Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Book Review: Max S. Powers' America's Nuclear Wastelands (2008)

Dear Readers,

Two weeks ago on a conference call between half a dozen long-time activists working for safer storage of the vast pile of nuclear waste at San Onofre (3.5 million pounds, approximately, of spent reactor fuel) Mike Aguirre, the lawyer who had just settled a nothingburger with Southern California Edison that took his law firm out of the running to help local residents fight against SoCalEd's cost-saving plan to store the waste in flimsy thin-walled so-called "stainless" steel cans, on the promise that SCE would keep on trying to find someone else to take the waste (which they had been trying to do for decades anyway and were going to continue to try to do) Mike recommended a book he had read, and -- after misnaming the author several times -- said it's where he figured out the solution to the problem, and he wanted us all to read it. Did not offer to send copies.

I found a used library copy on the Internet, and paid more for the shipping than for the book. Under 200 pages, in small type but with lots of pictures, I read it cover-to-cover yesterday. This is (or will be shortly) a book review.

Worse than merely agreeing to help SCE find a better home for the nuclear waste -- something we all want to do, actually, since it's in an earthquake zone, a tsunami zone, a high-population area, and exposed to the crack-inducing salty air 24/7 -- Aguirre & Company (including Ray Lutz and Patricia Borchmann, two local activists) agreed to help SCE dump their liability for the waste once it gets beyond the fence at SanO, and they also agreed, in writing, to support SCE's application to the California Public Utilities Commission seeking to have ratepayers pay for SCE's search for a new home for the waste -- up to $4,000,000, which is a pitifully small amount (SCE spends nearly that much just holding four "Community Engagement Panel" meetings each year), and SCE only has to search for a "commercially reasonable" location, whatever THAT means. One thing it definitely means is that they can reject even a plan that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves, if they don't like the financial terms.

And the #1 financial term they are seeking is to dump the liability for whatever happens to the nuclear waste on someone else.

That's why, immediately after the "agreement" was publicized (the negotiations had been held secretly for several months), Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona announced that they, for one, would NOT take the waste. Naturally: They didn't want the added cost and liability. They'd be fools to want it.

America's Nuclear Wastelands certainly has an intriguing title, and a picture of several atomic bomb craters on the cover. The subtitle is "Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup" but while accountability is discussed several times in the book, liability isn't mentioned at all. It's mainly about politics, which the author thinks is the main reason nuclear waste is a problem at all.

Max Powers is a word twister. He uses inappropriate terms to make his points, like "low energy" for the alpha emissions from plutonium (pg.42), and "in concentrations large enough to harm people" (pg.9), which indicates he doesn't believe in the Linear, No Threshold ("LNT") theory of radiation damage, which has been accepted by the vast majority of unbiased scientists for years -- including the government's own Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) committee -- as the best estimate. Further proof that he believes there is a threshold is his claim that Columbia River fish "no longer contain potentially dangerous levels of radioactivity" (pg 79). But perhaps the best proof is when he talks about "Hormesis" (though he doesn't use the term): "There are, however, scientists who argue that low doses have no effect, or even beneficial effects..." (pg28). Powers assumes the Hiroshima studies were accurate (pg26). Actually, they are an excellent case study -- in how to bias a study! (For example, babies who were born and died to Hiroshima survivors were simply not counted if they died before the age of five.)

It's interesting to note that the first time any activist is mentioned in Powers' book, he (the activist) is described as "accost[ing]" and "berating" the author. (The activist, from Idaho, had ample justification, since the author had, in official testimony at a hearing, just complimented the cleanup job the Idaho National Labs was doing. (A job which, a decade later (August, 2017), the LA Times said is still "causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.))

Powers' book does have some interesting facts: The government had estimated it would take over $200 billion and at least 70 years to clean up 113 nuclear radiological environmental wastelands. He listed more than half a dozen states which have been considered at some point for hosting a high-level nuclear waste dump: Kansas, Washington, Nevada, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas, "upper New England" (Vermont or Maine) and states in the midwest (pg54).

But mostly, he just sides with those who believe that the nuclear waste problem is "political" and that concerned citizens are overly-worried because they can't balance the threat from smoking cigarettes or driving cars against the threat from nuclear waste accidents. He says "Not In My Back Yard syndrome" (NIMBYism) isn't based on science (pg. 97), and doesn't realize it might also be based on past failures of cleanup agencies.

Powers calls the bribes that have been offered to local communities around proposed nuclear waste dumps "monetary awards" (pg. 100). He says that nuclear waste can be transported safely, but politics gets in the way (pg.110). He thinks the "wildlife refuge" they made out of Rocky Flats is a successful clean-up job (pgs70&71; pg 170). In reality, they wouldn't spend the money to make the area around the main complex clean enough to release it back to the public for unrestricted use, so they fenced it off, let mule deer propagate within, and called it a wildlife refuge. There is still a much more highly contaminated zone in the middle of the refuge.

