Archive for the ‘nuclear safety’ Category
Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam has again this week called for Australia’s 20 MW OPAL research reactor to be closed down, following reports that a minor problem with the neutron reflector in this “tank-in-pool” reactor has yet to be rectified.
The facility has been out of operation for 11 of the past 14 months, during which time Australia has had to rely on costly imports of medical and scientific radionuclides from foreign suppliers in South Africa and Canada.
The OPAL reactor core sits in the centre of a heavy water neutron reflector, which itself sits within the reactor’s large pool of light water, as we see in the above diagram.
In the centre of the circular heavy water vessel is the nuclear fuel itself, an array of 16 fuel assemblies. The large and small holes that pass through the entire height of the reflector, into the reactor core, support the generation of products such as transmutation-doped silicon and medical and scientific radionuclides as well as supporting neutron irradiation experiments. Several different neutron beamlines are also installed into the reactor, set up for different neutron spectra, including a liquid deuterium moderated cold neutron source.
Here, the square reactor “core” is clearly visible in the centre of this photograph, illuminated strongly by its own Čerenkov radiation, with the round neutron reflector surrounding it, pierced by the aforementioned ports for the irradiation of samples, with the greater reactor pool, containing light water, surrounding that.
The purpose of the neutron reflector is to improve neutron economy in the reactor, and hence to increase the maximum neutron flux – neutron flux being a fundamentally important metric of the performance and usefulness of a research and isotope production reactor.
To maximise the neutron flux or neutron economy in the reactor, heavy water, being a good moderator, basically a material from which elastic scattering of neutrons readily occurs, is used to construct a neutron reflector, immediately surrounding the reactor.
You’ve got light water from the pool seeping into the heavy water neutron reflector that surrounds the reactor. So, the light water from the pool is “leaking” into the reactor components, in towards the reactor. The reflector vessel is kept at a lower pressure than the light water at ambient pressure in the reactor pool. Any leakage pathway at all will allow light water to seep into the reflector vessel, diluting the heavy water. This issue was first identified in December of 2006, following commissioning of the new reactor, and attempts have been made to address the problem during an extended shutdown, which have been somewhat, but not totally, successful.
The sole consequence of this is that it dilutes the expensive heavy water. Of course, some people, and some media reports, seem to persist in documenting such a “leak” as though it were luminous green radioactive goo tricking out into suburban Lucas Heights.
If the heavy water is diluted to any significant extent, the efficiency of the neutron reflector is diminished, and the neutron flux that is achieved under nominal operating conditions is diminished, making the reactor less efficient for neutron beam experiments, neutron irradiation or radionuclide production. There is absolutely nothing here of any health physics or safety significance, at all, period. This dilution of the heavy water in the reflector vessel has absolutely no significance with regards to safety of the facility.
The Greens have derided ANSTO’s comments on the nature of the fault as “spin” and link these technical concerns to some kind of supposed, imaginary potential for safety concerns in the future. Of course, Ludlam wouldn’t know what a neutron reflector was if it bit him, and he has a proven track record of carrying on fervently about issues of nuclear science and technology, whilst possessing an alarming lack of understanding of such science and technology; especially for a federal politician.
Once the heavy water in the vessel becomes diluted, the only way to un-dilute it is via the same methods of deuterium enrichment such as those originally used to make it – such as distillation, or the Girdler sulfide process. In the case of a high deuterium concentration, as in a tank of somewhat diluted heavy water, distillation is the best option. Apparently, ANSTO are planning to construct a small-scale heavy water re-distillation system for online re-enrichment of some of the heavy water passing through the reflector circulation loop. This will fully counteract the problem, and allow the use of the reactor with the fullest efficiency for research and isotope production.
Anyway, Senator Ludlam and the Greens are not just content with calling for the reactor to be shutdown until the heavy water dilution issue can be rectified or nullified, however – they are quite adamant in calling for the permanent shutdown of the reactor.
