June 25th, 2012
Below (top) is an email today from the "Union of (Un-)Concerned Scientists" ("UUCS") asking us to support urgently moving the nuclear waste currently being stored at California's nuclear reactors from spent fuel pools to on-site dry cask storage.
Maybe you've heard me say it before, but I'm going to say it again anyway: Dry casks are not the solution! Shutdown is!
Let's start with a correction to their letter: Dry casks are NOT "transportable" as their letter states. The fuel will have to be moved from the storage cask to a transport cask, and every transfer runs a significant additional risk. They are NOT making "transportable" dry casks at ANY reactor site that I know of, and certainly not at SanO or DC.
And let's say they start transferring and transporting this stuff and even get "good" at it. If it becomes routine, THAT runs a risk of complacency!
And don't forget: Every 80 or 100 years or so, starting several generations after providing any benefit whatsoever, someone will have to somehow take the still-highly-radioactive dried out embrittled reactor cores and transfer them to NEW dry casks, because, it's widely assumed, Yucca Mountain still won't exist (and shouldn't; it's not a safe solution either).
Multiple, dangerous transfer operations can be avoided if we leave the spent fuel in pools.
The real purpose of dry cask storage is to give the industry a way to keep going without having to spend up to approximately half a billion dollars each for new spent fuel pools, which keep the fuel properly separated, and under 40 feet of water.
There are three things you desperately want to avoid with spent fuel.
One is getting near it. The intense gamma radiation and other radiation the fuel emits would kill you in seconds, and that will be true for eons. The fuel must be heavily shielded from humans and animals the entire time.
Another thing you want to avoid is a zirconium cladding fire. All spent fuel needs is a spark. The zirconium can even ignite spontaneously under certain conditions. Perhaps ALL of the casks at SanO will burn, one after another down the line, or at least the three that are stacked one on top of each other will all burn if one does, and their fission products will all be released.
The third thing you want to avoid, of course, is a "criticality event" (uncontrolled chain reaction).
To avoid the first problem you want to keep far away from the fuel and/or have it be heavily shielded -- several feet of concrete and several inches of steel and lead, or 40 feet of water will do for "industrial" sites (but even that is not nearly good enough for the public).
If a fire starts, you will not be able to get close enough to douse it with water later, and nor would it do any good. Better to keep it wet from the start and avoid the spark.
However, avoiding a criticality event means you want to keep as little of the spent fuel in one place as possible. Does that mean dry casks? Or smaller pools? Pools are vastly more expensive. But aside from that, which is better?
The fact is: Nuclear waste management costs money. Lots and lots of money. And the more waste you have to manage, and the safer you desire it to be, the more costly it will be.
Calling dry casks "much safer" than spent fuel pools, as the UUCS does below, is debatable at best, and disingenuous at worst (we'll just debate it). But more importantly, the question ISN'T one or the other. It's: Do you want BOTH? Or should we stop making (more) spent fuel instead? The answer is obvious: Close the reactors. Keep those that are closed, closed forever.
Just because you have, say, 33 dry casks at a site doesn't mean 34 isn't MUCH more dangerous. It's about 3% more dangerous, and that's a lot of added danger. But it won't stop at 34, or 68 or 136. Dry casks can just keep going until something goes very, very wrong.
Where is UUCS's call for shutting down SanO and DC forever? How come THAT's not suggested as a BETTER way to reduce the risk, instead of letting it increase day by day by day?
What about the risk SoCal residents just went through last January, from the busted up steam generators, which could have cascaded into a catastrophic meltdown? Are we simply waiting for an American Fukushima? Are we waiting for California's "Big One" (with hot sauce)?
San Onofre is currently shut down because its steam generators are busted.
But that's not all that's wrong. It's fuel pools are full. It's in a tsunami inundation zone AND an earthquake zone. It's old and decrepit. It's employees are intimidated by management and falsify reports and are afraid to report safety problems. Management likewise has its back against the wall and is desperate to prove they can restart the reactors somehow, despite the engineering logic against such a thing. Nobody wants to lose face or their job. Every state agency claims only the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can "force" San Onofre to close, and the NRC never met a nuclear power plant it didn't like.
