Waste: Ideas vs Reality Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 4 Nov 2017

The Finnish Radiation Safety Authority (STUK) assessed several safety evaluations during the preparations for the Onkalo nuclear waste repository in Finland. Their worst case scenario is summarised well in this excellent collection of research on nuclear safety by Janne Korhonen and his banana infographic
This is the worst-case scenario from the externally reviewed Posiva 2009 Biosphere Assessment Report (Hjerpe et al. 2010, p.137 in particular). ... Note that even if the canisters begin to leak immediately, the maximum exposure occurs only after some 10 000 years (AD 12 000) as it will take time for the radioactive materials to migrate to the surface. After AD 12 000, doses will fall steadily.

What does research say about the safety of nuclear power? The unpublished notebooks of J. M. Korhonen; 14 Nov 2017

Onkalo nuclear waste repository, Finland: The dangers of nuclear waste have been studied very thoroughly in a flood of reports and assessments evaluated by the Finnish Radiation Safety Authority (STUK) during the preparation of the Onkalo nuclear waste repository – the first of its kind to receive the construction permit and most likely the first to become operational in the world in 2020s. I’ve gone through some of the material, hunting for the worst-case scenarios. This is what I’ve found:

What happens if Finnish nuclear repository leaks cf banana.png

This is the worst-case scenario from the externally reviewed Posiva 2009 Biosphere Assessment Report (Hjerpe et al. 2010, p.137 in particular). It requires
  • Someone to spends all of his or her days – from birth to death – in the single worst contaminated one square meter plot around the repository, while:
  • Eating nothing but the most contaminated food available, with a diet that maximizes radionuclide intake; and
  • Drinking only the most contaminated water and nothing else.
The resulting maximum exposure – 0.00018 milli-sieverts per year, much less if any one of the above requirements aren’t met – also requires that the copper canisters which house the spent fuel effectively vanish after mere 1000 years, while the bentonite clay barrier that alone is a very effective catcher of radioactive particles must also disappear somewhere, and the groundwater must move towards the surface. (BTW, read this interview of an actual radiochemist about the effectiveness of bentonite.) Note that even if the canisters begin to leak immediately, the maximum exposure occurs only after some 10 000 years (AD 12 000) as it will take time for the radioactive materials to migrate to the surface. After AD 12 000, doses will fall steadily.

France

How France is disposing of its nuclear waste Rob Broomby; BBC; 4 Mar 2014

Switzerland

Safe repositories for radioactive waste - a study of specifically Swiss conditions The Paul Scherrer Institute; 21 Aug 2009

Swiss repository experiment enters monitoring phase World Nuclear News; 24 Mar 2015

The underground tunnel in which the Full-scale Emplacement Experiment (FE Experiment) will be carried out at the Mont Terri Rock Laboratory in Switzerland has been sealed and monitoring has begun. The experiment aims to simulate the conditions within a repository containing high-level radioactive waste.

UK

Law changed so nuclear waste dumps can be forced on local communities Juliette Jowit; The Guardian; 5 Apr 2015

Objectors worry that ministers are desperate to find a solution to the current radioactive waste problem to win public support to build a new generation of nuclear power stations. Nuclear waste dumps can be imposed on local communities without their support under a new law rushed through in the final hours of parliament. Under the latest rules, the long search for a place to store Britain’s stockpile of 50 years’ worth of the most radioactive waste from power stations, weapons and medical use can be ended by bypassing local planning. Since last week, the sites are now officially considered “nationally significant infrastructure projects” and so will be chosen by the secretary of state for energy. He or she would get advice from the planning inspectorate, but would not be bound by the recommendation. Local councils and communities can object to details of the development but cannot stop it altogether.

Deep borehole

Can't We Just Throw Our Nuclear Waste Down A Deep Hole? James Conca; Forbes; 5 Mar 2015

Um…yes, we can. It’s called Deep Borehole Disposal and is pretty easy for some nuclear waste. Especially some highly radioactive materials that have sat in some fairly small capsules for almost 40 years. This was exactly the topic of discussion in Washington this week when Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz answered questions from Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) at a House Science, Space and Technology committee hearing (Tri-City Herald). The answer from Moniz was positive. He discussed a pilot project that would demonstrate the idea of deep borehole disposal using these capsules.

Incineration

Neutrons for research and nuclear waste disposal The Paul Scherrer Institute; 31 Jan 2007

Megapie is an international pioneering experiment at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) in Villigen, Switzerland, the goal of which is to produce neutrons from a liquid metal target when hit from a proton beam. In a world first, a high power neutron source was produced from about one megawatt of proton input. Neutrons of high initial energy are used in many research fields and could also be used to incinerate nuclear waste.
Neutrons with high energy can also be used for feeding a subcritical reactor system in which highly radioactive substances such as neptunium, plutonium, americium and curium, found in long lived waste from nuclear power plants can, in principle, be transmuted into short lived or even stable elements. Megapie has provided valuable information for developing this technique, even if according to experts, there is still a long way to go on this road.

UK Plutonium stockpile

UK plutonium stockpile is 'energy in the bank' Victoria Gill, Science reporter; BBC News; 4 Nov 2015

The UK is sitting on a plutonium stockpile that represents "thousands of years" of energy in the bank, according to a leading nuclear scientist. Tim Abram, professor of nuclear fuel technology at the University of Manchester, made the comments at a briefing to discuss the fate of the UK's plutonium. The Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria has around 140 tonnes of the material. It is now the largest stockpile of civil plutonium in the world.

Public perception

Nuclear Waste: Ideas vs Reality Iida Ruishalme; Thoughtscapism; 4 Nov 2017

This was one of the biggest issues about nuclear power for me personally, before I started reading up more about it. Nuclear waste was a disaster waiting to happen. How could we justify producing any amount of energy if – bear with me – that meant risking that large areas of the earth become barren wastelands, should anything go wrong?
This, in reality, is the image that most people have. I won’t scoff at it, because I once held it myself. The feeling is, that should anything go wrong with nuclear waste, the problems would be on the scale of making entire countries, perhaps even continents, uninhabitable.

Used Nuclear Fuel w/ Dr. James Conca - Part One James Conca; YouTube; EnergyNorthwest

Many people cite "nuclear waste" as the reason we shouldn't pursue more nuclear energy. But there also exists a big disconnect on what nuclear waste, or used nuclear fuel, actually is. And what it isn't.
In this short video (Pt. 1 of 3), Dr. James Conca, a scientist with degrees from Cal-Tech, formerly of NASA, and Los Alamos and Pacific Northwest National Labs, explains the what and the why behind used nuclear fuel and how it is stored.