Powers mentions, but does not discuss the problems with, rocketing nuclear waste to the sun, or dropping it in the deep blue sea near a subduction zone (pgs76&77). He calls Yucca Mountain a "carefully crafted process" (pg 99) and said it would be operating by 2019 (pg.42). He says the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) is a complete success (pgs 5&44 and elsewhere, though in his defence, his book was written before the explosion and plutonium release). Powers asserts that mixed-oxide ("MOX") fuel made from nuclear bombs would be a good way to get rid of the plutonium (pg65) (it hasn't worked out). He believes only about 50 people died because of Chernobyl, plus "heightened levels of leukemia" among cleanup workers and thyroid cancer in children (pg10), but doesn't provide estimates for either group.

He claims states have "significant" say over nuclear waste regulations, then admits they don't, then asserts they do again (pgs.33&34). Correct answer: They don't.

Perhaps the most odd thing about Mike Aguirre recommending this awful book is that, coming off a treaty negotiated in secrecy, the book recommends "openness and trust" (pg158). It recommends "trust funds" be set up, but SCE has no plans to do that for the spent fuel. It recommends...wait for it...TOURISM to pay for managing long-term stewardship of nuclear waste where possible, such as at Hanford, Washington (often cited by others as the most polluted place in America), his example being the B Reactor Museum there, which he endorsed and which has since opened.

The current estimated price tag for cleaning up Hanford is nearing $20 billion. By comparison, the budget for the entire Smithsonian complex of approximately 30 museums (which does not include the B Reactor Museum) is currently about $100 million/year.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California

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B-reactor museum web site:
http://b-reactor.org/

LA Times article on INL cleanup:
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-na-idaho-nuclear-waste-2017-story.html

This book review was also published at MWCNEWS:
http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/68114-americas-nuclear-wastelands.html
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-----------------------------------------
Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author: "The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry"
Free download: acehoffman.org
Blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com
YouTube: youtube.com/user/AceHoffman
Subscribe to my free newsletter today!
Email: ace [at] acehoffman.org

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

San Onofre's battle for the future: The NIMBYs versus the realists...

August 30th, 2017

The agreement concluded earlier this week between Southern California Edison and Citizen's Oversight is a complete waste of activists' energy -- or worse.

It accomplishes nothing but to assuage the fears of the most poorly-educated "Interested Parties." It does not protect California, it does not put a single dent in the nuclear industry or Southern California Edison's profits (the money for the agreement will come out of ratepayer's pockets). In fact, in gives the nuclear industry a go-ahead to keep on creating nuclear waste and confirms that concerned citizens can be hoodwinked -- along with their lawyers.

Not only that, but those citizens who signed the agreement have -- in writing -- the "affirmative duty to support the settlement and its costs" before the California Public Utilities Commission, by "offering testimony in support of a CPUC application to approve costs associated with the transportation and storage of SONGS Spent Fuel."

In other words, the approximately $4 billion dollars that ratepayers have ALREADY put into the "decommissioning fund" will NOT be used for offsite storage costs, or costs of transportation thereto. Ratepayers will be expected to pay those additional costs -- whatever they may be, and however long they last.

Not one citizen ever signed on to centuries of cost burdens for storing nuclear fuel that is no longer "commercially reasonable" to use. "Commercially Reasonable" is a phrase that comes up often in the agreement: It means SCE can do nothing if the cost is too high, and does not need to balance potential risks against cost benefits -- if a transportation and offsite storage plan meets the minimal Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards for safety -- standards which are way too lax -- SCE can do it if they want to, but don't have to if the cost is too high by some "Commercially Reasonable" standard they can make up as they go along.

SCE can -- and will -- just let the waste sit where it is, on the beach, letting salt corrode the containments day by day, for decades or even centuries. Until long after they're out of business.

Moving the waste to another location is NOT a solution to the nuclear waste problem. It's a transference of risk, and according to the agreement, must also include a transfer of liability. In fact, it's worse than no solution at all: The agreement enables other old, corroding and decaying nuclear power plants (such as Palo Verde, Diablo Canyon, Indian Point and more than 90 other operating old reactors in America) to claim they've "solved" the waste problem and keep operating, and keep making more waste, and keep transferring liability to others.

When the plants were built, the public was assured the waste would be removed as soon as it was cool enough to transport -- about five years at the time, although the more highly enriched fuel used by most reactors today generally requires even longer. The spent fuel pools (every reactor has one) were made to accommodate only about five years worth of highly toxic (radioactively) and exceedingly hot (thermally) spent fuel under 40 feet of water. A new spent fuel pool today would cost nearly a billion dollars.

The years went by, and there was still no place to put the waste. And America didn't need to extract plutonium from the "spent" nuclear fuel for bombs anymore (we have more than enough of that already for the thousands of nuclear bombs we still maintain). In any case, reprocessing proved too expensive and too polluting to bother with when mining uranium (and poisoning uranium miners) was (and is) cheap in comparison to reprocessing costs. So the utilities just started packing the spent fuel tighter and tighter together in the pools at each nuclear power reactor site.