The citizens who don't want Fukushima USA to happen here are in a bind, that's for sure. But dry casks aren't the solution. Shut-down is the most important and only logical next step.
Still searching for Pamela's documentation in....
At 03:57 PM 6/25/2012 -0700, "UUCS" wrote:
>>For decades, the federal government has failed to develop an acceptable solution for managing the nation's high-level radioactive nuclear waste. In California, some 2,000 metric tons of this highly dangerous "spent fuel" is stored on-site at the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear plantsin densely packed poolsposing significant, avoidable risks to the public.
>>To better protect Californians, and all Americans, more of this dangerous waste must be transferred out of the pools into much safer, more secure, transportable dry casks.
>>The federal government is under increased pressure to solve the nuclear waste problem, which has led to legislation currently being developed in the Senate. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as chairs of two key committees, must both play a lead role in order to ensure dry cask storage of nuclear waste is a critical first step in managing and safely disposing of the nation's growing stockpile of radioactive high-level nuclear waste.
>>Urge senators Feinstein and Boxer to protect the public from dangerous nuclear waste by becoming champions of dry cask storage.
>>Take Action Today!
>>Manager of Strategic Campaigns
>>UCS Global Security Program
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Here are some additional comments from a friend:
If dry casks have a weak point then you can bet terrorist groups will find a way to exploit it. They weaponized our airline industry and I am sure they have already have ideas to weaponize spent fuel in ways that we have not conceived of yet. These pools and casks are some of the largest repositories of nuclear material in the world and our government has allowed these stockpiles to be unsecured. Why in the hell would the NRC allow that to happen?
There are open pits in the New Mexico desert containing radioactive waste from Los Alamos sitting in the open under tarps, that was vulnerable to the brush fires that swept through the area in June 2011. Staff from Los Alamos were visibly worried on the news as the fires spread throughout the area where the waste was stored. This was a sign to me that the industry has no regard for risk assessment.
I worry that the temporary solution of dry casks will become the long term solution as the public becomes complacent and casks are left semi-abandoned by the industry on shuttered nuke sites that have to be secured by the DOE or the military. They may have to remain indefinitely but http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/52363 shows that even concrete is not a totally stable material.
http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/1705874/the_lifespan_of_concrete/ This article states that containment vessels for nuclear waste are made today to last 100 years. That's about 100,000 years less than what is needed.
And this faith in the longevity of concrete to encase spent fuel is still speculation, not practice with tested outcomes. This article about the MIT study speculates the longevity of high density concrete at 100s of thousands of years. But no one knows as steel reinforced concrete is a relatively new synthetic composite. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=2B23FD6B00CA83363B2A8CC76EF4E48F.journals?fromPage=online&aid=8112003 In an above ground configuration such as dry cask hardened enclosures, the elements will play a part in the longevity of the material. Remember that we are talking about tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of years that these structure must last.
Stainless steel will have its inherent weaknesses over time as well. Just one bunker-buster from a Chinese or Russian stealth fighter, in the future, would answer the dry cask safety question.
Portland cement was used to build most of the modern world yet we do not know how long those structures will last. Ironic isn't it that the only thing that our civilization has created that we know will last for an eternity is deadly nuclear waste.
I left the following comment at HuffPost in response to a dry cask article by UUCS there:
Dry casks are no solution. Shut down the reactors, it's the only solution. Where do you put something that mustn't catch fire, no matter what? New spent fuel pools would cost about half a billion dollars to build, plus maintenance. Dry casks are vastly cheaper. THAT is what is driving the push to dry casks -- NOT "safety". What is anyone going to do if/WHEN a dry cask catches fire (shall I list two ways that can happen? Terrorism and accidental airplane strikes, but there are plenty of others....)? Just say no to nuclear power. www.acehoffman.org
In response to:
Wasting Time With Nuclear Waste
Elliott Negin, Director of News & Commentary, Union of Concerned Scientists
Short URL: http://goo.gl/OTJyw
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Author, The Code Killers:
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