“We think the safest solution for this reactor is for it to be shut down and for the waste to be contained properly,” Greens senator Scott Ludlam said this week. Importing radionuclides from international suppliers such as in South Africa and Canada could continue, he said.
In addition to the production of medical radionuclides, the reactor is used to produce neutron-transmutation-doped silicon boules for microelectronics – a valuable commercial service marketed by ANSTO – as well as for the production of radiopharmaceuticals and scientific radiochemicals. The radionuclides, most of them employed in nuclear medicine, typically commonly produced with ANSTO’s reactor, are thus:
Samarium-153 – 1.93 days
Molybdenum-99 – 2.75 days
Indium-111 – 2.83 days
Iodine-131 – 8 days
Chromium-51 – 27.8 days
Iodine-125 – 59.4 days
Half-lives are as indicated. The short half-life of 153Sm, the basis of the onocological radiopharmaceutical Quadramet, in particular means that importation of this radionuclide is difficult and impractical, and it is essentially unavailable in the absence of an operating isotope production reactor in Australia.
We’ve learned from painful experience that the supply of expensive imported radionuclides has been subject to delays or interruptions to supply during shutdowns of OPAL (and HIFAR) in the past. On the basis of ANSTO’s past experience, it can reasonably be assumed that still worse problems would arise if Australia were to be totally reliant upon imported radionuclides. The supply problems arise from a range of causes, such as weather delaying flights, aviation regulations relating to radioisotopes being carried with other goods, or opposition from freight pilots.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has identified the “growing problem of refusal by carriers, ports and handling facilities to transport radioactive material” as a significant problem for nuclear medicine and scientific research involving radionuclide importation across the world, and has initiated processes intended to identify ways in which it can be overcome. A number of international, such as British Airways, no longer accept carriage of radioactive material, and others have imposed tight restrictions. Unless a way can be found to reverse such trends, shipments of radionuclides across the world will become increasingly problematic.
The reactor and its associated neutron guides and instruments are used for neutron radiography, neutron scattering imaging, neutron reflectometry and other advanced neutron-beam based research and technological applications, neutron activation analysis, for example for forensic applications, as well as the analysis and testing of materials under neutron irradiation and research into the potential for Boron Neutron Capture Therapy as a potent weapon against cancer – which requires the patient to be bought to a nuclear reactor to produce the thermal neutron flux required.
Even if some radionuclides can be imported, clearly our research reactors in Australia are of significant importance and usefulness in such fields. If radionuclides are to be imported from foreign suppliers, they are still being produced in similar nuclear reactors – if a research reactor is such a dangerous thing, as is suggested by these groups, why should foreign nations be subjected to such a burden for the production of radiopharmaceuticals which are for the benefit of us? Why shouldn’t we take responsibility for our own reactor, if we have decided that we value the benefits of its products, and we’re not prepared to forgo them?
This is worth checking out.
I will quote a few sentences from the website, to show what this group is generally about.
The EFMR Monitoring Network is a non-profit, non-partisan organization which monitors Three Mile Island Unit 1 (TMI) and Peach Bottom Atomic Power Stations 2 & 3. The Group was formed out of a Settlement with GPU Nuclear in 1992 relating to Post-Defueling Monitored Storage at TMI-2. In January 1999, the new owners of TMI-1, AmerGen, (PECO Energy & British Energy) agreed to terms with EFMR through 2006. Additionally, EFMR expanded its monitoring and research activities to include Peach Bottom 2 & 3 as a result of Universal Settlement relating to the merger of PECO Energy with Commonwealth Edison.
This is not your average dogma-packed “no nukes, no nukes, no nukes” activist group. Nowhere in their mission statement does it call for or support the closure of existing, operating, safe fission power plants.
EFMR maintained five low-volume air samplers on the east and west shores of the Susquehanna River opposite of TMI from 1993-1999. Dickinson College Physics Department collected the filters and cartridges of these monitors on a weekly basis. Analyses performed included, but were not limited to, weekly gross beta and alpha measurements, monthly gamma isotopic analysis, weekly Iodine-131 analysis, and semi-annual Strontium-90 analysis. The last collection occurred in December, 1999.