The pools eventually got so full after being reracked again and again, that even a lax federal safety standard could not be met. (Reracking is a risky business in itself: Virtually every fuel bundle needs to be lifted and rearranged in order to pack older fuel in amongst the newer fuel, to keep the maximum thermal temperature and radioactivity as low as possible. A few years ago San Onofre dropped a large heavy metal beam used for that purpose into the pool because its equipment is so old.)

When the pools couldn't accommodate any more spent fuel, the reactor companies turned to "temporary" dry cask storage. Dry cask storage is MUCH cheaper than building a new spent fuel pool. Whether it is safer is highly debatable, but even if it is in some ways safer, on the other hand, by enabling the reactor to keep operating and create more and more spent fuel, any conclusion that dry cask storage is safer than pool storage per ton of fuel is counterbalanced by the increased amount of fuel that must be stored -- and by the operating reactor itself, as well as the higher risk of recently-removed fuel compared to older fuel.

But dry casks, like spent fuel pools, was only supposed to be a "temporary" solution so the reactors could keep operating. For about 20 years the dream -- the nightmare -- of Yucca Mountain has been used as an excuse to keep the plants open while the waste piles up, even when reactor pools have been reracked three or more times (creating extremely hazardous conditions in case of a loss-of-water accident or sabotage). Dry casks pile up around the reactor. For 20 years any activist who said: "But what about the waste?!?" was simply told: "Yucca Mountain."

Yucca Mountain was stopped -- but NOT because of political infighting -- that's the lie the nuclear industry wants you to believe. No: It was stopped because there were more than 300 problems Nevada scientists had identified (many completely unsolvable, such as earthquake, volcano, and water intrusion problems) and several dozen more problems that California scientists had identified (including downstream radioactive pollution from underground water movement after an accident).

Another HUGE problem with Yucca Mountain, which will be at least as big a problem anywhere else, was that almost nobody in Nevada wants it, and they've fought against it vigorously for years. So too with proposed "Interim" storage sites in New Mexico and western Texas. A few local residents expect to find high-paying jobs -- mostly in management -- but other than that, nobody wants somebody else's nuclear waste.

One of the proposed temporary storage sites, as described in the agreement, was Arizona's Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant, which is part-owned by Southern California Edison.

But the day after the announcement of the settlement, PVNPP released a statement they had obviously been holding until SCE gave them the go-ahead: They would NOT be taking anyone else's nuclear waste. Palo Verde already has storage plans for roughly 200 canisters which are currently being filled -- and plenty of room for more -- but they don't want the added liability, and probably know perfectly well they'll be stuck with the added waste forever if they take it. It's just a simple business decision for them, but puts 50 million people who live near San Onofre in danger -- or rather, keeps them in danger.

The nuclear industry as a whole absolutely opposes transferring nuclear waste from closed reactor sites to still-operating reactors (where the many risks from the operating reactors far exceed the added risk from the spent fuel, by several orders of magnitude). If it became a standard practice, dozens of reactors would shut down immediately rather than become de facto "Interim Storage Sites" for other reactors. This would of course be good for the nation for reactors to close, and would save millions of dollars in costs: For specifying new sites, for security, and for maintenance. Only closing ALL the reactors would be better. But the industry, of course, opposes it.

Meanwhile, the waste at 100 operating reactors around the country continues to accumulate. Each dry cask nuclear waste storage container is huge, but only about 1/2 inch thick of so-called "stainless" steel, weighing (together with its contents) at least two hundred thousand pounds. The containers are liable to rust, causing "stress corrosion cracking" (SCC). They cannot be inspected (or even safely approached). There are now about 2,000 dry storage canisters in America, each one vulnerable to airplane strikes (accidental OR on purpose), explosive charges, and degradation as the years go by.

The only real solution is to stop making more nuclear waste.

Any effort at neutralizing the uranium and plutonium -- possible through a patented process -- still leaves -- and in fact creates more -- fission products, which have relatively short decay periods (half-lives of about 30 years or less in most cases) compared to plutonium and uranium. These short half-lives mean the resulting waste is much more hazardous if it gets out (especially because some of it (cesium, for instance) bioaccumulates), but it is hazardous for much less time. Plutonium is hazardous for about a quarter of a million years. Most fission products are hazardous for 600 years or less.

The biggest advantage of neutralization -- besides reducing the storage time from hundreds of millennia to half a dozen centuries (still more than twice as long as the United States has existed as a country) is that it eliminates the possibility of a criticality event. Criticality events are possible with spent fuel because in a fire or accident, the fuel pellets can become rearranged to the point where radioactivity suddenly sharply increases, causing a devastating thermal explosion. It's not a nuclear bomb, but it can spread fine particles of radioactive waste over a wide area and for hundreds of miles downwind.

