Skip to comments.Fukushima Makes Case For Yucca Mountain
Posted on 03/29/2011 5:46:13 PM PDT by Kaslin
Nuclear Power: The greatest danger at Fukushima was and is the spent fuel stored at the reactor sites. So why are we doing the same thing when we have a safe place to store it?
Before a 9.0 axis-shifting earthquake damaged the nuclear reactors at Fukushima, Japan, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives endorsing the construction of 200 nuclear power reactors in the U.S. by 2040, tripling current megawatt generating capacity.
H.R. 909, co-sponsored by 64 Republicans, also endorsed the completion of the spent fuel storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That facility, which was supposed to open 12 years ago, has been taken off the table by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the White House as unsafe. After Fukushima, we say: compared to what?
Columnist Charles Krauthammer says nuclear power is officially dead. We hope not. Other forms of energy production have claimed thousands of lives in their production and use, albeit in a less dramatic way. Nukes have the saving grace of having prevented uncounted premature deaths from breathing air polluted by fossil fuels that environmentalists say causes climate change.
Regardless of whether we build another nuclear power plant, we now have 104 in use generating about 20% of our electricity. Spent fuel rods are stored on-site at these facilities, and the rods will continue to pile up unless we move them as intended to a completed facility at Yucca Mountain.
(Excerpt) Read more at investors.com ...
Charles Krauthammer is probably right.
It is time for clean coal. It will buy a couple of hundred years in which time every thought should be turned to finding real, renewable energy.
Old fashioned coal plants. Screw the EPA.
There is no place within the confines of the USA that environmental activist will allow a nuke disposal to be sited.
Let’s roll the dice and shoot the stuff into the sun. It’ll probably work. I’m sure the greenies will be alright with that. The only downside is we might decide someday that we want to reprocess it.
At one time wasn’t there a process which the nuclear plants could re-use the nuclear waste?
Or we could reconsider another third rail of nuclear power - nuclear fuel reprocessing. The French have done it for decades and have much higher fuel utilization rates with much smaller amounts of waste. Our fears of reprocessing leading to diversion for weapons have kept us away from this obvious solution.
I don’t know if Yucca was intended for Japanese disposal, but, of course, I would have no problem if that were the case. The site is perfectly safe and would have put this problem to bed.
So, if the only reason the rods were still over there in Japan was Harry Reid, then one could reasonably say that Senator Reid is PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE for the worst nuclear contamination incident, by far, in DECADES.
The same problems occuring in Fukushima would occur at Yucca Mountain if a large tsunami swept through the area.
“The same problems occuring in Fukushima would occur at Yucca Mountain if a large tsunami swept through the area.”
A very short sighted attitude, but given the ignorance portrayed in the MSM concerning the situation at Fukushima, and the hysteria created by the reports, I can see why he'd say that.
“At one time wasnt there a process which the nuclear plants could re-use the nuclear waste?”
OPINION MARCH 13, 2009
There Is No Such Thing as Nuclear Waste
By WILLIAM TUCKER
‘White House Buries Yucca,” read the headlines last week after Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said the proposed storage of nuclear waste in a Nevada mountain is “no longer an option.”
Instead, Mr. Chu told a Senate hearing, the Obama administration will cut all but the most rudimentary funding to Yucca and be content to allow spent fuel rods to sit in storage pools and dry casks at reactor sites “while the administration devises a new strategy toward nuclear waste disposal.”
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, a longtime opponent of the repository, was overjoyed. Environmental groups were equally gratified, since they have long seen Yucca Mountain as a choke point for asphyxiating nuclear energy. Greenpeace immediately called for an end to new construction of nuclear power plants, and for all existing reactors to be closed down.
So is this really the death knell for nuclear power? Not at all. The repository at Yucca Mountain was only made necessary by our failure to understand a fundamental fact about nuclear power: There is no such thing as nuclear waste.
A nuclear fuel rod is made up of two types of uranium: U-235, the fissionable isotope whose breakdown provides the energy; and U-238, which does not fission and serves basically as packing material. Uranium-235 makes up only 0.7% of the natural ore. In order to reach “reactor grade,” it must be “enriched” up to 3% — an extremely difficult industrial process. (To become bomb material, it must be enriched to 90%, another ballgame altogether.)
