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Posts tagged as “Idaho National Laboratory”

Costly nuclear

A guest opinion about the rising cost of nuclear power, by Tami Thatcher, a former nuclear safety analysis at Idaho National Laboratory and a nuclear safety consultant.

From brilliant nuclear scientists there is an endless variety of proposed reactor designs from various small modular reactors, fast neutron reactors, molten salt reactors, to thorium reactors.

But from advanced light-water reactors to fast reactors, the construction prices never seem to come down.

From the Argonne National Laboratory – West, now part of the Idaho National Laboratory, came the sodium-cooled fast EBR-II reactor. Advancement of its design by GE-Hitachi has yet to be built commercially.

Fast reactor economic disappointments range from the We Almost Lost Detroit Fermi I reactor, whose license to construct was denied by the reactor safety committee but overridden by the chairman in 1957 and suffered a partial meltdown before ever reaching full power — to Japan’s costly problem-plagued Monju reactor — to France’s Superphenix, at $9 billion, 6 times the original construction estimate. It generated electricity only an average 6 percent of the time.

NRC licensing processes are costly, but bypassing thorough licensing reviews can also be costly. An existing design was changed during steam generator replacement at San Onofre, and despite modern computer codes and engineering wizardry, the change allowed the tubes to vibrate excessively causing tube cracking and failure very soon after being installed. The utility tried to argue safety was not compromised.

Burning plutonium in fast reactors could shuffle the spent nuclear fuel problem a bit, but according to the Blue Ribbon Commission report from 2012, it doesn’t solve the problem. It does not alleviate the need for long term disposal in a geologic repository.

Plutonium-blended Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel can be burned in conventional reactors, but the Department of Energy’s South Carolina project can’t even give its MOX fuel away. The MOX plant is so over budget that a panel has recommended just burying the excess plutonium at the struggling to re-open Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. But pork keeps rolling to the fizzling MOX project.

Last year the NRC cancelled funding of what would have been the first meaningful epidemiology study of health near US nuclear facilities. They claimed it would cost too much (at $8 million) and take too long.

The US NRC prefers reliance on the 1980s epidemiology study that mixed children and adults and populations near and far from nuclear plants and predictably found no harm. The NRC actively ignores the irrefutable studies from Germany that found increased cancer and leukemia rates of children living near each of the plants.

What are a few children’s lives compared to the health of the nuclear industry anyway?

While accident risks threaten the public’s health and economic future, and seven decades of unsolved and politically untenable nuclear waste issues continue, it is largely construction cost overruns for new US plants as well as internationally that have further dampened enthusiasm for nuclear energy.

Construction costs do not include the decommissioning and waste disposal costs, the cost of repairs, or the cost of early reactor retirement.

French taxpayers on paying billions for state-backed company AREVA’s cost overruns on its fixed price promise to construct a reactor in Finland. Construction costs are three times the original estimate and 9 years behind schedule.

Who pays for construction cost overruns depends on the contract between the builder and the utility.

The NuScale small modular reactor, if built at the INL, may be obsolete before it is finished. And it doesn’t solve spent nuclear fuel disposal issues.

With closed meetings being conducted by Idaho energy planners, will the citizens who are the captive ratepayers and taxpayers and also bear the consequences of an accident be able to discuss lower cost, infinitely safer low carbon alternatives?

A persistent waste issue

A guest opinion about the Department of Energy’s Two Proposed shipments of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste, by Tami Thatcher.

The two proposed shipments of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) for research at the Idaho National Laboratory are small (0.1 metric tons) compared to 308 metric tons of SNF at INL. And small in comparison to the tons of commercial SNF that the LINE Commission was lobbying Idaho to accept back in 2012.

But no matter what Idaho Attorney General Wasden decides, the Idaho’s nuclear waste problems aren’t going away any time soon. And the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to let DOE off the RCRA hook with a $2 million fine should DOE pull the plug on IWTU before treating any of the liquid waste has not helped matters.

The LINE Commission accepts DOE lobbying via INL leaders and makes these spin masters voting members on the LINE Commission.

Masters of nuclear booster spin or “nuclear BS” know just what to leave out of their presentations and explanations.

They emphasize that the Idaho Settlement Agreement called for INL to be the “DOE Spent Fuel Lead Laboratory.” But they leave out the fact that this was defunded in 2009.

They call for a transshipment facility to be built if additional commercial SNF come to Idaho. But they leave out that one needs to be built to make SNF already at INL road ready or be able to repackage it if it has no place to go.

They give seismic hazard presentations, but leave out discussion of the important weak links in nuclear facility and aquifer protection.

They make Disneyland waste disposal assumptions to avoid discussing the usual waste burial. Most of the fuel from the two proposed shipments will be destructively examined creating air emissions or other waste.

They give bread box analogies when volume doesn’t characterize the toxicity or longevity of the hazard.

They tout INL cleanup. But they leave out discussion that the vast majority of what was buried will remain buried at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex.

The courts decided that for Yucca Mountain, analysis to an arbitrary 10,000 years was unacceptable—if peak radiation ingestion doses were afterward. Yet, RWMC cleanup is based on models that minimize the release for the first 10,000 years. Then they leave out mention of the rapidly escalating ingestion doses after 10,000 years.

The DOE kept its analysis of peak doses at RWMC carefully out of public view: 100 mrem/yr for hundreds of thousands of years unless the soil cap is maintained perfectly. That’s assuming no floods and geologic stability over millennia: in other words, a scientifically indefensible analysis.

They say other burial grounds at INL will have caps, but leave out that only RWMC will rely on soil cap performance to slow the migration of radionuclides headed for Thousand Springs for millennia.

Employees at IDEQ and at various DOE contractors know their job is at-risk if they give straight answers. It’s not in the DNA of Idaho Commerce Director or Idaho Falls Mayor to question the nuclear spin—or to wait for public comment to DOE’s supplement analysis for the two shipments to be addressed and published.

But it should concern all Idahoans who care about the aquifer that questioning the spin masters is basically left up to two former governors.

What a web we weave


Most can complete the saying: “when first we start to deceive.” Most get the point also - that one lie begets another lie, and the more a person or institution lies, the more likely it is to become entrappped in a spider web of its own making.

Apparently the folks running the Department of Energy (DoE) today and its Idaho National Lab (INL) subsidiary either don’t get it or don’t understand it or just don’t care. This casual disregard for truth is seriously eroding public trust both in the department itself and in INL’s management.

Admiral Grossenbacher, the INL site manager, is on the one hand a pleasant, intelligent, and charming fellow. The extent to which he presents the deliberately misleading company line, on the other hand, has one questioning everything he says.

The latest example of the long, sorry history of DoE duplicity, double-talk, distortion and misrepresentation is the proposed importation of “only two hundred pounds of commercial spent fuel rods” for research purposes. To bring two shipments in, however, requires a waiver of the 1995 Agreement between the state of Idaho, the Navy and the DoE negotiated by Governor Phil Batt, which prohibits such importation.

Both former Governor Batt and Governor Cecil D. Andrus immediately registered strrng objections. Andrus also referenced information he had that the first two shipments were just the camel’s nose and that DoE had plans to bring an additional 20 metric tons of commercial spent fuel rods to Idaho.

INL boosters pooh-poohed Andrus’ information saying it was indicative that he simply did not know what he was talking about. Guess what, folks? Andrus was correct. The Snake River Alliance produced a tape of Admiral Grossenbacher in a September of 2013 presentation to Governor Otter’s LINE Commission referencing DoE plans to follow up the initial two shipments with 20 metric tons of commercial spent fuel rods from the North Ana (Virginia) nuclear plant to be stored, monitored and studied for a number of years.

Both former governors pointed out to the media that absent DoE’s now cancelled final repository being constructed at Yucca Mountain, Nevada there is no other place to ship waste at INL to despite the Batt Agreement’s deadline of 2036 for all waste to be gone. Once here it will stay here.

DoE has since put out a Supplemental Analysis (SA) of the supposed environmental impacts of moving and storing these commercil spent fuel rods that can only be described as a joke. Using 20 year old data rehased from an earlier EIS simply will not fly and Governors Batt and Andrus are betting that if and when they go to Federal court on this issue the judge will again side with them.

What was most deceitful in the SA, however, was the misrepresentation that both Governor Otter and Attorney General Wasden have signed off on and in effect approved of the waiver request. That is simply not true.

In a letter to DoE on February 27th, AG Wasden made it clear he was not signing off on anything until the department fulfills another condition of the Batt agreement, that of cleaning up and disposing of 900,000 gallons of liquid waste stored at the site. Past efforts to solve this challenge have failed and the department is years away from finding a solution and meeting that pre-condition.

Just prior to Andrus/Batt attorney Laird Lucas¸ of the Advocates for the West, submitting on behalf of the former governors their comments dissing the incompleteness of the Supplemental Analysis, the Office of the Secretary of DoE finally provided a classic non-response to a separate Freedom of Information request filed by Andrus in January of 2015. The document contained 18 specific questions regarding the proposed handling and storage of the spent fuel rods, whether there was a supplemental budget to cover costs, and other basic, easy-to-answer if you want to questions.

Claiming privilege and national security, the letter was another complete non-response, containing page after page of redacted material. Here’s hoping the two governors, or at least Governor Andrus, file a federal lawsuit against INL and DoE on this matter also.

At the very first joint press conference held by the former governors to announce their opposition, Governor Batt referenced an important principle that should be honored.

He pointed out that the people of Idaho in essence ratified his agreement. Batt said any change whatsoever in the agreement would have to be taken back to the voter to be ratified.

Here’s a wager that DoE/INL will never do that for the simple reason even they know the public seldom rewards liars.

On site

An opinion piece in today's Los Angeles Times by physicist Frank von Hippel makes the case that storing, rather than reprocessing, nuclear waste is the best way to go. The issue is of considerable interest in the Northwest, where nuclear cleanup activities in two areas - the Hanford site in southeast Washington and the Idaho National Laboratory area in eastern Idaho - are underway, and where eventual storage of waste from those areas at Nevada's Yucca Mountain repository has been eagerly anticipated for some time.

The Yucca option seems to be fading rapidly (owing partly to intense opposition in Nevada), so the question hangs in the air: What should be done with the waste? One option could be reprocessing, which is done in France. von Hippel makes a strong case that reprocessing along those lines is bad idea, both highly expensive and unsafe. Storage, he argues, would be better.

Toward the end of the article, he suggests this: "The U.S. made the mistake with Yucca Mountain of trying to force a repository on an unwilling state. One alternative would be to follow the path of Finland and Sweden, which have placed their underground repositories in communities that already host nuclear power plants. They have found that once people in a community have accepted a nuclear facility, they view the addition of an underground repository as a relatively minor issue."

Is it?