Moving San Onofre's waste away from the coast, away from 50,000,000 residents, sounds like a great -- and simple -- idea. But nothing in the nuclear business is what it seems, and nothing is simple.

There are numerous unsolved problems which apply to ALL sites: just moving nuclear waste from one place to another is extremely risky: Not only because of terrorism and infrastructure issues -- the roads, rails and bridges in America are in terrible shape, and the terrorists have access to drones and powerful (and extremely HOT) explosives. You cannot hide a slow-moving train or truck convoy. There are only a few roads and rail lines that can be used, so the routes are well known. The canisters they propose to use for transport are incapable of withstanding numerous accident scenarios, such as oncoming train collisions, exploding fuel trucks nearby, bridges falling on top of them or out from under them, etc. etc..

Some activists who support the NIMBY solution (Not In My Back Yard, aka: "get it out of here, I don't care where it goes") have pointed out that "the military moves nuclear fuel and waste all the time." But that doesn't tell the whole story. First of all, they can get away with far less safe procedures since they aren't regulated by the civilian Nuclear Regulatory Commission (for what it's worth).

Additionally, the military is dealing with much lighter amounts -- hundreds of pounds at a time instead of hundreds of THOUSANDS of pounds at a time. A nuclear submarine is NEVER refueled during its life and transports itself most of the way to the "final" resting place for the fuel, while nuclear aircraft carriers are refueled only once. Military nuclear fuel is U-235 enriched to nearly 20 times the level of commercial nuclear fuel (4 to 5% versus about 80%). The electricity military propulsion reactors must produce is in the tens of megawatts, far less than the 1,100 megawatts of a typical commercial reactor, so they can be much smaller. Thus, the total amount (by weight) of each military spent fuel shipment is correspondingly far less. Bombs are even smaller and more highly enriched perhaps as much as 95% U-235 and Pu-239). Nevertheless, a area in Spain is still highly contaminated with plutonium from a military plane crash in the mid 1960s, and one that accidentally fell in North Carolina in 1961 had five of six safety systems fail...one left. Another one, an H-bomb lost off the coast of Georgia in 1958, was finally found in 2004 -- but can't be moved. There have been many other incidents and near-misses with the military moving nuclear materials. Some incidents, undoubtedly, have never been made public.

Commercial nuclear waste being transported in America has ONE safety system that might remain intact: The outer steel transport container. Everything else is highly suspect and shouldn't be relied on at all. Some of the zirconium fuel cladding in every container are sure to be cracked already (each container contains nearly ten thousand fuel rods in as many as 37 fuel assemblies (or "bundles), and close to a million fuel pellets). The thin 1/2 inch inner dry storage cask cannot be inspected (especially on the INSIDE) and may be cracked after sitting in a damp, salty environment for years if not decades. The outer steel transport container is to be reused possibly hundreds of times over tens of thousands of miles. So it may already be damaged by the time an accident it was designed to survive happens.

And those accidents -- the ones the transport cask is designed to survive -- are minor compared to what might really happen. For example: Fires surrounding the cask in an accident are expected to burn for not more than about 20 minutes. A drop onto a post is expected to be from not more than about 30 feet, and the post it lands on is expected to be not less than four inches in diameter. If it falls in water, the depth is expected to be less than about 50 feet. None of these (and many other) standards are good enough. And the NRC's federal rulings on nuclear safety cannot be strengthened by individual states wanting more stringent regulations. The feds will come in and overrule any attempt by the states to regulate safety. All they are left to regulate is who will pay for it, and in California, it's invariably the ratepayers.

This settlement deal is no deal at all, but a license for the utility to risk trillions of dollars in damages for many decades to come.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA
The author has been studying nuclear issues as a private citizen for more than 40 years. He has seen dozens of spent fuel proposals come and go.

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My initial reaction to the agreement:
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This "agreement" appears to simply require Edison to spend up to but not more than $4,000,000 looking for offsite storage, which they were doing anyway. Pursuant to CPUC approval, SCE can charge the $4 mil to ratepayers. The key section is C1(c) which stipulates that relocation "must" result in the transfer of liability (unless SCE can come up with a "Commercially Reasonable" alternative). C1(e) further stipulates that SCE doesn't have to do anything if they can't get it paid for out of the decom fund or with fresh funds from DOE.

Section D asserts that SCE can stop looking for a place when they use up the money or when they feel like giving up the search.

In return, Plaintiffs dismiss their lawsuit, agree not to sue again (except if they feel this Agreement has been breached by SCE), nor to encourage anyone else to sue, and Plaintiffs will gleefully take $800,000 to the bank [termed legal "expenses" by the agreement].

In other words, it's all a big load of "quap".

Ace H.

