Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Can spent nuclear fuel be transported safely in America with the current procedures and standards? No!

Can spent nuclear fuel be transported safely in America with the current procedures and standards? No!

September 29, 2020

The nuclear industry believes they can just put even a cracked-and-leaking canister into a transportation outer-pack and off it goes... but:

One only needs to look at our transportation infrastructure to know that spent fuel transport is a crap shoot.

When the Mianus River Bridge in Connecticut collapsed in 1983, killing three people, including a tractor-trailer driver, I was traveling over that bridge twice a day.  I HEARD the screeching of the huge metal pin that eventually failed. I even followed the truck that was next to me the moment I heard the screech to determine if it was the truck I had heard -- or the bridge. I followed it for at least two miles. I saw that truck drive over numerous bumps and potholes in the poorly-maintained I-95 Interstate and it never screeched again. This made me absolutely sure it was the bridge I had heard. A few days or maybe a week later it collapsed. It turned out dozens of local residents had heard it screech repeatedly and complained to CT-DOT, to no avail. CT-DOT did not come out and inspect the bridge, which would have immediately shut down the bridge and saved those lives and millions of dollars in damage.

I was already opposed to nuclear power. I had, for example, created a comedy routine called Three Mile Island Beatles in 1979, which aired nationally on Pacifica stations and on the Dr. Demento show:

I did NOT call CT-DOT about the bridge. I think that's what turned me from merely complaining/explaining to the public about problems to complaining to the government directly about problems (so far, to no avail). I probably have attended more NRC hearings about San Onofre over the past 30 years than anyone else...

And then there's the Baltimore Tunnel fire in 2001. Time-at-Temperatures far exceeded anything the spent fuel canisters could have survived. When I mentioned this to Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials they assured me that chemical and fuel trains would not be allowed to be passing the spent fuel trains. This was a made-up baloney excuse off the top of the guy's head at the time. They do that all the time.

Then there was the collapse of the I-35 West bridge in Minnesota in 2007, which killed 13 people and injured 145. A rail line ran below the bridge portion that collapsed; any spent fuel that would have been traveling on that rail line at the time would have been crushed like an egg under an anvil. Any traveling on the bridge would have fallen farther than NRC regulations assume is possible.

If you look at the actual standards that spent fuel casks are expected to meet for drop survivability, crush survivability, fire survivability, etc. it will be obvious these are way too lax (sorry, I haven't actually seen them in many years, but I haven't heard they've been made significantly stronger).

That famous video of a jet plane crashing into one? It was just a fighter jet, and my understanding is that the engine was removed! (this means the turbine shaft -- the part most likely to penetrate a dry cask -- was not there). It wasn't a 747 loaded with fuel, with four enormous turbine shafts.  It wasn't traveling nearly as fast as a crashing jet would be going. And it wasn't a terrorist with a weapon that can penetrate 8 inches of steel or a dozen feet of concrete (such weapons exist and can be obtained by terrorist groups fairly easily).

Their tests are inadequate, their claims are false, their "perfect record" is irrelevant.

Thank you for attending my Ted Rant.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


From: Donna Gilmore 
Sent: Wednesday, September 30, 2020, 08:09:33 AM PDT

Ace, the NRC approved transport specs have gotten even worse.  Heavier loads with more and hotter fuel assemblies are being approved.  

The NRC refuses to reveal the thickness of the lead layer in the Holtec high burnup transport casks. 

Information on handling high burnup fuel is labeled "proprietary" in the Areva high burnup transport cask used for transporting thin-wall canisters.  

No inspection is required of the condition of the thin-wall canister or the canister contents before transport in spite of the NRC knowing high burnup fuel and other fuel can degrade during dry storage. The NRC admits it doesn't know if normal train vibrations will cause high burnup fuel rods to fail. 

They have no plan to prevent failure or deal with the consequences of failure. They refer to this as "out of scope" to avoid discussing this in various proceedings. 

The proposed CIS plans (in New Mexico and Texas) are to return leaking canisters back to sender. The NRC is ignoring this problem. 

By the NRC approving uninspectable welded shut thin-wall canisters and allowing zirconium clad high burnup fuel, they've created a perfect storm for failure in both storage and transport. 

All thin-wall canisters must be replaced with proven thick-wall casks designed for both storage and transport. There are no other short-term options. 

And no long term options exist -- despite the unsubstantiated hope for a geological repository being perpetuated as a solution. 

We cannot kick this can down the road any longer. We are nearing the end of this road. 

Donna Gilmore


Monday, September 28, 2020

Reprocessing benefits no one in the long run...

(Note: This essay was written September 22, 2020 in response to an article in the Orange County Register.)


Nuclear waste reprocessing is a Faustian Bargain if ever there was one.

