Friday, November 20, 2015

Darrell Issa's change of heart on the intractable problem of nuclear waste...

November 20th, 2015

Representative Darrell Issa used to think nuclear waste was simply not a problem. Store it in pools. Store it in dry casks. Ship it to Yucca Mountain (some day). No worries.

Then after San Onofre (in his own district) shut down permanently, he had a change of heart. His solution?

Give it to someone else!

Below is Issa's press release about his proposed bill on nuclear waste. The first sentence of the first paragraph is a lie, and it goes downhill from there.

Issa claims that Yucca Mountain "has been stalled for years due to political posturing."

In reality, Yucca Mountain is STILL moving forward, albeit VERY slowly (there is a closing for comments period at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission today, for instance, regarding groundwater issues). The real problems (potential groundwater poisoning being just one of many) that have stalled Yucca Mountain are NOT political: Some of the problems are technical, such as the as-yet-undesigned and untested titanium drip shields proposed for the water intrusion problems they discovered after decades of thinking the place was always nearly totally dry. Drip shields might help, but other problems are technically unsolvable, such as the volcanic and earthquake activity in the general vicinity of Yucca Mountain. For those problems, the "experts" are attempting to show that catastrophic accidents will be unlikely -- but they can't make them impossible.

Very few Nevadans want Yucca Mountain. Nevadans have every right not to want a nuclear waste dump in their state, where over 800 nuclear bomb tests occurred, poisoning a 680-square mile area of the state.

Of course, every other state in the country feels the same way. Western states, fearing a push from Congress, have all signed a pact that prohibits a nuclear waste dump in any western state -- unless the governor of that state agrees to accept the waste. It's a large loophole in a pact of questionable legality in the first place, but so far no permanent solution is being seriously considered anywhere in America. And certainly, no one could possibly get elected governor of Nevada on a platform supporting Yucca Mountain.

The second sentence of Darrell Issa's nuclear waste proposal is equally absurd. Issa claims that the Yucca Mountain failure has "littered communities across the nation with high level nuclear waste." Yes, the waste exists, but the waste was created because those same communities (including mine) allowed nuclear reactors to be built before a waste solution existed, on the assumption that one would eventually exist. At 99 reactors around the country, waste problems still grow and some day will need to be faced. Or ran from.

There is one part of Issa's second sentence that is correct: Current storage is, indeed, in "less than ideal conditions." The waste is stored in thin (1/2 inch to 5/8ths inch thick) stainless steel canisters. There are no earthen berms to protect the waste from aircraft impacts. There is no way to monitor the contents of the canisters for degradation. The canisters themselves cannot be adequately inspected for cracks that might form over time. The canisters and the fuel will both degrade over time, becoming more and more difficult to transport as we wait.

The next paragraph of Issa's statement introduces Issa's "creative" solution. It is indeed creative -- so is all fiction. The fiction here is that there would be a "volunteering" region that will want to host an interim storage site. What Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission determined was that laws would need to be drastically changed for such a place to exist, because surrounding larger communities would object, state governments would object, and everyone along the transportation routes would object. So the BRC suggested making undemocratic laws that would force people to accept the consequences if some very tiny Indian tribe, corporation, or township wanted to take the waste. So much for being a democratic nation.

The fourth paragraph calls Yucca Mountain "our best bet." That phrasing is particularly interesting because it admits that nuke waste storage solutions are ALL a gamble. Then that paragraph says Issa's proposal would not take away funding from the Yucca Mountain plan, because it would only take away the interest from that funding. But since monetary inflation is an ongoing fact of life, the reality is that would make the Nuclear Waste Fund smaller and smaller in terms of real dollars.

If Issa wants to fund an Interim storage site, he should find the money elsewhere and not rob the Nuclear Waste Fund of the interest it can accrue (which will probably not be enough to keep up with inflation anyway).

In the last paragraph of Issa's statement, he admits to some of the reasons that storing nuclear waste at San Onofre (and more than 100 other sites around the country) is "not an option." But Issa utterly fails to recognize the real problem: Operating reactors. There is no such thing as a "permanent" solution as long as you are still making nuclear waste!

