The Generation Professionals Group is for utility professionals who work in biomass, coal, gas/oil, hydro, natural gas, or nuclear power generation fields. 

WARNING: SIGN-IN

You need to be a member of Energy Central to access some features and content. Please or register to continue.

Post

Part IV of Deep Isolation Series of interviews: Temporary Waste Storage Costs Keep Rising In this episode, James Taylor speaks about the long term costs of temporarily storing nuclear waste above ground.

Please have a look at this discussion of possible ways to deal with nuclear waste.   The latest speaker is James Taylor (no- not that James Taylor!), General Manager of the environmental division of Bechtel's Nuclear, Security, & Environmental global business unit.

https://www.deepisolation.com/nuclear-waste-podcast/

Mr. Taylor emphasizes that for the nuclear industry to move forward, they must solve this “back-end” problem, i.e long term management of nuclear waste.  In his words about the nuclear industry: “It´s dying”.

There aren´t a lot of good long term options for managing this most hazardous of hazardous wastes.  At this stage, deep geologic isolation may be the best alternative, among many far worse ones, including Yucca mountain and doing nothing, as the nuclear industry and the NRC has so far done. Indeed, many in the nuclear industry seem to think it is not a problem or, at least, not their problem.

This is the World Nuclear Association in February, 2020:

  • Nuclear power is the only large-scale energy-producing technology that takes full responsibility for all its waste and fully costs this into the product.
    • Not true. Quite the contrary. The nuclear industry has managed to  shift the responsibility to the NRC (the US Government).  In the meantime, the public is not fooled. As the speaker says of the industry, "it´s dying."
  • The amount of waste generated by nuclear power is very small relative to other thermal electricity generation technologies.
    • About half a million tons of high level waste, about 1% of which is plutonium, spread across the country, is plenty.
  • Used nuclear fuel may be treated as a resource or simply as waste.
    • No one is even pretending that this fuel is a resource anymore. The US government has a separate stockpile of plutonium that is enough for all of its purposes for a very long time.
  • Nuclear waste is neither particularly hazardous nor hard to manage relative to other toxic industrial waste.
    • This is absurd. See Part 1 of this series.  Many billions of dollars later, it is still far from managed in any responsible way.
  • Safe methods for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste are technically proven; the international consensus is that geological disposal is the best option.
    • Not so. There are disposal methods, e.g. Yucca Mountain that have been proven to not be the solution. Others are under investigation.

https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/radioactive-waste-management.aspx

But it needs a solution.

At the moment the US government pays about $800 million per year to store waste from civilian nuclear facilities. That number is increasing rapidly.  It contributes to the growing and understandable impatience on the part of taxpayers with storing this material at more than 70 aboveground  sites across the country.   It is expensive and not without risk.

Deep Isolation Inc. is making progress toward the goal of deep geologic isolation of nuclear waste in deep horizontal boreholes.  They are embarking on a partnership with NAC International Inc. to design, manufacture and supply the canisters that will be used to safely store and dispose of nuclear waste in this way. But, by their own admission, they are still quite far from the goal of implementing their designs.  

None of the four speakers so far in this series concludes, at least for now,  that this is the answer to the problem.  They do, however, support further development of the concept that may lead to a commitment to this solution.

Mark Silverstone's picture

Thank Mark for the Post!

Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.

Discussions

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 6, 2020 10:27 am GMT

At the moment the US government pays about $800 million per year to store waste from civilian nuclear facilities. That number is increasing rapidly.  It contributes to the growing and understandable impatience on the part of taxpayers with storing this material at more than 70 aboveground  sites across the country.   It is expensive and not without risk.

I'm curious, is that $800M per year factored in when notable analyses compare the costs of different sources of generation? And further, the alternative solutions that are being discussed-- deep underground storage and otherwise-- what is the scale of their costs compared with this status quo?

