Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dry Cask Nuclear Storage: The Endless Simmer......... (a brief history)


Dear Readers,

In Washington DC, a recent Senate subcommittee hearing was held on nuclear waste. It stretched on and on for several hours. Only "experts" and Senators spoke. It was chaired by Senator Tom Carper (D, DE), who not-too-subtly confessed to possessing not a whit of knowledge about the issues: At every turn he would say things like, "I want to thank you for your report, which the experts tell me is very good."

He did admit that his "tiny little state" is much too small to have the opportunity to bid for the privilege and PROFIT of having a federal jail facility built within its borders, let alone a nuclear waste dump.

But please come visit Rehoboth Bay when you get a chance! It hasn't been Fukushima'd yet by Hope Creek or Salem Units 1 or 2, chugging away, rusting away, vulnerable to earthquakes and liquefaction as they sit on their manmade islands in the middle of the Delaware River, along Delaware's northeastern edge. Essentially all of Delaware would be wiped out by an accident at these decrepit old power plants.

So of course, he wants a centralized storage facility, or several "decentralized" storage facilities scattered in "less densely populated" areas. He didn't name a state he prefers.

The trick to getting a nuclear waste dump built, apparently, is a simple three-fold process, which, they claim, has been successfully done in other countries, but which they can't seem to pull it off here. They'll keep trying. Here are the steps:

First, stop calling it a dump. Nuclear waste was referred to by one "expert" as a "resource".

Second, narrow down the area which can decide yea or nay on the project. The area should be far smaller than a state or county, preferably it will be just a hole in the ground, the top of which is in somebody's back yard. That would be the ideal situation.

And third: Pay the local community buckets full of money to get them to like the idea. This is not known as bribery, it's called "incentive-based site location." France added a twist the Senators liked: Start by building an underground "research facility" which everyone knows will "eventually" (read: Next generation, decades from now) be turned into a nuclear waste dump. "We can make it attractive" announced one Senator confidently.

And sure, it sounds easy. But so far Americans apparently haven't been dumb enough to accept the strategy. One Senator asked an "expert" if he thought the solution to get Yucca Mountain going was to pour more bribery money into Nevada (he called it "incentives"). That would probably work, was the answer.

And therefore, it was considered the right thing do to.

In the entire session, there was not one word about what processes might be studied, that had never been tried before, that had some promise... because there really aren't any such processes being studied, and everything's been tried before... and failed. Nuclear waste is an eternal problem. Scientific American pegs it at "250,000 years", so that's close enough to eternity for me.

So what do we do?

Earlier today I distributed (locally) some comments about the most popular alternative, dry cask storage. Those comments (shown below) prompted the following response, which I discuss underneath. But in short: Dry cask storage is something no environmental activist should support, as I discussed in my previous newsletter ( ) and have expanded on again here.


Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA

At 11:25 AM 6/9/2012 -0700, LS wrote:
>However, Ace, you don't mention that we are still going to have millions of tons of highly irradiated waste to sequester from the biospheree for the next bizillion years even after every single reactor is closed down. Hardened dry cask storage is preferable over pools, and we have to keep on pounding on that. Maybe something better will come along.....
>Nothing is safe. Never will be.

The commentator is correct, I didn't mention it in my earlier remarks (shown below).

But still more importantly, I didn't mention that if we don't shut the plants down, we'll have 104 situations with far greater risks than spent fuel pools OR dry casks. And if dry casks are even 0.001% better than pools, well, it doesn't matter because we still will have 104 spent fuel pools too, with fresh and fairly fresh fuel in every one of them, not the "old" and ever-so-slightly less dangerous stuff that's getting put into dry casks.

So again we are left with ONE overriding decision point at this time in our lives, and it's NOT "dry casks versus spent fuel pools" or even "on-site storage versus Yucca Mountain". It's that we have to shut off the spigot.

America will be utilizing some form of on-site storage for a long, long time. So the true decision point we are all at is this: Will it be dry casks AND spent fuel pools AND operational reactors, or will it be, after five years minimum while the fuel cools and we have a chance to decide, either wet or dry on-site storage? But shouldn't it be HARDENED storage in either case? And don't we have five years to decide? At least five years?

But what does "hardened" mean? Retrievable? Earthquake-proof? Tsunami-proof? Fire-proof? Bomb-proof? Stupidity-proof?

What about the complications for the local fire departments of putting out a dry cask fire (who have hardly any, or no hazmat suits)? Putting out such a fire is an impossibility, were it ever to start, say, from an airplane crash or a terrorist attack.

True, the dry casks in Japan "survived" The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. But that's hardly proof they will ALWAYS survive. And WHAT did we see them desperately dropping on the Fukushima reactors? WATER. And what are they afraid they'll lose in Fukushima Spent Fuel Pool #4 if there's another large earthquake in the area? WATER.

Can the fuel in dry casks EVER start to burn? Yep. Then what? It will be too late for water.