First of all, there are two main types of waste products in the spent fuel from nuclear reactors: Fission products and plutonium. Neither exist prior to using the fuel in the reactor. In fact, a pellet of unused nuclear fuel can be held reasonably safely in your hand with only a pair of cotton gloves! Try that for a fraction of a second with a spent fuel pellet, which is about ten million times more radioactive, and you'll be dead shortly thereafter.

Separating out the fission products (which are of no use to the nuclear industry, unlike the plutonium and uranium-235) is a very, VERY dirty job. It is dangerous for the workers and many of the fission products remain hazardous for hundreds of years (for example, isotopes of cesium and strontium have half-lives of about 30 years, so their hazardous lifespan is at least ten times that -- longer than America has been an independent nation).

Storage of these products is no easy trick and they are extremely hazardous to all living things.

Plutonium is particularly useful for making bombs, so any attempt to separate out the fissile material requires extremely careful international monitoring -- which has failed frequently in the past. All reprocessing requires enormous care to be done correctly, and San Onofre can't even load the canisters properly, could not replace the steam generators properly, and had numerous leaks and near-misses during its decades of operation.

Of course everyone wants the waste off the beach -- everyone, that is, except everyone that lives wherever it might end up. Citizens of New Mexico, a prime target of the waste from the entire country right now, are vehemently opposed to becoming America's sole nuclear waste dump.

But the idea of putting it all in one place is particularly attractive to the nuclear industry specifically because that way, it would already be located where a single reprocessing facility wouldn't need it shipped a second time. All shipments of nuclear waste are also fraught with danger.

And notice that every plan for moving the waste off the beach includes removing ALL liability for the waste from the utilities -- they won't support ANY plan that doesn't include that provision. So who picks up the liability? The taxpayers.

There is currently enough nuclear waste for over 10,000 canisters, and that's how many the New Mexico plan is expected to hold. But that's not even enough, since more is created every day.

None of this has to happen. From better batteries to more efficient solar cells and more bird-strike resistant wind turbines and a thousand other energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements in the recent past (in other words, ALREADY accomplished) there is no need for nuclear power on this earth.

Lastly, any "solution" to the nuclear waste problem without shutting all the plants down will only encourage this dirty industry to continue -- a Fukushima event is inevitable in America if we don't stop. Reprocessing guarantees a trillion-dollar accident sooner or later, either at the facility, at the storage area, during transport, or at a reactor. Terrorism and nuclear war are additional hazards we need to consider seriously, especially since rogue nations such as North Korea can now, or soon will be able, to bomb us and it may not even be possible to know who did it, if the missile comes from a submarine, for example.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, CA


Saturday, September 26, 2020

Small Modular Reactors: Stupid 20 years ago when they were first considered, even stupider now.

Small Modular Reactors:

Stupid 20 years ago when they were first considered, even stupider now.

by Ace Hoffman

September 26, 2020

Probably the first time I heard the phrase "Small Modular Reactors" (SMRs) was more than 20 years ago. Why then? Why now? The reasoning hasn't changed, and it has nothing to do with efficiency: No SMR can compete with a full-scale nuclear reactor on efficiency (i.e., profitability, assuming numerous costs are subsidized by the public in one form or another).

The dream is that SMRs might be able to compete with large reactors on the initial cost of installation, and maybe, if they are automated enough, on operating costs.

But the reality is that SMRs can never compete in a fair (unsubsidized or minimally subsidized) market with the current price of renewable energy, particularly wind power, or solar power, hydro power, wave power, etc.. And those prices are continuing to drop by huge amounts. Projected SMR prices are sure to be ridiculous underestimates.

The most important subsidy every SMR designer assumes they will get is regarding spent fuel management for the next 250,000 years: That's ALWAYS -- absolutely every time -- assumed to be the government's problem (i.e., the taxpayer and ultimately the public).

A look at the data for the most "promising" SMR (called NuScale (1)), which received Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval (Final Safety Evaluation Report, FSER) less than a month ago, shows absolutely no plan for what to do with the waste it will produce -- except to "gift" it to the government -- i.e, foist it on the public forever.  At no cost to the SMR owners.

A recent estimate of the cost of electricity from NuScale's SMRs -- seen at a presentation at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas (2) and reportedly approved by NuScale themselves -- was that electricity from their SMRs would cost $3,600/Kw (ignoring, among other things, financing costs). Their estimate is based on a full-scale production schedule of several hundred SMRs over a 20 year period, costing $360 billion dollars, and proposed to be paid for entirely by...you guessed it: The government.

That is more than double the current cost of onshore wind power, solar, etc. and would have zero carbon benefit over renewables (it is supposed to be enough nuclear power to completely replace coal use in America). Meanwhile, the price of renewable energy has continued to plummet while no nuclear cost estimate has ever turned out to be accurate -- they are always seriously underestimated by factors from 5 to 10 or more.