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 7, 2020 9:28 am GMT

Thanks for asking Matt.  The $800 million was taken from the fund collected from rate payers where nuclear power is provided by the utility.  The money is then paid to the utilities to store the waste in casks on site.  And billions were used for the Yucca Mountain project. Obviously, the cask and storage business is a substantial one in its own right.  At the end of FY2018, the Waste Fund balance stood at $38.8 billion, according to the FY2020 Administration budget request.115

https://www.everycrsreport.com/reports/RL33461.html

Deep Isolation´s calculations for storage are based on their calculations for eventual breakdown and dispersal of the contents of the casks at depth and subsequent rising through geological strata toward surface water tables over 1 million+ years.  Obviously, they have to make certain assumptions for those calculations and they will be subject to scrutiny going forward.  The objective is to meet criteria that Yucca Mountain could not meet as described here:

«Every high-level waste site that has been proposed by DOE and its predecessor agencies has faced allegations or discovery of unacceptable flaws, such as water intrusion or earthquake vulnerability, that could release unacceptable levels of radioactivity into the environment. Much of the problem results from the inherent uncertainty involved in predicting waste site performance for the 1 million years that nuclear waste is to be isolated under current regulations.»

However, I´m afraid that I cannot tell you if these costs are included in the estimates of costs for generation.  I doubt it, as no one seems able to put on number on it. Nor, for that matter, can I tell you if GHG emissions are included in calculations for any of the plans. 

Alas, nor can I tell you how the costs compare to the status quo. The CRSR Report “Civilian Nuclear Waste Disposal” includes the following regarding costs just for the delays in starting:

«DOE estimates that its potential liabilities for waste program delays could total as much as $35.5 billion, including the $7.4 billion already paid in settlements and final judgments.42» 

«DOE responded with a new fee adequacy assessment in January 2013 that evaluated the total costs of a variety of waste management scenarios. The costs of some scenarios exceeded projected revenues from the existing waste fee by as much as $2 trillion, but other scenarios resulted in a surplus of up to $5 trillion. Because of the widely varying results, DOE concluded that there was no clear evidence that the fee should be immediately raised or lowered.47

"After NEI and NARUC asked for a review of DOE's latest fee adequacy assessment, the Circuit Court ordered DOE on November 19, 2013, to stop collecting the nuclear waste fees altogether.»

It should be noted that “President Trump proposes to resume development of the long-planned nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, which had been suspended under the Obama Administration.»  I don´t think that will happen, even if he is re-elected.  But they can get rid of a lot of money in the meantime.

Deep Isolation, as far as I know, has not published any estimated costs per ton for disposal. I doubt they can really guess at the moment as they have not built the casks or drilled any holes.  They have a great deal more to learn, discuss and test before any cost estimates can be seriously considered. One thing for sure, the status quo will not do for very long. The above-ground casks are planned for 50 years; perhaps they can be extended to 100, assuming that nothing happens in the meantime.  The spectre of Fukushima undermines that assumption.   I think it is likely that my grandchildren´s generation will bear the major burden.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 7, 2020 12:03 am GMT

So much propaganda, so little time:

NRC: "Nuclear power is the only large-scale energy-producing technology that takes full responsibility for all its waste and fully costs this into the product."

Mark: "Not true. Quite the contrary. The nuclear industry has managed to  shift the responsibility to the NRC (the US Government)."

Wrong. "The NRC" pays not a dime for the cost of waste storage.

NRC: "The amount of waste generated by nuclear power is very small relative to other thermal electricity generation technologies."

Mark: "About half a million tons of high level waste, about 1% of which is plutonium, spread across the country, is plenty."

All the spent fuel created in the U.S. over the last 60 years would fit in the space of a single football field, stacked 10 meters high - insignificant. And plutonium? Here's what an expert says: "Plutonium is, in fact, a metal very like uranium. If you hold it in your hand, and I've held tons of it my hand, a pound or two at a time, it's heavy, like lead. It's toxic, like lead or arsenic, but not much more so." Not nearly as terrifying as you think, is it?

NRC: "Used nuclear fuel may be treated as a resource or simply as waste."

Mark: "No one is even pretending that this fuel is a resource anymore."

Wrong again. Only 5% of the fissile uranium in spent fuel rods has been used. If it weren't for the irrational terror of anti-nuclear activists, 475 million tons of what you call "high level waste" could be generating clean energy right now.

NRC: "Nuclear waste is neither particularly hazardous nor hard to manage relative to other toxic industrial waste."

Mark: "This is absurd. See Part 1 of this series.  Many billions of dollars later, it is still far from managed in any responsible way."

No, that is absurd. Spent nuclear fuel from U.S. plants has never harmed a single human or animal.

NRC: "Safe methods for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste are technically proven; the international consensus is that geological disposal is the best option."

Mark: "Not so. There are disposal methods, e.g. Yucca Mountain that have been proven to not be the solution. Others are under investigation."