Note: "quap" is the term for nuclear waste originally coined by the great writer H. G. Wells, author of The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, The Shape of Things to Come, The Outline of History, The War in the Air and many other classics.
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Torgen Johnson's comments on the agreement:
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The first step is to assume a worst case (and most likely) scenario that the fuel will be stranded at San Onofre indefinitely. The fuel must therefore be moved into the most robust fuel containment possible...10" - 19.75" thick cast iron dry casks.

The second step is to imagine that the industry is going to ditch the fuel onto a smaller, politically weaker community than ours. Ethically and morally those along the transport route and those on the receiving end deserve the most robust fuel containment possible.
That is not the fuel containment system that any one of us is getting at the moment.
We must fight for the safer, thicker, monitored, containment casks and protect the receiving community as if they are our extended family members.

Torgen J.
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Note #1: Attorney Mike Aguirre immediately "unsubscribed" from my list after receiving this newsletter.

Note #2: Donna Gilmore assures me that the NRC does have jurisdiction over the military nuclear waste shipments.  I'm not sure, perhaps they have "review status" or something.  They certainly do not inspect shipboard reactors or bombs!  Also, there are already over 200 dry casks at PVNPP.  And lastly, she reminds me that the casks will corrode anywhere -- just probably faster near the shore.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Darrell Issa's New Nuclear Waste Policy Act (H. R. 474) is a disaster for taxpayers, but would be Nirvana for nuclear utilities

Note: This is a condensed version of my previous newsletter (the original version appears below).

February 15, 2017

U.S. Representative Darrell Issa, who has supported nuclear power for years, wants to screw the American public by forcing them (us) to take legal possession of all the nuclear waste the nuclear industry has ever produced -- with no safe place to put it.

The first paragraph of Issa's bill (known as the Interim Storage Act of 2017) says it all: He wants the citizens of the United States to "take title to certain high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel." That means the federal government ("we the people") would be responsible for ALL of the most nasty property any private company has ever held title to (known in the industry as "Greater than Class C" nuclear waste).

And Issa wants to take money away from the Nuclear Waste Fund -- which was set up to create a permanent geologic repository somewhere in America -- to bribe local officials at proposed interim storage sites, and enrich sleazy corporations that want to build large facilities to hold thousands of school-bus-sized, thin-walled canisters, each containing enough nuclear waste to devastate an entire state.

Currently, this waste -- about 80,000 tons altogether -- is being stored on site at more than 70 active and former nuclear power stations.  Nuclear waste is still being generated at nearly 100 nuclear power plants around the country -- about 10 tons of new nuclear waste per day in America (about 50 tons globally, per day).

Nuclear waste contains short-lived and long-lived "fission" isotopes. Most fission products -- the result of splitting fissile atoms (mainly Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239) have half-lives of less than about 30 years, so they'll require about 600 years to fully decay (20 half-lives leaves about one millionth of the original amount). (A few fission isotopes will take millions of years to decay to stable elements.)

Nuclear waste also contains "fissile" material: Unsplit Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 atoms. These are present because the fuel was removed when it was no longer profitable to the utility to continue using it -- the heat yield had dropped too much -- not because all the fissile isotopes had been split.

These fissile isotopes can be used by a rogue government headed by a rogue leader to make nuclear weapons. They can be stolen by terrorists (not easy, but not impossible). Perhaps worst of all is that the fissile isotopes can still achieve criticality.

A criticality event can occur when the fissile materials accumulate together too closely. There are various shields and other separators within the storage casks that keep the material sufficiently far apart to prevent this from happening under "normal" circumstances.  But all these protections can be overridden -- by an airplane strike, for instance.

Issa's proposal is a result of America not building a permanent repository.  At the time Yucca Mountain was cancelled, California alone had submitted dozens of technical issues that needed to be dealt with, and Nevada had submitted nearly 300 more. It is inaccurate to think that Yucca Mountain was stopped because of "political" pressure from Nevada.  Yucca Mountain was stopped because of volcanic concerns, water seepage problems, cave-in concerns, climate change issues, earthquakes possibilities, and many problems with the containers themselves.

The nuclear industry is pushing Issa's "Interim Storage" solution because it completely solves THEIR problem: Ownership of the waste.  By giving the spent fuel and other high-level waste to the taxpayers and citizens of America, the utilities can "wash their hands" of the problem they created.  They could have closed their nuclear plants decades ago and switched to renewables but they didn't, in part because of the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), which promised to take the waste off their hands when a permanent repository was supposed to open a few years later. That never happened, and so the utilities have successfully sued the federal government to recover hundreds of millions of dollars each that they have been spending to store nuclear waste on site.

Darrell Issa wants to rob the fund created by the 1982 NWPA of the interest it is accruing in order to pay for his interim storage proposal. In other words, he won't even charge the utilities for this massive criminal enterprise, and he specifically intends to let the utilities continue to sue for the cost of continuing to store the waste on site in the meantime.

