Skip to comments.Bush plans $250M for nuclear waste project (turning waste into some plutonium - banned for decades)
Posted on 01/26/2006 10:59:55 PM PST by neverdem
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is making plans to revive nuclear fuel reprocessing, including a long-term proposal to provide reactor fuel to foreign countries if they return it to the United States to be recycled.
President Bush will include a request for $250 million in his budget to be released next week as a first step toward reversing a decades long U.S. policy against nuclear reprocessing, congressional and administration officials said Thursday.
The plan is part of an effort to take a fresh look at how to deal with the thousands of tons of used reactor fuel piling up at U.S. commercial power plants, while also gaining control over future nuclear materials in developing countries where the demand for nuclear energy is expected to grow.
The United States halted all reprocessing in the late 1970s because it produces pure plutonium that could be used in a nuclear weapon if obtained by terrorists or rogue states.
The Bush plan, expected to be unveiled as part of the Energy Department's budget, calls for stepped up research into a "more proliferation resistant" type of reprocessing that proponents say will reduce dramatically the likelihood of theft or diversion.
The process would not produce pure plutonium, but a mixture of plutonium and neptunium that would make the separated elements more difficult to handle and, therefore, more secure.
But nonproliferation advocates contend the new process represents little more than - as one described it - a "fig leaf" over the reprocessing the U.S. has rejected since 1979 when President Carter banned reprocessing because of proliferation worries.
"The tweaking of this process would only provide a minor additional deterrent," said Edwin Lyman, a nuclear specialist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. It would not prevent a suicidal terrorist from handling the material, he said.
The Bush proposal, called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, envisions that U.S. companies eventually will sell reactors and fuel to developing countries with the stipulation that the fuel would be returned to the United States for reprocessing.
Nuclear scientists who have been working on the reprocessing technology for the Energy Department say that up to 90 percent of spent fuel can be recycled for reuse, reducing dramatically the need for geological disposal.
The initial $250 million is expected to go to stepped up research and initial work on a reprocessing facility, probably at the Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina, according to private and government sources familiar with the discussions.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has yet to be announced.
President Bush has been briefed on the plan, and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman hinted at the broad outline of the reprocessing initiative and its potential global aspects in a November speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Countries around the world will demand use of nuclear energy in the coming decades, Bodman said, and "the challenge that confronts us" is providing nuclear fuel and addressing reactor waste globally without increasing proliferation risks.
He said the U.S. might be one of the countries that could offer "cradle to grave fuel cycle services, leasing fuel for power reactors and then taking it back for reprocessing and disposition."
Bodman said the administration remained committed to completing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada. But experts say it will not be able to hold all of the country's reactor waste if nuclear energy expands with new reactors.
"Reprocessing could help avoid or delay the need for a second repository," Marvin Fertel, a senior vice president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's lobbying group, told a congressional hearing last March.
But Fertel emphasized that the nuclear industry views fuel reprocessing as a technology that is still decades away from being economical - and won't be as long as fresh uranium is plentiful and relatively cheap.
On the Net:
Energy Department: http://www.doe.gov
Can't wait to see the Seattle Dumb-as-a-Post-Intelligencer editorial on this.
What would the environazis rather want? Radiation waste poisoning the environment for thousands of years or a constant source of relatively cheap and clean energy?
I think the author of this piece left out a "little" something...
Edwin Lyman of the *Nuclear Control Institute
Physicist Edwin Lyman and the Union of Concerned Scientists say the nuclear industry should be regulated more like the airline industry, because even though the risk of catastrophe is low, the consequences are so dire that everyone takes it seriously.
* The Nuclear Control Institute, founded in 1981, is a research and advocacy center for preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. Non-profit and non-partisan, NCI is a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization supported by philanthropic foundations and individuals.
It's from AP...sheesh...Isn't that expected?
Jimmy Carter was, and continues to be, an idiot who thinks he knows better that anybody else, including nature, and nature's creator, God.
Whatever hampers the success and prosperity of the USA. The environment is a vehicle for them, not a true concern.
The "Union of Communist Scientists" opposes this, just like they opposed missile defence, and every other technology benneficial to the US.
The environazis would prefer we were dead and they, the few, the enlightened, were living in harmony ( cue la-la song from Bambi) with nature.
Fantasy has become a darker delusion there, imo.