In November, 2000, EFMR deployed a low-volume air sampling station at Peach Bottom.
This is a neat idea! Of course, every nuclear power plant meticulously monitors any discharge of the very small amounts of radionuclides into the atmosphere or other effluents, and these records are all meticulously filed with the NRC, and are a matter of public record.
However, if they want to provide an extra layer of data, and extra monitoring apparatus, by themselves, then so much the better.
Having such data collected by independent means, and analysed by local college physicists, has every potential to:
a) Eliminate any community distrust of nuclear utilities.
b) Dispel the myth that nuclear power plants emit any aetiologically significant amounts of radioactivity into the environment at all during their operation.
c) In the event of a severe incident such as the Three Mile Island accident, improbable as though it may be, provide independent data to confirm the true magnitude of any release of radioactivity, and dispel baseless and false speculations or claims of very large and aetiologically significant releases of radioactivity being “covered up”
e) Educating people about natural background radiation and radioactivity and its sources, including atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, cosmic radiation and fossil fuel combustion, as well as about basic radiation instrumentation and health physics.
The only potential for a problem that I can foresee with this is that controversy may be generated over very small radioactivity releases which can be detected above background by sensitive instruments, which are however not in excess of NRC and EPA regulatory limits, and are of no public health significant – just like the controversy surrounding tritium effluents at certain nuclear generating stations in the US in recent years.
PECO has also agreed not use Mixed Uranium Oxide (MOX) fuel at Peach Bottom 2 & 3, Limerick Nuclear Station Units 1 & 2, and Salem Nuclear Station 1 & 2.
Well, I must say, I don’t agree with that. What is their reasoning behind making such a demand of the utility? What’s so bad about the use of MOX? I can think of several good points to be made of the use of MOX as a fission reactor fuel.
AmerGen has ensured that its work force meets or exceeds NRC staffing requirements and has agreed to pay excess decommissioning costs for TMI-1. AmerGen also agreed not to conduct business with any company, organization or nation that the United States of America is boycotting for economic or military reasons.
Well, how can you argue with any of that? Of course, the owner pays decommissioning costs for TMI-1, just like they pay the costs of decommissioning any other unit. I don’t think this represents any shift away from the obvious, in terms of the utility’s policy – the only difference being that TMI-2 will of course cost a bit more to decommission completely than the average reactor. I see no reason to believe that the TMI-2 accident will in any way affect the decommissioning of TMI-1 at the end of its life.
Of course any nuclear utility should meet or exceed anything the NRC requires of it. (If the NRC’s requirements are thought to be inappropriate, or too strict, or too soft, or whatever, then you take that up with the NRC – but of course the utilities should be by the book.)
EFMR has on-line access to AmerGen’s Reuter-Stokes, gamma monitoring system. This sensitive system collects samples, analyzes them, and prints out data on an hourly basis from 16 separate collecting stations located within a four mile radius of Three Mile Island. EFMR continues to attend NRC meetings, and receive regular briefings and updates from AmerGen, Exelon, and PECO Energy.
To monitor radiation levels surrounding the Three Mile Island Nuclear Station and the Peach Botom Atomic Power Station so that any deviation from normal background radiation levels are immediately detected and reported. This allows for a prompt response from our citizens network to provide independent data, especially in the event of another accident or any radiological release in the area.
If abnormal levels are detected, EFMR may report the data to proper authorities including the PA Department of Environmental Protection, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others.
The network is comprised of ordinary citizens whom each record five radiation measurements per day. Each person had been provided a geiger counter equipped with an electronic timer to measure radiation levels.
At the end of each minute, it displays the counts in a liquid crystal display window. That user then writes the count on a data sheet along with the time and weather conditions. The monthly data sheets are collected and reviewed by professional advisors.