No one has "proven" Yucca Mountain was not a solution. It was closed by President Obama in 2009 in exchange for the support of NV Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader, in the 2008 presidential election.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 7, 2020 2:02 pm GMT

The sole source of mis-information and propaganda is the nuclear industry.  As James Taylor says: "It´s dying".

As for plutonium: Inhale a tenth of a gram of it in your lungs: You will die in two months. We´ve discussed this all before. Remember the dog experiments? Sounds as though you´ve either forgotten or never knew about how gamma and alpha radiation works.  Look it up.

Yucca Mountain does not fulfill the minimum requirements for a safe place, according the DOE.  But, be my guest: Continue to develop Yucca and waste a few billion more of taxpayer´s money. Everyone will appreciate that immensely. 

Face facts.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 7, 2020 3:23 pm GMT

Face facts yourself, Mark. Because plutonium is (literally) the heaviest element on Earth, you'd have to grind it into a dust and spray it into your mouth to inhale it into your lungs. The idea it's floating around in the air is a misconception of anti-nuclear activists who learned how gamma and alpha radiation work from a Greenpeace handout someone gave them in the parking lot at Trader Joe's.

You can kill a dog by feeding it plutonium. You can kill it much faster by feeding it arsenic, gasoline, benzene, ammonia, acetone, or chlorine tablets, but because those chemicals are freely available (and a lot cheaper) they're not as disturbing to fragile sensibilities.

Most communities have toxic waste programs where we can dispose of them. They're taken to a special hazardous waste dump with a lining to keep them from seeping into groundwater for a long time. Plutonium in spent nuclear fuel can be stored (and is being stored) safely, too, but the permanent storage imagined by antinuclear activists is not only unnecessary but wasteful. See above.

Don't fall too much in love with James Taylor's claim that nuclear energy is "dying" - he's wrong, too. As of last month:

"• Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily, with about 55 reactors under construction.

• Most reactors on order or planned are in the Asian region, though there are major plans for new units in Russia.

• Significant further capacity is being created by plant upgrading.

• Plant lifetime extension programmes are maintaining capacity, particularly in the USA."

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 7, 2020 7:57 pm GMT

I never said I was glad.  Quite the contrary.  Nuclear may be able to be saved.  But it requires facing facts and taking appropriate action.  The first is that it is a very hazardous business. But, the oilfield produces gas every day containing 45%  H2S.   Heaven knows there have been terrible accidents. But no one goes around saying it is not very hazardous, deadly serious work.

However, thanks for making me revisit one of my favorite and most ironic (presumably unintentional) quotes from the toxicity literature (did you write this?):

https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Plutonium#Toxicity

"When taken in by mouth, plutonium is less poisonous (except for risk of causing cancer) than several common substances including caffeine, acetaminophen, some vitamins..."

Because it is an alpha emitter, it it easy to mislead people regarding the toxicity of plutonium.

"That said, there is no doubt that plutonium may be extremely dangerous when handled incorrectly. The alpha radiation it emits does not penetrate the skin, but can irradiate internal organs when plutonium is inhaled or ingested. Particularly at risk are the skeleton, where it is likely to be absorbed by the bone surface, and the liver, where it will likely collect and become concentrated. Approximately 0.008 microcuries absorbed in bone marrow is the maximum withstandable dose. Anything more is considered toxic. Extremely fine particles of plutonium (on the order of micrograms) can cause lung cancer if inhaled."

How was that determined? I´ll fetch the experimental data on dogs if you like.  But then you have to think about the dogs (Beagles).

That was 0.008 microcuries. Quite the alpha emitter. As it comprises about 1% of high-level nuclear waste, substantial plutonium can be introduced to the atmosphere in many ways, some quite common,  e.g. nuclear re-fueling, and others by all sorts of accidents.  That probably accounts for higher cancer rates near some nuclear facilities.  So, my guess is that you wear gloves or wash your hands very thoroughly when you do your dare devil handling tricks with plutonium.

I recommend it.

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 8, 2020 2:06 pm GMT

"However, thanks for making me revisit one of my favorite and most ironic (presumably unintentional) quotes from the toxicity literature (did you write this?)"

No, I wouldn't write that, because you're right - it's wrong. Nice to agree with you, Mark!

Extremely fine particles of plutonium (on the order of micrograms) can cause lung cancer if inhaled."