If -- magically -- you removed ALL the waste that could be removed (that is, if an interim storage site existed) from operating reactors right now, it would do little to actually reduce the risk, because operating reactors are at least 1,000 times more likely (perhaps 10,000 times more likely) to have a catastrophic accident than spent fuel, per unit of time, while the reactor is operating. However, over decades and centuries, the spent fuel is, of course, far more likely to be catastrophically released, because sooner or later (perhaps millennia, perhaps tomorrow), something is bound to go wrong at every nuclear waste dump.

Even if Yucca Mountain opened today, it would take about 30 years to fill, during which time more waste than will fit there will be created, and all the 2200+ dry casks that exist now will become more and more embrittled. More than 10,000 dry casks will be needed just for the fuel that already exists -- plus another ~10,000 dry casks for the spent fuel that will be created during the next 30 years, which will have nowhere to go even if Yucca Mountain is built! And Yucca Mountain has an enormous number of "unknowns" regarding what will happen to it in 500 years, or 1000, or 10,000, or 100,000, or a million years. (Nevada submitted almost 300 "contentions" to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy regarding Yucca Mountain, none of which have been resolved.)

Perhaps the worst thing about Issa's "best bet" -- Yucca Mountain -- is that the nuclear waste will not be retrievable after 300 years. That sounds good? It isn't. It means that IF a way to neutralize the waste were to be invented we wouldn't be able to retrieve the waste in order to process it! For example, this author recently talked to an expert with more than 50 years in the nuclear business, who says all we really need is a "gamma ray photon laser" which, according to the expert (Peter M. Livingston, Ph.D.), might be invented in the coming decades. Dr. Livingston also says there is enough latent, retrievable energy (retrievable with that not-yet-invented "gamma ray photon laser") in the waste we now have to power all of America's energy needs for about 7 years. That's a lot of latent, wasted energy! There have always been proposals for solving the nuclear waste problem, and after 70 years of creating waste, none of them have worked. Dr. Livingston's might not work either -- the gamma ray photon laser hasn't been invented yet -- but if we bury the waste improperly (as Issa wishes to do at Yucca Mountain), we won't be able to do anything when/if these solutions come to fruition.

Without a proven, working solution, we are risking accidents as big or bigger than Fukushima at every nuclear waste dump. But even if a solution to the waste problem existed, we would still risking a Fukushima or Chernobyl-scale event at every operating reactor because there is no such thing as a fail-safe nuclear reactor.

Darrell Issa should focus on closing the still-operating reactors in America (and especially near his district, in California and Arizona) if he wants to truly help solve America's growing nuclear waste debacle. He should get out of the nuclear waste guessing game. Operating reactors present an enormous risk to all Americans, and are continuously making the waste problem bigger and harder to solve.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


Issa Cosponsors Bill to Create Interim Storage Site for Nuclear Waste

September 29, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC ­ Congressman Darrell Issa (CA-49) today released a statement following the introduction of the Interim Consolidated Storage Act:

"Progress on moving the nation's nuclear waste to the designated site at Yucca Mountain has been stalled for years due to political posturing. This failure of government to act has littered communities across the nation with high level nuclear waste stored in less than ideal conditions, including at the closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in my own district.

"The Interim Consolidated Storage Act provides for a creative solution to a critical infrastructure need. The legislation would pair a region that is volunteering to host an interim waste storage facility with communities around the country that have nuclear waste demanding a better storage solution.

"The bill would neither replace Yucca Mountain ­ which remains our best bet for a permanent nuclear waste storage facility ­ nor would it take from Yucca Mountain's funding, taking only from the interest that has accrued to the Nuclear Waste Fund.

"Maintaining the status quo is not an option. The waste from the closed San Onofre nuclear plant sits near an active fault line, adjacent to the heavily-trafficked Interstate 5 and the Pacific Ocean, and sandwiched between densely-populated Orange and San Diego Counties. This is just one example out of 120, nationwide. Continuing to do nothing while the can is perpetually kicked down the road is no longer an option, and the Interim Consolidated Storage Act is a decisive, tangible step to circumvent political and bureaucratic gridlock, and it makes Americans safer in the process."


A useful video for Darrell Issa to view:

How I Became An Anti-Nuclear Activist (Dr. Gordon Edwards):

Beyond Nuclear web page on Yucca Mountain:

U.S. Government web site to go to, to submit comments about Yucca Mountain:

Search for: NRC-2015-0051

Contact information for the author of this newsletter:
Ace Hoffman, computer programmer,
author, The Code Killers:
An Expose of the Nuclear Industry
Free download:

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Email: ace [at]

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