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


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