The first dry cask was built in 1986 at Surry NPP in Virginia, four years after Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 decrying that there is, indeed, a serious problem and demanding a permanent geologic solution be found. (30 years later, we aren't any closer.)

By February 2001 there were 230 dry storage casks in America. There are now about a thousand dry casks across America, as they furiously build them all over the world, an endless, thankless task.

By 2015 every nuclear reactor's spent fuel pool in America will be filled (and overfilled) to capacity. THIS is what's driving the push for dry cask storage, NOT any safety considerations of dry casks versus anything else.

According to Scientific American (January, 2009), dry casks hold about 11 tons of spent fuel and cost about a million dollars each to fabricate.

In America, we generate about 10 tons PER DAY of spent nuclear fuel. So we're building nearly one dry cask every day in America, and perhaps 5 or 6 per day around the world.

Then what? Does it just sit there? No! It rusts. It embrittles. It ages.

Weld it properly if you feel like it, but I've heard from TWO whistleblowers in TWO completely different dry cask areas (one worked for SanO where they fabricate their own casks, the other was the late Oscar Shirani) who BOTH said the welding and other aspects of dry cask fabrication was NOT being done properly. They were both terrified of what might happen when these poorly-fabricated parts fail, perhaps when someone tries to unload them for transport, or maybe sooner. Dry cask loading is relatively easy compared to what unloading them might be like in 60, 80, 100 years or more.


Ace Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA

The author, a computer programmer, has been writing about nuclear issues for many decades. His book The Code Killers, is available free online from his web site:


"Dry spent fuel storage in casks is considered to be safe and environmentally sound. Over the last 20 years, there have been no radiation releases which have affected the public, no radioactive contamination, and no known or suspected attempts to sabotage spent fuel casks or ISFSIs. "

Like I said, their time will come....

An endlessly growing list (from wikipedia):
"During the 2000s, dry cask storage was used in the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Lithuania. "

Loading a dry cask (from Scientific American):
" In the absence of a long-term solution (such as burying the waste deep inside Yucca Mountain), the nuclear industry has turned to so-called dry cask storage. This involves immersing the radioactive used rods in helium or some other inert gas and slotting them into a steel container that is further encased in a concrete cask.... The encased rods still manage to emit roughly one millirem of radiation per hour and heat the outside of the 100-plus ton concrete casing to as much as 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). "

Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee hearing on Nuclear Waste (SD-406):
Short URL:

From NY times article by Matthew Wald, July 5, 2011
Short URL:

"Cask manufacturers anticipate decades of healthy demand for their product. 'I joke my children will be doing my job,' said Joy Russell, a corporate development director at the manufacturer Holtec International."


>On Sat, Jun 9, 2012 at 10:43 AM, Ace Hoffman <> wrote:
>Dear all,
>People like Bob Alverez are called "nuke industry enablers". David Lochbaum at UCS is another. Both may have their hearts in the right place but their actions and comments help keep the nuke industry alive.
>Dry cask storage is no solution to the waste problem. Instead, it's high time to close ALL the reactors and NOT move to "clean, safe, cheap, emission-free dry storage" as Alverez seems to see it. "Hardened," my arse!
>Dry casks' time will come, and then -- too late -- everyone will realize they are WORSE than wet storage...... there is NO good solution but to close the plants down, starting with San Onofre.
>At 10:22 AM 6/9/2012 -0700, you wrote:
>>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>>From: Robert Alvarez <>
>>Date: Sat, Jun 9, 2012 at 9:33 AM
>>Subject: [ACTNET-NUCLEAR] Yesterday's decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals overturning NRC's Waste Confidence Decision
>>Dear All --
>>Congrats to the team that provided a compelling argument about the folly of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's "Waste Confidence Decision." The D.C. Federal Court of Appeals decision effectively torpedos the NRC's risky default policy with respect to multi-decade high-density pool storage of spent reactor fuel. It could pave the way for a more rational, safe and secure policy.
>>FYI , below is a graph developed by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in June 2010 indicating by the time U.S. reactors are expected to close in 2056, about 133,000 metric tons of spent fuel containing ~27 billion curies of intermediate and long-lived radioactivity will be generated. Note that EPRI projects that 63,000 MT will be packed to the maximum extent into spent fuel pools by that year. Currently about 73 percent of the 67,450 MT of SNF, generated as of the end of 2011 ( according to NEI) sits in pools, which were not intended to hold 4-5 times more than their original designs. Reactors like Vermont Yankee has been holding densely-compacted spent fuel in its elevated pool for more than 30 years. The Millstone I reactor was closed nearly 15 years ago. Yet, 2884 assemblies from the reactor remain in wet storage. Let's not forget about the common pool at the failed Morris, Ill reprocessing plant holding 3,217 assemblies for decades from several closed reac
>> It's time for a major shift away from wet storage and to place as much as possible in dry, hardened storage.
>>Once again, congratulations to the folks whose arguments prevailed, which greatly helps in our quest for greater protection of the public.
>>Best Regards,

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