I've always had a problem with the Left's concerns about the Yucca storage facility. They act as if technology stands still. Their refrain is "what if somebody digs this up 10,000 years from now-people could get killed-Oh my".
Hell, in 10,000 years they may be trying to dig it up for use in fusion reactors for all we know.
My great Grandmother in law read about the Wright Brother's first flight and now we have 747's and the Space Shuttle.
And the pace of technological change will continue, unless some Islamofacist takes us back to the third century.
And talking about the great religon that is Islam, I'm still waiting for my Achmed computer, or a "Mohamed Inside" chip.
Sure, the climate there is dry (now) and that may not pose a problem, but climate changes.
Where I sit at this moment was inundated by continental glaciers over a kilometer thick, in the past 10,000 years. Similar changes, doubtless occurred elsewhere.
It is unlikely that the area will remain desert for the next 10,000 years, and groundwater leaching of the waste remains a possibility, and a potenitally serious liability for future generations.
That said, I am not anti-nuke, and the more of this material that is reprocessed and used, the less ends up in the hill (and stored in pools on reactor/power plant sites, which may be far worse than the mountain).
Waste disposal remains one of the key problems for nuclear power's engineers to overcome. When I was in grad school, no one in the world had a viable long-term solution. Yucca may be, then again, it may not.
Only now we add the problem of needing to guard high level waste, on site and in transit, because it is the raw material for a 'dirty bomb'.
|What would the environazis rather want?|
|Something to bitch about.|
Valid points all, Mr.Joe. My thought is that sufficient encasements exit (and are curently planned for use in Yucca) to alleviate these concerns. I've seen documentaries ( Discovery channel, I think ) that indicate the containers have survived a collision with a locomotive without breach.
This would appear to be suffcient for at least several generations.
Worst case, Yucca would like the proving grounds in Nevada.
Which is OK in today's climate.
A couple of thousand years from now, if the roof leaks, so to speak, and the area gets significant rainfall, those hot containers might corrode away. I wouldn't want to be drinking from a well near that...
Not thinking this as an alarmist, but a responsible individual, and as a geologist.
The whole question could be rendered moot by anything from a pandemic to an impact to the Second Coming in that time frame, anyway.
Some of those isotopes are nasty stuff, though.
When I worked down that way, (on oil rigs), every now and then you'd see a blur of bird or something in the edge of the headlights while driving at night. We used to joke about "just another critter from the test site.."
What I'm thinking is that a thousand years from now, who knows what technology will exist?
According to the Leftists, global warming will make us extinct anyway.
I respect your opinion as a Geologist, as I spent time on Offshore rigs as a Field Engineer for Schlumberger in a (seemingly) previous life, working closely (as you might imagine) with Geologists.
Smart dudes, most with Phd's.
Amazing knowledge of history, among other things.
I think it is relevant that I was leaving the oil patch there were ex-Slob guys making fortunes opening previously capped wells due to advances in-you guessed it-well production technologies
I will respectfully defer to your opinion, as my expertise is Mechanical Engineering.
I figure we'll either be spread out in the solar system at a minimum, or back to knapping flint to go hunt dinner--it could go either way.
Leftists have trouble adapting to change, and problems living with things they can't control, so maybe they will be the ones who will be (philosophically) extinct should global warming persist, whatever the cause may be (I personally think it is a natural cycle which humans have no significant impact on.)
Most of the Schlumberger hands I have met are pretty sharp guys. Why'd you quit? (I have stayed "feet dry" my whole career, intentionally,--especially after I was informed there was no fishing allowed from the rigs. That shot it for me right there.)
I know what you are saying about technology, too. I have been working horizontal wells in the Williston Basin since 1990, (I started in '79) and things have really changed.
"I've always had a problem with the Left's concerns about the Yucca storage facility. They act as if technology stands still. Their refrain is "what if somebody digs this up 10,000 years from now-people could get killed-Oh my". Hell, in 10,000 years they may be trying to dig it up for use in fusion reactors for all we know. "
Yeah ... and never mind that in 1,000 years (let alone 10,000 yrs) 99.999% of the radioactivity will be long *GONE* and the radiation level would be lower than in natural uranium deposit.
The Bush plan is spot on ... nuclear 'waste' is actually just spent fuel that has about 95% of its latent energy left. If recycling is good for paper, plastic and coke cans, why not for nuclear fuel?
one real simple solution to nuclear used fuel (aka 'waste') is really simple:
1) Let the stuff cool off for 50 years
2) Take out the trans-uranic elements and reuse them as fuel
This alone reduces the amount of actual nuclear waste by a factor of 20 to 60.