We also utilize five stationary low-level air samplers located within a two mile radius around Three Mile Island. These monitors are able to distinguish and record Alpha and Beta radiation. The data is collected by the Dickinson College physics Department and analyzed quarterly. A control station low-level air sampler is located a Dickinson College for comparison.
EFMR has distributed 75 RadAlert radiation monitors at 50 stations in an eight county area around Three Mile Island, including numerous colleges, high schools and community-based organizations. Several additional monitors are deployed in northern Maryland close to the York County border. In addition, EFMR will deploy 30 rad alerts in close proximity to Peach Bottom as a result of its Agreement with PECO Energy.
This all sounds good to me. Of course, the data taken needs to be analysed by those who understand what they’re doing, and in the event of any unusual and potentially release of radioactivity, the NRC and authorities need to be notified so that they may determine the most safe, prudent and rational course of action – of course, the utility will almost certainly be the first to notify the NRC, in any accident scenario.
The anti-nuclear lobby, and many environmentalist groups, could do well to learn from this group.
Many of you will be familiar with, or will have followed, this recent post on The Oil Drum, discussing nuclear energy. There’s a very lively and certainly very heated discussion thread there.
Now, comment submission is now closed for that post – but I can’t help but be a little stubborn and have the last post, responding to a couple of anti-nuclear-energy posts that I cannot help myself but take the oppurtunity to rebut.
“a direct, high-speed hit by a large commercial passenger jet would ‘have a high likelihood of penetrating a containment building’ that houses a power reactor. According to the NCI, such an incident could cause a significant release of radiation into the environment and result in tens of thousands of cancer deaths.”
Well, here’s the EPRI study concerning aircraft crash attacks against a nuclear power plant:
“In both cases, the analysis conservatively assumed that the engine and the fuselage strike perpendicular to the centerline of the structure. This results in the maximum force upon impact to the structure for each case.
The analyses indicated that no parts of the engine, the fuselage or the wings—nor the jet fuel—entered the containment buildings. The robust containment structure was not breached, although there was some crushing and spalling (chipping of material at the impact point) of the concrete.”
That doesn’t exactly agree, does it?
“Not to mention the case of an actual war or sabotage.”
In terms of deliberate sabotage, say by terrorists, what kind of attack would actually be needed, in real-world terms, to actually destroy a nuclear reactor and breach its containment vessel, causing a radiological impact on the environment? Could it happen in practice, at all?
“The evacuation plan for the plant covers a 10-mile radius from the plant, but the federal government also has emergency readiness plans for a 50-mile “ingestion plume pathway” that includes New York City.”
“My little ‘thought experiment’ is what a government emergency readiness plan says.”
So what? None of those evacuation plans or emergency planning zones have ever, ever needed to be put into practice in the United States to protect the public from a commercial nuclear power accident.
The notion that there’s a 50-mile radius or whatever that corresponds to some emergency readiness planning, and therefore it’s entirely plausible that a commercial power reactor could injure or kill everyone within a 50-mile radius is complete nonsense.
Tell ya what – I’ll bother tracking that down and posting once you go ahead and show that fission power is so safe that it no longer needs the special Price-Anderson law that makes the industry a possibility.
Showing how Price-Anderson is unnecessary is an open challenge – feel free to take it up.
But hey, instead of creating fake stuff, and calling it true (a habit of the pro-fission people in this topic it seems) why not just head on address Price-Anderson – show how fission is so safe it doesn’t need the protection.
In the entire history of commercial nuclear power in the United States – over 100 reactors operating, and 50 years of reactor operation – commercial nuclear energy in the United States has never hurt or killed anybody, and not one single cent of government money has ever been paid out under Price-Anderson.
I don’t believe Price-Anderson is necessary – the experience over the last 50 years shows that.
“I see. So your position is US centric. That’s fine, but there are other nations. Many have signed up to the peaceful atom program. So magically THEY are going to be as responsible as in the US?”
Is this basically implying that you think nations such as, say, South Korea, Japan, France, China, India or South Africa are intrinsically incapable of safe nuclear engineering, but the US is? Are you implying that these nations are going to build Soviet-style RBMK reactors with positive void coefficients and no containment vessel and operate them in the way that the Soviets did, with absolutely no safety culture?