Issa's concept is currently illegal, hence the need for his new bill. He tried for several years to get similar bills passed with no success.

The waste canisters cannot be inspected. The ceramic fuel pellets -- hundreds of thousands of finger-bone sized pellets in each canister -- are already degraded from years of heat, vibration, radiation, and migration of fission products through the fuel.

The possibility of a criticality event exists even without an airplane strike. However, if an airplane did strike the pad, chances of a criticality event are very significant. The force of the impact could push the fuel together, and an airplane strike could also cause a fire which would destroy the containers within about 20 minutes. Either way, a criticality event becomes almost inevitable after an large airplane strike.

Issa's bill specifically rejects the intent of the 1982 Act by stating that "nothing" in his bill will "require the disposal of Greater than Class C waste in a repository." In other words, the "Interim" storage site could become the "permanent" repository for many centuries!  However, unless the Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 isotopes are neutralized (which can be done through the use of lasers), nuclear waste will remain in danger of a criticality event for millions of years. But no utility wants to invest in neutralization, mainly because destroying the U-235 and Pu-239 would eliminate the possibility of reprocessing the fuel -- but that's actually another huge advantage of laser neutralization.

Issa's bill is so generous to the nuclear industry, they don't even have to sign a contract with anyone -- the liability for the waste will be automatically transferred to the federal government as soon as the waste is transferred to the interim storage site -- which will be run by a company that isn't liable for it at all.

The real purpose of Issa's bill is NOT to get the waste moved from closed reactors such as San Onofre, although it's being pushed for that.  It's really designed to allow operating reactors to empty their spent fuel pools (which are dangerously overcrowded with decades of spent nuclear fuel) and keep operating for 60 to 80 years -- well beyond their original design basis of 20 to 40 years.  Eventually "stranded" nuclear waste from closed sites might be moved to the Consolidated Interim Storage sites, but not before operating sites have off-loaded as much fuel as they can get rid of so they can keep operating.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

URL for Darrell Issa's reprehensible bill:
https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr474/BILLS-115hr474ih.xml

Link to Dr. Peter M. Livingston's patent application for laser neutralization of nuclear waste:
http://goo.gl/7ro0tZ (goes to the USPTO).

Dr. Livingston's patent was initially rejected, however on appeal, in November, 2016 most of his claims were reinstated, a huge and unusual victory, and additionally, the most important rejected portions were not rejected for being wrong, but for being already proven correct (or, in the first rejected item, because the patent officer illogically asserts that a beam of light from a flashlight is "collimated" like a beam of light from a laser, which is "patently" absurd):
http://www.google.com/url?q=https://e-foia.uspto.gov/Foia/RetrievePdf%3Fsystem%3DBPAI%26flNm%3Dfd2013009519-11-01-2016-1&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwiBt7WsgvnRAhXk7YMKHV9UCTsQFggWMAA&usg=AFQjCNHPRcwxOfKcy201Sxsfb_g3a_PKRw




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Original Version:
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U.S. Representative Darrell Issa -- my Congressman -- wants to screw the American public by forcing them (us) to take all the nuclear waste the nuclear industry has ever produced -- with no safe place to put it.

Meanwhile, local residents of the closed San Onofre Nuclear (Waste) Generating Station have renamed the spent fuel there as the "Darrell Issa Nuclear Waste Dump" because of his support for the plant while it was open, and his (failed) attempts to have it reopen after the plant was shut down permanently on January 31, 2012 due to faulty steam generators. And there the waste sits in enormous, thin-walled, so-called "stainless" steel casks. Now, Darrell Issa is playing on the fears of local residents who want the waste moved away from the coast in order to push his proposal.

Issa's proposed changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (which was enough of a screwing of the American public in itself) will, in the long run, probably cost taxpayers trillions -- yes, trillions -- of dollars, and result in millions -- yes, millions -- of deaths over the coming centuries. These deaths are nearly inevitable, because his bill guarantees new nuclear waste will be made ad nauseam, and that means the waste will almost surely be released into the environment eventually. No one has ever built a containment that will last longer than the nuclear waste. Not even the Egyptian pharaohs.

The first paragraph of Issa's detestable bill says it all: He wants the U.S. Government -- that's actually us, the citizens of the United States, since we're a "government of the people" -- to "take title to certain high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel." That means the federal government would be responsible for all of the most nasty property any private company has ever held title to (known in the industry as "Greater than Class C" nuclear waste).

And Issa wants to take money away from the Nuclear Waste Fund -- which was set up to create a permanent geologic repository somewhere in America -- to bribe local officials at interim storage sites and enrich sleazy corporations that want to build large, open, cement pads to hold thousands of school-bus-sized, thin-walled canisters, each containing enough nuclear waste to devastate an entire state.

Currently, this waste -- about 80,000 tons altogether -- is being stored on site at more than 70 active and former nuclear power stations. And currently, more nuclear waste is being generated at nearly 100 nuclear power plants around the country -- about 10 tons of new nuclear waste per day in America (about 50 tons globally, per day).

Nuclear waste contains short-lived and long-lived "fission" isotopes. Most fission products -- the result of splitting fissile atoms such as Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 -- have half-lives of less than about 30 years, so they'll require about 600 years to fully decay (20 half-lives leaves about one millionth of the original amount). (A few fission isotopes will take millions of years to decay to stable elements.)

Nuclear waste also contains unburned "fissile" material: Unsplit Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 atoms. These are present because the fuel was removed when it was no longer profitable to the utility to continue using it -- the yield had dropped too much, and not because all the fissile isotopes had been split.

These fissile isotopes can be used by a rogue government headed by a rogue leader to make nuclear weapons. They can be stolen by terrorists (not easy, but not impossible). Perhaps worst of all the fissile isotopes can still achieve criticality.

A criticality event can occur when the fissile materials accumulate together too closely. There are various shields and other separators within the storage casks that keep the material sufficiently far apart to prevent this from happening under "normal" circumstances. But if things go wrong, a VERY large explosion occurs, tremendous heat is produced almost instantaneously, and radioactive material is spread throughout the planet. Worst of all, one criticality event in one dry cask is liable to spread to other casks, because the casks, in the current proposed configurations, will be stored very close together with no barriers in-between each cask.

Proposed interim storage configurations that have been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approval comprise simply an enormous rectangular cement pad covered from one end to another with dry casks [see below for a clarification]. This type of configuration is a perfect target for a hijacked airplane: Large, easy to locate, and not surrounded by anything that would prevent an airplane from striking it (no anti-aircraft guns, no roof, no walls, nothing).

It's the cheapest possible "solution" to the nuclear waste problem America has been unable to solve for more than half a century -- despite putting tens of thousands of scientists on the task, who got nowhere. Those scientists could not get a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain approved because there are still hundreds of unsolved technical problems. At the time Yucca Mountain was cancelled, California alone had submitted dozens of technical issues that needed to be dealt with, and Nevada had submitted nearly 300 more. It is inaccurate to think that Yucca Mountain was stopped because of "political" pressure from Nevada. Yucca Mountain was stopped because of volcanic concerns, water seepage problems, cave-ins, climate change issues, earthquakes possibilities, and many problems with the containers themselves.

The nuclear industry is pushing Issa's "Interim Storage" solution because it completely solves THEIR problem: Ownership of the waste. A single "small" accident with that waste would bankrupt even the largest nuclear utility. But by giving the "ownership" of the spent fuel and other high-level waste to the taxpayers and citizens of America, the utilities can "wash their hands" of the problem they created.

They could have closed their nuclear plants down decades ago and switched to renewables but they didn't, in part because of the 1982 NWPA, which promised to take the waste off their hands when a permanent repository opened a few years later. That never happened, and so the utilities have successfully sued the federal government to recover hundreds of millions of dollars each that they have been spending to store nuclear waste on site.

As dozens of reactors are sure to close or have already recently shut down permanently, due to aging concerns or other problems (including the cheaper cost of renewables and natural gas), the nuclear waste fund is no longer increasing as much as it was previously, and the only way it will have enough money for a permanent repository is if the interest on the money already in the fund is allowed to accumulate (and even that will probably not be enough).

But Darrell Issa wants to rob the fund of the interest in order to pay for the interim storage! In other words, he won't even charge the utilities for this massive criminal enterprise! And he specifically intends to let the utilities continue to sue for the cost of continuing to store the waste on site in the meantime.

Issa's concept is currently illegal, hence the need for his new bill. He tried for several years to get similar bills passed with no success. His current proposal is called the "Interim Consolidated Storage Act of 2017" and he has 17 co-sponsors, including several Representatives from Texas, where the interim storage site will probably be located if it is ever built.

The politicians smell money coming into their state, and couldn't care less if the project destroys their state when an accident occurs, as it inevitably will. The waste canisters cannot be inspected on the inside. The ceramic fuel pellets -- hundreds of thousands of finger-bone sized pellets in each canister -- are already degraded from years of heat, vibration, radiation, and migration of fission products through the fuel. (The fission products are created when the fissile atoms are split in the reactor during operation. The fission products -- on average two for every atom that is split -- then migrate through the fuel towards the outer edges of the pellets, which tends to cause microscopic cracks in the fuel pellets, and the pellets expand, which puts pressure on the (flammable) zirconium fuel rods that contain them. There are thousands of fuel rods in each dry cask, packed into dozens of "assemblies" of several hundred fuel rods each.)

A couple of private security guards with pea shooters (side-arms, aka pistols) will guard the fences of this enormous target, and a couple of times a month a technician will walk around the canisters to "inspect" them -- but won't be able to see what's going on inside, where the fuel rods may be crumbling and the fuel collecting at the bottom of the canister -- risking a sudden explosive criticality event. The possibility of a criticality event exists even without an airplane strike. However, if an airplane did strike the pad, chances of a criticality event are very significant. The force of the impact could push the fuel together, and an airplane strike could also cause a fire which would destroy the containers within about 20 minutes. Either way, a criticality event becomes almost inevitable after an airplane strike.