I sadly left Slob due to family issues that required me to leave LA move back to IN.
Loved the Offshore rigs. Sigh.
'Bout d@mn time. Just I begin losing hope for Pres. Bush he pulls another good one out of the hat!
"Which is OK in today's climate."
"A couple of thousand years from now, if the roof leaks, so to speak, and the area gets significant rainfall, those hot containers might corrode away. I wouldn't want to be drinking from a well near that..."
"Some of those isotopes are nasty stuff, though."
This is true, but people make 2+2 = 5 when they put together "radiation that lasts for thousands of years" with
"some of this is highly radioactive".
Reality check: The longer the half-life, the lower the level of radiation. Then you have to consider the decay path; is it something nasty (high energy particle that can penetrate human body) or low energy. The radiation level in these casks is not constant; it goes down drastically year by year for a few hundred years to a level of very low radioactivity, radiation level that is many orders of magnitude smaller than the level of when it left a nuclear power plant.
All of the "hot" radoactive decay elements in nuclear waste have half-lives measured in days, years, or tens of years. After about 100 years, the radiation level is much much lower. The main source of radiation then is the transuranics (uranium, plutonium). Stuff like strontium and other elements would have decayed away.
Correspondingly, the very long half-life material has low level of radiation. (For example the human body has a half-life measured in billions of years - does that mean we are 'unsafe' for a billion years?)
So, if you wait 10,000 years for geology to change and Yucca to actually get rainfall, etc. you'll find in the interim that the level of radiation danger is much reduced. They'll still have plutonium etc. and radiation, but the containers will be not that "hot" at all.
IMHO, the Yucca solution is vastly overengineered and well within what is safe, and the prospective claimed risks to it are not reasonably based on the facts.
"Waste disposal remains one of the key problems for nuclear power's engineers to overcome. When I was in grad school, no one in the world had a viable long-term solution. Yucca may be, then again, it may not."
Er, what Bush is announcing *is* in fact a reasonable solution to this issue.
--- this is a very WISE point. The issue with Iran today is that publicly they declare they want nuclear energy. Privately we know they want weapons. We need to give the world access to energy without the technology of weapons, and the way to do that is for nuclear powers like the U.S. be the 'nuclear fuel cycle' handler. France is already doing this for e.g. Japan. This is the path to proliferation-proof nuclear energy worldwide. It also helps us address any global environmental and terrorist risk issues. Far better for the U.S. to be tracking this than for other countries to be 'owning' it on their own.
In addition to that, it is a highly reactive and toxic heavy metal, even without radioactivity as part of the equation.
The problem is not the small amounts, but a concentration far beyond what would normally occur in nature. It may not take 10,000 years, either, the ice sheets were pretty much gone here in just a couple of thousand.
I agree with the concept that processing spent fuel to get more fuel does address the waste problem--it is the equivalent of recycling.
As I said, I am not against nuclear power. Processing 'spent' fuel currently in questionable storage areas is a good idea--more fuel, less waste to inter. In the short term this is a solution, but it is a remedy, and not a cure.
These are problems which need to be addressed, especially if we are going to expand our capability.
"Plutonium is slower to decay, and thus less active per microgram, but if enough is assembled, it is remains dangerous longer."
But we were talking about them being embedded with other material in well-sealed canisters in Yucca. It's not highly concentrated and in a stable environment. I dont see a scenario of the canisters being compromise as credible. These are huge thick-walled sealed things that are immune to huge pressure and temperature impacts, let alone what can happen inside a cold, dry mountain.
Go "Nucular" W!
It was rhetorical. They'd kill Bambi before they give Dubya credit for something.
FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.
Do you mean you let us dispense all that wisdom for nothing? :-)
With so many nations fight for nuclear power, maybe we should just go with it and try to corner the market.
"And talking about the great religon that is Islam, I'm still waiting for my Achmed computer, or a "Mohamed Inside" chip. "
Does that computer come equipped with a sharp knife to slice off someone's head if they type the wrong thing.
Or technology to make sure women wear a veil to operate it?
Wisdom spent is never for naught. Even a discussion where all parties agree can be envigorating and enlightening. ;)
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