After being loaded in a nuclear reactor, the fuel rods sit for five years before being removed. At this point, about 12 ounces of U-235 will have been completely transformed into energy. But that’s enough to power San Francisco for five years. There are no chemical transformations in the process and no carbon-dioxide emissions.
When they emerge, the fuel rods are intensely radioactive — about twice the exposure you would get standing at ground zero at Hiroshima after the bomb went off. But because the amount of material is so small — it would fit comfortably in a tractor-trailer — it can be handled remotely through well established industrial processes. The spent rods are first submerged in storage pools, where a few yards of water block the radioactivity. After a few years, they can be moved to lead-lined casks about the size of a gazebo, where they can sit for the better part of a century until the next step is decided.
So is this material “waste”? Absolutely not. Ninety-five percent of a spent fuel rod is plain old U-238, the nonfissionable variety that exists in granite tabletops, stone buildings and the coal burned in coal plants to generate electricity. Uranium-238 is 1% of the earth’s crust. It could be put right back in the ground where it came from.
Of the remaining 5% of a rod, one-fifth is fissionable U-235 — which can be recycled as fuel. Another one-fifth is plutonium, also recyclable as fuel. Much of the remaining three-fifths has important uses as medical and industrial isotopes. Forty percent of all medical procedures in this country now involve some form of radioactive isotope, and nuclear medicine is a $4 billion business. Unfortunately, we must import all our tracer material from Canada, because all of our isotopes have been headed for Yucca Mountain.
What remains after all this material has been extracted from spent fuel rods are some isotopes for which no important uses have yet been found, but which can be stored for future retrieval. France, which completely reprocesses its recyclable material, stores all the unused remains — from 30 years of generating 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy — beneath the floor of a single room at La Hague.
The supposed problem of “nuclear waste” is entirely the result of a the decision in 1976 by President Gerald Ford to suspend reprocessing, which President Jimmy Carter made permanent in 1977. The fear was that agents of foreign powers or terrorists groups would steal plutonium from American plants to manufacture bombs.
That fear has proved to be misguided. If foreign powers want a bomb, they will build their own reactors or enrichment facilities, as North Korea and Iran have done. The task of extracting plutonium from highly radioactive material and fashioning it into a bomb is far beyond the capacities of any terrorist organization.
So shed no tears for Yucca Mountain. Instead of ending the nuclear revival, it gives us the chance to correct a historical mistake and follow France’s lead in developing complete reprocessing for nuclear material.
Mr. Tucker is author of “Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Long Energy Odyssey” (Bartleby, 2008).
That is the real solution to this. We should never have stopped our fast breeder reactor program, which was canned in the Clinton administration.
Want to know why we canned our FBR program? To “prevent nuclear weapons proliferation.”
Got that? We canned our FBR, and then India, Pakistan exploded nukes, North Korea has gotten very close, Iran is working on producing fissile material, Libya admitted that they had a nuke program we didn’t know about before 2003, etc.
Sort of proves that canning our FBR didn’t work so well at “preventing nuclear weapon proliferation.” But hey, let’s not confuse anti-nuclear people and liberals with the facts.
“The same problems occuring in Fukushima would occur at Yucca Mountain if a large tsunami swept through the area.”
Shhhhhhhh!!!. Someone from Greenpeace may be lurking...you don’t want to give them any talking points.
I wonder if there’s a Japanese Tor Johnson:
ROTFL! That was MY first thought, as well!
Yeah the wave would have to be well over 15,000 feet high just to get over the High Sierra and the desert ranges before it could come close to Yucca Mountain.
Wasn’t it Carter that put the end to this idea to be used here in the states and that was the reason for Yucca mountain’s development which in return, was refused by Obama?
The debacle in Japan shows the ongoing risk of keeping any spent fuel in close proximity to the reactor. After the extended cool-down period, spent fuel would be safest if moved to a remote storage site where it can be safely sequestered. The risk of mishap during transport is almost zero given the way the fuel is encased for the trip.