If I was a representative of those nations, their leaders, and their engineers, I’d almost take offence at that.
Isn’t this the most tasteless propaganda you’ve seen all year?
Indian Point Nuclear Dead Baby* World Tour. It’s affiliated with the creator of a certain other crazy lepidopterological anti-Indian Point blog. You all know the one.
* Disclaimer: The site does not actually include any references to any actual real children hurt or harmed by nuclear energy.
Now, let’s see.
“To bring attention to this issue, to oppose Entergy’s attempts to relicense these dangerous reactors, this blog will be sending symbolic dead babies (dolls) out on a world tour by leaving them at various locations.”
So, unfortunately, you couldn’t find any actual babies hurt or killed or harmed by nuclear energy, for real, in the real world?
Apparently, whilst there’s no evidence of any kind that nuclear energy actually does hurt or harm or kill real babies in the real world, it however does symbolically kill babies.
My god, won’t anybody think of the symbolic children?
“First, it seems only fair that Andrea speak, since this Indian Point Dead Baby Tour is about them, the dolls, and who it is they represent in this battle.”
Oh, silly me. It’s about dolls? Indian Point kills dolls? Not actual real, living, human babies? It seems I was misled to believe that there are somehow actual living children being killed by Indian Point… I must have been mistaken.
I hate to break it to you like this, but they’re dolls. They’re not alive – if Indian Point is killing dolls, it must be pretty dangerous indeed… right?
First, some important news on our forward progress on this environmental direct action campaign:
3. Buried three dolls in the mulch in my backyard gardens in the hopes of giving them a bit of a different soiled look, and took some incredible photographs that I hope to load onto my hard drive, again on Sunday.
That’s your environmental direct action campaign? I’m trying not to laugh.
“The doll is so elegant, that it is going to be the doll shipped over to Elena in the Ukraine with the hope that she will agree to take it with her on her next motorcycle trip through Chernobyl’s fallout zone.”
On her website, Elena Filatova posted photographs of her alleged motorcycle trips in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 18 years after the power reactor disaster there. She mainly visited the virtually abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine.
Filatova took a large number of photographs of buildings, cottages, rusting carnival equipment, the interiors of schools and homes, and even a couple people who had since returned to the area. The photos are arranged in the form of a story presented as an account of a trip by a biker who got a permit to travel alone in the radiation zone. However, Chernobyl tour guides and tourists to Chernobyl have claimed that Filatova visited the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone only as part of an organized tour. Chernobyl tour guide Yuriy Tatarchuk recalls that Filatova “booked a tour, wore a leather biker jacket and posed for pictures.” Her website appeared soon after.
“There is no bigger myth within the nuclear energy than their claim that nuclear energy and commercial reactors are and environmentally friendly CO2 source of electricity. From the very beginning of the uranium fuel cycle, the massive creation of and dumping of CO2 into our environment begins, as well as a trail of far deadly contaminants. First, you have to get the uranium out of the ground…uranium mining is very equipment intensive, and the large pieces of equipment use MASSIVE amounts of fossil fuels. Further, it takes tons and tons of of ore containing trace amounts of uranium to get enough actual raw uranium to be of any use. This means said materials have to be carted to processing plants…again, said transportion of such vast quantities of these raw start up materials burn up vast amounts of carbon based fuels, adding to nuclear CO2 contributions to Global Warming.”
Yes, the mining of uranium, the enrichment of uranium, the construction of reactor infrastructure and so forth consumes energy, in just the same way as mining and refining bauxite into aluminium to construct massive wind turbines, along with the construction of the infrastructure itself, consumes large amounts of energy, often generated via relatively polluting energy sources, such as burning fossil fuels.
The independently produced, accredited, Environmental Product Declarations for Swedish energy utility Vattenfall’s Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant find that, averaged over the entire lifecycle of their nuclear power plant including uranium mining, milling, enrichment, plant construction, operating, decommissioning and waste disposal, the total amount of CO2 emitted is 3.3g per kWhe .