Another aspect SMR proponents ignore is that battery storage has become viable, eliminating the "need" for any "baseline" energy sources."Lithium batteries have become ~10x cheaper, ~5x longer lasting, ~3x more powerful and ~2x lighter in the last 10 years alone" (3).

Nuclear proponents always state that nuclear power is "carbon-free" (it isn't!) and would therefore deserve carbon subsidies. They further contend these carbon subsidies would be equal to, or even slightly greater than, the cost of the SMRs. However, renewables would also deserve the same subsidies and would not generate ANY nuclear waste, the cost of storing and handling said waste being completely ignored in every SMR cost estimate. Just give it to the government.  The potential cost of catastrophic accidents is also ignored.

Regarding the spent fuel nuclear waste, NuScale claims that if all the spent fuel in America were piled together, it would fit on a football field stacked 30 feet high. That equals 1,440,000 cubic feet, and of course, stacking it that close together would result in a criticality event, probably destroying ALL LIFE ON EARTH.

Compare that to the volume of all the gold in the world, which would occupy a cube approximately 67.5 feet on a side (4): 307,547 cubic feet, or about one fifth the current volume of America's nuclear waste. And harmless.

We also need to talk about terrorism, accidents, and proliferation. SMR cost calculations invariably ignore ALL these things! Running a nuclear reactor produces plutonium, which must be carefully guarded to prevent rogue nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. Granted, stealing the nuclear fuel from any nuclear reactor is no easy trick, but if nuclear waste is reprocessed, the plutonium and fissile uranium (U-235) are extracted from the highly toxic fission products and non-fissile isotopes, and that means there is the possibility that some portion will be removed for bomb-making purposes. Very tight international controls are the only thing that would prevent it. Costly, prone to errors in judgement, bribery, and subterfuge.

To be financially viable, SMRs, like all reactors, need to balance four things: Costs, Safety, Waste, and Proliferation (5). To keep the price low, one or more of the other three needs to be compromised. There is no getting around that.

SMRs are expected to be located within a small city, which means if there is an accidental meltdown -- perhaps caused by an earthquake or terrorist attack -- there will be widespread devastation.  SMRs are expected to operate WITHOUT the 5 or 10-mile Emergency Planning Zones (EPZs) that large reactors have been required to have. Their EPZ stops at their fence.

And how small are they, really? One estimate from NuScale claims they will be about as large as a "gymnasium", but NuScale also proposes that they will be clustered together in groups of as many as a dozen SMRs, thus taking up about as much land space as a traditional large reactor but altogether producing about 3/4ths of the power, if that.  Some proposals are that they be built underground, but that significantly increases the cost (Note: Famous pro-nuker and hydrogen bomb designer Edward Teller proposed that commercial reactors be built underground for the protection of the public in case of an accident; this was not done because of the cost.)

In conclusion, SMRs have absolutely NOTHING to offer. NuScale had to secure half a billion dollars in sucker-funded private investment just to get their FSER, and if any SMRs are ever built, their cost will have to be highly subsidized at least until full-scale production begins, and even then, the cost of waste storage, waste transport, and accidents will not be considered by the investors.

One technical report on SMRs also pointed out that no nuclear design has ever been "finalized," even two reactors built concurrently on the same site are invariably very different from each other. The chance that the second "standardized" SMR will be identical to the first is essentially zero. The third will be different from the first two, and so on (6).

SMRs are the stupidest idea to come out of the nuclear industry since the original idea that nuclear power had any commercial value at all. The nuclear industry is the most highly subsidized industry in history, and has already had the most costly failures of any industry in history. SMRs promise to be no different.

Ace Hoffman

Carlsbad, California


(1) nuscale dot com (2020)

(2) An Evening with Dr. Victor H. Reis: “A Strategy for U.S. Nuclear Power: Mitigating Climate Change” (Sept. 24, 2020, online webinar)

(3) Auke Hoekstra, Researcher @TUeindhoven @AukeHoekstra (from Tesla Battery Day), 2020 Note that these are *not* multiplicative values.

(4) https://www.visualcapitalist.com/12-stunning-visualizations-of-gold-bars-show-its-rarity/

(5) One size doesn’t fit all: Social priorities and technical conflicts for small modular reactors by M.V. Ramana∗, Zia Mian, April, 2014, Nuclear Futures Laboratory and Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, United States, Elsevier

(6) Ibid.

Additional resources include:

beyondnuclear.org (search "Small Modular Reactors")

Small modular reactors for nuclear power: hope or mirage? February 21, 2018 by M.V. Ramana





For a far more in-depth look at various designs for SMRs, please check out this article by Dr. Helen Caldicott: