I appreciate this article because it simply and clearly addresses the handling of nuclear waste. Fear of nuclear waste prevents many people from even considering nuclear power as a safe provider of consistent, carbon-free energy.
Nuclear Waste Is Misunderstood
By Madison Hilly, the New York Times, April 28, 2023
One of our few cultural references to nuclear waste is “The Simpsons,” where it appeared as a glowing green liquid stored in leaky oil drums. In reality, nuclear fuel is made up of shiny metal tubes containing small pellets of uranium oxide. These tubes are gathered into bundles and loaded into the reactor. After five years of making energy, the bundles come out, containing radioactive particles left over from the energy-making reactions.
The bundles cool off in a pool of water for another five to 10 years or so. After that, they are placed in steel and concrete containers for storage at the plant. These casks are designed to last 100 years and to withstand nearly anything — hurricanes, severe floods, extreme temperatures, even missile attacks.
To date, there have been no deaths, injuries or serious environmental releases of nuclear waste in casks anywhere. And the waste can be transferred to another cask, extending storage one century at a time…
The way radiation works, the waste products that are the most radioactive are the shortest-lived, and those that last a long time are far less dangerous. About 40 years after the fuel becomes waste, the heat and radioactivity of the pellets have fallen by over 99 percent. After around 500 years, the waste would have to be broken down and inhaled or ingested to cause significant harm… [end quote]
I support the expansion of nuclear reactors but I will admit that the question of nuclear waste did trouble me. I feel much more comfortable knowing that the waste can be safely handled.
“Dry cask” storage has been around for decades. It gives me the willies that, long after the plant has been torn down and hauled away, the dry casks still sit there. It is bound to cross someone’s mind, to try and dig the fuel out of the casks and build a “dirty bomb”.
I would much prefer reprocessing, but, in a highly questionable move to reduce proliferation, the US banned reprocessing in the late 70s. (my personal hunch is reprocessing was banned because reprocessed fuel might cost more than newly produced fuel, and the utility companies don’t want to pay for it)
So do I and I live not to far from Yucca Mountain. The place where the United States tried to make nuclear dumping ground. The only problem with their logic was that Nevada would have to take it. All while Nevada does not have a single nuclear reactor. But still I would have been for taking all of the countries waste, having it shipped into our state, if they would have given us more than just a few jobs. I don’t know, maybe free college for anyone living in Nevada could have done it. But, nope, nada, nothing, they just wanted us to take it for a few measly jobs.
Refresh my memory, was not the Yucca Mountain storage facility completely built, then never used? Sounds like an eerie echo of what I see going on in DoD procurement: Billions spent on R&D, but little or nothing ever deployed. In Yucca’s case, the big bucks for building the place were spent, and pocketed, but, like the B-2, F-22, Zumwalt class DDs, little to nothing done, once the “development” money was paid out.
They dug some tunnels, mostly for testing and further evaluation of the geology. But it is not like the entire repository was built and ready to go.
Yucca Mountain is located adjacent to the Nevada Test Site. This is where the US government conducted its nuclear weapons tests after World War 2, until the early 1990s. Around 1000 nuclear detonations were conducted there, either above ground, or underground. Nobody is planning to build condominiums on that land. It is federal property.
Being against Yucca Mountain doesn’t do anything about the radioactive contamination that already exists there at the Nevada Test Site. Also, that area of southern Nevada is quite inhospitable, being very hot in the summer and also very dry. Death Valley is just across the border in California.
I’m not an expert in all of the details, but from what I understand, much depends on the chemistry of the environment that the casks are put into. From a chemistry perspective, a reducing environment is better than an oxidizing one. At the Onkalo repository that Finland is building, copper canisters will be surrounded by bentonite clay.
Also, obviously the type of steel in important. Regular carbon steel would be inferior to corrosion resistant steels such as 316 or 304 stainless, or even more exotic varieties that metallurgists have invented.
You mean Glen Canyon Dam that is in Northern Arizona and Nevada does not get any power from? Or Hoover dam where most of the power goes to Arizona and California, but a small portion goes to Boulder City, Nevada a town of 17,000 people that built Hoover dam? So no neither of those dams had any amount of decision in Nevada not building nuclear power plants.
That is incorrect. It is North of Las Vegas and while near the test site I would not say it is very hot. It sits 6707 feet above sea level while Death valley is 282 feet below sea level. As far as inhospitable, I suspect that depends on what you are used to. If you like satin sheets and silk pillows, then yes it is inhospitable.
This is the site of a former plant in northern Michigan. There appears to be an office, with a few cars parked at it, down the private road a bit from the casks, but if someone was really determined to get their hands on some spent fuel, the people it that office would not be much of a speed bump. Security is my big concern with dry casks.
That is ok David, Most people do not know that; unless you live in the area you wouldn’t. Everyone thinks the Las Vegas strip is run by Hoover but the Dam was built long before the strip was booming and the Politicians of the time didn’t really have any foresight. That is why we do not get much water from lake Mead either, in comparison to Arizona and California.
Just a little side note but while this area is 50 miles from Death Valley, and Death Valley is only 282 feet below sea level, Mt. Whitney is the highest peak in California at 14,500 feet and is only 106 miles from Death Valley. So as you can see the area, while not having many people living in it, is still a beautiful and amazing ecological diverse area. The Paiute Indians would head up into the area in the summer time to get away from the heat.
In our wanderings, in 2008, we stopped by this WIPP site, saw their nice museum-like displays and learned a bit about what they handle, how it’s imbedded in the salt a half mile deep, how it’s monitored, etc… Nicely done, but we weren’t allowed at the actual underground facility. An amazing amount of the waste is simply clothing, tools, used in a variety of nuclear work, has to be safely stored at least until some other processing is developed… My thoughts ran to how many really nice tools were buried forever, but it has to be… And it has to be somewhere…
My BIL Geologist, worked various hazardous cleanup sites, eventually worked for the EPA until he retired. They are dealing with monitoring sites, many non-nuclear, old mines, industrial dumps that are pretty spooky… Thousand+ year storage is tough to imagine…