Issa's bill specifically rejects the intent of the 1982 Act by stating that "nothing" in his bill will "require the disposal of Greater than Class C waste in a repository." In other words, the "Interim" storage site could become the "permanent" repository for many centuries! However, unless the Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 isotopes are neutralized (which can be done through the use of lasers), nuclear waste will remain in danger of a criticality event for millions of years. And no utility wants to invest in neutralization, mainly because destroying the U-235 and Pu-239 would eliminate the possibility of reprocessing the fuel -- but that's actually another huge advantage of laser neutralization!

Issa's bill is so generous to the nuclear industry, they don't even have to sign a contract with anyone -- the liability for the waste will be automatically transferred to the federal government as soon as the waste is transferred to the interim storage site -- which will be run by a company that isn't liable for it at all!

This certainly isn't capitalism; it's worse than communism! It's madness!

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

URL for Darrell Issa's reprehensible bill:
https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr474/BILLS-115hr474ih.xml

Link to Dr. Peter M. Livingston's patent application for laser neutralization of nuclear waste:
http://goo.gl/7ro0tZ (goes to the USPTO).

Dr. Livingston's patent was initially rejected, however on appeal, in November, 2016 most of his claims were reinstated, a huge and unusual victory, and additionally, the most important rejected portions were not rejected for being wrong, but for being already proven correct (or, in the first rejected item, because the patent officer illogically asserts that a beam of light from a flashlight is "collimated" like a beam of light from a laser, which is "patently" absurd):
http://www.google.com/url?q=https://e-foia.uspto.gov/Foia/RetrievePdf%3Fsystem%3DBPAI%26flNm%3Dfd2013009519-11-01-2016-1&sa=U&ved=0ahUKEwiBt7WsgvnRAhXk7YMKHV9UCTsQFggWMAA&usg=AFQjCNHPRcwxOfKcy201Sxsfb_g3a_PKRw


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Correction to yesterday's newsletter: Darrell Issa's New Nuclear Waste Policy Act (H. R. 474)
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February 13, 2017

Dear Readers,

In my newsletter yesterday, I erred in implying that there will be no concrete overpack for the thin (1/2 inch to 5/8ths inch) stainless steel canisters of spent nuclear fuel to be stored at the WCS facility in Texas.  Also, the proposed Holtec location in New Mexico will actually be a honeycomb structure, not a flat concrete pad (it will be similar to what is being built at San Onofre, but for many more containers).

However, neither of these differences improve matters much, because first of all, the concrete overpack and superstructure seriously impact an outside inspection of the dry casks: At best, some areas of the casks will be observable by remote-control robots that have not yet been designed, but even then, the most critical areas (the areas around support structures and other pressure points) will still be out of view.  How often any inspections will be done is also a matter of speculation: Recalling that San Onofre faked its fire inspection rounds for five years does not give any assurance of confidence.  Furthermore, the insides of the casks will have no monitoring whatsoever.  By the time a crack reaches the outer edge, it will be too late to do anything.  Attempting to lift a cracked canister could expose the entire contents, and even a microscopic through-wall crack could release "millions of Curies" of radiation, to quote Dr. Kris Singh of Holtec.

Perhaps more troubling is that the concrete overpacks at the WCS facility are not able to withstand the impact of a large aircraft; the fuel containers inside are sure to be damaged in a 9-11 style of airplane strike.  The Holtec design provides insufficient protection as well, but at least is a far better design for protection against smaller aircraft impacts.  However, it is a worse design from the perspective of an aviation fuel fire, because the fuel will fall into the vent holes (which all cement overpacks must have to release heat) and be able to burn for a long time around the casks.  Similarly, the proposed WCS facility will only be very gently sloped, which is insufficient to provide fast run-off for jet fuel.

Additionally, like the Oroville Dam problem currently unfolding in northern California, which had been assessed more than a decade ago but nothing was done, the infrastructure on which the nuclear waste will be transported is woefully lacking in proper maintenance, and every bridge the waste goes over or under is in danger of collapsing.

The bottom line is still that these proposals remain technically insufficient, they would be illegal under current law, they will be paid for with money absconded from funding set aside for a permanent repository, they will provide nuclear utilities with a free gift at taxpayer and citizen's expense, they will require overruling the concerns of citizens around the sites and along the transportation routes, and worst of all, they will provide a way for the continued production of nuclear waste at approximately 100 operating nuclear power plants, without any proper way to store the waste.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

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Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download: acehoffman.org
Blog: acehoffman.blogspot.com
YouTube: youtube.com/user/AceHoffman
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Email: ace [at] acehoffman.org

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