I also hope that we develop reactor designs that are stable in all operating regions. The current reactors in use and under construction require active cooling even after being shutdown. The failure of this cooling is what triggered the current meltdown in Japan.
While we are doing this research, we should closely evaluate the Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). We have far more lithium available than uranium and the reactor is far more efficient. The reactor is stable.
“Further, the reactor is designed with a salt plug drain in the bottom of the core vessel. If the fluid gets too hot or for any other reason including power failures, the plug naturally melts, and the fluid dumps into a passively cooled containment vessel where decay heat is removed. This feature prevents any Three Mile Island-type accidents or radiation releases due to accident or sabotage and provides a convenient means to shut down and restart the system quickly and easily.”
“Even though a full-scale LFTR has never been built, we expect the lifecycle cost of thorium reactors could be at least 30% to 50% less than equivalent-power uranium-based LWRs.”
I enclose my letter to the editor of the Wall St. Journal. My thoughts from early March did not get published, yet all of the frantic actions of the past few weeks stem from the one basic design flaw - the height of the emergency generators!!
To the editor:
Its amazing that both the Japan nuclear reactor problem and Katrina inundating New Orleans stem from the exact same design flaw.
In Katrinas case the huge generators needed to power the massive pumps to pump out the below sea- level city were placed near sea level, so the hurricane driven seawater overran the generators, disabling the massive pumps. The same thing happened to a New Orleans hospital as the ground level emergency generator was flooded out.
In the Japanese nuclear case, all reactors in the plant automatically shut down perfectly during the earthquake, yet the minutes later tsunami overran the emergency generators, killing emergency electrical power needed to run coolant water into the already shut down reactors.
Its the same simple engineering problem emergency generators- and their fuel tanks- sited too low to the anticipated sea level.
We dont have an unsafe nuclear technology; we have an emergency generator location problem.
It was more than just the emergency generators. It is likely that a good amount of the electrical switchgear that powers the various pumps, lighting, and instrumentation was damaged as well. I say this because when they were bringing power back to units 1-4, there was mention of temporary substations and distribution panels. So in other words, it isn't necessarily the generators themselves that got wiped in the tsunami, but the equipment to which they were connected.
Also, although I can't confirm it, I heard from another couple of posters that the fuel tanks for the diesel generators associated with 1-4 were wiped out by the tsunami.
At any rate, loss of AC power was the big problem at Fukushima Diiachi, units 1-4. And that illustrates the weakest link in these plants.
Sorry! The EPA is in the process of shutting down coal fired plants.
The diesel generators and the switchgear operated for two hours following the tsunami. That means the diesels probably shutdown after the linited fuel in the day tanks was exhausted. The question is why weren’t the day tanks refilled from the main storage tanks.
That's where things are sketchy for me. I heard that they ran for an hour, and I also heard that they ran until the tsunami caused them to trip.
The "day tank" idea is plausable. Perhaps they didn't expect such a huge tsunami, having never experienced one before, so they never bothered to top off the day tanks. Once the main tanks got wiped, they were finished. Alternatively, maybe they were in the process of transferring fuel to the day tanks, but started on unit 6 (which either kept a single diesel on line, or regained it very quickly) at the other end of the plant property.
Frankly, I think that they were caught with their pants down just a bit, since this was an unprecidented event. I'm also certain that they had their hands full already when 1-3 scrammed because of the earthquake. The tsunami was the icing on the cake.
Yeah, we’d be talking about the Sierra Nevada Islands.
Unfortunately, you are right. And a lot of their audience would not know any different.
Getting a tsunami all the way to the mountains of rural Nevada is an engineering problem that most greenies would not touch. The potential of a Fukushima-style incident would be the limit of what they can understand and focus on.
A DAY Tank, by definition is good for that long. The twinned 3 MW gensets I am responsible for will run for 26 hours on the "DAY" tanks assigned them. What happened in Japan is: the "day" tanks, the gensets, and the related switchgear itself were all WASHED AWAY in a wholly unprecedented and unanticipated by ANYONE, even in a worst-case-scenario, event.
To further refute your alleged "information" regarding the reactor incident in Japan, even though the PRIMARY backup system failed after one hour (when the tsunami hit), the secondary (battery) system kicked in right on schedule, powering the pumps for another EIGHT hours, until the battery system too failed, due to lack of recharge. NINE HOURS of backup power was there, but no-one ever thought that another power source COULDN'T avail itself before the auxiliaries were exhausted.
That the reactors, spent fuel pools and secondary containment structures have done so well in spite of the several orders of magnitude worse than expected events of last month is a TESTAMENT to the SAFETY of nuclear power!
The reactors in question were of 40+ year old design and were about to be phased out and replaced with newer, more modern and safer designed reactors. Your posts show how full of fear and misinformation the public is regarding nuclear power, which is the ULTIMATE in carbon-free electricity.
I agree that the hype about what’s happening at the reactor sites is being hyped beyond the actual danger.
I could not help but admire those who designed these and those, after the Tusami, keeping things going...by hand in the dark...without a meltdown completely. Really quite amazing these are still standing as are and maintained as they are...amazing courage and fortitude in light of great danger for these workers!
That is not to say there is danger...but it’s just being so overblown.
OH, BTW, where I work, the “Day” tanks are AUTOMATICALLY refilled from the main tanks when they reach the 40% full/60%empty mark. The valves open, the pumps start, and the day tanks are refilled to 85%, then the pumps shut down, even if the gensets are running. If there is insufficient fuel in the main tank, *I* get an alarm and , well, there better be a GOOD reason why I didn’t have fuel there.
Any operator in the control room can override this parameter, but there has never in my experience been any reason to override the level controller during non-emergent conditions.
Convenient, isn’t it? Every form of energy is unavailable to us EXCEPT OPEC oil.
Curious, isn’t it?
What we seem to have forgotten is the danger these cooling pools presents as a target for terrorists. Immediately after 9/11 there were multiple studies which investigated thye vulnerabilities of our nuclear plants, and thye associated cooling pools to attack by aircraft. All this seemed to vanish when the new regime took power.
If you are still in doubt visit
http://cryptome.org/index.html and scroll down to “US Nuclear Spent Fuel Storage Casks Eyeball”. There you’ll find pictures, coordinates, and design of hundreds of potential targets - and it might take less than an airlines to open them up.
Thank you Reid, Obama and Chu.
Don, I worked in the nuclear industry for over twenty years. During that period I was involved in the design and maintenance in some capacity at over twenty nuclear power plants including one that has the same generation reactor setup as the one in Japan. I’m not sure what fear you’re talking about. The design at Japan did resist the forces beyond the design limits.
My sources indicated the DGs started and ran as exactly as required when offsite power was lost. That would seem to indicate a fuel problem later when they shutdown and the plant switched to the batteries.
I haven’t read that any of the DGs were washed away. Typically those are housed in a bunker. Please post a link to any report stating the DGs were washed away. You’re the first that I’ve heard make that statement.
I exaggerated, I guess. The "fear" I was referring to is the hysteria being whipped up by the press and enviro-nuts over the nuclear products being detected across the sea in North America and in China, not anything you said.
.........................What happened in Japan is: the “day” tanks, the gensets, and the related switchgear itself were all WASHED AWAY in a wholly unprecedented and unanticipated by ANYONE, even in a worst-case-scenario, event........................
Which gets back to my main point, posted at #20, the entire power backup problem gets back to flawed facility design.
If the genset may have been designed to be on high ground (which if questionable, why would all other gear beside a day tank be vulernable to water damage?
If a heavy diesel tank, fuel filters etc. and all related switching gear can’t be sited at the same higher altitude, and then using overhead transmission lines to provide power into the massive containment facility, then who are the engineers that provide the “failsafe” designs??
New Orleans was lost because low sited generators were innundated by Katrina water, knocking out the massive pumps.
Our worlds press will lose our nuclear power option, not because of poor reactor design, but because emergency pumps, their systems, and their fuel supplies were improperly placed too close to sea level.
The most viable of power options will be vilified for many more decades.
I want the Yucca facility built just to spite Nevada democrats.