The proposed Woodlawn wind farm pro ject in New South Wales has also made available a detailed Environmental Impact Statement, in which greenhouse gas emissions are quantified on a whole-of-life-cycle basis.
Excluding values for wind farms that are significantly different from the proposed Woodlawn Wind Farm, GHG emissions on a life cycle basis range from 7-20 kg CO2e /MWh. This represents the GHG emissions from all activities, including the construction, transportation, assembly and operation of the turbines.
The idea that whole-of-life-cycle analysis can demonstrate that nuclear energy is unsustainable, both on an energy intensity basis and a greenhouse gas intensity basis, is based on a very limited set of highly dubious science, which has been widely rebutted, and found to be irreconcilable with the body of scientific literature established relating to the energy and greenhouse gas intensities of the nuclear fuel cycle.
I could go on, but this same bullshit argument has been done over, and over, and over, and over so many times… I’m sick of repeating myself.
“What lunacy sees the world wanting to build 2200 new nuclear reactors when the first 437 aging reactors have been such a dismal failure, and killed so many innocent people?”
Nuclear energy is the largest source of greenhouse gas free electricity in the world, and it is also the safest – one of the safest industrial enterprises in existence. Aside from Chernobyl, commercial nuclear power, operated safely in the Western world, has harmed or killed almost nobody – megawatt-hour for megawatt-hour, wind turbines, for example, are far more dangerous. I’d call that quite a success story, and I challenge anybody to provide credible evidence to the contrary, if they disagree.
“Look just under the surface of the commercial nuclear industry, and you find a trail of death…it is no coincedence that every county within 100 miles of a nuclear facility has elevated cancer rates when compared with counties outside of that 100 mile circle. Look at both wars in the Middle East (Desert Storm, and the Iraq War), and you find our soldiers coming home with strange illnesses, illnesses caused by their overexposure to depleted uranium. Already in Iraq, mothers are giving birth to children with horrible deformities, deformities caused by that same exposure to Depleted Uranium, and where does that Depleted Uranium come from? The production cycle employed to produce fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.”
Is there any credible physical evidence, any evidence of any kind, that “every county within 100 miles of a nuclear facility has elevated cancer rates when compared with counties outside of that 100 mile circle”?
What does the use of uranium munitions have to do with nuclear power? Nothing!
“That’s one of the big problems with the nuclear cycle…there is no such thing as the peaceful atom, no matter how you try to dress it up. Additionally, anywhere nuclear goes in all of its various forms, death is soon to follow. From its earliest days, even pre-dating the Manhattan Project, the exploration and exploitation of uranium has brought with it horrid deaths, devastating cancers, birth defects and destruction on a level almost unimaginable.”
Is there any evidence of any kind to support such claims in the real world?
“Going further, George Bush, our government, our military machine opposes Iran gaining the capability of enriching uranium for a very simple reason…with the capability of enriching said uranium for nuclear reactors, you gain as a part of the waste stream from enrichment operations the byproduct of Depleted Uranium.”
“You see, our Pentagon needs the commercial nuclear industry, and the infrastructure it takes to power it for its own evil purposes, including vast stockpiles of Depleted Uranium, which is used in numerous weaponry to make armour piercing ammunitions and war heads.”
Riiight. The uranium used in anti-tank kinetic penetrator munitions really doesn’t care what isotopic composition it is… Natural uranium, with no enrichment or depletion of particular nuclides, is perfectly usable for this purpose. Depleted uranium is not specifically required for this application at all.
“As our campaign moves along, we’ll share many of these photographs with our readers, but tonight, thought I would share a peek into the dolls long involvement in the Nuclear Industry, by introducing you to Priscilla and some of the members of her family who were forced, like many of our soldiers to endure nuclear bomb testing under the guise of the Friendly Atom and CHEAP ELECTRICITY.”
Exactly what, at all, does nuclear weapons testing have to do with generating electricity? Absolutely nothing.
“The tragic events surrounding the horrific aftermath of Japan’s 6.8 on the richter scale earthquake show us just how fragile and vulnerable nuclear reactors really are.”
The effects of last year’s earthquake on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Japan actually demonstrate just how robust nuclear power plants are, when subjected to the terrible destructive power of an earthquake, something that is capable of razing entire cities.
Next up, we’ve got a picture of a Hiroshima bombing victim with terrible thermal burns.
This has got nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with Indian Point, Entergy, or nuclear energy at all.
In war, especially the most terrible of wars, as the second world war was, many civilians suffer terribly as a result of war – and civilians and soldiers alike suffer terrible thermal burns, as well as all sorts of other injuries even before the advent of nuclear weapons, and after the advent of nuclear weapons, with nuclear weapons, or without nuclear weapons.
I’d like to see a world without wars at all.
“incredibly heart wrenching photographs of the fallout area in and around Chernobyl”
This has got nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with Indian Point, Entergy, or nuclear energy at all, aside from the large-scale production of weapons-grade plutonium in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, with electricity being produced by the nuclear reactors as well, using extremely dangerous, unstable nuclear reactor technology, with no type of containment vessel around the nuclear reactor at all, that would never have been approved or licenced in the United States or anywhere else outside the Soviet Union, at any point in history.
Atomic Insights reports that Kentucky state Senator Bob Leeper has been doing some reading and listening lately about the coming of a new wave of nuclear plant construction, and he is working to position his state as a potential site for consideration. He has recently introduced a bill that would change the language in the law to allow licensed on site storage as a means of safely handling the byproducts that remain after using fuel in a reactor for a period of time, as compared with current Kentucky law which precludes the construction of a new nuclear power plant until there is a licensed and available location for permanent disposal of used nuclear fuel or the radioactive waste which may be left following recycling of such used fuel, such as the Yucca Mountain facility under development in the United States.
Of course, some people, such as Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a name that those with their finger on the pulse of nuclear energy policy in the United States and elsewhere will have heard before, has other ideas:
“One problem with nuclear reactors is what to do with the high-level waste they produce. This waste is actually a cocktail of chemicals such as Cesium-137, Iodine-129, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, each radioactive and cancer-causing.”
There’s no way that it is appropriate to call these kinds of materials waste – they are radionuclides with useful and important technological, scientific and industrial applications. Of course, if we greatly expand the use of nuclear fission as an energy source throughout the world, along with the recycling and efficient re-use of the materials contained within irradiated nuclear fuels, it is likely that the inventories of such fission products thus created will ultimately dwarf demand for some of these radioactive materials – and it could be decided that these surplus quantities might be moved to deep underground storage, either for very long term storage, or permanant disposal.
“The waste decays slowly, remaining in dangerous amounts for thousands of years, and must be kept from escaping into the air, water and food supply”
Relatively short lived fission products, such as caesium-137 and strontium-90, with half-lives of 30 years and 29 years respectively, must be isolated from the environment for around 300 years, not thousands of years.
Longer lived fission products, such as iodine-129, one of the very longest lived of the fission product nuclides, can have half-lives of millions of years – with correspondingly smaller specific activities, and in most cases, much smaller nuclear fission yields. Some such long-lived fission products, such as I-129 and technetium-99, have sufficiently large neutron capture cross sections such that destruction of the radioactive nuclide by way of nuclear transmutation in a nuclear reactor is feasable.
I get especially bothered when these people talk of plutonium-239 and “waste” in the same sentence – it is one of the most potent, most energy dense, and most useful fuels known to humankind. There is absolutely no way that it should ever be thought of as “waste”, and it should not be wasted.
“Another potential health problem is a large-scale release of radioactivity from a meltdown. Accidents have occurred at several reactors, including the 1986 total meltdown at Chernobyl and the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. But in addition to accidents, a terrorist attack could also cause a meltdown. Safe evacuation would be impossible, and local residents would be exposed to toxic radiation, causing many thousands to suffer from radiation poisoning and cancer.”
The Chernobyl disaster was not a meltdown in the usual sense of the term – it was a disaster triggered by complete destruction of the reactor core caused by a massive, explosive power excursion and steam explosion, not a fuel damage accident caused by a loss of coolant accident.
The design, operation and physical characteristics of the RBMK power reactors at Chernobyl during the era of the Soviets have absolutely nothing to do with the operation of the commercial nuclear power industry in the world today. The Chernobyl disaster is absolutely irrelevant, it has absolutely no relevance at all, to the use of light water reactors in the commercial nuclear power industry in the United States today.
No accident even remotely comparable to the Chernobyl accident, which, in the absence of any kind of real containment around the nuclear reactor, spewed radioactivity from the destroyed reactor core for thousands of miles, has ever occured in the commercial nuclear power industry in the Western world.
At Three Mile Island, where a loss of coolant accident and partial meltdown occurred in 1979, was safe evacuation impossible? Were local residents exposed to “toxic radiation”? What dose of ionizing radiation did they receive? This was what is usually claimed as the most dangerous nuclear power reactor accident ever in the United States – did it cause “many thousands to suffer from radiation poisoning and cancer”? Did it harm anyone?
“Although it has never had a nuclear power reactor, Kentucky is no newcomer to nuclear plants. The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has been enriching uranium for nuclear weapons and reactors since 1952 — and contaminating the local environment for decades.”
Does the USEC Paducah plant produce HEU for nuclear weapons applications? That’s an open question to my readers – I’d like to know the answer.
What evidence, is there, that Paducah has been “contaminating the local environment for decades“? Is there any evidence of health or ecological effects on the surrounding community?
Local residents have breathed, drunk or eaten these contaminants, and they may have suffered. In the past quarter century, the death rate in the four closest counties (Ballard and McCracken in Kentucky, Massac and Pulaski in Illinois) is about 9 percent above the U.S. rate for both whites and blacks. This amounts to nearly 3,000 “excess” deaths in a population of only 95,000. The four counties have no obvious health risk, like language barriers, lack of education or extreme poverty, so Paducah must be considered as a potential factor in these high rates.
Kentucky already has the highest cancer death rate of any state in the nation. There is no need to increase cancer risk by introducing a hazardous means of producing electricity.
Has any scientific, peer-reviewed, epidemiological study of health, death and disease, and the aetiology of any such abnormalities, in these counties ever been performed?
Is there any evidence, peer-reviewed scientific evidence of any kind, that nuclear energy is a “hazardous means of producing electricity” which “increases cancer risk”?
News just in from The Australian:
“A NUCLEAR power station in Bulgaria has undergone an emergency shutdown.
Facility operators at the Kozlodui nuclear power station on the Danube River said the incident did not cause any radioactive leak.
More to follow”
This is a little bit rich. Every reactor trip makes headlines now? You’ve got to be kidding.
“the incident did not cause any radioactive leak”
What incident? This is a reactor trip, a normal, routine shutdown, automatically taken because any one of a hundred different things is slightly abnormal.
The Unit 5 and Unit 6 reactors in operation at Kozloduy are Russian VVER-1000 1000 MW light-water reactors, just like the US’s LWRs.
Yes, they do make safe, modern, sensible, reliable nuclear power reactors in Russia.
Stewart over at Nuclear is Our Future – (A great site and blog covering nuclear energy issues – please check it out if you’re not already familar!) once described this kind of thing really concisely. I really can’t describe this recurring, nasty media manipulation better than by citing a couple of passages from the NIOF blog: When the media says “no radiation was released,” they are not in fact saying that no radiation was released, but are implying that radiation could have been released but luckily wasn’t – irrespective of it being physically possible in any way for radioactivity to be released in a given situation, or physically impossible (not to mention the fact that radiation isn’t a substance and can’t be “released”). And that is, as Stewart put it, nothing less than the height of irresponsibility.