Again, any particle of plutonium, whether it's the size of your thumb or an atom, drops to the ground like a rock. You'd have to try really, really hard to inhale it. That's why nearly all of the radioactive substances in your body (yes, you're already radioactive), mostly uranium, carbon-14, and potassium-40, come from potatoes, carrots, and other edible taproots.

Now, you're assuming all the radioactive substances you eat or inhale aren't promptly expelled, and you say "0.008 microcuries absorbed in bone marrow is the maximum withstandable dose."
.001 microcurie = 1 picocurie. Assuming your average white potato contains 3,400 picocuries/kilogram (pCi/kg), and ~9 potatoes weigh 1 kg - anyone who eats 21 grams of potato (a short french fry) will die of radiation poisoning.

You sure about that?

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 10, 2020 8:03 pm GMT

Please go the relevant experimental literature and argue with that!  It is readily available.  Here is one paper: Radiat Res. 1996 Mar;145(3):361-81. Here is another: Inhal Toxicol. 1996;8 Suppl:73-89. There are hundreds. 

I did not make this stuff up.  I do not even claim that the data I selected are the most relevant.   If you refuse to read the literature, it is a bit obtuse to argue with my very short summary of its many relevant volumes and refute the work that way.  You know better than to treat scientific literature that way!  Expend some valuable energy and read the literature. Then we can have a reasonable discussion. But I will not defend the literature to someone who refuses to read it.

Perhaps some of your questions will be answered in their detailed descriptions of their experimental design and data for uptake of plutonium by various means including inhalation, ingestion, injection, etc.  Their results vary greatly according to the method of exposure, as you would expect. Read their protocols and tell us why they are invalid if that is what you conclude.  They are not without their shortcomings, to be sure.

My evaluation is that they are useful, though not the last word.  Such work rarely is.

Neither I nor the physiologists who did the work make any of the assumptions you suggest.

 

 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 10, 2020 8:48 pm GMT

"Expend some valuable energy and read the literature..."

Mark, I'm not going to search for links to support your claims, or even try to determine to which page of a 20-page journal article you're referring. Providing that is your job.

The one reference you do provide supports everything I've written here:

"As of 2006, there has yet to be a single human death officially attributed to exposure to plutonium itself (with the exception of plutonium-related criticality accidents). Naturally occurring radium is about 200 times more radiotoxic than plutonium, and some organic toxins like botulin toxin are still more toxic. Botulin toxin, in particular, has a lethal dose of 300 pg per kg of body weight, far less than the quantity of plutonium that poses a significant cancer risk. In addition, beta and gamma emitters (including the carbon-14 and potassium-40 in nearly all food) can cause cancer on casual contact, which alpha emitters cannot."

While you're at it, find me an example of escaped plutonium from a functional nuclear power plant, and an example of any "uptake of plutonium by various means including... injection" ?! To my knowledge, no one has committed suicide by injecting themself with plutonium - maybe, because it would be an extremely expensive, slow, and painful way to die.

This is the kind of fearmongering has been rampant since the 2011 accident at Fukushima-Daiichi. Did you know if you were to visit Fukushima City, you'd be exposed to hundreds of times more radiation on your roundtrip plane flight?


Like zombies, the more you know about radiation the less frightening it is.

Jim Baird's picture
Jim Baird on Aug 10, 2020 4:29 pm GMT

Mark, some solutions are suggested here and here.

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Aug 10, 2020 8:02 pm GMT

Thanks Jim. These are interesting ideas.  Please do not interpret my suggestions about looking at these videos as a wholehearted endorsement of the concept.  I doubt that anybody at Deep Isolation is ready to suggest that this is the only, or even the best way to go.

What I do find useful is their systematic approach to the problem, as least so far.  And just as importantly, as they proceed with development of a technical solution they seem to be making an effort to consult with a wide range of stakeholders and to respond and adjust to questions and criticisms.  I, however, do not speak for them.

I find it attractive because it uses well developed drilling technology.  If that were the biggest obstacle to moving ahead, or even estimating its cost, they would be much farther along than they are.  They will have no trouble finding drilling contractors who will do it for a fixed price.  Whether or not their geological arguments bear up under scrutiny is definitely not my area of expertise!

And I certainly have not participated in any risk reviews of the process, much as I would love to do so.

I guess you know better than I that great solutions require a great deal more than great ideas.  Ayn Rand´s ideas are a celebration of people who could "make it happen".   These people are rare, indeed.  Otherwise we all would have opened on-line book stores and become billionaires.

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »